Blog Round-Up

This month, I’ve been all over the place! Not just on my blog and Youtube channel.

pale hands pointing at a spot on a map, near a coast.

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Where Else Can You Find Me?

And here are some links I’ve been reading and saving (some, for MONTHS!)

Other People’s Stuff!

What Good Is An Agent? Answers From Writers.

https://youtu.be/8bsDxJ7awgM%5BPrevious related topics: Why? How? What? ]

If you’ve been paying attention to the literary agency world in the last month or so, you probably heard about the embezzlement conviction of Darin Webb, the accountant for the 49-year-old UK literary agency: Donadio & Olson. Webb’s total theft? $3.4 MILLION DOLLARS.

Then, this opinion piece came out on kriswrites.com and was passed around, warning of the dangers and lack of oversight for all agents. It may have left you wondering… with all the risks, why would I want a literary agent?

Well, at Balticon 52, I got to hear a variety of perspectives from published authors who’ve had every sort of agent possible. Here are the stories of Leah Cypess, Keith RA DeCandido, CS Friedman, Tee Morris, and their hunt for a quality agent.

How These Writers Got Their Current Agent

CS Friedman started off with just a publisher. They handled all her negotiations and used their standard, boilerplate contract. After book 2 was published, two agents contacted her.

THAT’S when she found out that the standard contract with agents has her share at 80% of foreign sales or tv deals and the standard one, when it’s just publishers, had her share at 50%. Not a scam, just the standard rates.

Keith DeCandido got his start as an editor and broke into writing with media tie-in work, where there’s not much room for negotiation. So? Once he started original pieces, he already had contacts and knew who he wanted to ask and had the track record to appeal.

Leah Cypess spent years sending her works to publishers… 20 years ago when the market was different. And eventually, began to get rejections saying, “Not this, but do you have anything else?” Once they accepted her book, they suggested she get an agent.

Not knowing any better, she asked for their suggestions. This wasn’t a great idea for several reasons:

  • The agent felt compelled to say yes to maintain a good relationship with the publisher
  • She felt compelled to accept their suggestion
  • The agent wasn’t actually very familiar with her genre and market, and they were a mediocre match.

What Do Agents Do For You?

Other than the money, which a good contract lawyer might help with, what other reasons are there to get an agent?

  • They are your biggest fan
  • Many are editors and can make your story better
    • Or hire someone to do it for them
  • They take off the negotiation pressure
    • It’s a lot harder and trickier to run a bidding war for yourself!
  • They can yell at Editors FOR you so you can keep a good relationship with the editor
  • They have relationships with the Editors already
    • They know what books the publishers are looking for
  • They can vouch that you will fix [whatever] and that your ego won’t get in the way
    • It’s more convincing when someone else believes it
  • They manage your IP [Intellectual Property]
  • A good agent is neither a pushover nor belligerent
    • They’ll do right by you without making the editor’s life hell
Two people shaking hands, clipped to see just the arms.

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Once You Have An Offer In Hand

Once you have an offer from an agent, it’s considered professional to send a notice to the other agents sitting on your query, giving them 1-2 weeks to decide.

Do NOT lie to get agents to make them respond faster. Agents talk.

Two weeks is about the limit, maybe three if it’s summer or a holiday. Longer than that will make an agent feel like you’re using their offer to find a better deal. Don’t do it.

When Should You LEAVE An Agent?

You worked so hard to GET an agent, you thought this meant you’d made it.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Now, this is something you don’t usually hear writers talk about, but 3/4ths of professional writers have left an agent.

Warning Signs

  • No news is NOT good news.
    • They should check in regularly and let you know what they’re doing for you (2-3 months is fine).
  • They’re not submitting your work or following up with the publishers.
    • 6-9 months is a reasonable wait with publishers, but your agent shouldn’t just be sitting on their thumbs.
  • They’ve gone from no-contact to immediate deadlines with little warning.
  • Your career has changed direction and they don’t know your new market.
  • Your agent stopped fighting FOR you!
    • Maybe you didn’t sell like they’d hoped
    • Maybe they signed some fresher or bigger names
    • Maybe life came up and they’re distracted

It doesn’t matter the reason, once they’ve stopped being your supporter, it’s time to move on.

Orange scissors cutting an orange rose and a piece of paper that starts with the words "Marriage Certificate: This is to certi-fy that the .."

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Dealing With Leaving An Agent

No matter your personal relationship, an agent-writer partnership is a professional one. And once they’ve accepted you on as their client? Your agent is actually your employee.

You should write a VERY professional (and not personal) break-up letter.

Remember, they STILL get their percentage on all contracts they’d negotiated for you. Like a divorce, you’re sharing custody of the “kids”. And typically? Your money goes to their agency and they pay out your portion.

WHAT? It should be the other way around! — Well, maybe. But this way, you don’t have to pay taxes on THEIR portion of the money.

When Don’t You Need An Agent?

  • Short story submissions. The money isn’t there and they typically don’t come into play.
    • Note: A cover letter from an agent CAN help with the top markets, though
  • If the publisher does ANYTHING to ask for stuff
    • That turns your manuscript into ‘SOLICITED’!
    • Note: Usually, waiting to hear back this way is even LONGER than with agents.
  • If they’re shmoozing about how they can ‘see it as a movie’. Movies are a hard field to break into, and literary agents have about nill influence there.

A Few Notes About Publishers

  • Publishers are ALWAYS looking for the “Next Big Thing”
  • Small publishers are hungry
    • But before you opt to go with them, pay attention to:
      • their audience
      • their resources
      • their current market
      • the quality of their products
  • Traditional publishers have known names lined up and will bump new authors back if they’re worried about the market impact
    • Their lead books get all the marketing money and the rest are ignored
    • BUT! They get you into every bookstore in the nation, so their lack of marketing is still exponentially greater than most small publishers can hope to achieve.
      • You typically get a smaller advance — for a wider distribution

***

Getting an agent is hard, but getting the RIGHT agent is harder. Here’s to hoping it’s a good match when you both swipe right.

5 Tips For Reading Your Own Work

As you might know, I do some voice acting for the Folk Tale Audio Drama Anansi Storytime where I’ve been everything from a narrator, to (many) Goddesses, to a turtle. Plus, as a writer, looking for an agent, I’m dreaming of that day when people show up to listen to me read my own work (as terrifying as that is).

So, when I see panels on ‘reading your own work’ at conventions, I like to show up and see what else I can pick up. (See here)

Usually, they’re workshops. This year, at Balticon, the session was more of a panel, with a round or so of audience participation at the end. But I learned a LOT of things specific to reading your own work that I didn’t already know.

Here are my top 5 tips for reading from your own manuscript at an author reading.

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1. Pick a scene with action, dialogue, and stop on a cliff-hanger

I’d always imagined that you needed to start your reading at the beginning of the book, otherwise you’d surely confuse the readers!

In truth – no matter how your novel actually starts though, when you’re reading for an audience, you want something active that isn’t too full of introspective!

Although, you still want the scene to focus on the main (or one of the main) protagonists.

Girl smiling at herself in the mirror. Orange blouse, brown hair.

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2. Rehearse

So often, writers (and audiences) believe that since you wrote it, you should know your novel forwards and backward.

But, even if you aren’t a writer, can you remember a joke you made 3 months ago? With the exact wording? Probably not.

I promise it isn’t the marker of a ‘fake’ writer or someone who’s ‘not meant to do this’. Most authors practice.

After several read-throughs, you’ll get to know how many pages will typically take you to the 1-minute mark, the 5-minute mark, or the 20-minute mark, whichever length of reading you’re preparing for.

Make sure to give yourself a little extra script if you need to be sure to fill the time. Nerves and a live audience make most people speed up, no matter how much they’ve practiced.

Feel free to give an intro and talk about the book and yourself and the story — not telling the backstory — but selling yourself and the novel! You don’t have to just read your story during a reading.

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3. Print it out and mark it up

A lot of authors print that scene out in the big font, so they don’t lose their place and mark it all up.

Put in pauses, when you raise your pitch, and when you lower your volume.

Highlight the different characters’ dialogue in different colors!

Whatever you need to make the reading more exciting to listen to.

4. Be EXPRESSIVE!

Use multiple voices! (Those ones you just highlighted in different colors)

Use over-exaggerated faces! (If you commit, so will your audience.)

E-nun-ci-ate! Make sure that you don’t turn your story into a mumble.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens. I meant to color code but haven’t really been doing that. Just using different colors for different things.

5. Don’t be afraid to EDIT THE SCENE

Wait. What?

I was stunned and yet it seemed so obvious when they mentioned this tip. I’d always imagined half the audience having the scenes memorized and ready to ding you if you misspoke a single sentence. But that’s not who you’re reading to!

This audience wants you to succeed. They showed up ready to be entertained and to have the experience of the words being spoken by the writer. To have something fresh and new!

If you’ve ever been to a concert, which is more exciting? A set playlist where everything is by the books and they wait exactly 90 seconds of applause before coming out for the ‘surprise encore’.  Or a band with a huge song list, picking and choosing which song they feel like tonight, with a more organic feel?

The audience is there for your take on it: the sound of foreshadowing in your voice, the excitement of the scene, the wrinkled nose in a character’s disgust at kiwi (what can I say, some characters have no taste!).

So make it easy for them to love your reading.

Cut the dialogue tags — especially if you’re using voices.

Do you have asides and mentions of side plots that aren’t relevant for this scene? CUT THEM!

Do you head-jump a lot and don’t have a full reading’s worth from one character’s point-of-view? Clip them together!

Make the scene as stand-alone as you can — except for that cliffhanger ending and leave ’em with your number buy links.


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These notes were taken from the #Balticon52 panel “Reading Your Own Work”. The panelists were Dave Robison, Starla Huchton, Valerie J. Mikles, Steven Howell Wilson, and moderated by Erin Kazmark.

 

If there’s a topic you’d love for me to talk about, feel free to comment below or email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com