Monthly Archive: May 2012

How Do I Decide if I Need an Agent? Eight Tips to Help You Make Up Your Mind

Can’t you see I’m busy!?

Agent or go solo? The pros and cons are many!

The tools for self publication grow more effective and more accepted every day.  Platforms like Kindle and social media such as Twitter give you the means to publish with low hassle, and to make your audience aware of it if you are savvy and assiduous enough. Should you jump in?  Or do you need an agent?

Our list below can help you set your head straight about the benefits of having an agent and of being a loner.

First, the “NEED AN AGENT” side:

      1.       The agent can help you overcome your own laziness.

New writers’ no. 1 mistake? Sending their work in before it is ready. A good agent will hector you ’til your book is all set. If necessary, the agent may have you spend months in revision. Sound tough? Many published writers who have gone along with this advice – while not sacrificing the core of their work – are glad they did.

      2.       Agents have the editor’s ear.

Face it: your unagented manuscript may sit for any length of time in the slush pile before – in the face of an impossible workload – a junior, underpaid staff member opens it and stuffs it right into your SASE for return unread. Unfair? Bear in mind that a smaller publishing house like Dutton receives 3500 queries a year, and only about 1% of that slush pile measures up in terms of quality and market.

      3.       Your agent can negotiate a better deal for you.

Unless you yourself are well positioned in the publishing biz – effectively qualifying you to be an agent – then you probably don’t know how much your book is worth or how much of an advance you can get away with asking for.

There’s plenty to be said for having an agent – but let the buyer beware!


      4.       A good agent will navigate the labyrinth of a publishing contract in ways you can’t.

Myriad tricks and innocuous-seeming – but toxic – clauses await an inexperienced writer as she first dips her toes into the business side or writing.

      5.       The agent can act as a referee between writer and editor.

A writer nervous about the purity of his first-born book may come off as a prima donna. Busy, disgruntled editors will look like tyrants. The agent will pass issues on in a diplomatic way.

      6.       Coaching.

Good agents know the market and can powwow with you, nudging you towards which of the many projects you are keeping warms has, in his experience, more market potential.

Whew! That’s a long list. So what’s the question here? Well, many writers have had bad experiences with agents, too:

      1.       Your agent may not do anything.

This is a much shorter list, but point no. 1 here is worth at least five above.  It is worth expanding upon. Children and young adult author Sandy Asher summed up her experiences:

 

An experienced agent took me on—and placed me in the very last stall of her very large stable of authors, some of them impressively rich and famous. She rarely visited my stall. She rarely answered my phone calls or my letters. … Looking back, I suppose her theory was that I showed promise and eventually I’d send her something she could easily sell. No hurry. When that time came, she’d trot me out to the starting gate.

In the meantime, I sent her manuscripts—revisions of Daughters of the Law and a string of those ever-hopeful picture books. As far as I know, she never submitted a single one of them to publishers. Two years passed. I grew so angry, frustrated, and sick at heart, I stopped writing. The woman was, for some of her clients, wildly successful, and for others, like me, toxic. I finally called her secretary and said, “Gather up everything you can find and mail it back to me. Whatever this relationship is, it’s over.”

 
Obviously, Sandy’s agent – who just waited for Sandy to shine on her own – was the wrong choice for her.
 

      2.       Agents don’t usually submit your work to small publishers.

The small advances offered by independent publishing houses – sometimes just a few thousand dollars – will amount to peanuts for your agent’s commission. She may not bother to approach those venues. However, a small publisher may be just the right fit you’re a novice. Naturally, your chances of getting a foot in the door are vastly greater with a Hungry indie publishing house.

So there’s plenty to be said for having an agent – but let the buyer beware! If you are saddled with a do-nothing agent, then give her the boot and go elsewhere to get the treatment you deserve.

And Sandy, above? She’s gone through six, and is mightily satisfied with her current one, Wendy Schmalz.

New Author Speaks Out

“…the story wrote itself.”

Today Scribes takes you Salford, UK, to visit new author Debbie Hope, and talk about her first book, Lunar Regeneration. We found out she is a very busy woman!

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How would you describe yourself as a writer?
I write about the things that interest me. Once I had the intriguing idea about a regenerating skeleton the story wrote itself. Perfecting my English and editing took a lot longer and I am studying a BA in English to help perfect my skills.
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How would you describe your genre?
My genre is very much Young Adult/Fantasy with a little romance.
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How did you decide to self publish? Do you think there is a stigma associated with self publishing?
As a businesswoman, I have taken a businesslike approach to publishing my own work and I have no time for phrases like ‘vanity publishing.’ Journalists that use terms like that need to get with the times. I write for YA and talk to them direct through Twitter and reader sites like Goodreads. They would never dream of judging a work by the publisher’s logo. 
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Do you have any words of advice for anyone starting their first manuscript?
If you are just starting a novel my advice is to FINISH IT!
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How about some advice for anyone just having just finished their first manuscript?
Edit, edit, edit again. Then hire a free-lance editor (I used Anne Greenberg) and if you can’t afford a copy editor ask an English Teacher friend for help.
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If you are just starting a novel, my advice is to FINISH IT!

 

What is the absolutely most important thing you would like people to know about you?
My pen name ‘Hope’ is very important to me. I never give up hope.
 
What was your biggest help in writing your novel?
I love fantasy and never stop reading and that will always be important.
 
What was your biggest hindrance?
Time and life’s practical nuisances will always keep creeping up to delay the would-be writer. Set yourself a writing period and stick to it. Even if it has to be in the middle of the night to work in peace.
 
Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
I write in the late evenings when everything is done, including the ironing. Writing is my me-time, my reward; I work full-time, pursue an English degree in the evenings and have a family. Once I sit down to write, I am totally happy. I improvise when in full stream, and lost in the story, and I can write 2000 words a night.
 

Writing is my me-time, my reward. Once I sit down to write, I am totally happy.

 
However, editing for me is a slow and painful process, and I may only keep the best 200 of those 2000 words and will revise a thousand times. I always keep a copy of the first book in my The Immortal MacAbre series by me to encourage me to finish the next book. I love to Twitter to my readers but I don’t dare switch it on until my writing is finished for the night.
 
For the technical side, check the ‘about this book’ section on my website. I had no money to spend, but I did collect lots of advice and assistance along the way. If you are looking to self-publish, get your writing techniques and your work polished first. Then when you have something to promote make sure your precious budget is spent with the right people. I give technical talks on ‘how to self-publish’ for business networking groups because it is a skill you need to acquire.
 

Slamdunk Your POV and Move On!

Katherine noticed her reflection in the mirror. She gazed at her delicately arched eyebrows and observed her full lips. “Why–THAT’S ME!” she exclaimed.

See if you can find the mistake in the following lines:

“Hi! I’m John! Won’t you sit down? Hi! I’m John! Would you like a bite to eat? Hi! I’m John! Did you find your way here OK? Hi! I’m John!”

If you’re truly a sharp reader, you’ll notice that John is either what used to be called a broken record, or else suffers from truly short-term amnesia.

We would never put these utterances into the mouth of a character, but even experienced writers may find themselves introducing and reintroducing their point of view, alienating and boring the reader.

We writers often feel we must justify each observation our POV character makes. But once you establish your POV character, there’s no need to excuse every observation she makes with a she saw, she noticed or a she smelled. 

Of course, it is important to introduce us to the point of view of your story, novel or chapter at the opening bell to avoid confusion. Let’s take a typical beginning:

Rima looked out over the meadow, waiting for Drew’s return.

Great. We know this part of the tale will be from Rima’s perspective. Let’s see what happens next.

She watched as mariposas swayed in the breeze, running her hands over the rough wood of the railing Drew had built on their veranda. In the distance, she could see clouds as they threatened to block out the sun. She noticed a smudge against the horizon. She knew it must be a campfire. She wondered if there would be visitors at this time of year.

See how the writer (OK, it was me) reintroduces the POV in each sentence. What is happening in this description? Rima watched. Rima could see. Rima noticed. Rima knew. Rima wondered. OK! We get it! It’s Rima! We’re seeing this through her eyes!

We writers often feel it is somehow necessary to justify each observation our POV character makes, to show that she could realistically have observed it. However, once you have established your POV character, there is no need to excuse every observation she makes with a she saw, a she noticed or a she smelled. This is like old broken-record John, above, re-introducing himself at a party before each and every sentence. Nail the POV, and then make all observations (anything your character might reasonably know or perceive) without further preamble.

Rima looked out over the meadow, waiting for Drew’s return. Mariposas swayed in the breeze beyond the rough wood railing Drew built on their veranda. In the distance, clouds threatened to block out the sun. A smudge grew against the horizon–a campfire. Visitors at this time of year?

Mariposas swayed. Clouds threatened. A smudge grew.

Notice how much better a summary the main verbs of this paragraph make than the previous, “She watched, she saw, she noticed.” Snarky readers may point out that even more improvements could be made. Yet with this simple measure, we have trimmed the fat off our little description.

Speed bumps like the ones detailed here are fine for you first draft. Don’t get bogged down with revising before the first draft is ready!

 

You may grumble that the five senses are all important. But why say, “Randy could smell bacon cooking,” when we can say, “The smell of bacon drifted in from the kitchen”? If the sentence is about bacon, make that the subject! We can all guess that Randy smelled it.

This is what Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk calls “the part where the character looks into a shiny mirror or teapot so they can describe themselves—all those hackneyed, obligatory 19th-century things.” I want to watch people doing things, not watch the character looking at someone doing something. And the revised version is truer to our natural flow of perceptions. I assure you, as I sit here, your faithful Scribe, I am absolutely not “watching my fingers fly effortlessly over the keyboard.” I’m typing.

Speed bumps like the ones detailed here are fine for you first draft. Don’t get bogged down with revising before the first draft is ready! But when it comes time for revision (after you write THE END on your first draft), take care to eliminate superfluous point-of-view elaborations that distance the reader from what is really happening.