Agent Monday: 7 Steps to Writing Success

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! As you can imagine, every day I’m in touch with many many writers. Some are trying to break in and get their first book deal. Others are seasoned pros who have been published multiple times. As a literary agent, and as an author myself, I’ve come to recognize the steps toward writing success, and I’m gonna share them with you right now:

 

 

  1. Write
  2. Polish
  3. Sit on it for a while
  4. Polish even more
  5. Submit your work
  6. While on submission, write something else
  7. Go back to #1… rinse, repeat, and never ever give up

Simple? Not if you are doing it right.

Let’s look at #1-#4:
Successful writers take their craft very seriously. They write and refine and refine some more. Every successful writer does this, even the multi-published ones. And they don’t rush their work out before giving it the time needed to make it better. Often I talk to new writers who say they’ve worked on this manuscript for 5 whole drafts! They’ve spent 4 months on it! Hm. In my experience, successful writers can’t even count the number of drafts they’ve done, and will probably never admit to how many years a particular manuscript has taken them. (I spent 10 years on my first novel, and it never got published. Shhh. Don’t tell! But I’d worked so hard on my craft that my next novel was picked up by Random House.) Craft is the most important part of becoming successful. It doesn’t matter who you meet, or how zippy do your query letter is, if your actual manuscript isn’t strong. And that take time and skill.

Now for #5:
When it comes to submitting, successful writers get their work out there. I often meet talented writers who send out 4 queries, don’t land an agent, and then just give up. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Successful writers don’t give up after sending out 1 or 10 or even 50 queries. But first they research how to submit properly, and who the right people are to send their work to, whether to an agent, or a publisher, a contest, or a journal. (Scroll through my past Agent Monday posts on this site and you’ll find lots of tips about pitching and querying.) They follow guidelines (mine are found here), and they continue to send the work out as much as is needed till they meet their goal. Successful writers also refine their submissions along the way, based on feedback that feels useful. If query letters are getting no response, they will strengthen their query letter and try some more. If editors or agents pass but offer suggestions, they consider these ideas and refine even further, and then send the work back out on submission.

Onto #6:
This an often overlooked step! While that manuscript is circulating out on submission, do not stop your own work. Why stop everything and wait for that one completed work to find a home? Lot’s of writers get mired down in the cycle of submitting, and obsessing about rejections. Instead, let that submission process go on, but focus on that new work. It’ll take time for your first work to find its home, chances are your next book may be even stronger than the first one, and, guess what? Agents love to hear that you have more than one project in the works, since they want to manage a writer’s career, not just one book.

Also, avoid continually rewriting that one book that’s on submission. Let it go for now and write something new. Really new. Hopefully not a sequel to that first book. Why not? Because if that first book doesn’t fly, or does but ends up very changed once it goes through editorial, then you have just wasted a ton of time. The best thing to do is to write up a one paragraph or one page synopsis of where you see each future book in that series going, and set it aside till a deal is at hand. Once a book is commissioned as a series, THEN you write that sequel.

Now for #7:
Keep going through those steps, and never ever give up. NEVER! You do not know when success will come. The only thing you know for sure is that if you give up, it will never happen. So go for it. Work hard. Keep focused on improving your craft.

Simple? Well, in a way it is. Yes, it’s work and will take time, but if you keep these 7 steps in front of you and bring your focus back to them over and over – you’ll be doing everything you can to make success happen.

So keep writing. Keep believing.

You can do this.

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

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Agent Monday: Ask Me Now!

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in ClassHappy Agent Monday, everyone! Busy, busy, busy here. I’ve got lots of stuff to read, emails to answer, details to attend to, etc. I hate to skip an Agent Monday post, but sometimes I do. And usually it’s because I don’t have a topic that’s jumped out at me as a “must-do” for this site. I’ve covered a lot of things over the past few years – queries, conferences, etiquette, market tips, and so on. But I’m sure there are some subjects or details I haven’t touched on that YOU would like to know more about.

So here’s your chance to ask. Please leave a comment with a topic you’d like to have me do an Agent Monday post about in the near future, something you don’t think I’ve covered before.

Send those burning questions my way. And ask your fellow writers to chime in, too. I can’t promise I’ll cover them all, but I do promise to consider your suggestions.

Thanks so much for your input!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Making the Most of Book Festivals (even if you don’t sell gobs of books)

Eliza Bing jktHappy Agent Monday, and happy September everyone!  Fall, for me, is a time of new beginnings. New books to read. New books to pitch to editors. New things to write… If you are writer, you may soon be staring down at a terrifying new thing: THE BOOK SIGNING. Well, fear not. Today I have some words of advice and encouragement for you from my wonderful and talented author, Carmella Van Vleet. Her most recent titles include the middle grade novel ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, 2014), which features the hilarious and endearing Eliza (who also happens to be coping with ADHD); and the picture book TO THE STARS! co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016).  Take it away, Carmella!

Making the Most of Book Festivals – Even If You Don’t Sell Gobs of Books!
guest post by Carmella Van Vleet

When I walked in the door, exhausted from spending the day at a local book festival, the first thing out of my husband’s mouth was, “So, how many books did you sell?”
I’m proud to report I resisted the urge to unleash some inner-ninja on him. I knew he was doing his best to be supportive, but it’s a loaded question. Those of us who attend book signings and festivals know that it’s not always about the number of books we sell.
For the record, I sold and signed around nine books that day. I’ve had better days in terms of sales and I’ve had worse. But despite the lower sales, I had a great time and was glad I participated in the event. Why? (I mean other than the fact I spent the day sampling the candy I’d set out to lure readers to my table.) Simple: I focused on all the other successes of the day.

Here are the cool things that happened that didn’t include actual book sales:

I got to meet another writer from the Class of 2k14 (a group of 20 debut YA and MG writers who’ve banned together online to support and help promote each other). This was a first for me.

I spent the day chatting with several writers sitting nearby me. We shared advice and tips for other book festivals, school visits, and promotional materials.

I handed my card to a librarian who was interested in me doing an author visit at her school.

I got to participate in two well-attended panels about writing for children. Not only did I get a chance to do one of my favorite things in the whole world – talk shop – I met an editor who asked me if I would be interested in writing for their new biography series for middle grade readers.

While doing the second panel, I also got to connect with an illustrator I heard speak a while back. Something she’d said in her workshop resonated with me and it ended up being a key puzzle piece that allowed my picture book to finally fall into place. It was such a gift to be able to tell this other writer she helped me and my book sold and is now scheduled for release in 2016.

I was able to help a fellow writer who was struggling with the close-but-no-cigar stage of her career. (I told her the old adage is true – just when things seems darkest and most hopeless is usually when your “Yes” is just around the corner.) And I got to rave about Marie to another writer who queried her.

At lunch, I spent a few minutes hanging out with an author whose writing I deeply admire – and totally experienced the “getting to sit at the cool kids table” thing.

Something really funny happened to me at the festival, too. This boy around ten years old walked up to my table. When he noticed my cover, he pointed and said, “I read the first two pages of that book.” (I was pretty sure he didn’t realize he was speaking to the author.) “Oh yeah?” I asked, all excited. “Did you like it? What did you think?” The boy shrugged. “Eh. It was okay.” His mother turned red and promptly began apologizing. But I waved her off; I thought it was hysterical. I thanked the boy for his honesty and offered him a candy bar.

So, in other words, I got a good story about humility to tell!

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you attend book festivals. They aren’t always going to be rainbows and glitter, long lines and adoring fans. But if you keep yourself open – and remember there’s more to these things than just selling books – you’ll never have a bad day.

My tips for book festivals

* Get to know your book neighbors. Listen to their pitch and give them yours. When they step away for a break or lunch, help cover their table and talk up their books to readers walking by. They’ll do the same for you.
* Standing up at your table is a great way to increase your visibility during crowded times.
* Bring your own water and snack in case you can’t get away or there’s not a nearby volunteer. You’ll need them to keep up your energy.
* Have readers spell out their names and write them on slips of paper before you sign a book. This will help cut down on inscription mistakes.
* Always give a reader more. For example, I have a collection of rubber stamps I like to use after my signature. (Each stamp corresponds to a specific title. For instance, I have an old fashion key stamp that I use in my Ben Franklin book.) Another writer I know personally attaches “Autographed Copy” stickers to her books after signing. An illustrator friend sketches a kid-friendly doodle. These little touches make the book extra special.
* If you’re comfortable talking to groups, volunteer to participate in panels and other activities; the people who plan book festivals really appreciate this and will remember your name when it comes time for the next event.
* Don’t be afraid to connect with people even if you don’t think it’ll mean a sale. Compliment someone on their cool shirt or ask what kinds of books they read. Always be genuine but never pushy.

 

Carmella Van VleetCarmella Van Vleet is a former teacher and the author of numerous hands-on science and history books. Her debut MG novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House) is a Junior Library Guild Selection  about a girl with ADHD who takes up taekwondo. Carmella is looking forward to the release of her first picture book, TO THE STARS! THE STORY OF ASTRONAUT KATHY SULLIVAN, which she co-authored with Dr. Sullivan (Charlesbridge, 2016). For more information, please visit www.CarmellaVanVleet.com

Agent Monday: The Big Conference Question

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Here I am, hydrating at a panel talk with fellow Liars Club authors at the Princeton Public Library.

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  As you writers set new goals for the new year, you may be stewing over whether it’s worth including writer’s conferences as part of your plan.  Why, exactly, should you go to a conference. Is it worth the money? Couldn’t you just spend that time writing and then learning what you need to know via online research? These were some of the questions writers in my own critique group were chatting about at our last Rebel Writers meeting.  So today, I thought I tackle The Big Conference Question: should you go?

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences by now. First as a writer, and now as a literary agent as well.  Some have been amazing. Some have been, well, eh, in value. But I’ve always learned from them and I’ve never been sorry to attend.  In fact, I landed my own agent, the lovely Jennifer De Chiara (who still reps me, and now I also work as an agent for her firm…yeah, we talk a lot!) and secured my first book deal as an author through conferences, and you can read about all that here in my post WHY CONFERENCES.

Go ahead. Give that one a look.  I’ll wait…

Taps foot…

Done reading that? Okay. So that shows how all the stars could align through attending conferences, and how it did for me. In today’s post I want to go a little deeper into what you might look for in a conference and truly expect, and point out some of the not-so-obvious ways you can benefit beyond the “I landed an agent!” and the “I got a book deal!”, which, truthfully, does not typically happen first time out of the gate. With me, for example, those things were achieved after years of conferences, tons of learning on my part, and tons of polishing of my own writing in between…and then the contacts I made via conferences led in a lovely straight line to my goal.

So, what is YOUR goal. Yup, getting your book published, and published well.  But those who are most successful understand that takes a bunch of intermediary steps. So those who dive into a conference with the sole hungry purpose of getting published will probably blow the many opportunities offered to them at a writer’s conference.  They’ll be too focused on landing an agent to absorb what an agent, who may not be asking for their manuscript after a pitch, is offering in the way of advice on how to improve that pitch. I see that as an agent a lot.  The writer flies across the country and spends mucho bucks on hotel and conference fees to pitch face to face with agents. That writer pitches to me, and the pitch is confusing. I pass, and offer advice on how the pitch is unclear, how, perhaps the writer could focus it better.  But the writer, herself so focused on landing an agent, has shut down the moment it seems like our conversation is not going her way. She hears NO and is done with me and dashes off.

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Here I am studying opening pages at a pitch session held during the Push-to-Publish Conference in Rosemont, PA

Do you see why that level of single-mindedness is a fail when it comes to conferences? If the writer had listened to what I said, she might have discovered a way to improve her pitch, and the next agent she’d pitch to that day, might have said yes.

So, again, I ask you to think about YOUR goal. Here’s a good one: to learn.

At conferences you can figure out the best way to present yourself and your work, whether in a query or in a live pitch. You can hear agents speaking and find out if they are looking for the sort of writing that you do, or not. If not, cross them off your list of submissions, but still listen and take notes – they might offer you a tidbit of advice that’ll help you when contacting agents who are into your type of writing.  Also, it does give you the opportunity to see what a particular agent is really like. You want someone who will represent you well to editors.  Does the agent speak well? Do you like the impression they give off? If the answer is no, then do you really want them to be the face and voice of you and your career? 

You can learn so much about the business side of writing through conferences – the sort of stuff you can’t glean just through reading magazines and books and blogs. Sit in on a panel of editors, and you’ll discover how the acquisitions process works, what they like and don’t like taste-wise, what they will expect from authors they are interested in. And that will all help you.

And then there are elements of craft. Over the years, I’ve learned amazing plot techniques from picture book authors (even though I was writing YA at the time), and research ideas from non-fiction authors (which I used for my historical YA fantasy DRAWN), and gathered so much inspiration from many presenters that kept me chugging along as a writer even when chugging along was pretty tough.

But here’s the most overlooked benefit of attending a conference: the people sitting beside you there!  Talk to the folks around you, and on breaks between sessions and at meals. You’ll find your peers. Swap info on the writing life, and the sort of writing you’ve done. You’ll meet people who get you. Who are doing what you do. Some will have book deals and agents and endless wisdom to offer. Others will be up and coming and be able to offer bits of info you can use, and you can do the same for them. Collectively, all of this will propel you closer to your big goal.  Friends, critique partners, contacts, a bit of info about a writing organization you should get involved with. These are amazing stepping-stones to your success.

So, looking ahead to writer’s conferences this year, which should you choose? I say start with smaller ones closer to home if you can, for starters. Ones with several decent editors and a few agents. You’ll have a lower price tag, more face time with everyone, and a great start.  If you find one farther from home, look carefully at what you’ll get out of it. Are you one of thousands? Do you have opportunities to learn in smaller workshops and have more personal time with fellow writers as well as industry professionals? There are a ton of writer’s conferences out there, with more popping up every day.  Know your goals for attending, and keep an open mind as you go from event to event at a conference. Keep your focus on learning however you can, and you’ll find endless ways to do just that. And remember, that knowledge will help you get where you want to be in the end!

To see where I’ll be this year, check out my Appearances page, which I continuously update as needed.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.