May 30, 2012

Agent-y stuff

A while back I went to a presentation by a literary agent (not mine) at my local library... I saw it advertised in the newspaper and thought it would be interesting. And it was!

The agent was a character, and the presentation was a little all over the place, but there were a few things I took away from it, notably this: publishing is confusing and scary, especially to neophytes. There were glazed eyes and bobbing heads all over the room as the hour progressed. I'm certain most none of them realized how a) hard or b) complex it is. And how not lucrative.

I'm writing this from weeks ago memory, so when I say "said," I'm distilling whatever she actually said down to the important ideas. The first thing she asked was how many of us in the audience had written a book. Maybe half raised hands. Next she asked how many thought said book was ready to send to agents/publishers. Maybe half of the half raised hands this time. And then she told everyone the truth:

Most of you are probably not ready (even if you think you are).

An inauspicious start, no? But I liked it. She wasn't fluffing us. People shifted uncomfortably, but better that than their mentally wrapping up their MSs in brown paper and sending them off to great success. They probably weren't ready and now they were thinking about that.

The next thing she emphasized was the most important:

This business is hard and if you want it, you can't give up.

Pretty much, that's it.

Next most shocking was the money, or lack thereof. The audience was clearly shocked to hear how low advances are and that many books do not earn them out. Another painful truth.

After that, she meandered over different things. Key points:
  • Work hard.
  • Find ways to stand out even if they're not related to your story, or, don't fear a non-traditional avenue to publication.
  • Protect yourself from scams and be wary of anyone who asks you for money.
  • Don't be a snob about self-publishing. It's valid, as means to reach trad pubbing or in its own right.
    • If you're going to self-publish, get a good cover.
  • Don't date your manuscript. Literally. Don't put the year on it. It does not help you for the agent/whoever to know your MS has been kicking around for 5/10/20 years.
    • Corollary... if it has been kicking around for 5/10/20 years and is supposed to be contemporary, make sure it still is. Or make sure it reads period and not dated.
Lastly, she spent a lot of time talking about marketing yourself and building your platform. People will argue about whether or not this is important for fiction writers, but if you can do it before you're in the publication process it certainly can't hurt. Just make sure you're writing first. If you're also in YA, you'll see that your traditionally pubbed contemporaries are very present in social media. Which makes sense, because so are the readers.

Today's the last day to vote in the 2012 ABNA contest! Go, read excerpts, vote! I won't tell you who I voted for, but I will tell you that it was a wicked hard choice. So much awesome!
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