Search This Blog

Monday, May 27, 2013

Agents and How To Find One (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)


This was one of those panels that was basically a conversation, and well worth listening to.

Agents, and How to Find One
Carrie Ryan, Gray Rinehart, Gail Z. Martin, Edmund Schubert

ES: The process is changing. Bare bones mechanics, how did you get your agents and why?

GM: Unless you're a contract attorney specializing in pub law, you need an agent. If you don’t know the biz, you need someone to protect you in the lang run. Recommends the Writer's Digest guide to literary agents. Lists everyone who claims to be an agent. AAR – Association of Author Representatives – start there. They have a code of ethics. Find an agent that handles your type of fiction. See who they represent. See what they want – send them what they’re looking for. Write the best cover letter, send it out, get rejected (etc). Don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes it’s not your book, it’s your cover letter.

CR: Found an agent by querying. Started reading a lot of agent blogs. Nahan Bransford, Kidlit, Mary Cole; lots of agents blogging about the industry and how it works; Literaticat, Went for an agent bc she wanted a trad pub career. The agent has the relationships with the editors. The agents know who’s looking for what, can get it read quickly. Part of what you’re looking for is someone who has those connections. Go for someone who has the relationships. Contract terms is a huge deal. Signing without an agent can get you screwed over. Also, an agent manages your career. They take care of issues. You should be on the same side of the table as your editor. When there has to be bad blood, the agent takes the fall for it.,, publisher’s marketplace (when you’re ready to query, it's worth $20 a month) – you can see who’s selling to which and how much they sell and who they sell it to. You can find how to write a query letter. If you’re getting form rejections on your query letter, there’s a problem with your query letter. 50 pages, problem with the 50 pages. Full, problem with full.

GM: Tor will take queries but won’t take manuscripts.  Agents, good agents, act as a level of filter. Honest agents only make money when you do. They get a commission from your sale. If the pubs didn’t insist on only agented submissions, they’d be overwhelmed with stuff not ready for prime time. Agents won’t take you on unless they think you’re ready for prime time. Also, most agents came from being an editor in the publishing industry.  Often just got downsized. Often have a lot of connections. New York agents matter. Gotta have an agent where the publishgin is happening. Some non-New Yorkers have the connections, put the time into keeping those relationships.

ES: Increasingly there are agents in California. There are other avenues, but still. There are sadly a lot of people who want to get published, so there are people will take advantage.

GM: For those trying to get published and hitting a wall, there are book doctors and book shepherds. They’ll take on the manuscript to analyze it, have a responsible reviewer read thourhg and make agents, even pitch people to agents. Eg. Randy Pizer. Reviewers give feedback. This is a paid service. You'll be paying someone who does know because they’re legit can be useful. Remember, the money should flow to the writer. There are a lot of pub houses who don’t pay much of an advance anymore, but it’s still a one-way flow. Publisher to author.

CR: Advance: front of money based on how they believe you’re book will sell. Once you earn it out, you get more. Things are clearly defined in the contract.

ES: Used to be a lump sum, now doled out in thirds, one upon acceptance, one upon final, one when the book is released.

GM: Once you’ve earned out your advance you get your royalties.

GR: The average advance is not a lot of money. Typically $5-6K, but better in YA.

GM: The publishing industry has been hit by the economic downturn. Advances are smaller. A bigger advance means they have more faith in you. If you get a huge advance and you do poorly, it can be detrimental to your career.

GR: You should be wary. Check sites like Writer Beware and Predators and Editors – there are warnings about the bad ones.

ES: Agents’ role is that they’re there to protect the writer. (So long as we’re talking about traditional publishing).

GM: Small presses – different approaches. Doesn’t mean they’re a rip off.

GR: Absolute Write water cooler – lots of people willing to vent about bad agents (but take it with a canister of salt because it may be badmouthing).

CR: Take all the info, take bits and pieces, figure out what works. Beware of signing with an agent selling their first books. See what they represent.

GM: Ask authors about agents. There's a personality component, too. See who you have chemistry with. If you talk to enough people, you’ll see who you want to direct thigns to first. Agens will take you based on whether they can do a good job by you, and whether it fits, if there’s no conflict of interest.

CR: The personality aspect is so vital. There are plenty of agents you might not work well with. Read their blogs and twitter. You’re entering a business relationship and you don’t want to get into it lightly. You don't want to just sign with someone because they accept you. And you can change agents. Check them out. Get valuable info.

GR/CR: No agent is better than a bad agent. Has seen submissions from bad agents on the Writer Beware list.

CR/GM: Track reocord.

GR: Be careful to see if it’s a new agent striking out. See if they’ll copy you on correspondence.

CR: New agents are hungry. All agents want to find good things. Young agents extra specially. If the new agent doesn’t have a lot of experience, look at the house – they’ll have mentoring, the name of the house they’re with. What contects do they have, what mentors? A young fresh agent isn’t necessarily a bid thing, but they need to have support.

GM: You should have a good relationship with them, a good rapport. Not just that you are the content generator and they sell the book – this should be a collaboration. They should be able to tell you how your book is doing.

ES: CR, why did you change agents? Why would someone consider changing?

CR: People have switched at every level. Lack of communication is a big reason. A few weeks for response on a full instead of six months. A month is okay. Depends on where you are and how fast you want to go. People also switch agents based on where they want to be in their career. Writers leave agents because of communication. Also if the agent is not with them based on where they are in their careers.

GM: Sometimes agents die, retire, leave the business, go to jail – something to thik about when you sign the contract with the agent. You should have something in the contract about parting ways civilly. What your obligations are. If they die, do you pay their estate?

CR: You should always have a way to sever with notice. It's easier if you have it written out. Here’s where I am, here’s the problems I’m having, can we resolve the problems we’re having? If you sever a relationship, don’t list the reasons why. Say, I’m sorry we have to part ways, and that it’s not working out. Agents are still responsible for the commission.

GM: Subsidiary rights – ebooks, games, audio, foreign rights, tv rights – that matters. If your publisher doesn’t have the capability to do the e-book or audiobook, your agent will rep those rights. Especially if you have your heart set on movies/tv/etc, it's good to know what experience they have and how they handle those things.

Have a conversation with them about how much they’ll do, how much they’ll be personal assistant, career manager, advisor? Things have changed.

CR: Some agents will edit before they send out, career plan with you, continue to manage once you’ve sold … and some don’t. Some just sell it and they’re done. If you get an offer from an agent, ask to speak with their clients.

GM: Your agent is not your shrink, fininacial planner, or bail bondsman, but you can come to them with career, book questions. They’re not being compensated for that time, just paid in commission. You won’t call them every day or even every week.

GM – Example: An agent – Ethen Allenburg – just does fiction. Gave him first right of refusal for Nonfic. Went for John Willik, who specializes in nonfic biz books. Different connections in the publishing industry. Might need an agent who specializes specifically in film/television, for example.

CR: If your agent doesn’t handle it, chances are they’ll have a colleague who will. Or if there’s an agent they know who handles it, they might recommend them.

GR: Don’t submit multiple manuscripts at once. Send them your one best thing and let it speak for itself. Simultaneously submit queries to multiple agents, though.

CR: However, may be a partial request exclusive request. Ask how long for exclusivity – 30 days, 60 days? If you get an offer, tell others that you got one.

GR: If you have an offer, different between offer and request for a full ms. Guve a dreama gent the time. Asolute write – people will recommend. Don’t treat partial requests the same as a full. Partials may not be read more than a page or two.

GR: You want to be treated professionally, so treat others professionally. Extend certain courtesies if you want them extrended to you.  No hard and fast rules

GM: If an agent says, “I liked this but: make some changes”, then do soul searching. Look at feedback and see if changes made she’ll handle you. Do you think the book is fundamentally better even if she doesn’t represent me? You can say no if it’s not the book  you wrote. The book can be stronger and better because of that feedback. These are professional people – take that input. Even if they don’t buy it from you.

Personalized feedback is great in a rejection!

Having an online presence is good, too.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Editor's Work is Never Done (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

Fitting for the end of the week, on this drowsy Vancouver Friday afternoon, I've got notes from last year's ConCarolinas writing panel on editors. Here's some great info to consider about the editing side of writing, and what editors are keeping an eye out for when looking at your work.

* * * 

The Editor’s Work is Never Done
Faith Hunter, Edmond Schubert, Edward McKeown, Allen Wold, Mason Lavin

Allen Wold – Writer’s workshops

Mason Lavin – Breathless Press (ebook erotica)

Faith Hunter – Written 20+ books as a writer so far under two names, but for the first time she’s just negotiated with Kalayna Price her first anthology, and they’ll be the editors of an anthology with big names. Is learning to be an editor

Ed Schubert – Edits Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show

There are different kinds of editors:
1.    Developmental – does your story make sense ? Characters? Arc? Language? Char stay true to self? The acceptance is step 1.
2.    Copyediting – do your chars eyes stay the same colour? Same name? Formatting? Spelling? Copyeditors not their job to do developmental.
3.    Line-editing.

What an editor does:

EM: Helps the writer tell the story in their voice their way. But keeps continuity, char, story. Are characters acting like real p eople, in terior logic?
AW: line editing in writer’s workshops. First draft as raw as it can be (and all first drafts are crap)  let’s people know if what they’re working on is worth working onl Litle tiny details necessary for a beginning writer to learn. Then encourages ppl to submit. Looks at finished stories, too. Will shed blood if asked.

Sometimes there are authors so big that their editing turns to crap.

The truth is, everybody needs to be edited. We all need to be edited.

You could hire a developmental editor if you want to, but the acquisitions editor might ask you to change everything again.

Order of Events:
1.    Have a polished novel.
2.    Submit to agents (conferences, slush, etc)
3.    Acceeptance by agnent
4.    Edit letter from agent (preferable)
5.    Agent submits to editors of choice (auction sometimes, but not common)
6.    Acquisitions developmental editor at pub house looks at it. Keeps track of publishing schedule.
7.    Rewrite for developmental editor.
8.    Second developmental/line editing letter. Sometimes a third happens. (Sommetimes you have to fix one problem before you can go onto the next).
9.    Line edits
10.    Copy edits

When ES buys short stories:
-    Ideally it's gone through a lot more beta readers, conferences, conventions first
-    He's looking for something close to done as possible
-    He does as much developmental and line editing as he can, simultaneously
-    Most important, he keeps in mind that the story is *the writer's* story. He’s simply in the polishing business.

AW: The best editors don’t need a lot of words to  he good editors can pinpoint in just a few words exactly what’s wrong.

ES: No one can edit themselves.

ML: Sometimes you have to work with them a lot before the story's good to go.

ES: If the problem is convoluted, there's lots more work involved, so he's more likely to reject the story.

FH: What do you have to say about editing?

EM: All of it’s solicited. Language of displomacy (tis isn’t working). Does more hand-holding. Doesn’t matter if he likes the story, looking for whether the story is well-done and valid to his anthologies.

AW: Editors should be diplomatic. Has had firsthand experience at an editor being undiplomatic.

ES: Editing is a very subjective process. Unless you get multiple editors or agents telking you you hae the same problem, take things under consideration but don’t live or die by it. A form rejection just means it’s not right for that editor on that day. Feedback is rare. 10% if that. Perosnalized rejections are awesome.

EM: Like a party – if one person says you’re drunk, slow down a bit, if two, slow a little more, if three, take the lampshade off your head and stop

ML: Encouraged to give personalized rejections. Have learned the hard way whyh editors don’t respond. It’s not a conversation. Follow guideliens.

Make sure you pay attention to submission guidelines! Follow them! Do it anyway. Whatever their reasons may be. If you give them an excuse to dump your story bc they didn’t follow the guideliens, that’s an excuse to dump them. Guidelines exist for a reason, whether you agee with them or not.

ML: Erotica has content guidelines. Pay attention to content guidelines.

ML: IF you write YA, don’t submit to adult call. If you write audlt,, don’t submit it to a YA pub.

FH: If you do something aggregious to a publisher, they’ll meet at cons. Same thing with stalkers. Editors and authors communicate. Don’t bug them if they’re chatting alone with each other. If  you’re asked for an exclusive, tell them you’ve sent 3 chapters to X, and give the name. And say, :”I’ve sent x quewries out bout I won’t send more”. If someone else wans it, say “Y has it, but I will if I hear back”.

The number of people who give you free editing is dropping. So very rare.

Are agents doing editorial work now?

FH: Dif agents do make suggestions, esp. after submitting after face to face at a con. Agents appraocehd that way often explain why the story it is less sellable. Lucienne does a lot of that.

ES: Lots of editors leaving pub houses bc of cuts. Agents with an editing background. Ackin to dev editing. Still looking for the stuff that’s close to being ready. Lots of ex-eds being agents and using their ed background to help their new work.

AW: Will throw out stuff if the first page or first lines are bad.

EM: Editors are not gods, maybe not good writers, but they’re good *readers*.

What is your process?

EM – looks for someone that is solid, has social skills, willing to be worked with – if it can’t get through your writing group, you shouldn’t be sending it out. Duty of writer is to listen to the critiques. No arguing with critiquers. Also, um, no arguing with editors. Unless you plan to be in the living room of everyone who reads to explain yourself, it needs to be fixed.

ML: Don’t argue with editors. But it can lead to discussion of “But I want to keep thjis” “Then you need to fix this or that” and better edits have come out of it.

ES: (In addition to above) Thinks: Is it good? Are they good to work with?

NG: The qualities: Good, fast, friendly – you can get away with two of them, but don’t be a pain in the ass.

ML: Don’t panic and tell them two days before the deadline that you can't make the deadline.

AW: You can ask for an extension but don’t turn it in late.

Do you have any final words?

EM: “Blessed are the flexible, for they should not be bent out of shape.”

AW: When you get an edit, you can do one of three things – do what the ask for, disregard, or find another way.

ML: Don’t take it personally. And don’t quit just because you were told no.

FH: It's a numbers game. Get the right product to the right person at the right time. Work on another piece, and if it doesn't work, try it again somewhere else

ES: Thank you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Urban Fantasy (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

What's this? More notes?

Yup. Just in time for ConCarolinas 2013, which is happening next weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. If you're in the area, I recommend this convention. I for one can't wait! 

I found a few more sets of notes I never posted, so I'll share them in the days leading to the con. First up: a look at Urban Fantasy.

Urban Fantasy

David B. Coe (D.B. Jackson), Faith Hunter, Kalayna Price, Diana Bastine, J.F. Lewis 
Moderator: Gail Z Martin

How do you think in the last few years Urban Fantasy (UF) has  morphed or changed, or has it stayed pretty static?

DB: UF has been expanding, even though publishers' marketing geniuses have been making the book covers all the same. That does the authors a disservice because every series is vastly different (even when certain tropes are the same) – not everyone is writing the same book. Urban fantasy’s covering a *lot* of the fantasy section these days.

JL: UF has changed a bit. His pen name is his initials so that the reader can assume he’s female.

KP: UF really took off in 2005, first. Can trace it back to Bram Stoker, even though it really started to hit with Anita Blake in ’93. It stays true to the magic, but we kick a lot more ass now.

FH: We're not seeing new bad guys, new creatures. Still the same vampires, werewolves, and occasional mythological creature. Still the same “kill the bad guy” book, but introducing a few new characters. However, there has been much more crossover.

DBC: Thinks that there is and has been a conflation of what we used to call dark fantasy and what we call UF. We don’t really talk about DF anymore, it’s UF. Epic fantasy was driving the market 15 years ago, and had recently transplanted SF as driving the spec fic. Now UF is driving the spec fic market. Partly because female readership in the genre is way way up and UF has strong female characters (and male, but definitely females) Spec fic used to be about geeky pimply boys reading that, and now the readership  is vastly diverse.

GM: Agrees in the change in readership. Now looks at the attendance of conventions, UF market, female authors in the field, and now it’s vastly different from what it used to be.

What makes UF Urban? Why  Urban instead of small town or Rural?

DBC: Distinguishing itself from medieval pastoral fantasy. The landscape of the settings geared toward happening in cities. No matter what time period. If the landscape has an urban, seedy feel, rather han pastoral, it’s urban.

FH: A certain modernity, modern cultural feel to it at first. But now it also has expanded to mean urban, for other time periods. Now you can get historical urban fantasy, and not get bored with it.

KP: Not enough people to eat in the other places. The city is not completely necessary. Sookie Stackouse is UF, even though it’s set in a a small town. It’s about the feel.

JF: What makes it UF is putting monsters alongside the every day. The familiar setting and the unfamiliar monster.

DB: There's a certain different feel when it’s set in a city. It has a grity feel. There’s a certain edge to a city environment.

DBC: Charles de Lint used to be called UF, now it’s Magical Realism.

Going back to the idea of the city as a setting, as a character in the books, how do you think the flavour changes and what elements does a city bring to the story? What are the things that happens in a city that people can’t get anywhere else?

FH:  Really good food. Local culture. Adds an element you don’t have in a rural setting. The microbeers, the music. The choices are almost unlimited in the city.

DB: There's so much going on after dark in the city. There are places open all night. People are out and about 24/7. You have so much more of a culture happening after dark, when these stories take place.

DBC: A degree to which fantasy has transformed from quest literature to survival literature. The characters are under siege from page one, and a city environment can be threatening, so fraught with danger, that survival stories become so compelling.

GM: The infrastructure. The subways, the abandoned subways, building styles, mixed people and buildings and bacgrkounds and heritage – not likely to get as much of that in a small town, yet places where there's all of these things can be part of the story.

JF: Affects the story – e.g. population control for vampires

Audience: In a city everything’s packed in closely together. So many chances to be attacked out of nowhere. 

DBC: There's a certain claustrophobia.

GM – More chances for things to go wrong. In a city, more chance for anonymity. In a small town, everyone knows everyone. In a city, you don’t know the guy next door.

Audience: There's much more collateral damage and innocent people hurt.

Audience: Also, you can visualize these real cities it’s been set in.  You can see taste and smell it even if you haven’t been there.

DBC: Madeline Robbins – The Stone War -  a MUST read. A story about a post-apocalyptic new York. Turns it into the most terrifying place imaginable, even for New York.

GM: UF has bled into other areas. Like the show: Life after People.

Audience: Also, the crime element. Generally there's more crime in a big city because there’s more opportunity and more places to hide.

Audience: More bad stuff happens and people don’t seem to care as much.

GM: An alien invasion will happen best in NY because nothing phases them!

KP: A city as character offers much more crossover opportunity, such as film noir. The potential is extremely high.

Audience: Hot, graphic – where do you draw the line between UF and Paranormal romance?

KP – if romance is central to the plot, it’s PR – if killing the bad guy is central to the plot, it’s UF.

Audience: With all the things in the city and the city as a character itself, does it pose a problem in the plot?

FH: Where it takes place is much less important than what takes place in the scene. The city only comes into matter when the scene requires it. (e.g. if you're going to drown someone, that requires nearby water).

DBC: Overwhelmingly character driven. (FH: No, I just blow things up.) DBC – if the world is serving as a distraction, that’s a sign for him that he’s getting away from what his story needs.

Audience: Since UF is set in cities, how much research  is required? Do we have to have lived there?

KP: Doesn't write about real cities. She makes imaginary cities. She wants to make what can happen, rather than what can be there.

GM – Ficticious cities in a fictitious world.

DB – Also depends on how specific you need to be. The specificity of where things are in the city aren’t needed (like where is a pub located) – it depends, do you need to be specific?

FH – the French quarter constantly changes, so she gives herself freedom to change names of pubs/bars, etc – but she keeps the street names.

DBC – Writing novels set in Boston in 1765 (The Thieftaker series, under his pen name D.B. Jackson) presents problems, too. He’s found books about the time and place.  He’s researching extensively.

GM: No matter how much you research, your readers always know more and will be quick to point it out to you.

RA: Go to Youtube. Lots of people make driving videos these days.

Audience: Do you pick places for foreshadowing?

FH: Always.

Audience: There always seems to be a hateful relationship with the protagonists and law enforcement.

JF: It can happen. It does in his void city series.

GM: Depends on how you set up your series. Do people know about the supernaturals?

KP: Agreed.  Depends on your worldbuilding. Consider it part of the worldbuildig. You should.

GM: And sometimes, the people keeping the peace get it wrong.

Audience: Can  you change details? Blow up a landmark?

DBC and FH: Will change details as needed.

FH: It’s my N'awlins. Not the real N'awlins.

GM: Creative change. If you live in that city, you can laugh because those things aren’t there.

Audience: Obviously, the smells are big, important, part of the feel of being there.

DB: Yes, you can tell what cetain places smell like. The smells are different. Cities smell different. Smells are vital, are important. They really ground the reader in the feeling of being there.

GM: If you’re reading a book set in a city and have some experience with that smell, it’s gratifying if you’ve been there and you know because the author got it right. Adds another element of realism.

GM: Also, certain technology, behaviours can date things. Yes, it’s definitely useful to use a generic term rather than specifics. Specifics date and confuse.

Audience: Is it always going to be the case that humans have no chance? Can the police force get lucky?

KP: Your protagonist should be the only one who can solve the problem thoruhg great effort and change, and otherwise it’s someone else’s story.

Audience: So many humans. Humanity bands together.

GM: The human element: yeah, we’ve got opposable thumbs and we’re adaptable.

DBC: Yeah, but the hero is the one who overcomes through taking the road less traveled, unconventional thinking.

GM: We’re adaptable and on our good days we can do pretty darn well.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Writer's Brain: A Serious Affliction

I’ve crawled out of the deep dark pit of revisions to bring attention to a very serious problem out there. Some of you may know about it. Some of you might even have it. But this condition has made itself very known to me in recent months, and I think it's something that we need to acknowledge is a real issue affecting people worldwide.

Yes, I'm talking about Writer's Brain.

Recently I’ve been diagnosed as having this condition. I’d call it a self-diagnosis, but I’ve been accused of it in the past, and having Don Rocko roll his eyes a few months back to say, “You have your finger on the zeitgeist/pulse of that thing” for a certain fairy-tale-themed show we watch confirmed it. I have writer’s brain.

Symptoms involve more than predicting the ending to a story, though that’s a big part of the condition. A person with writer’s brain can pick out tropes, characters, “surprise” events, and even solve riddles far in advance of the characters in the story. Caution when watching movies and TV with others in the room; not everyone enjoys having details spoiled.

All of which is my roundabout way of saying that while I absolutely love, love, loved Star Trek: Into Darkness, loved the humour and the dialogue and everything about it, I saw how it was going to end, and couldn’t help smirking at the screen in some parts when I knew I should have been more upset.

Part of me would love to turn off that bit of my brain to just enjoy things, but I think that it’s something worth having. I have a better sense of plot. And I think that with more recent projects, it’s helping me to be a better beta reader, solve plot problems, and overall feel more in tune with the Storyverse.

(And I only ever say things around Don Rocko or other writers who don’t mind; around others or in public places like the movie theatre, I keep my lips shut. That didn’t stop my darling husband, one who has a milder form of the affliction, from leaning over to whisper the plot solution in my ear, only to have me hiss back, “I know! I figured that out way back when X happened!” Sigh.)

If you or someone you love has Writer’s Brain, be patient with them. They don’t mean to ruin your enjoyment. It’s just our gift, our curse, one of the many issues we face as writers.

Thank you for understanding.