Archive for the agents Category

A Publisher, an Agent, and a New Novel

I recently completed my third Jackson story—working title, Thrilled to Death. Most of my early readers think it’s the best Jackson story yet. We’ll see. The first person I sent it to was an editor at Berkley who asked to see in January while I was still writing it. She read the first two stories, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For, and loved both. But she didn’t think she could sell the edgy, controversial themes to her sales reps. So she reluctantly passed, but said, “Please send me the next Jackson story and anything else you write.”

It feels pretty amazing and exciting to have this direct connection to a publisher. But I keep hearing that I still need an agent. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. I need someone to read, understand, and represent my entire body of work, including my standalone thriller, The Baby Thief, which features Jackson as a minor character. I also would love to sell my work in other countries. (Wouldn’t we all?)

So I wrote a query and e-mailed it to an agent in the Trident Media Group. She responded the next day, asking to see all three Jackson manuscripts. I like her already, because she’s interested in the series from the beginning and wants to see the body of work. She also has extensive foreign rights experience. This could be great.

But I’m not holding my breath. I’ve signed with great agents and had one call me and say, “I’ll have an offer for you next week,” then have it fall though. I’m not counting on Berkley either. She’s turned me down twice. So the queries will keep going out.

I feel like I have a new momentum though that’s different this time. Once the next book comes out in September, I’ll feel like I actually have a little street cred too. I can’t wait for that. Come on Echelon Press!

So now I’m working on a fourth Jackson story, Passions of the Dead: The outline is complete, and I have a thousand words on the page. I’m trying a slightly new structure, and I’m excited to write this story.

Here’s the first paragraph:
Jolie’s first hint that today would be worse than most was missing the homeless vet on the corner of 7th and Washington. She always handed a dollar out the window to the old guy with no teeth as she approached the intersection on her way to work. Sometimes when the light was green, it was tricky, because the person behind her got impatient and honked. But Jolie didn’t care. Giving away the dollar had become a talisman that she hoped would keep more shitty things from happening to her.

Does it make you want to keep reading?

Things I Don’t Miss

Today, I’m simply grateful for how much easier the little things in life are now because of technology. So here a few things I don’t miss:

  • Writing out a check for every purchase and household bill and keeping up with the damn little check register, subtracting as I went along. Love online banking and bill paying. They do the math!
  • Running to check the answering machine the minute I got home to see what calls I missed (and often swearing as a result). Love cell phones!
  • Muting commercials and waiting endlessly for them to be over. Love digital recorders! (TiVo especially.) Recording programs and skipping through the crap is the only way I can watch TV.
  • Walking around Blockbuster reading the back of DVD cases, trying to find a decent movie. (And don’t get me started on the damn late fees!) Love Netflix! And its new “Watch Instantly” feature.
  • Sending every single agent/editor query by mail and waiting months for responses. Love e-mail queries! Rejection is easier when it’s faster—like ripping off a band-aid.
  • Sending files to Adobe’s free converter program and waiting days to get the PDF back. Love making my own PDFs from Word and InDesign.

What have I forgotten? What don’t you miss?

When to Ignore Good Advice

Advice for writers is everywhere. Rules for writing. Rules for querying. Rules for submitting. Like most writers, I also actively solicit advice from beta readers, successful novelists, and others in the publishing business. There have been times when I followed what seemed like good advice and ended up regretting it. Other times, I ignored perfectly good advice and was glad I did. How do you know up front when to ignore sound advice? Listen to your own instincts.

Long ago, an agent advised me to write a YA novel because she knew an editor who was looking for YA manuscripts that dealt with troubled teen scenarios and she thought I would be perfect for the series. My instinct said it wasn’t right for me, but I thought this agent had a solid connection that would get me published. Total waste of time! I am not a YA writer. (I’m not sure I was every really young. My mother swears I was born 40.)

One very successful agent who I was once signed with kept advising me to write a cozy mystery series because that’s what all the publishers wanted. I don’t read cozy mysteries, and I didn’t think I could pull it off. So I never tried. That was smart. See above. So my rule for myself is: Never write a novel I wouldn’t read. (Unless someone gives me a boatload of money upfront and and all the time in world to complete it.)

A beta reader once advised me to not make the murder victim’s mother a drug addict who had died of drug-related complications. She thought it was distracting and unnecessary. But it was the basis for the character’s personality! It was why she ended up in the situation she was in at the time of the murder. Wrong advice! Easy to ignore.

Everyone in the business says to never query an agent before you finish writing the story. I have routinely ignored this advice (when sending snail mail) and have never had an agent respond to a query before the manuscript was ready. Agents are notoriously slow (I once got a response three years and three months later), so why not eliminate that waiting gap with productive writing time? Sending queries early also motivates me to get it done.

A successful mystery writer and dear friend once advised me not approach an editor at a major publishing house directly. She felt strongly that I should get an agent—that the editor would never consider a manuscript submitted without one and that it might seem unprofessional. But this editor had read The Sex Club as a manuscript and loved it. She knew my name and my writing. I felt there was no harm in asking if she’d like to see the next installment in the Jackson series. So I queried her directly anyway (via e-mail). Then a few weeks later, I ran into her at Bouchercon and pitched the novel again. A month later, she e-mailed me and asked to see the manuscript. I’m still waiting to see how this turns out. But even if she passes on the series, I’m still glad I ignored that well-intended advice and made that direct connection.

I’ve learned to write only the stories I feel passionate about, regardless of what’s currently trendy; to trust my own instincts about what works best for those stories; and to never let fear get in the way of making connections.

Do you ignore standard industry advice? Does it usually work out for you?

When Is an Old Story a New Story?

Most novelists who have been writing for a while have an unpublished story or two that they haven’t given up on. You keep thinking that if you could just find the right twist or revise a character you can make it marketable. But how much do you have to change the manuscript to consider it a new story? Can you send a revised novel with a new name to the same editors and agents as though it were something fresh for them to read?

Or what about his scenario? You write a great sci-fi story called Death March into Armageddon. Publishers seem to like it, but no one offers you a contract. A few years later, you publish the story with a small press that goes out of business shortly after. Your novel only sells a few dozen copies. Five years later, you get a great idea for how to make the story better. You make those changes, spruce it up with a new name like Heavenly Invasion and submit it to a different publisher.

Can you consider this work to be “previously unpublished”? Is there a legal definition for how much a story has to change to be considered a new work? Do you have a moral or legal obligation to tell the new publisher about the manuscript’s history and the two dozen copies of the previous version that are still out there somewhere?

Has anyone been in this situation? How did you handle it?

The Pros and Cons of Finding an Agent

Agents are still on my mind, and the world of publishing is changing fast. There are new questions and new answers every day. The question of whether to get an agent used to be a no brainer. Everyone agreed that having an agent was essential to publishing success. That may no longer be true. There are dozens of approachable small publishers. And my own personal experience with agents has not led to success. So now I’m faced with that decision again, and I’m getting conflicting advice. Here’s the pros and cons as I see them:

PROS
• An agent has access to editors at major publishing houses and can get your work read and accepted by people with the power to print a large quantity of your novel.
• A good agent can help you develop your story into a marketable manuscript.
• An agent can negotiate a better contract and maybe a better advance.

CONS
• Finding an agent can take months or years. (See Wednesday’s post.) And there’s no guarantee you ever will.
• An agent will take 15% of any earnings she or he contracts for you (and mystery writers are notoriously underpaid). Some agents steal from their clients. See Tess Gerritsen’s post on Murderati.
• Most agents will want to help shape your story. This can be good or bad. It’s all subjective. An editor may like your story better the way it is. You never know. Either way, it takes time.
• An agent may only submit your novel to five or six major publishing houses, then give up (leaving you to submit to small publishers anyway).
• An agent may quit or move to another another agency after you’ve signed a contract. (Yes, this happened to me too.)

The disadvantages seem to outnumber the advantages. But the first benefit is so huge, that if it happens, its tips the scale. But that’s still a big IF. And I keep reading stories about people who say they didn’t get published until they gave up on finding an agent.

Tell me what you think. Do you really need an agent?

Outrageous Agent Contest

In honor of all the hardworking agents in this business, I’m holding a contest today for the most outrageous story about a writer’s experience with an agent. The winner gets a copy of my novel (or if you already have my novel, I’ll host you on my blog—whoopee!) Being a good host, I’ll go first.

In August 2003, I attended a writers’ conference and pitched two novels to an agent I’ll call “Susie Strange.” (You can name your agent, if you’d like. I have good reason not to.) She loved both pitches and asked to see full manuscripts for both novels, which I happened to have with me. So off she went to New York with about 170,000 words of mine. I waited the customary two months, then sent an e-mail. No response. I eventually sent another e-mail and made a phone call with absolutely no acknowledgment that I even existed. But this is not the bizarre part.

I went on with my life and wrote yet another novel called The Sex Club. As I neared the end of process, I started sending out query letters (with 3 chapters) to agents—knowing how long it takes them to respond. I sent one (on a whim) to Susie Strange. You know the opening: “We met once at a conference …” The date on that Word document is October 21, 2004.

A year later, I signed with a different agent, spent another year working with her on the story, then she failed to sell it. Then I spent another year or so bringing it to print through a niche publisher, followed by months of promoting it.

Then on February 7, 2008, I received a call from someone in Susie Strange’s agency. I didn’t recognize the caller’s name, but I knew the agency. The caller said she had read the first three chapters of The Sex Club and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I was confused at first. “What do you mean you want to see the manuscript? It’s a published book.” Then it hit me. She was responding to the query I had sent THREE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS ago!

The poor woman was new to the agency and had inherited an old slush pile, but she handled the situation gracefully. She asked if I was working on anything else and agreed to read the first 50 pages of Secrets to Die For. She got back to me within three weeks and said she loved it. Now she’s waiting for me to send the entire manuscript. As much as I want to be represented (as all writers do!), the idea of working with her makes a little nervous. After all, she is a protégée of Susie Strange.

First, I mean no disrespect to other agents. In fact, I have a very positive agent story to tell someday.
Second, the poll: Should I send her the manuscript? Should I send it to other agents as well?
Third, the contest: Can you top that outrageous agent story?

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