Blog Talk Radio: On the Road to a Bestseller

Last week I was a featured guest on Christine Rose’s Blog Talk Radio program “On the Road to a Bestseller,” where we talked christine-roseabout the pros and cons of being agented or unagented. I presented the view from having no agent and being published. David Odle on having an agent on the way to being published, and Jane Kennedy Sutton, who had an agent who turned out not to be the right fit. You can listen to the program here.

Christine also discusses “queryfail,” a discussion thread among several agents on Twitter recently, with examples of what makes them reject many queries. Here’s a sampling from Publishers Lunch:

As a taste, we pulled a selection of our favorite lines and stitched them together into something that’s almost a query letter on its own:

Dear________

“Please be advised of my request that you consider reviewing a page- turning novel that I have recently completed.”
“I’M TYPING MY QUERY IN ALL CAPS SO YOU WILL BE SURE TO NOTICE IT.”
“Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be pulled up a waterfall or to be flushed down a toilet?”
“This is my first attempt at writing a fictional novel.”
“…this, the first book in a seven-book series…”
“I’ve been working on this novel for twenty five years.”
“This book is The Notebook meets The Lord of the Rings.”
“It’s a unique combination of memoir and novel.”
“My book is the first in an imagined autobiography of my tragedy.”
“This is groundbreaking work that will change the way we view everything!”
“My book is differentiated from Twilight because the vampires have wings, and are half-breed angels.”
“I’ve been rejected by three other publishers who said my work was interesting.”
“I’ve queried more than 50 agents and have gotten nowhere and now I’m querying you.”
“I don’t think you’re the right agent for me, but could you pass my query along to some of your colleagues?”
“I hope you don’t mind that I found your personal email address…” ‘
“I know you don’t represent children’s literature, but I hope you’ll make an exception in my case.”

For the moment the focus was on author’s query letters rather than agent’s submission though one editor dared to shift the focus
briefly: “The most common #queryfail I get from agents? Alas, I hate to say this, but “a debut collection of lyrical linked stories.”

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 11:58 pm  Comments (8)  
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What Agents, Editors Want

“Do your research.” That is the primary advice from Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency, who spoke on “Pitching” at the recent WWW conference in San Antonio. In other words, don’t send sci-fi to an agent or publisher who specializes in mysteries or romance.

“Complete your novel before you pitch it.” (This advice is for fiction, not for non-fiction, where a proposal is often requested before the work is completed.) A complete, polished novel ensures a timely response. If you pitch a book that is only partially written and the agent asks to see the whole manuscript, then you’re in an embarrassing situation of admitting it’s not finished. And if it takes another year to finish, the agent or editor most likely will not even remember it and may not be interested any more.

Brief is best. Boil your pitch down to one paragraph of three to four sentences. Practice your “elevator pitch” or “logline” for when you meet an agent or editor at a conference. This is one sentence on what your book is about, the essence of the story. For example, Farris says the logline of To Kill a Mockingbird is “A Southern lawyer defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.” It’s that simple. You can then follow it up with a three or four-sentence synopsis, if asked.

“Be Professional.” It’s a business meeting, Farris says, so sit or stand up straight and make eye contact. Don’t read your notes. Show confidence, but not arrogance. “Think of it as your work getting dressed up and going to a job interview.”

“Keep the three-act concept in mind.” To put it simply, Farris explains, start with the set-up, the story problem (your character is up a tree). Follow with complications (throw rocks at your character in the tree), and finish with the resolution (get character out of the tree).

Mention how many words your book is. Most agents and publishers now are looking for books under 100,000 words, usually around 80,000.

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