Friday, April 07, 2006

Reading About Agents

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading about literary agents. While I’m not finished with Author 101 Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman, I wanted to write a bit about agents—and tell you about this Author 101 series. 

Author 101 is a new series of how-to books from Adams Media and two of the books have been released.  There is a free newsletter and other resources at their book site. Two of the books—book proposals and agents are in print. Two more books on nonfiction and book publicity are in process.  I’ve read the book proposal book and I’m in the process of reading this book on agents.  In terms of branding and cover design, I’m interested to see what these authors are doing.  They seem to be more interested in promoting Author 101 than a particular title or writing topic. Each book has a distinct color and content—yet what draws your eye is the large Author 101.  It will be something interesting to watch with this series.101_agents

As an editor and a writer, I’m always looking to learn more about agents.  I work with agents as they pitch novels for their clients. I also work with agents as some times they represent my work as a writer.  As many publishers close their doors to unsolicited manuscripts (because of the large volume of inappropriate material), literary agents are often screening material and looking for manuscripts and proposals which they can champion (read sell) to editors at publishing houses. I’ve always tried to meet as many literary agents as possible because I know these individuals may stumble across something that will be a perfect acquisition.  When I head to New York City in a few weeks for the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings, I will likely spend a bit of that time meeting with a few more agents.

Just to give you a taste of this book on agents, I wanted to pick out a few choice quotes. Agents like editors look at a stacks of submissions. A subhead caught my attention, “What Turns Agents Off.” Here’s the first two paragraphs: “An immediate turn-off is when I receive an inquiry that shows the writer hasn’t done enough research,” agent Edward Knappman reports, “If I get an inquiry regarding a novel, it’s obvious that they haven’t done enough research to learn that we don’t handle fiction. If they haven’t researched our agency, the first thing I ask is, “How can they do enough research for the book?’  Another instant turn-off occurs when the agent’s name or the firm’s name is misspelled. Remarkably, agents informed us that such misspellings are common.” (p. 85).

If you’ve read these entries very often, you know that I’ve mentioned the same turn-offs as an editor. When someone misspells my first or last name, it instantly makes you suspicious about the rest of their submission. How you can misspell Terry is really a wonder but it happens a lot. Or the writer will send me a children’s book submission—when I only acquire Christian fiction.

OK, rather than end on a downbeat. I want to give two additional quotes from this book about agents. In a section interviewing different agents about queries, George Greenfield wrote, “When you have absolute belief in a project, you must sometimes walk through walls of cool rejection before you feel the warm glow of success.” Now that’s a statement each of us can put on our wall and recall often.

Here’s a good reminder about the process of getting an agent and the function of agents from Bob Silverstein, “Just as agents have to sell a project to publishers, likewise authors must sell themselves to agents. So always put your best foot forward when you make your pitch! And keep in mind the adage, “Publishers print, authors sell!”

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