July’s Third Thursday Wrap Up

By Lexi Smith

We continued our “Building a Book” series with July’s Third Thursday program, The Mating Game: How to Land an Agent. The panel featured editor Erin Brown, literary agent Jim Donovan, and author Laurie Drummond and was moderated by WLT executive director Cyndi Hughes. Today’s post includes highlights of Cyndi’s questions with a synopsis of the panel’s answers and a list of resources mentioned throughout the evening.

What is an agent’s role?

·Primarily to get author a reading with an editor at a publishing house.

·Identify which publishers and editors are a good fit for the author and project.

·Protect & represent the author when dealing with other publishing professionals.

·Interpret legalese.

·Get better contracts and improve sales.

·Develop relationships with publishing houses.

·Works hard for the author for no money until book is sold.

·Suggest changes to your project to improve overall quality or retool the direction of work in light of the current book market.

Agents are the business side of writing. A good agent will be both cheerleader and honest evaluator of your work. The competitiveness of the book market makes it tough to get reading with a major publisher without an agent.

How do you start looking for an agent?

·Don’t give them money. If a potential agent asks for money from you, run.

·Attend conferences, like the WLT Agents Conference, to meet with agents.

·Research. Examine books you love that are similar to yours. Scour the minutia of the book – the acknowledgments or the author’s information page – to find agent names.

·Before you look for an agent get your manuscript (fiction) or proposal (non-fiction) in tip-top shape. Revise. Revise. Revise. (See April 2011’s Third Thursday notes on revision.)

·Do more research. Find an agent receptive to your work. Follow their submission guidelines exactly. Read the fine print.

·Check out AgentQuery.com.

What about the query?

·Non-fiction is about the market. What niche or need does your project fill? How is it better or different than others? Why are you the perfect person to write this? (Jim mentioned his Equation of Book Viability.)

·Fiction works need to be completed before the query.

Then check the agent’s information for query guidelines. Some agents prefer query letters only. Others, like Jim, prefer to see the actual project. (He likes to read 30-40 pages or about 3 chapters.)

·The query letter is crucial. There’s not one way to do it, but it must sell yourself and your book. Research about what specific agents wants.

·Consider hiring a professional editor to help with your query, proposal and project.

What’s your advice on choosing traditional or self-publishing?

·Books with regional and local market are good candid ates for self-publishing.

·Consider your expectations. Few self-published books are picked up by major publishing house.

·The panelists mention Sue Donahoe’s newly-birthed book, Never Heard of ‘Em, Austin’s Music Explosion from 1994-2000 as solid self-publishing scenario. (Congratulations, Sue! Thanks for bringing your book to the meeting.)

Resources Mentioned

·The Elements of Style by Strunk & White


·Jim Donovan’s Equation of Book Viability

One take away from the evening is that it takes a village to publish a book. Searching out others you can trust with your projects requires work. The WLT can become part of your village and help you find villagers to help you with your writing dreams. We look forward to seeing you at August’s Third Thursday program when we go Behind the Publishing House Curtain: Meet Your Publisher and Editor and Marketing Reps and Publicist and…

Lexie Smith is a WLT member who enjoys connecting people with information through LexicalLight.com, BloggingForWriters.com and 64mascots.com. A University of Texas graduate, she taught middle school English and, until recently, homeschooled her children. She lives in Round Rock with her husband, five kids and two rescued Boxers.

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