On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Should You Get a Literary Agent?

With the advent of print on demand printers, and especially e-readers, the publishing world is in flux. Every few weeks I read an article of how a self-published author, or especially a kindle-published author, has made a million dollars without going through the machinations of a publisher. 'Tis true; one can publish a DTB (dead tree book) for as little as $75 to load the file to the printer, plus the cost of an ISBN (about $300 for 10) and whatever it costs to produce a cover and interior PDF. E-books can be converted and listed for free.

Even so, at this point there still is an important role for traditional publishers. These publishers vet manuscripts to only choose the best of the best, then buff them with editing, cover design, and so forth to make them truly lovely. Furthermore, as anyone in "the biz" will tell you, a nice-looking book is only the first step -- getting the word out to sell the book is a huge deal. Marketing platform is generally way superior for traditionally published books, and the author bypasses many hurdles a self-published author must jump. This is why I still usually recommend to newbies that they try hard for a traditional publisher. If they keep getting a "no," that's a red flag that their manuscript isn't ready to be published yet. There are circumstances in which self-publishing is a good choice, but too many rejections isn't one of them.

The first step in starting the publishing process is always to make sure your manuscript (for fiction) or book proposal (for nonfiction) is as good as it can be. Determine your word length, your genre, and your competition. Write up a marketing plan: there are excellent books about how to write book proposals, so check these out. You want your manuscript to stand out from the crowd; you want the professional looking at it to think that you really know what you're doing.

Next, you need to find the professionals to receive your book proposal. Writers occasionally receive a direct invitation from an editor or agent to submit their work, say, at a conference, but most of the time writers are sending out the query and materials cold.

In general, seek to find a literary agent rather than an editor. The literary agent takes you on as a client, buffs your manuscript, and uses his knowledge of the editors and publishing houses to find a home for your book. Once an editor is interested the literary agent negotiates an advantageous contract for you, and basically acts as your advocate with the publisher to make sure things go as well as possible. In return for his expertise, the literary agent typically takes 10-15% of all monies paid to you, and believe me, he is well worth it.

As you might imagine, finding a literary agent who agrees to take on your work is not as easy as one might hope. Noah Lukeman, an agent in the biz, says that you may have to query fifty or more agents before you find one who will take you on. If you are getting so many "no's" I recommend you check your query and submission materials to make sure they're really working well for you.

As always, my refrain for anything in the publishing biz is NO MONEY! PAY NO MONEY until you clearly understand for what you are contracting, and have thoroughly researched all of your options. Literary agents should receive no reading fees. No application expenses. No other monies of any kind until they have actually brokered a deal. The Writer's Guild of America http://www.wgaeast.org/ and www.wga.org/lists requires strict guidelines for listing WGA agents. Occasionally the literary agent will sound so reasonable as he explains why his agency requires costs, but think to yourself: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck... PAY NO MONEY.

So, let's assume you want to find a literary agent. We'll go into that next.

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