Monday, April 23, 2007

Ever heard the saying, I couldn’t see the forest through the trees?

That’s sort of how I’m feeling right now. For months, my focus has been on finding an agent, signing with an agent, getting an agent to return my phone calls. Just kidding on that last one.

Seriously, though, my time and energy have been devoted to finding someone to represent me for a very long time. What if that isn’t God’s will for me? What if I’ve been so blinded by what I perceived as the next step, that I’ve been missing the steps God would have me to take? And how do I know when I’ve come to that place?

I think it has to do with something I learned a long time ago. All things happen in God’s own time, regardless of how I try to rush them, or how I try to circumvent God’s program. When I thought my writing was strong enough to win a contest, God said not yet. When I thought I was ready to publish, God said not yet. Those things came, but not in my time—they came in His. So, perhaps God’s answer to whether or not I find an agent is not ‘no.’ It’s simply, not yet.

I’m trying to be patient, God. Really.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Meet Kelly Mortimer, of the Mortimer Literary Agency. Kelly, thank you for being here. Let’s start by telling people how many proposals you receive in week:

Kelly: Haven’t you heard? I’m not accepting queries at this time. Strange, it seems you’re not the only one who hasn’t heard. I got so snowed under with queries, a St. Bernard couldn’t have found me—and I could’ve used the Brandy! I became an agent because I felt there were great authors out there, and not enough agents to represent them. I was correct. Unfortunately, I can't represent them all. I can do the work of three people, but only three. How’s that for taking a paragraph and not answering your question? I have specific guidelines on my Web site. There are only a select few ways I’ll accept a query right now. With those, plus the rogues who disregard the rules, I get about ten a week. Not too bad, but it’s still 40 a month, which adds up if you’re not supposed to be accepting queries. And being the soft-hearted gal that I am (don't believe those other things you hear...), I try to give everyone a chance, so most get a request.

EL: Can you tell me what kind of things you look for in a proposal?

Kelly: I can tell you, but then I’d haveta kill you.... Sorry, couldn't help it. My fingers have a will of their own. Seriously, in a query letter, I look for the genre/sub-genre, the word count, the author’s credits, and contest placements. Your next thought is, “That can't be right. What about plot, conflict, and characters?” I work differently than some agents; I have my reasons. Truth is, no matter how great a query reads, it doesn't usually translate into a great manuscript. I’m not even looking to evaluate a manuscript, but an author. Does the writer work in a genre I represent? Do I already have enough authors in that category? Has the writer ever sold a short story? Article? Anything to show me someone thinks their work is publishable. The word count tells me where I can sell the manuscript, and the contest info can hurt or help.

I know how hard it is to final in a contest, but things are changing. Being a final round judge in several contests, I know some of the material I’ve read isn’t publishable. There are so many contests now, the competition isn’t as stiff as it once was. The ultimate goal in entering a contest is to snag an editor or agent. If the manuscript has finaled in 10 contests, but nobody’s bought it or offered to represent the author, what does that tell me? The first three chapters are hot, and the rest has problems. I know the business is subjective, but at some point if a manuscript is that good, someone will want it. A few wins in the more major contests like the Golden Heart and the Genesis, or non-RWA National contests is better than finaling in a dozen smaller ones.

If I ask for a proposal, it’ll be the prologue (if applicable) and the first chapter, plus a short synopsis. If I don't like the work enough to represent the author, I know it right away. Why do I only ask for one chapter instead of three? The plot never falls apart by chapter three, and if I want the full, by the time I receive it I forget what I’ve previously read and have to start all over again. I figured I might as well re-read one chapter instead of three. If I ask for the full, I’ll want a complete marketing plan. As Jerry Maguire said, “Help me, to help you!” In this competitive market where more doors are closed to first-time authors than ever before, the writer needs to show the editor what they’re willing to do to help sell the book.

EL: On the average, how many new clients do you take on in a year?

Kelly: I evaluate very carefully, as I’m more of a partner than an agent. Each clients’ manuscripts get complete line edits, and that takes time. I’ve never read a manuscript that was completely error-free. I catch things, some small, some big, but every edge you can get, you need to take. The editors I submit to know I’ve gone over the manuscript, and it’ll be clean because I have more at stake than an agent who’s sent a client to a paid editor. Most agents don't have the time or inclination to edit. I think of this business as a war. Each client is different, and each needs their own battle plan. But one thing always holds true. A person fighting for their own country or beliefs is worth three mercenaries. I know, TMI! I’d do a terrible job on a lie-detector test. Can you imagine me giving a yes or no answer?! Actually, I have taken one. Off the track again.... There’s no reasonable answer. I might find one client in four months, or four in one month. But I have to stagger them, as I want each to get my full attention. I’ll know when I have more than I can properly care for, and then I’ll stop until other clients don't need as much of my time.

EL: What are the biggest reasons for rejecting a manuscript?

Kelly: I’m having a bad day. Okay, I have a lot of bad days, but that isn't the real reason. This one’s simple: The writing isn't good enough. Most manuscripts either need too much editing, or the manuscript (plot, characters) aren’t original enough. I’ve taken on a few authors who have great potential, but need some guidance in the editing area, but most writers submit way before they’re ready.

EL: What is the one thing you wish more authors did?

Kelly: Come on, I gotta pick one? Sheesh. Okay. I wish more authors would realize that agents are people just like writers. We have families, lives, and insecurities (well, some of us do...). We don't wanna hurt anyone’s feelings, and we’d love to say yes to everyone. We can't, and it’s nothing personal. What do I wish they’d do? Give a simple thank you, take any comments meant to help them with grace, and still like me as much as I like them, even if I have to pass. I know, dare to dream!

EL: Awesome feedback, Kelly. Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed.

Want to know more? Check out Kelly’s website at

Monday, April 09, 2007

Is it any wonder that editors and agents, people who work so closely together, are all looking for the same thing when it comes to their authors? Yet, with all their similarities, there are a few things that set them apart. Compatibility, for example. Agents are very concerned with finding clients with whom they are compatible.

So what are agents looking for?

Just like an editor, agents want to see quality manuscripts with strong writing technique and unique voice. Kristen Nelson suggests if you are a struggling-to-publish writer, honing your voice should be your top priority. A difficult task, but one in which a critique group can prove invaluable.

They also want to have an in-depth marketing strategy to be able to show to publishers, and they want a highly marketable author with varied skills. Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency suggests writing a sharp, succinct cover letter attached to your very best material. That’s not all that much to ask, is it?

Agent Janet Kobobel Grant offers a whole list of things she looks for when deciding whether or not to take on a client (used with permission):

Here’s what I weigh when I make that decision, but I have to say the criteria will vary from agent to agent, but this will give you an idea of how to present yourself.

I ask:

  • Has the person published before? How many books? With which publishers? What were the sales figures?
  • Did the person come to me through a recommendation? Who made the recommendation?
  • What kind of publishing future might this person have? Is his or her writing strong? Does it stand out from the crowd? Are the ideas creative and marketable? Would the writing have broad appeal or would it have strong appeal to a select but significant audience?
  • Would a number of publishers be interested in the proposal I’m reading or just one publisher?
  • Is this someone I’d like to work with?
  • Do I feel excitement when I read this proposal? In publishing, you’ll find that editors, agents, and yes, even publishers listen to what their instincts tell them about a project. Those who have good instincts are described as having “The Golden Gut”—their “stomach” tells them this is something new, exciting, and very sales-worthy.

For me, I don’t have to answer thumbs up to all the above questions to decide to represent someone. Sometimes yes to just two of those questions can cause me to decide to represent someone. I listen to my intuition.

Your goal, as a writer, is to give an agent every reason to say yes to you and no reason to say no.

Most agents list their particular submission guidelines and what they are looking for on their website or blog. Be sure check them out before you submit. Above all, agents agree, maintain a high level of professionalism. Publishing is a business. Treat it as such.

Okay, so I know what they’re looking for. Now, if I could just get one to sign me.

Next week, I'll post an interview with Kelly Mortimer of the Mortimer Literary Agency. Kelly offers particular insight into the do's and don'ts of finding an agent, so be sure to stop by.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hard as I’ve tried, I’ve yet to find that one person who will become my partner, my supporter, my helper. I’m talking about an agent of course. What did you think?

It all started seven years ago, the day I decided I wanted to write. I set out looking for a publisher, but gradually my focus changed and I realized that having an agent could prove to very valuable in an industry that increasingly becomes more and more competitive. So, what exactly can an agent do for you?

1. Good agents keep their finger on the pulse of the publishing industry. They know what’s selling and who’s buying.

2. Good agents will champion your work and pitch it to the right houses—houses that fit your style and voice.

3. Good agents keep you motivated, help and encourage you, offer criticism and ideas when necessary, and advise you on projects that may or may not fit the current market.

All that said, why is it so difficult to get an agent? I’ve sold a book. . .you’d think this part would be easy. Truth is there are a lot of writers out there and very few agents. Signing with one can be almost as hard as landing a contract. So starting next week, I’m going to bring you along on my journey of finding the right agent for me. I’ll start by telling you what I’ve discovered as far as what agents look for, and their most common reasons for rejecting a manuscript. After that, I’ll post an interview with Kelly Mortimer, of Mortimer Literary Agency.

So come along! Maybe we can find that elusive agent together.

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