Tag Archives: agents

Getting out there again… agents, take note

Excellent Paula for the future movie.

So, great news!  I just finished the final edit of Character-Driven, the first mystery in my 1-and-3/4 book series featuring sometime-actress, sometime-sleuth Paula Berger.  Paula’s headstrong, funny, and super-nosy.  All great characteristics if you’re going to get to the bottom of the bizarro behavior of your best friend’s husband.  Then he disappears and things heat up.  Throw in a couple of goons, a mob lawyer, a sociopathic surgeon, a cute cop… you’ll eat it up.  Or so I hope.  My writing pal, Addy, gave me great feedback, I’ve put in a super-au-courant subplot, and I took out almost all the ellipses.

Anyway, my new 2012 Guide to Literary Agents came in the mail today.  (Thanks, Amazon.)  So I’ll be scouring it for agents who will NOT say “I loved it!  But I don’t think I can sell it.”  I want one who will say “I loved it and I bet I can sell it.”  Ahh, the dream does not die.

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An author’s history – Joe Konrath

I subscribe to the RSS feed for Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.  He may have been a bit of  newbie when he started the blog, but he’s now a terrifically experienced writer and incredibly generous with sharing his experiences with other newbies.  His 40th birthday was yesterday… so he blogged about his life, so far, with a special emphasis on writing.  It’s a great story of how persistence pays off and a good lesson for me.  Particularly noteworthy is that Joe landed an agent in 1993  (age 23) – but didn’t sell his first book until 2003 (age 33)!

Since then, Joe’s been a virtual promotion machine… and it’s paid off big.  He’s happy to take the publisher’s publicity, but doesn’t rely on it.  Thanks to a well-known name and reliably entertaining fiction, he’s even been able to move very profitably to self-publishing online via Amazon and the Kindle e-reader.  Start here and read backwards for some excellent advice if you’re frustrated by not having an agent, a publisher, a book in print, a short story in an anthology – any writing milestone you may be hankering after – and are thinking to moving to e-publishing as a way of getting an ego boost.  As Joe points out, it’s not a short cut to success.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep writing when the plotting is tricky, you feel like you’ve written this story (better) before, and even the rejection letters have slowed down to an occasional, small, thin envelope.  Joe’s story is a good one for building zeal!

Books for Writers About Writing

When you’re working on a deadline (even if it’s self-imposed!), suddenly all kinds of things that are related to writing… however remotely… become very, very attractive.  For example, on Sunday, instead of working on the plot outline for the mystery I’m currently working on, I went to see Julie & Julia.  (This counts as writing-related because I read the book and enjoyed it.  Also we own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s somewhere in the basement, down with all the smelly, mildewy books.)
This week, in lieu of writing, I sent query letters and sample pages to selected agents.  (And by the way, for anyone who may be paying attention, I got a very nice rejection from that reputable agent I blogged about last week… but got a request for 50 pages from another agent, so I’m still at bat.)
And today, I started pondering the concept of writing a thriller… this seems MUCH more interesting than working on the book I’m in the middle of. On my “writing” bookshelf, I have a book about writing thrillers, so I took it off the shelf.
As I looked for the book, I realized… I have a boatload of books about writing.  And they’re all really good ones, because if a book was awful, I donated it to the library book fair.   So here’s a list of books (authors included), in no particular order.
  1. The Writing Group Book (Lisa Rosenthal)
  2. Pen on Fire (Barbara deMarco Barrett)
  3. Spider, Spider, Spin me a Web (Lawrence Block)
  4. Before We Get Started (Bret Lott)
  5. Escaping into the Open (Elizabeth Berg)
  6. Making a Literary Life (Carolyn See)
  7. Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 (Lew Hunter)
  8. Stein on Writing (Sol Stein)
  9. Editors on Editing (Gerald Gross)
  10. The Workshop (Tom Grimes)
  11. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (Lawrence Block)
  12. The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing (Meg Leder et al)
  13. The Forest for the Trees (Betsy Lerner)
  14. Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne and Dave King)
  15. The Criminal Mind (Katherine Ramsland)
  16. The Successful Novelist (David Morrell)
  17. Writing the Novel (Lawrence Block)
  18. Wild Mind Living the Writer’s Life (Natalie Goldberg)
  19. The Book: An Actor’s Guide to Chicago (Performink)
  20. Missing Persons A Writer’s guide to finding hte lost, teh abeducted, and the escaped (Fay Faron)
  21. Immediate Fiction (Jerry Cleaver)\
  22. The Writers’s Idea Book (Jack Heffron)
  23. How to Write a Selling Screenplay (Christopher Keane)
  24. The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life (Noah Lukeman)
  25. Writing the Thriller (T. MacDonald Skillman)
  26. Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass)
  27. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (Donald Maass)
  28. The First Time I got Paid for It- Writers’ Tales From the Hollywood Trenches (Peter Lefcourt and Laura Shapiro)
  29. See Jane Write (Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs)
  30. Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest)
  31. Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market (Writer’s Digest)
  32. What Cops Know (Connie Fletcher)
  33. The Insider’s Guide to Getting an Agent (Lori Perkins)
  34. Armed and Dangerous (Gina Gallo)
  35. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (Syd Field)
  36. The Crime Scene:  How Forensic Science Works (W. Mark Dale and Wendy S. Becker)

You’ll notice that a number of these provide background information you’ll need if you’re writing mysteries or police procedurals… Gina Gallo’s book is fabulous if your setting is Chicago.  The two books by Don Maass provide a lot of insight and the workbook is particularly helpful if you learn best by doing.  The Actor’s Guide to Chicago is helpful to me because my protagonist is a former professional actress who’s getting back into the biz… so I need to know what she’d do to do that.  Lori Perkins’ book on getting an agent is awfully dog-eared and coffee-splashed, having gotten much use lately.  And I noticed I have three books by Lawrence Block… I think of him as the ultimate professional, love both his funny and his tough books, and saw him on a panel once for the Edgar Week conference.  So buy his books!   One book that’s missing from the list, because it wasn’t on the shelf, is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  (Did I lend this to someone or just set it down somewhere?)  Anne is warm, funny, and real about writing. If you’re just getting started or thinking about writing, this is the book to buy first!

Oh, and if you’re wondering … yes, blogging about writing is an acceptable substitute for writing.

E-mail Speeds Up Agent Search

What do you do with 2 1/2 novels?  If you’re me, you put novel #1 in the drawer to be re-worked at some future date, and you focus on pitching novel #2 while you work to juggle all the plot threads and characters while building tension and trying to deliver both plot and insight in novel #3.

First, a little background.  Novel #2 is a mystery titled Character-Driven.  It features a former actress, Paula Berger.  Paula lives in Oak Park (conveniently, so do I).  Smart, funny, with a flair for undercover work and access to the costume cupboard at the community theater where she’s the part-time box office manager, Paula takes on the job of investigating the odd behavior of a friend’s husband.  She’s an expert in husband investigations.  When Paula’s own husband, accountant Mike Berger, left her for a buxom bimbo, he had taken the lion’s share of their marital assets and claimed his business was failing. Desperate, she turned to an investigator she couldn’t afford, and he advised her to “do it yourself!”  She discovered Mike was not only bilking her, but his clients – and in Character-Driven, Paula deals with Mike Berger’s felony conviction and its affect on their 11-year-old son, Danny.

Paula jumps into the investigation of Dr. Jerry Stein, making liberal use of her improv skills as she tails the doctor, using “social engineering” to get financial info about him, and sneaking into his office to rifle his desk, all in the hopes of uncovering a minor transgression to set friend Betsy’s mind at ease.  But the light-hearted sleuthing takes a dark turn when Jerry disappears.  Suspects abound, including a scheming lawyer and a couple of mobsters.  Paula, on a self-improvement kick since her divorce, is delighted by two emerging love interests: she’s drawn to Jerry’s charming partner, even while recognizing the surgeon is a self-centered know-it-all, and also meets and dates her hunky-and-sweet neighborhood cop.  On hand for practical help is flamboyant Ned Hinshaw at her local Spy Shoppe (a handy guy to know when high-tech, high-priced surveillance equipment is needed and your Mastercard is maxed out) and private investigator Frank Tucker.  Frank provides key information, but counsels Paula to drop the investigation.  That’s good advice, but headstrong, impulsive Paula barrels ahead.

Just as in real life, in Character-Driven, everybody does exactly what their own personal psychology requires.   Dr. Stein sticks to his ethics, his partner looks for a way to reinforce his own grandiose vision, a patient tries to make a buck and ends up dead, Paula can’t help sticking her nose in, and shady attorney Warren Gold piggybacks on others’ schemes.  At the end, everybody gets pretty much what’s coming to them based on their own actions… the kidnapped Dr. Stein is safely back at home, Paula’s had some very scary moments, and Mr. Gold walks away $5 million richer.

So.  The last time I went agent-searching, I was fortunate enough to grab the attention of a really big name agent.  He read my query, read the book, and came back with some very positive comments but ultimately passed. The whole process took 3-4 months, during which I quit sending it out to anyone else.  Rejection.  Augh!  Devastation.  Why did I put all my metaphorical eggs in that basket?  Whatever the reason, a couple of years have now passed (okay, almost 3 years) and it’s time to go egg-hunting again.  To make sure I wasn’t nuts for doing so, I asked my friend Deb (she of the “books read since 2003 list”) to read the book.  “It’s as good as (mystery series name redacted here),” she said.  “If I saw this book in the bookstore, I’d buy it!”

So, thanks, Deb.  I’m out there again, thanks to your encouragement.  And boy, have things changed in that time!  First of all, although many agents would prefer that you not make simultaneous queries, they understand that as long as you aren’t just shooting out the query letters higgeldy-piggeldy, it’s not a mortal sin.  Second, the advent of e-queries has made the whole process so much less painful!

Here’s what I did last time:  painstakingly research, identify 2-3 agents that might be interested in my novel, write query letters that conform to each agent’s specifications, print off the letters as well as whatever they want sent along (first 5 pages, first 10 pages, first 50 pages, chapter-by-chapter synopsis, 2-3 page synopsis – you get the idea).  Include self-addressed, stamped envelope.  Package it all up, go to the post office.  Wait 6-8 weeks.  Collect form letter rejection slips that come in the mail.  Occasionally one will have a hand-written signature or a note that makes it clear they actually read what you sent, which is heartening but doesn’t ultimately get you anywhere. When two months have gone by, it’s time to do it again, with 3-4 more agents.

Today, the majority of agents take e-mail queries.  Sometimes they want just the pitch, sometimes they want you to paste in some of the novel, the synopsis, or both.  The exciting thing?  If you’re not right for them, you get a response quickly!  Wow!  You do the same research, put the same thought into your pitch, send out 3-4 queries and get rejected within just a few days!  (This is actually a huge improvement.)  Of course, some literary agents still want to receive queries by snail mail… and some of these folks are the people who have been in the biz a long time and are very successful.  And some offer you the choice, but if you want to send more than just the letter, they prefer the good ol’ USPS.

Anyway, I am excited as all get-out, because a reputable agent who is interested in mysteries sent me an email today asking for the first 50 pages!   I’d queried her by snail mail with a letter and the synopsis.  I was thrilled to hear from her so quickly, and promptly sent her the pages in an email attachment, as she requested.   I am very interested in her feedback, hoping for the best (she’ll sign me!  She’ll sell the series!  I’ll get a six-figure, three-book deal!) but being realistic and prepared to continuing searching.  Wish me luck.