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Friday, November 21, 2008

When Do You Need an Agent? Part II

Last weekend, a book buyer surprised me with this question: "Did your agent come find you? Or did you find your agent?"

I had this quickie mental image of my agent, Liz, going door-to-door in the neighborhood and asking, "Any writers in the house?"

But I bit back a chuckle. I suppose someday an agent might "come find" me or one of my friends. But right now, most of the authors I know actively sought out an agent.

When do you need an agent?

Well, it's sort of like, when do you need a real estate agent?

When you have a house.

For most of us--and remember, there's always an exception--until we have something to sell, we don't "need" an agent. So I pitched Liz at SleuthFest on representing me AFTER I'd finished writing what became Paper, Scissors, Death. Oh, yeah, it would be nice to have someone to help you decide what to write. Or someone to discuss this crazy business with us. But...until you have a manuscript to sell, you have little or nothing to show an agent. And agents get approached all the time (at least, this is what I've seen at conferences) by folks who have an idea for a book, but do NOT have a manuscript, much less a finished product.

Jordan Dane has some great thoughts on retaining an agent. Check it out at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why You Need an Agent--and Query Letters that Worked--Part I

I promised to write about agents, so here I go.

Let's start with the four ways for getting an agent that I personally know work:*

1. Pitch an agent at a writers' conference--meet the agent face-to-face and tell him/her about your book. SleuthFest is a great writers' conference for this. So's Crime Bake. Why? They offer face time with agents. You will need to craft your pitch so you can say it in your sleep. Try it on several friends and watch their reactions. Do they smile? Do their eyes light up? Remember that agents expect you to be nervous. Heck, they've done this before. And be prepared to send at least 50 pages of your work-in-progress. Better yet, finish your book first. If you're writing fiction, they've been pitched by dozens of folks who never finish their manuscripts. So be prepared--have yours done.

2. Pitch an agent online. In this age of Internet, this is a great way to get a speedy response. Use a guide to agents such as the excellent one by Jeff Herman. Go to Predators and Editors at Join the Guppies--which is a special interest group for not-yet-published authors who are members of Sisters in Crime. (You must be a SinC member first, then you pay a small fee to join Guppies.) The Guppies have a list of editors they'll share. Or use the Writers Market guide to editors. Make a list of those who will accept online queries. Then, work your list.

3. Get a referal from an author. This is the hardest of the the opportunities. If you haven't already published a book, haven't established yourself as a professional, it can be very tricky for another author to recommend you. After all, she or he will be sharing an important asset--the name and contact info for his/her agent. So don't count on this method. And never, ever just walk up to an author cold and ask for this info. That's rude.

4. Send a query packet or query letter to an agent--cold turkey. It can work. But to do a good job you need to write a GREAT query letter. There are examples at Gumbo Writers. Check them out at

* I have friends who have used these methods or I have tried them myself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Magic of Friendship

"Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

-Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh

My friends have been the most magical portion of my life. I met Shirley Damsgaard and Angie Fox before I had a contract for the book that became Paper, Scissors, Death. Even though I had been published ten times in non-fiction, I still felt like a pretender. But neither woman thought of me as a “wannabe.” They both treated me with respect, as an equal. And that’s part of the magic of friendship—our friends see us as who we can become, not just who we are. They believe in us when we forget to believe in ourselves.

Early on, Shirley and I fell into the habit of brainstorming plot ideas. It was fascinating to me to hear how she would start with a germ of an idea or a scene and spin that into a manuscript. Shirley is a smart cookie and one of the best storytellers I know.

Angie and I found common interests in the promotional side of writing. She’s another wickedly smart woman, but she and I tend to talk more about how to reach our readers. Angie is an astute observer of the marketplace.

In Paper, Scissors, Death, I wanted to re-create the magic of friendship. I chose to give my heroine Kiki Lowenstein two very different role models. There’s Mert, the hardscrabble cleaning lady with her homey wisdom and nurturing ability. And there’s Dodie, the “tough” businesswoman who teaches Kiki to be self-reliant and not to hide from unpleasant information. Both women help my heroine grow into a more confident, capable woman.

Of course, there’s also hunky Detective Chad Detweiler, but he’s a special sort of friend. I named Detweiler after a guy I knew in college who was a friend. Not a boyfriend, but a real friend. And I named Kiki Lowenstein after the therapist in The Prince of Tides. Remember the scene where Nick Nolte is driving his convertible over the Cooper River and repeating, “Lowenstein, Lowenstein, Lowenstein”? To my mind, a good therapist is a paid, professional friend—and in the movie and book, her belief in him sets him free.

After all, that’s what Shirley and Angie have done for me. When I lack confidence, they fill my empty cup with praise and reminders of what I’ve achieved. When I feel like I’m not capable, they put the cherry on top that gives me an extra bit of moxie.

How about you? What have your girlfriends done to make your life better? Who makes the magic in your world?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About Literary Agents.

Rick Frishman posted this interesting take on literary agents.

Literary agents have emerged as the publishers' gatekeepers. They are middlemen (and women), go-betweens and facilitators. Approximately 80 percent of the books that publishing houses release were brought to them by agents. Most publishing houses give agented submissions more attention because editors have a high level of confidence in agented submissions. They know that it's not in an agent's interest to waste their time because they have ongoing business relationships with editors that they don't want to jeopardize.

"An agent is effectively a vendor. He or she usually has already worked on the proposal, which gives me quality control and a partner in the creation of the book," Jeremy Katz, super literary agent, says. "The author isn't really my partner until I buy the book, but I'm in business with the agent."

Publishers rely on agents to screen submissions for several reasons:

* Cost savings. Since agents read manuscripts and proposals, publishers don't have to hire more screeners.

* Selectivity. Literary agents usually have experience, know quality, and know what sells. They usually won't try to interest publishers in stuff that's weak, except when it's written by a big celebrity.

* Insider knowledge. Agents usually have a feel for the pulse of the industry.

They are adept at spotting trends and usually know what's hot. Agents are often great talent spotters, and the good ones know what particular publishing companies and/or editors want and like. On the flip side, publishers know that agents are commissioned salespeople and their livelihoods are directly tied to selling the books they pitch. Agents receive a commission, usually 15 percent, on whatever their writers receive. While publishers won't automatically sign every writer that agents recommend, they usually will read what their clients write. Legally, agents represent authors; they are their sales agents. When publishers pay authors for advances and royalties, they send checks to the agents, who deduct their fees and remit the balance to their clients. Since some agents tend to work with the same publishers or editors, they can become beholden to them. This can create delicate situations and agents must balance the interests of two, often conflicting, parties: authors and publishers. An agent's primary job is to represent the writer and protect his or her interests. Much of this involves the selling of the book and negotiating the contract and fees. The work of a good agent continues long after the ink on the contract is dry. A good agent monitors the publisher's actions, sees that they are keeping their bargains and putting forth their best efforts to promote and distribute their clients' books. They also are watchful for future opportunities and push for follow-up books, additional printing runs, added publicity, and other benefits. For most writers, getting a literary agent isn't easy. Agents don't make money unless they sell books, so they're selective about the clients they take on. Most agents simply can't afford to waste their time and energy on writers whose works won't sell. Increase your chances of getting an agent by understanding the process from the agent's perspective.

Note: Rick offers a list of literary agents he works with in his Million Dollar Rolodex.Get it at

Reprinted from "Rick Frishman's Author 101 Newsletter"Subscribe at and receive Rick's "Million Dollar Rolodex

Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I think about agents, and I'll tell you how to get one.