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Monday, July 29, 2013

Agents and Editors (Concarolinas 2013 Writing Panel Notes)

Hey everyone! I've been working on a few projects lately, but I am really excited to say that today's post means a lot to me, because that's exactly where my writing goals have been focused at the moment. Ahh, the terrifying thrill of sending out queries! The part I'm looking forward to this time is the lesson I had to learn the hard way: Just because one agent rejects you, doesn't mean you have to give up, go back, and fix everything. Not that I minded terribly, because in the case of the novel I'm querying, I realized that a lot of work *did* need to be done. But seriously, one rejection does not a failed manuscript make. That's a lesson that this time, I'm going to apply.
This panel had a slightly different focus from last year's Agents and How to Find One panel. It was also useful to have (mostly) different presenters talking about the same subject, and to get a current refresher on things. 

Agents and Editors
Carrie Ryan, Gray Rineheart, David B. Coe, A.J. Hartley
Moderator: Edmund Schubert


With the way the landscape has shifted, some are questioning why we still need agents, what’s the future? Why do you feel an agent should still be considered? What should you be looking for in an agent?

DBC: If your goal is to be traditionally published, a publisher won’t look at you as an author unless you’re represented. The fact that you have an agent gives a certain cache to the quality of your work. Also, agents can look at contracts, subsidiary rights, foreign rights, etc. One trend in traditional publishing these days that agents can help with is basket accounting: if you sell a series, the books can be accounted book by book so you see royalties book by book, or not until the entire series has earned out (basket). Separate accounting used to be the norm, but now basket accounting is. Agents are also getting into electronic publishing because they recognize their own obsolescence is looming.

AJ: Simply for management of multiple income streams, especially if you have lots of books from different publishers. Helpful to have all that stuff funneled through an agency. Agents often see themselves as author-career management. Has self-published his backlist through his agency. It helps to keep all the things together.

CR: If you go for traditional publishing, you need an agent. A lot of authors are artists and not business people. We (writers) are not the best business people, so it’s important to hire someone who can be that person. Lots of houses won’t accept unagented submissions. She has lots of author friends who didn’t have agents when they signed, who gave up rights they shouldn’t have, contracts they regret signing. Agents go beyond the power of negotiation. No agent is better than a bad agent, but the negotiating aspects of the contract, the little things they catch that have big impact are huge. Agents know this stuff and go to bat for us so we don’t have to deal with it.

DBC: Most important about an agent: when he (DBC) has a business-based dispute with his editor, his agent handles it. This keeps the author-editor relationship good. Also, it’s an artistic relationship about the content, to make the books the best they can be.

No agent is better than a bad agent: What should you be on the lookout when deciding who to sign with, and what should you be careful about?

CR: Had a friend with a question about a new agent. The new agent has no sales or anything on her site that says how that agent is better than the author. So CR suggested to her friend questions to ask the agent: What are some of your favourite books from the last year? How do you feel about certain rights? If the agent can’t answer those questions, then why are you going to pay them money if they’re in the same boats?

AJ: Some agents are not professional – copyists – not professionally-dependent on selling your stuff. Research and find what they have sold, who they work with, who they represent, which editors they routinely lunch with. A New York agent isn’t necessarily the best or only option these days, but personal communication and connection with editors still matters. It’s where stuff gets done.

DBC: His agent left her agency in New York to go to Atlanta, but that agent is conscious and goes to New York every few months still. Also, authors often switch editors, but you can stay with an agent for your entire career.

CR: It is common to switch agents. What you need at the beginning of your career isn’t necessarily the same as what you need as your career progresses.

DBC: If you switch agents every few years, you might get a reputation.

AJ: You can switch agents if you’re very successful. If you’ve a represent for being difficult to work with, you won’t be re-signed.

CR: Agents who are starting out can be  hungry, looking for submissions – so research, who was their mentor? Where did they learn to be an agent? Check Publisher’s Marketplace – $20/month, provides info agents and their deals. See if the agents are selling, and who are they selling to? Just one publisher or many? Do they represent your genre? YA and MG?

ES: Define boilerplate.

CR: Boilerplate: the starting contract that every pub house starts with that favours the publisher. Agents negotiate it down.

ES: Some represent only some genres, but not all.

AJ: Has one agent for everything, but a separate film agent.

GR: Baen still looks at unagented submissions. Has seen a lot he can compare from authors submitting on their own compared to what’s come from good agents to what comes from not-so-good agents. There is a marked qualitative difference in what comes to them. Not just that he’s met the agent and knows it will be good quality, just that he recognizes the difference. E.g. a bad agency that would send multiple query letters. He has checked Writer Beware against some agents. This is a business, and some agents don’t deserve the title because they’re not representing their clients.

AJ: Any agent who wants money from you is a dead giveaway that they’re not good.

DBC: Same if they refer you to a book doctor.

CR: Money flows to the author. Also, agents often work as editor. They went through several versions and rewrites before sending her manuscript to an editor, and that made a remarkable difference.

ES: A lot of current agents are former editors. They know the industry. (To GR): You have the most current experience for searching for an agent. How should people go about doing that?

GR: Agencies have guidelines just like publishing houses have guidelines. Some want a certain number of chapters or pages, some want an outline, some want a synopsis. READ THE GUIDELINES and conform to the guidelines. Usually an agent will look at a cover letter, synopsis, and a few chapters, and then decide if they want to see more. They’ll ask for an exclusive if they want to see more. Partials can be sent out to multiple, but the moment someone wants to see more, they get an exclusive for as much as a month or three (definitely not more than six), and then you say, “someone else is looking at it” to further requests. BAEN is interested in reducing backlog and reducing slush pile. Hasn’t yet been successful.

CR: Posted on how to research agents at Magical Words.

AJ: Has heard that agents are lazy and will use every available opportunity to reject your manuscript because that makes their life easier. Your job is to make it as hard for them as possible to say no. Even if they say send a query, ALWAYS send a sample. You need to get your work in front of their eyes. If they glance at it, there’s a better chance of them wanting to see more.

GR: They don’t reject if guidelines aren’t followed to the letter. They’re looking for a great story.

AJ: Yes, but agents are looking for any excuse to reject the book.

ES: It’s a factor of volume. After six months of rejection, he realized that agents weren’t rejecting the novel, they were rejecting the query letter. Re-sent queries even to agents he’d subbed to before (assumed they wouldn’t remember him six months or a year later, you can go back), and got a great response rate.

Audience Question: is exclusivity longer than six months a red flag?

CR: Don’t give them exclusivity longer than a month. To spend six months waiting on one agent is a long time in your career.

ES: Check Writer’s Market – no financial info, but will show who represents what. $15/mo.

GR: These are great places to start, but once you have the agent, search their website, that info should be more current than whatever is listed on the directory site.

ES: And if they don’t have a website, that’s a red flag, too.

DBC: Search for agents who represent the same kind of stuff you write. And acknowledgements of books, because authors thank their agents.

Audience Question: Is it helpful when agent hunting, to conveniently have someone else interested in the work?

CR: Can help, but it’s more important about the strength of your work. Be specific.

AJ: And sometimes the agent has difficult selling the work.

CR: And if they have difficulty selling it, they should try to work with you. That’s something to ask – what do they do if that book doesn’t sell? Will they work with next one?

Audience Question: When you supply an outline, how do you know that outline won’t be stolen?

DBC: They’re not. Sorry, nothing is interesting enough for that.

AJ: You can’t copyright an idea.

DBC: And if you give the same idea to five authors, you’ll get five different novels.

Audience Question: Are there any genres you don’t need represent for?

ES: If you’re self-publishing online or only writing short stories. Who are you looking to publish with? How are they selling your work? If an agent thinks they can make money from your work, they’ll sign with you.

CR: Harlequin is an example of a publisher who’ll publish you without agent.

AJ: And you can technically go to an agent after the publisher accepts you.

GR: BUT not all publishers are like that. BAEN will drop you if you go and get an agent. They’re negotiating with whoever initiated the relationship. To do so is taken as a bait-and-switch.

ES: But BAEN is the only pub that seems to do that.

CR: There’s an exception to every rule.


ES: So, about editors.

AJ: In all his experience, his best experience has been with acquisition/developmental editors. Gets edit memos from them. Editors definitely still edit.

CR: The copy editor goes through and finds tiny errors, keeps details consistent. Grammatical, syntax, inconsistencies, anachronisms, etc.

DBC: His copy editor comes back with copy edits and a style sheet. Terms, names, places, anything unique to book, so that typesetters can make sure that all the words are as they should be. Stylesheets are like a world bible. Invaluable.

ES: “Line editor” and “copy editor” are pretty much interchangeable.

ES: As short fiction editor: works in acquisitions, not much developmental editing, but also does copy editing.

GR: Every house is different with which editors do what and who consults with whom. BAEN books – the editor in chief makes the final decision about acquisition.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Unfair Folk (ConCarolinas 2013 Writing Panel Notes)

I'm sure you don't need to hear about  my crazy month of parties, traveling, and computer issues. (Though I narrowly avoided sending my laptop off for needless repairs when I realized that the fix had partly to do with all the accumulated cat hair. Which we will not speak of right now. Seriously.) And above all, woven through that were more revisions. Revisions that lead to hour-long conversations about the nature of my main character's magic, the flaw with middle books in some fantasy trilogies, and the plausibility of stairs on ships. Among other insanities. So I'll spare you the details, except to say that barring final feedback from my critique partner, I'm ready to get back to querying. Yay!

But I will say this: the process of doing an intense revision with a critique partner who knows how to kick butt has been *awesome*. I learned a lot in the process. I paid attention to whether or not my main character was driving the story. I remembered to factor in the advice about making sure that at least three of the senses are engaged to enhance description. And I kept an eye on the flow. What I'm saying is, I feel really good about this.

Meanwhile, please enjoy more notes (at last, as usual, sighhhhh). I feel no shame. But guilt? Um ... OH HEY LOOK AT THE PRETTY NOTES ABOUT FAERIES!

The Un-Fair Folk
Emily Leverett, Misty Massey Kalayna Price, Janine K Spendlove
Moderator: James Maxey

JM: How did we get from Oberon to Tinkerbell?

EL: It’s changed with time. In the medieval version of Orpheus’ tale, his wife gets kidnapped by faeries; Orpheus is a king who dresses as a minstrel and faeries are evil, creepy. Then a few hundred years later, we get Shakespeare with Oberon and Titania who aren’t very nice either and mess things up. Then in the Victorian era, it’s twee faerie things; then they became cute and fluffy much later on with Disney and the like.

Regardless, if you want to meet fairies: fall asleep by a river under a tree at noon.

MM: For a very long time, people believed that the faeries are really there. Some people still do. For so long we’ve believed they’re real, so in story we’ve needed to make them more friendy, less harmful. It was an attempt to make them less terrifying as the modern world came in slowly and our understanding grew.

EL: The rise of childhood as an actual thing may have contributed. Maybe the creation of children’s stories led to the sanitization of previously-darker tales.

KP: There’s lots of research on Victorian era faeries; she (KP) has researched faeries elsewhere. Often there are different names for the fae. There’s the story of humans being caught in the endless dance, and a darker story with vampire mythology that as they dance, the beautiful women slowly cut them apart and drain all their blood. There are lots of dark creatures in the older mythologies, but they by the time you get to Victorian folklore, some were bad luck but became good luck. Oral tradition has so many variations.

EL: Stories got attached to morals, and become moral tales.

JM: Neil Gaiman reclaimed faeries-as-evil: presents them as beautiful, interesting creatures in a variety of shapes and form, with an element of the uncanny and terrifying underneath, if you cross a line. Say the wrong thing, turn the wrong direction, eat the wrong food, and you’ll pay the price.

Disney and J.M. Barrie aren’t to blame. Faeries represented the ignorance of what is making nature tick. Suddenly we didn’t have to attribute strange noises in the ground, in the air, to supernatural forces. With a scientific world view , faeries stopped having the sinister aspects.

Because science has become so rational, Arthur Conan Doyle believed that two girls had taken pictures with faeries. Even today in Iceland, you have to have people familiar with the fae to survey the land and confirm it’s okay to build a road. They even build little churches for the faeries to come and be converted.

JM: So why does the belief persist?

EL: Because it makes the world more interesting. It’s a boring world without faith or belief. Some of it is desperation. One of the darker sides of faerie beliefs was the concept of changelings. They had instances of that in renaissance and medieval history. Probably it was a child with Down Syndrome. It’s okay to kill a changeling, not a child. Bad things, ugly things happen, and it was a way to cope. Even today we want a way to cope.

KP: Faeries were also used to explain things like SIDS.

MM: Ancient beliefs are very hard to let go of. It’s easier sometimes to still say, “it could be faeries and not science” – we can’t always see the science. And part of us will always go, “What if I’m wrong about not believing in this?” Often it was used as an excuse – the faeries did it.

JM: These were myths from the past that people believed. Future people might think that we actually believed in Santa because we have a lot of Santa stuff  around. And what would they think if they read our fiction?

EM/KP: [Amusing, too-fast-to-log discussion about Santa being raised by elves]

JM: What’s difference between elf, faerie, brownie?

KP: From a writer’s standpoint, anything

MM: Brownies are tiny; fae, human sized, elves are not necessarily fae

EL: Elves were popularized by Tolkien. Lots of his stuff about elves comes from Norse Myth.

KP: And lots of fiction based on elves has modeled them after Tolkien.

JM: From a purely fantasy perspective: One of the common aspects of faerie myths is that they were the original inhabitants of land that went into hiding when mankind took over. How much of this is scientific memory of more advanced cultures coming in and taking over from the tribes, the aboriginal inhabitants? We’re now advanced enough to recognize they’re people, but what if we once saw aboriginals in body paint and thought they were supernatural beings? Made them into myths? It’s a way to explain it. The same thing is true with the tree folk. Did we impose powers and abilities on them?

JM: Ancient ruins: There’s still something haunting about lost worlds, something out of place, the separation of time but being in the same space. Often true of the faerie world: time shifts.

EL: The Ruin (poem) about a roman bath, a former civilization – the poem talks as if those people had magic, and what is lost is a true loss.

Audience question: How much of the beliefs about the Fae came from the old myths of Baccus, Odin, etc?

KP: very good chance, especially since myths were revived in the renaissance. Most of these stories came from the oral tradition, which is hard to track.

EL: The environment affects the mythology – e.g. Japan has lots of water ghosts, not desert ghosts

JM: This panel is about elves and faeries in lit – what reading would you recommend?

JS:  Loved C.S. Lewis’ dryads, naiads, etc. in the Chronicles of Narnia. Gateway in childhood.

KP: Katharine Mary Briggs wriote several good books on specific stories and an encyclopedia on this subject – presents different types of fae; also recommends reading Child’s ballads – stuff he collected. Also: for classic tales – Thomas Knightley’s study of romance in the Victorian era

MM: Very impressed by the YA: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. Her faeries are terrifying critters. (also gorgeous cover art). Also, Lady Cottingly’s pressed fairy book. (a parody)

JM: Gaiman’s Sandman dips into faerie realms, astonishing stuff; also, the movie Pan’s Labrynth (horrificly violent, about the brutality of war).

EL: Hellboy 2 plays with faeries, too. Faerie magic appears very  differently in medieval and renaissance lit. Seconds gaiman. (esp the midsummer night’s dream story). LKH’s faeries are fun (though very non traditional). Medieval Arthurian legends deal with magic, and so does Chaucer – lots of medieval romance (quest narratives). Beowulf: Grendel, Cain, and Fae. Also, critical book: The Faeries at the Bottom of the Garden.

Aud: With the Victorian stuff, Andrew Lang’s colour fairie books?

MM: Current fairie books are drawing from older literature, but making it their own, too.

JS: Yes, whatever works for the story.

Audience: What about Spencer’s Faerie Queene?

EL: Stay away from that. He’s awesome but the story is about flattering Queen Elizabeth 1 and it’s a Christian allegory.

Audience: Teen section of library – the Faerie Path series. Talks about faeries good and bad clashing.

MM: In some mythologies, the summer court and winter court do clash a lot.

KP: Also Seely versus unseely. Different types depending on where you go in the world and what decade you’re in. Oral traditions change faster.

Aud: More writers are using more original tradition – is that a backlash against Disney?

JS: No, but it is a realization growing up that not all faeries are Tinkerbell (not that she was very nice if you read the book) – more of a discovery of everything else that faeries could be. We're leaning more about faerie lore, people are rediscovering it, and we want to play in that world.

MM: Writers want to do something different, too. There's nothing really new out there, so we take what we have and reinterpret in our own way to *make* it new and fresh.

JM: Once you go back and start researching, you find that almost everything has a very dark origin.

KP: John Harntess’ Black Knight Chronicles – deals with Faeries in Book 2.

EL: Yes, some of it is a bit backlash, but also, in urban fantasy especially, things have generally gotten darker. The economy has crashed, 9/11, and other stuff. We were headed that way darker, artistically, as a way of dealing. Hartness' book is comic. We may be back on the swing towards more lighthearted soon, as times change once more.