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Step: Finding an Agent
by Sandy Tritt
we’ve finally done it. We’ve written our novel, we’ve struggled through
the synopsis, we’ve figured out the query letter – now, who do we send it
to? It is time to make some decisions. Your first decision: do you want to
self-publish or traditionally publish? If you self-publish, you pay for
all the costs of bringing your book to print, and you do all of your own
marketing and sales. You also keep all of the proceeds. If you publish in
the traditional sense, you give the rights (or some of the rights) to your
manuscript to a publisher. In exchange, you may (or may not) receive an
advance (a “down-payment” towards future sales) and you may (or may not)
receive royalties (a portion of the sale of each book), depending on
whether or not your book sells well. If you decide to self-publish, see
our discussion following this one. However, if you choose to publish your
book traditionally, you must decide if you want to represent yourself or
if you want to hire a Literary Agent to represent you. Many of the larger
publishing houses do not accept unagented manuscripts, which is one good
reason for getting an agent. Another is that your agent can often strike a
much better bargain for you than you could by yourself. In return, you
“pay” your agent ten to twenty percent of your royalties.
Respectable agents do not charge fees. Nor do they recommend a particular
editor or refer you anywhere where you will be charged fees. They are paid
solely from commissions of sales. The Association of Author’s
Representatives (AAR) is a voluntary professional organization whose
members agree to follow a certain standard of ethics. Membership in this
organization is a good sign. I believe that fiction writers who want to be
published by a major publisher will do better with an agent than without
do you find an agent? Start with any one of the several comprehensive
listings of agents in such books as Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest
Books), Guide to Literary Agents edited by Rachel Vater (Writer’s Digest
Books), Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents,
2003-2004: Who They Are! What They Want! and How to Win Them Over by Jeff
Herman (Prima Publishing), and Literary Agents: What They Do, How They Do
It, and How to Find and Work with the Right One for You by Michael Larsen
(John Wiley and Sons). In these listings, agents are usually first divided
by fee-charging and non-fee-charging (go for the non-fee-charging), then
in alphabetical order. Some agents only handle fiction, some only
nonfiction, some both. Some agents do not accept queries from
non-published writers. Some only represent certain genres. This is the
time to do your homework. Do not waste your time, postage and paper on an
agent who is not interested in your work. Also, pay attention to what the
agent wants: query only, query and first three chapters, and so forth.
Then, send exactly what is requested. (However: when an agent says “query
only,” I still include the one or two page synopsis).
the time to read the “insider advice” that comes in each of these books.
They tell you what to expect and give you several suggestions.
you’ve found a list of agents who seem compatible with you and your work,
address a query letter to that particular agent, include a synopsis, and,
if requested, the first three chapters (or first fifty pages). Remember to
include a self-addressed stamped envelope and be polite. Do not telephone
the agent and do not write a nasty follow-up if you don’t hear from him
within a reasonable amount of time. Try to send out ten to twenty queries
a month. It is always okay to query more than one agent at a time.
agents are now accepting email queries. This is fine, just be sure to read
carefully their exact requirements. If they request that the query be in
the text of an email and not an attachment, send it as such. And be sure
to follow the guidelines for a professional query letter—just because
email is a less formal approach does not mean that you should be less
formal in soliciting an agent. Professionalism is always appreciated.
an agent is not an easy thing to do. Neither is finding a spouse. But
somewhere in this world is the perfect agent for you. So look, watch,
listen, and keep your mind open. Your agent needs you as much as you need
(from Section 5, Workbook)
Want more great tips and techniques? Our
Inspiration for Writers
Tips and Techniques Workbook is now available. Expanded tips, more
topics, reproducible worksheets, exercises to practice what you learn and
much more--check it out! Free shipping anywhere in the United States.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. September be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.
by Lynette Rees
I thought it might be a good idea to
talk about overused phrases in
novels and short stories, this isn't
just for me to have a moan and
groan, but for you to think yourself
if you overuse any phrases in your
We've all done it at sometime or
another -- picked up a book by a
well known or even not so well known
author and put it down again,
wondering if it is worth carrying on
reading it through to the end.
We've got fed up of overused
phrases. I'll give you an example.
Recently, I got into the writing of
a popular romance novelist. Her
books excited me, I couldn't put
them down. After reading 3 of them,
I purchased yet another, only to be
very disappointed. I had the
impression that this was a book she
had written in haste.
She had used the same phrase over
and over. She used it so much in her
book that now it's my most hated
What was it?
"She rolled her eyes."
I know a lot of writers have used
this phrase from time to time. I
think they can get away with it if
it's used very sparingly.
Personally, I don't like the phrase,
as to me, it conjures up visions of
2 disembodied eyes being rolled
across the floor. The author had
used this phrase so much, that I
even found it used twice in the same
I got the impression that the book
she had written, although the plot
was excellent, was written in a
Another phrase I’ve noticed popping
up in romance novels is the
‘Over-stuffed armchair’. To be
honest, I’m not even sure what an
over-stuffed armchair looks like. Is
a chair like this so bad that there
is polyester filling oozing from its
insides? Do customers have a right
to complain if they have purchased
an ‘over-stuffed armchair’?
The armchair I purchased from your
store last week looks decidedly
over-stuffed. If you do not send
someone around to remove some of the
stuffing, then I shall be forced to
contact the ‘Armchair Police’, who
will investigate the case.
Mrs. Couch Potato.
Other readers have their say:
* How did she manage that?
Ami Weaver says the phrase she
dislikes is: "She schooled her
features..." Ami goes on to say:
"How do you school your features?
This one is perhaps not overly
common, but there is one author in
the category romance arena that uses
it constantly. And it makes me
* How ridiculous!
Heather Truett says: "I recently
read Queenmaker by India Edghill,
and she ended almost every chapter
with "She thought she knew, but she
was wrong." Now, I notice that kind
of phrase everywhere. Every
character always thinks they
* Over-active head movements
Amie Cleghorn says: "I read this
book one time where 'She tossed her
head' all the time. When she wasn't
tossing her head, she was shrugging
her shoulders. And, yes, she could
What over-used phrases do you
dislike when reading a novel or
short story? If you have any, send
them to me at:
Well I'll just get back to my
over-stuffed armchair, sit down for
a read, toss my head and roll my
eyes, thus schooling my features.
Hopefully, I won't have to step over
any moist panties en route!
Critiques by Sandy
Unlike most editors, I consider my role
to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I
explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how
to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat
business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other
Treat you with respect and compassion.
All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to
improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting
grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where
Highlight areas that are especially
well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for
plot development, character development or other areas that could be
Return a two-to-four page written
analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting,
characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks,
etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or
resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you have via
Provide my telephone number for a
personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at
(See Sandy's article above.)
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Publishing New Writers,
July, 2004 (no. 507)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
Submissions /comments email@example.com.
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Editor? Publisher? Where are you?
by Bruce Cook
Publisher? Where are you?
Level 1 – Grammar and Mechanics. At this initial
level, critiquers have to behave like English comp teachers, correcting
spelling, grmmar, and word usage, etc. If the new writer is vulnerable to
these criticisms, it is necessary to overcome these problems. (Forget the
tempting notion that the substance of your writing is so strong that you
can skip the grammar. Or that people will understand you without grammar
correctness. Or that you just cannot learn, don’t have time to learn, etc.
Please… get real. You can’t skip this step.)
Level 2 – Content. Once you have graduated from Level
1, as a writer or as an editor, you will enjoy a higher level of analysis.
An aesthetic one: (1) subjective analysis - does your content match well
with external standards of reality – for example, history? (2) Objective
analysis – how does your work stand up as a work – for example, balance,
unity, and variety?
Level 3 – Strategic. Given that your work contains
appealing content, how will it stand up in the marketplace? For example,
if you’ve written the best medical novel ever, will it hold a candle to
books by Harold Robbins? If not, you need to write about something else,
or find a new slant that will interest publishers. (Rest homes?
Level 4 – Publisher. Finally, if you have a backlist
or magazine, etc., you need to select manuscripts which satisfy items 1,
2, and 3 above. The publisher asks this question: If I spend the money to
buy this manuscript, can it make enough money to justify my expense?
(Sorry - POD writers have to avoid this question for now.) It’s like a
piece of bubble gum. If the publisher throws it against the wall, will it
Of these four, Level 4 is the hardest to understand.
So please consider a “case study” which relates.
The publisher is considering a fiction manuscript
about the bleachers at a baseball field. Other than reminding the
publisher about some antique jokes about books with titles starting with
“Under the Bleachers by…”, how could a publisher take any interest at all
in a novel about bleachers. Case closed. A real bomb! Send the rejection
But let John Grisham write about bleachers. Now the
book becomes a hot product. And, as a distinct plus, it develops a home
town setting and, more importantly, the subject of forgiveness. In short,
the book may become a classic. But it was only a book about bleachers.
It’s up to the publisher to recognize the nugget in the stream.
Keep these four levels in view as you develop your
skills or expand your writing from a hobby to craft or even a career. It’s
always best to have a broad perspective.
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