Finding An Agent (Basically Like Online Dating)

It’s happening. My manuscript is going out into the world. Scary!!

Moving Forward With My Plan

After I finished my first draft, I provided you all with my plan to achieve publication. This included editing, sending to friends, sending to a developmental editor and then revising again.

For the most part I have done this. I have also entered a few contests and attended a retreat, which turned into an incredible networking opportunity. Now it’s time brace myself and send pages to agents.

Finding an Agent (Basically Like Online Dating)

For those of you outside of the writing world, obtaining an agent is basically a required step toward publication. Theoretically you can pitch publishers directly, but their time is limited and a represented author has to be vetted. As you can guess, agents take a percentage of profits; however, they use their connections on your behalf and spend their days selling your novel (and negotiating if someone bites) while you carry on with your day job. So that’s the trade off.

What I realized as I engage in this process, is that finding an agent is very similar to online dating. While it’s important that you/your manuscript be a catch and the person whose profile you’re viewing (i.e., the agent’s website) meets your basic standards, sooo much more is necessary for there to be a match.

Like with a potential mate, there needs to be a connection.

The agent can’t just see-why-someone-would-like-you—they themselves have to be excited about your manuscript and must believe in you as an author. Most importantly, they must feel confident that they can sell both.  That takes time, but I think it’s worth the wait?!

Bracing Myself for Rejection

This delicate dance toward finding a match is why everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve spoken to about this topic has told me to expect to query (i.e., pitch) 50-100 agents before finding representation.

In other words, I must be prepared for rejection.  And now that I’m pitching, I’ve internalized this lesson because it makes sense.

So in addition to the agents/editors who requested pages at the retreat, I’m focusing on people who represent my genre (and/or others like it—for example, agents looking for women’s fiction and multi-cultural or love stories—I think that’s the money spot) and whose interviews I’ve enjoyed, who represent books I like, and are in the D.C. or NY area.

I haven’t pitched 100 agents yet. I made a list, and I’m pitching in waves of 10 or so. While I wait, I need to read through the last 200 pages of my novel one more time (no one requested more than 100 pages, so I focused on getting those completed before anything else). And that’s where I’m at.

I will keep you posted. Fingers crossed!!

 

Three People Read 20 Pages of My MS and the Result was Weird

I’m back. No more three-week breaks between blogging. I mean, I need this thing. It forces me to make progress on the noveling. Also, I love it when people talk to me about my posts—so I guess I better write them, huh? (Btw, I have still been blogging at The Write Practice–feel free to check them out at any time!).

So the other day I found out I am a finalist for another writing contest called the Abalone Awards. Basically, it’s a contest for love stories that have a cultural, interracial or multicultural hook. Check! The difference between this one and the Marlene contest is that finalists are given an opportunity to read the judge’s comments and revise the entry before the final round.

Great! Right?

Well, when I opened the first score sheet, all I saw were 3s (out of 10!).  There were a couple of 5s and a 6 here or there, but not many. My reaction was WTF, how did I become a finalist?! The comments weren’t that much better. She didn’t like my switching points of view* (it felt disjointed to her) and she said the opening scene needed work (I’ve since changed it completely for like the 5th time—but not just because of this). Um, ouch. It hurt, but OK. (She did like my characters though :))

On the next two score sheets I received a bunch of 9s—whew! Those judges said the story flowed and they loved the opening scene! In addition, one of them mentioned she did not like my male character but conceded that characters don’t need to be liked to be successful. (For the record, I think he’s likable).

So this is what’s weird: the judges had completely different reactions to the exact same things. What’s a girl supposed to do with that?!

I already know that I’m not going to please everyone—even J.K. Rowling has a few 2 star reviews. But it was a very strange experience to read such starkly different reactions to my work.

My first instinct was to ignore the hater.  But…the whole point of entering these things is to get feedback (right?). My second instinct was to try to address all of her concerns. Too much work. Plus, no.*

Ultimately I decided to take the following approach:

  • Read through the comments with an open mind, genuinely respecting the judges’ opinion.
  • Note any issues mentioned by all three judges.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Revise without returning to the comments, the assumption being that I have internalized the feedback.

While it’s important to take criticism seriously, the process is inherently subjective.  All I can really do is trust my instincts and stay true to the story, so that’s plan.  Plus—in this case, the contest entry was only 20 pages (out of a 300-page manuscript!) Gotta keep it all in perspective.

Til next week! (I promise!)

* Side note: My manuscript currently alternates between the first person (the female protagonist) and the third person (male protagonist). Every time a group has read pieces of my manuscript, someone has commented on this technique. Future fans let me explain:

  • I wanted the female protagonist to be an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is someone who the reader cannot completely trust because her perspective is skewed. The first person is inherently less reliable than the third person because you only have access to that character’s knowledge, opinions, etc. I wanted the male protagonist to be reliable.
  • I wanted the voices to be distinct. In case you didn’t know—this is my first novel. I was very concerned when I began writing that the voices of the two characters would be too similar (because they were both coming from me!) Alternating between first and third person made it a lot easier for me to accomplish this goal.
  • This isn’t a crazy idea. Terry McMillan has done it. Emily Giffin has done it. So why can’t I? Even if you find the switch initially jarring, I promise you will get used to it after reading another chapter or two.

 

My First Writer Retreat Was a Blast! And Marlene Winners Were Revealed…

In my last post I mentioned that I was off to the unknown adventure that was the Washington Romance Writers retreat. I had no idea what to expect, got a ride and shared a room with someone I met that day and just generally hoped for the best.

All I can say is that the retreat far exceeded my expectations!

The Atmosphere Was Intimate and Collegial

What I loved most about it was that it was intimate. Only about 120 people were there including authors who had published dozens of books and others who were hoping to one day get published like me. The group was diverse in every sense of the word—from genre (ranging from paranormal romance to women’s fiction) to location to race to age. And it wasn’t just writers in attendance—top agents and editors were there, including one from St. Martin’s Press.

In addition to the small number, the atmosphere was collegial because there was no distinction in terms of activities, seating arrangements, etc.—all of our meals were together (remember- no room service!),  so you could sit at the same table as these accomplished authors, editors and agents. (I ended up having a really informative conversation with an agent I wanted to pitch to, but couldn’t get on her schedule and definitely plan on sending her a query letter!!) The same was true with the night activities—the people on the panels during the day were the same ones singing karaoke that night. There were also a ton of useful panels and workshops.

The experience was both inspiring and fulfilling.  When I got there I knew no one, when I left I felt really connected to a lot of people who could share this experience of sitting down and writing a novel.

Marlene Contest and Pitch Sessions

I did not win the Marlene contest, but I did not expect that I would! Several of the other finalists had already been published for goodness sakes! I was one of the few Marlene finalists in attendance, however, so that was cool.

I also did four pitch sessions—three editors and one agent. I was so nervous, but the more I saw them all drinking and hanging out, the less worried I got. When I finally did meet with them, they were all open to my idea, and asked that I send them chapters or pages—but only when I’m done (which I’m not)! No rush they said!

Note that this alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Half the battle in this game (I’ve heard), is just getting the agent to respond and ask for pages. It turns out in these pitch sessions, many of the agents/editors will just ask for pages if the concept falls within what they represent because, unsurprisingly, authors are notoriously horrible at pitching their books in this fashion lol. Also—you can’t really make a decision on a novel when you haven’t read a single page.

And The Speakers Were Awesome

Other highlights included the speakers—Liliana Hart, Robin Perini and Cathy Maxwell. Liliana had these sky-high heels and talked about how we all understood each other simply because we were writers (and overall gave a hilarious speech). Robin Perini had some incredibly helpful tips on organizing your novel and developing strong characters and Cathy Maxwell, who gave the final speech, was so, so, so inspiring. One of the best author-speakers I’ve seen—she talked about continuing to find inspiration and passion when writing because more like work—a lesson applicable to newbies and accomplished writers alike.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Best part is the retreat is a gift that keeps on giving. I learned that Washington Romance Writers is actually a great organization to be part of. Membership is only about $30, and with that you have access to free workshops in the DMV area that I believe are monthly. Numerous people told me that the workshops are incredibly impressive and definitely worth the small membership fee.

Ultimately, I left inspired, eager to work, and having made many new friends and contacts. I really felt like I was part of the community, and I highly recommend the retreat to others in the future!!