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In my recent survey, I asked those of you working with agents to answer a few questions about how you got your agent. First off, thank you SO MUCH to those who took the time to respond in order to help others in the community. These include: Hayley Chewins, Julie Glover, Kellie DuBay Gillis, Michael Wayne, Anne Marie Pace, Kristin Gray, Denise Gallagher, Corey Schwartz, Beth Ferry, Julie Dao, Stephanie Diaz, Russ Cox, Sarah Albee, Stephanie Fletcher-Stephens, Ashlyn Anstee, Melissa Caruso, Julie Falatko, Bruce Hale, Mike Jung, Heidi Schulz, Amy Lozier, Josh Funk, Jim Averbeck, Edward Willett, Kelley McMorris, Annie Cardi, Carter Higgins, Susan VanHecke, Jennifer Gray Olson, Andria W. Rosenbaum and Juana Martinez-Neal. Others responded anonymously.
74 people responded and almost all were children's/YA book writers or illustrators. Most got their agent through an email query.
Here's a further summary and breakdown of the results as of today (August 14, 2015).
As you can tell from the above, most of the respondents' represented work focuses on children's/YA writing. About 25% had agents representing their children's book illustration work.
Approx. 70% of respondents said they were working with their first agent. The others had worked with other agents before.
Here are some of additional comments about useful resources while researching agents:
"Online searches about what agents said and represented, conversations with authors already in the publishing business." - Julie Glover
"The SCBWI blueboard! Also, agent's blogs and agency websites." - Kellie DuBay Gillis
"Author friends - individual agent google searches which often bring up a variety of insightful blog interviews - agency websites." - Michael Wayne
"Probably most helpful was just googling agents to find interviews and other information, especially agency websites. Facebook was helpful mostly because of a private Facebook group of PitchWars '14 mentees that I belong to--networking with other writers is a big help. I also used QueryTracker. The AbsoluteWrite forums are usesful too."
"When I signed with my agent in early 2007, Facebook was just catching on and I don't think anyone had Twitter yet--okay, I checked Wikipedia--it was very small at that time! The Children's Writers and Illustrators Market was only in hardcover, not online! Much has changed, very quickly!" - Anne Marie Pace
"Recommendations from other agented writers, and recommendations from my former agent."
"12 x 12 picture book challenge submission."
"Also Querytracker." - Kristin Gray
"Pitch Madness on Twitter!" - Denise Gallagher
"I also learned about a lot of agents and agencies through other writers and through contests. (This is mostly where Twitter comes in... as a vehicle for word of mouth.) I used Publisher's Marketplace and AgentQuery more as a secondary reference to look up more info on agents, rather than a place to find them in the first place." - Melissa Caruso
"Querytracker.com, pred-ed.com." - Russ Cox
"General online research, agent interviews, etc."
"One of her clients gave me a referral." - Corey Schwartz
"Google. And, of course, the official agency websites are huge sources of information."
"Blog post loutreleaven showing a list of literary agents."
Additional comments about how they met their agent:
"We had never met face to face, but she contracted me after seeing my work in the Portfolio Showcase. Then we met (face to face) a few weeks later. A month or so after that, I signed with her agency. We have seen each other a few times since I signed, but mainly we communicate via email (and occasionally phone)."
"We met through the #PitMad Twitter pitch contest where she requested my work!" - Julie Dao
"I heard her speak at an SCBWI Editor's Day. The following year, I had her critique one of my manuscripts for SCBWI Agent's Day, and was signed soon after." - Stephanie Fletcher-Stephens
"Online via Verla Kay's Blueboards and my blog. Joan contacted me to request pages." - Mike Jung
"It was a case of right match, right time. I liked what he said in his talk, took advantage of his offer to submit stories, and found that he really liked one of my pieces -- enough to represent me." - @storyguy1
"I was referred by another agent."
"I queried her by email before an SCBWI event that I was volunteering at and she was speaking at." - Jennifer Gray Olson
"Personal reference from one of her existing clients." - Josh Funk
"Answered request from Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL)."
"They noticed me because I won the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship." - Kelley McMorris
"Through my MFA program (VCFA)- she was a fellow student at the time." - Amy
"I met my agent through a #PitMad twitter pitch event."
"I had planned to query her based on research I'd done, but she invited me to submit my query letter, synopsis, and first 3 chapters from a Twitter pitch."
Again, THANK YOU SO MUCH for those who took the time to respond!
If you have comments or suggestions, including your own experience with researching and finding an agent, I encourage you to post below.
I met Cheryl Rainfield through the Toronto Area Middle Grade/YA Author Group (also known as Torkidlit) and am a big fan of her work (especially SCARS and HUNTED in the past). A survivor of abuse, Cheryl often draws upon her own experience in her intense and highly charged fiction. I love Cheryl's enthusiasm for kidlit/YA as well as her positive outlook and support of others in the community.
STAINED was named one of Bank Street College's Best Books Of The Year (2014) for ages 14 and up, and was a SCBWI Crystal Kite Finalist.
For those in the Toronto area: Cheryl will be speaking about STAINED and signing copies (as well as of SCARS and HUNTED) at Chapters Scarborough at 2 pm on Saturday, Sept. 13th, 2014.
Q. What’s your writing process? Or What was your writing process for STAINED?
A. I write and edit my manuscripts by hand. Longhand writing feels more connected to my inner voice, my creativity, and more alive. And then I type the writing into MS Word. At various points, I also send out my manuscript to other writers to get feedback, and then I revise again. For STAINED, I did about thirteen drafts before it sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and then multiple drafts before it was published. At one point my editor Karen Grove asked me to try writing some scenes from the abductor’s point of view. I tried, but I think because what I wrote about was so personal—I was drawing on my own trauma and abuse experience—and because I can’t bear to be in the head of an abuser, especially an abuser character based on my own abuser—I found it painful and I struggled writing those scenes. Ultimately I took those scenes out; the book worked better, the way I could write it, with just Sarah and Nick’s alternating viewpoints.
STAINED was the first book I’ve written where I used two different perspectives, and I really enjoyed the process. I put a lot of myself into both Sarah and Nick. I think the alternate points of view helped fill in the gaps in Sarah’s story that she couldn’t know about from her perspective, gave the reader a small breather, and sometimes worked to increase the tension. I also used them to gradually develop the relationship between Sarah and Nick, and the awareness that they really loved each other.
I typically write a lot of drafts quickly, always trying to make the writing and story better, stronger, more powerful, and often doing drafts focused on different things each time. In early drafts, I tend to write the conflicts and tension, the emotion in the characters, the action and plot, and tend to leave out description and setting—I think because as a person and an abuse survivor that’s what I notice most in the world: tension, body language, emotion. So then I have to go back in and layer those things in, as well as symbols and metaphors if I’ve left them out.
I also usually have to go back in and intentionally add lightness and breathing room for the reader. I'm so used to tension and fear and and pain—it's what I lived most of my life and know inside out—that putting in happier moments has to be very intentional on my part. I also think tension and conflict helps make a book a page turner—but readers need breathing room, too. I had a lot of fun giving Sarah and Nick a love of comics and superheroes in STAINED, since I also love and read them, and I also enjoyed making Nick draw (I do, too), giving him geeky technological savviness (also my love), and giving Sarah the strength and courage to stand up to bullies who were harassing other kids (also part of myself). And I managed, probably for my first book ever, to give my main character two really good parents--something that comes from my finally having some loving, safe people in my life, and especially my therapist. I think I'm getting better at adding in lightness in my early drafts.
I used to be a pantser writer, not wanting to feel confined by outlines, but I now do outlines with the knowledge that I can change them—and they help me write a lot better, faster. With every book I write, I use THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby to help guide my initial focus, character and plot building, and outline, and also at least my first draft. I’ve found that book incredibly helpful and valuable, as well as a lecture I attended by Donald Maass where I learned a lot more about symbols, parallels, and reversals, which I also add in. And I always, always get feedback from other writers and polish my work before sending it on to my agent. I want my writing to be as polished as it can be before I submit it, so that it’s more likely to get published.
Q. How did STAINED get published?
A. My agent at the time—Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger—submitted my manuscript to editors and found a home for STAINED at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This was a relief to me, since WestSide, the publisher who’d published SCARS and HUNTED, had closed just before HUNTED came out, and I needed a new, stable, and good publishing home. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been fantastic with me and STAINED, releasing STAINED in the US, Canada, and the UK, in print, ebook, and audiobook formats. It’ll also be coming out in a cheaper paperback format mid-2015; I’m excited about that!
I think having a good agent vastly improves a writer’s chances of getting a manuscript published; an agent can submit work to publishers who are closed to writers without agents, and that includes most of the big publishing houses. Although you can get published without an agent, it’s a lot harder. I also learned when I attended college for an editing certificate that publishers generally have two standard contracts—one for authors without an agent, and one for authors with an agent. And the contract for authors with an agent automatically starts at higher royalty rates and better clauses and options. And a good agent knows editors personally and can figure out what manuscript to place with what editor, and also help guide a writer’s career. So I knew I needed an agent.
I actually got my first contract by myself—through the slushpile with WestSide Books—but after years of research, reading writing technique books, publishing industry books, and articles, I knew I needed an agent to negotiate the contract for me, and to help advance my career. I’d initially queried Andrea with HUNTED, which she’d rejected, but her rejection letter was one of the nicest and longest I’d received, and she mentioned hoping to work with me on another book. Her letter stood out to me. So when I got an offer for SCARS (two offers, actually, almost at the same time), I contacted her and asked if she’d represent me, and she did. She also sold HUNTED, and of course STAINED, and I’m grateful for all her help.
Traditional publishing can be slow. I signed the final contract for STAINED in February 2012; I think we got the offer in late 2011, worked on the edits in 2012 (and waited for feedback in between), and then STAINED was published in October 2013. But there’s so much that goes into producing a book—not just the content editing, but also copyediting, proofreading, cover design, interior design and layout, jacket copy, and then also promotion and distribution.
I love what Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did with STAINED—the designer did an incredible, tasteful job with the final cover, pulling a rich, deep purple into the title (because Sarah has a purpleish port-wine stain on her cheek that she obsesses about) and also into the endpapers, and black vertical streaks reminiscent of the cabin Sarah was locked in; the gorgeous texture to the matte jacket; featuring the tagline on the cover: “Sometimes you have to be your own hero;” picking a worn, broken-looking font for the chapter heads with the name and time stamps and initial first words in the first paragraph; using nicely textured cream paper; the readable typeset; and the tiny visual surprise on the hardcover along the spine beneath the book jacket—the title, my name, and publisher info in a gorgeous iridescent purple. I love how a book looks, as you may be able to tell (laughing) so it was a delight to have such care taken with STAINED. Holding a finished book that you wrote for the first time is such a joy.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring YA writers?
A. First—if your dream is to get published, don’t give up.
You may face a lot of rejection over time, but if you persist I think you’ll eventually get published. It took me more than ten years and hundreds of rejections from both editors and agents before I got SCARS published. If I’d given up before then—and in the last few years I was very despairing—then I might never have been published.
Edit your work over and over until it sounds right. One trick I use for some drafts is to read my manuscript aloud. I can hear what works and what doesn’t better that way. It also helps to put your manuscript away for at least a week (I often do two to even four weeks) between drafts before editing again, so that you have as clear a read as possible and can see what’s really working and what really isn’t.
Make sure to get honest feedback from other writers; that can help you advance so much as a writer. Don’t change everything based on what others say, though; make sure to listen to your gut, and to change what feels right. Let the manuscript and feedback sit for a week or more before acting on it unless you’re absolutely sure. I found that joining a critique group of other writers who wrote in the same genre I did helped me immensely; I not only got great feedback, but I also got to hear what worked and what didn’t in others’ writing, and learn from that.
Learn the craft of writing—attend conferences and professional talks, read articles online such as K.M. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors and in magazines such as Writer’s Digest, and most especially read books on writing technique (if you can learn that way) or take some classes.
Writing technique books have really helped me; I’ve read (and bought) more than a hundred books on technique, and I go back and reread some of them and glean new things as I progress as a writer.
Learn from them, take what works for you, and discard the rest.
Read. Read as much as you can—for pleasure and for craft. Read in the genre you write in (and hopefully love to read); you’ll learn from it, and you’ll also fill your own creative well. And write about what you care deeply about. Your readers will sense your passion and respond to it.
Pam also created a clever website about the fictional Candor, Florida as if it was a real place. I asked about her inspiration, and here’s what she replied:
I was inspired to create candorfl.com, first and foremost, because it was FUN. I spent countless hours of real towns’ real estate sites, back when we were house-shopping in Florida, and I thought it would be very cool to give Candor, Florida a “real” web presence. And of course I figured this would be both a way to intrigue new readers and to extend the “experience” of CANDOR for people who had already read the book. I’ve gotten a lot of funny e-mails from people who visit the site–asking me for CDs to “help’ their teens or for CDs to “persuade” their parents to do something. Some of the site’s visitors, frighteningly, seem to take it as proof that the town really exists. I’ve gotten some very earnest queries for help from people who seem to think Candor, Florida will fix their family’s problems and I can’t decide if I’m being punked or if people are just really confused. I love when people comment on the bulletin board posts, on the site, offering to bring treats to the SAT study party!
To those of you who aren't on Facebook, I've posted what Darcy said at the end of this post.
If you DO participate and post a review of a book somewhere during the week, feel free to use this badge of honor I created this morning specifically for the event:
I've also created a bit.ly shortcut, http://bit.ly/RAPweek, which points to Darcy's Facebook page about the event.
From Darcy Pattison:
September 7-10, 2010 2nd Annual RANDOM ACTS OF PUBLICITY WEEK
WHAT? I always promise myself that today I’ll write a review of my friends’ books and actually post them on Amazon or Library Thing or GoodReads or somewhere. But do I? No. That’s about to change! We're going to help publicize our friends' books during the Random Acts of Publicity Week.
...Why? I know how wonderful it is to see new reviews on Amazon of one of my books. I know that it’s better to give than to receive. During the Random Acts of Publicity Week, I vow to put these two things together and give friends some support for their books.
Why this week? We all know that the holiday shopping season is when people buy things, including books. Especially books! We want our Amazon pages and other publicity in place before that season starts. So, September is a great month to help others by reviewing their books and doing other Random Acts of Publicity.
How? See darcypattison.com each day of this week for tips on helping publicize your friends' books.
Who? Anyone and everyone can join in this week of paying-it-forward.
No matter where you are in your writing career–hoping for it, working on it, already have it–it always pays to keep yourself educated about the business side. Writing is your business, whether or not you’re making any money at it yet. Take yourself seriously and treat yourself like the business owner you are.
So read Kris’s current post, then take the time to read some of her earlier posts in this series–knowledge is power!
From best-selling writers turning down traditional publishing deals and going indie, to best-selling indie writers going traditional, to copyright rulings and other business issues that affect all us writers–
This latest post from Kristine Rusch answers a question on a lot of writers’ minds: What if I don’t want to go indie? What if I want to stick with (or try to get a new contract with) a traditional publisher?
Every writer’s needs are different, and what I love about this post is it gives the sticking-with-tradition people some ideas about what to look for in their current and future contracts. Read and learn!
Learning the business of writing can be overwhelming. I've found a wonderful site that offers help with writing for children, freelance writing and building a business out of writing. The creator of this site is Suzanne Lieurance.
Suzanne is a fulltime children’s author, freelance writer, and The Working Writer’s Coach. She teaches children’s writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature based in West Redding, Connecticut, and is the founder and director of the National Writing for Children Center. Lieurance is the author of 20 published books and has written articles for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and ezines like Family-Fun, Kansas City Weddings, Instructor Magazine, New Moon for Girls, Children’s Writer, and many others. She hosts a talk show about children’s books, called Book Bites for Kids, every weekday afternoon on blogtalkradio.com. Lieurance offers a variety of coaching programs via private phone calls, teleclasses, listserv, and private email for writers who want to turn their love of writing (for children and/or adults)into a part-time or full-time career.
I am a member of Suzanne's Children's Writers Coaching Club. For a miniscule amount per month as a member you get monthly assignments geared to get your work published and critiques of those assignments, teleclasses explaining the how to write for children, and monthly critiques of your works in progress. This club also offers information on the business of writing such as making yourself visible through online ezines and blogs.
Suzanne has a knack for motivating and encouraging her members. I highly recommend this site and club.
A couple of Suzanne's other clubs/groups are Build Your Business Write, Writers on Call, and Working Writers Coach.
Another excellent post from multiple award-winning novelist and short story author Kristine Kathryn Rusch about the business side of writing. This week’s installment, how to get paid.
And if you haven’t read the previous installments yet, take the time to catch up on the whole collection. For those of you who want to making [...]
Hi! You thought I was in the wilderness, didn’t you? I’m in between wildernesses at the moment–we’re hiking and driving our way northward so it’s not just endless days in the car. But we’ve finally passed into Wyoming, where bigger wilderness awaits.
Anyway. Wanted to take a moment to give you all [...]
One of my favourite talks at the SCBWI conference was Wendy Loggia’s keynote speech, “I Wanted to Love This: Seven Reasons Why Your Manuscript Gets Declined.” Her talk focused on reasons she rejected manuscripts that were almost accepted but not quite ready.
Wendy is executive editor of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s books. She edited the Sister Of The Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares as well as the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray. In preparation for the talk, Wendy went through her binder of rejection letters and found that pretty much all the rejection reasons boiled down to seven points:
1. Nice writing but no story. The characters are at the same emotional place at the end of the book as they were in the beginning. Wendy found that this was a common problem with authors’ first books. She says that having a good plot is essential. Ask yourself, “Why would a bookstore customer choose and buy this book?”
2. The mss is too similar to other novels that the editor has worked on. Wendy warns authors against submitting books that very similar to others on the editor’s list; you may be setting yourself up for a negative comparison, especially if the other book is very good. Even worse if the other book didn’t sell well.
3. Your readership isn’t clear. Who will want to read your book? Your book is too “quiet” or doesn’t have enough commercial appeal.
4. The writer seems like a difficult person to work with. Wendy always Googles an author’s name before offering a contract. She says she may be prompted to change her mind about signing up an author if they share too much information in their blog, if they tend to blog a lot about how hard writing is, if they blog about being rejected many times, if they publicly bash a book she’s worked on, or if they bash a colleague in the business who is her friend.
5. The editor can’t connect to your voice. You may be doing too much telling instead of showing. Your writing may be too predictable.
6. You’ve submitted your work too early, before it’s fully polished. Especially in this economic climate, always take the time to present yourself in the best light possible. Make sure your work is ready before you submit it.
7. Your project won’t stand out on a publishing house’s list. Wendy said this is happening more and more. A book may be rejected to avoid in-house competition.
Ruth Ann Nordin has offered advice on how authors can increase their book sales, based on her own experience in selling her self-published book. As she points out, her sales are still modest, but her post is a good source of ideas on how to build an author platform in a year. Thanks for sharing, Ruth Ann!
I hope that you, my fellow published and aspiring writers, really do see your writing life as a business. You are the president, the CEO, the principal player, the monarch (in some of your cases)–call yourself what you will.
You could choose to just let things happen. To not take yourselves seriously. To [...]