WLT Success Story

2012 Agents Conference Success Story


Q&A with Ron Bates and his Agent Brandi Bowles

WLT was thrilled to hear about Ron Bates, previous WLT Agents & Editors Conference attendee, and his success with his YA novel How to Make Friends and Monsters at the 2012 Agents Conference.  Here is our Q&A with Ron and his literary agent, Brandi Bowels, on their meeting at the 2011 Agents & Editors Conference.

WLT: What was the writing process for How to Make Friends and Monsters?

Ron Bates: I followed the standard model: hours of torment followed by seconds of euphoria. Is there another way? I’m the kind of writer who likes to work out everything in my head before I put anything on paper. Then I create a detailed chapter outline so I know exactly when to introduce characters, reveal plot twists and wrap up the story. So, with all that out of the way, you’d think the actual writing process would be pretty much paint-by-numbers. That’s when I discovered the agony of sentence structure. It turns out there are approximately 348 different ways to phrase any single sentence in a manuscript and I was determined to try them all. The good news is that when you do find that perfect phrasing, you get an endorphin-fueled rush of self-satisfaction. That lasts until you realize you’re on sentence number two. But as the story moved ahead and the voice became clear, things got easier. By the end it felt more like I was taking dictation from my lead character.

WLT: Did any of your experiences at the conference prepare you for your pitch? How were you feeling going into your consultation with Brandi Bowles?

RB: This was my third conference and it definitely helped to have that experience. At my first conference, I focused on gathering information and seeing what I could learn. But by the third, I was more goal-oriented. I had a story to offer and my objective was to find the right person to represent my work. I’d also refined my pitch. In the scheduled session, you have time to delve into the nuts and bolts of your story but that doesn’t work if you’re approaching someone at a cocktail party or in the hall. I guess the most important thing was just figuring out that my pitch wasn’t something I was “inflicting” on the agents. They really do want to find a good, unique, marketable story. While my private consultation wasn’t with Brandi, I had read her bio in the conference guide and sought her out at one of the activities. In a way, that helped. There was no pressure, it was just a brief conversation, but I found her really personable and she asked great questions. So when the story was ready, I sent it to her.

WLT: What is it like having an agent and getting your book sold?

RB: It’s fantastic. Having an agent makes all the difference in the world. It’s not just that she is getting your book in front of publishers, though that’s huge, it’s that she evaluates your story and gives feedback and looks for market opportunities and negotiates the contract and advises you on your career path. I’m sure I don’t know half of what it took to get to the point where we had a book deal, but the part that I do know tells me I’m very fortunate to be working with Brandi. And, of course, when you hear the deal is done, that’s an unbelievable moment. It’s the reason you sat down at the keyboard and agonized over all those little words in the first place.

WLT: What is some advice you would give writers at the 2013 Agents Conference?

RB: Come with more than one story in mind. The one you walk in with might get shot down in the first minute of your consultation, but your next idea could have them spellbound. And be bold. Just because you have your private session with one agent doesn’t mean you won’t have chances to connect with others. Do your homework, identify the agents you want to meet, and make a point of seeking them out. The conference organizers do a great job of bringing in this wealth of talent and it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.

WLT: What stood out to you in Bates’ How to Make Friends and Monsters?

Brandi Bowles: That’s easy. The book had a fantastic premise, a concept any kid could relate to and that made even most grown-ups smile. And I simply loved Howard Boward, the main character in the novel. Some of his observations literally made me laugh out loud.

WLT: What do you look for in an author’s synopsis?

BB: Clarity of writing, always. A robust climax and clear link between the characters’ motivations and goals.

WLT: What distinguished Bates’ How to Make Friends and Monsters from other writer’s work at the conference?

BB: Ron and I spoke after one of the conference mixers, and he was able to summarize the gist of his book in only a few sentences, without getting caught up in subplots or the vagaries of character. That’s a rare trait. He also pitched me not one book, but two. When, per my request, he emailed the manuscript I was most interested in, I couldn’t put it down. Really! The dialogue was funny, and the relationship between Howard and his monster really warmed my heart. Soon I was invested in Howard’s struggle and wanted to see him succeed. Which he does – but not in the way you’d expect!

It’s somewhat difficult to answer this question, except to say that Ron was the complete package. A polite, really likeable writer with a saleable idea, a big imagination, and a thorough understanding of craft. And when he sent me his work, it delivered.

WLT: What is some advice you would give writers at the 2013 Agents Conference?

BB: Conferences are a fantastic learning experience. Not everyone who walks away from the conference will have an agent, but almost all will walk out a smarter, savvier, and certainly a better connected writer. Attend all of the workshops, panels, and mixers you can. You never know what you might learn from another writer or whom you might meet. In consultations, let the agent know you are unafraid of complete candor — and mean it! Keep an open mind and do not get defensive about your work. This is a learning opportunity, and the agent is only sharing their opinion because they think it might benefit you. There are many writers I’ve met at conferences who didn’t yet have the right idea, or whose writing wasn’t quite there, but who I’d still love to hear from when it all snaps together.

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