The Things You Buy to Write

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Well here’s a surprise: My first email from a literary agency selling a webinar on how to get published. Really not very costly at $299. It’s only 2.5 hours. Previously named “Think Like an Agent,” it’s now Creating the Road Map for Your Novel.

It’s true, a lit agency knows a lot about building a great novel. Selling you an evaluation on how to do it might have crossed a line back in the olden days. It’s a new age. There’s more money to be made serving writers in all necessary aspects of publishing than in publishing books. These are the Things You Buy to Write, or more accurately, to Be a Published Writer.

Hey, wouldn’t you like to learn about (from the offer)

Market viability – Agents see good writing all the time in projects we can’t sell. Editor or Agent-speak translated: what does “too quiet” or “not commercial enough” mean and does it apply to your project? What are all the other catch phrases that are often used when agents/editors give writers feedback? Do you have a novel idea (pun intended) or should you shelve it instead?

How To Realistically Evaluate Your Own Work – Tips and strategies on how to create the distance needed to read your own writing dispassionately. Creating the road map for your novel. Elements of good critique groups or partners that can be invaluable to your success.

Is Your Manuscript Ready? Each participant is required to submit the first 30 pages of his/her novel. All attendees are required to read each other’s work for comment and discussion. We’ll decide if your writing is market ready and if it’s not, discuss why so you can take the next step to make it so.

MS-pagesIt’s that last one that’s a shot across the bow. (I do have to wonder who the “we” is: the agent, or the other participants.) You might think it amounts to a reading fee for your 30 page excerpt. What the agents call a “partial.” On the way to a full submission. For sure, this agency will read your 30 pages, if you sign up soon enough. You also get to watch and listen to the 2.5 hours for six months online.

Why didn’t I think of this before? Oh, wait, I might have. I believe I call it a writing workshop. It lasts nine months of 2.5-hour meetings, not one afternoon of 2.5 hours, and you turn in up to 180 pages of your novel over that time. You only have to read five other writers’ work, but you get comments in writing from everyone in addition to the talk. (The lit agency likes to call this a critique group. You get a partner if you sign on as a book coach client.) And for now, that workshop’s only $90 more than the 2.5 hours of web time.

I’m not an agent. I probably haven’t read as many novel excerpts as some of these literary pros. I don’t know for sure. But like them, for the moment my writing workshop (I call it a Manuscript Brunch) is almost full-up. You do get breakfasts, being here in Austin. Maybe that’s not important to getting a book ready. It does help a writer build trust in your evaluators. We don’t decide if your book is ready on the basis of 30 pages.

But my surprise is that agencies — which used to just kick back unsuitable queries and pursue the strong ones — are now showing a few authors in why your manuscript isn’t ready, so you might take the next step. At least one agency. I’m waiting for an upcoming webinar on drafting a query letter and writing a synopsis.

So to review: The agency charges $300 for the benefit of having seven other people read your excerpt, along with the agent. Then everybody talks. Eight people, of six; can’t be much more than 15-20 minutes of talk about your writing. You get the assignment to read 210 pages of other novels. Advice on “why your manuscript [may not be ready] so you can do the next step” of work. Authors do buy this kind of advice. From agents, in our modern era. It must have great value, because publishing pros are offering it.

Would you be interested in knowing more about how to query, and sum up your book? I can offer that. Getting the brunch served over the webinar’s phone-line — that’s the real challenge.

 

Am I ready to agent it up?

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Perfect PitchOne of my writers from our Manuscript Brunch workshop has a sparkling, vast fantasy novel. He’s workshopping it with us, 20 pages a month. It’s complete, in the sense that he has a version of it that’s been revised and it has a cogent ending.

But now, with the upcoming WLT Agents Conference less than two weeks away, this novelist wants to know if he should invest the $390 in attending the Friday-Sunday meeting. This is a good conference, especially if your budget is limited and you live in Austin, like we do.

Are you ready? One thing you’ll gather from the Writer’s League of Texas Agents Conference is knowledge of how publishing works. I don’t know how much time they’ll give to self-publishing. SelfPub is so mainstream now that major bestseller lists now include SelfPub titles. And major publishers have imprints dedicated to it.

Knowing about the process of publishing — that’s something you might be about to learn in a thorough writing group. Here’s the basics on how to handle an agent opportunity. You must have finished your book, truly, if it’s fiction.

  • You polish your book.
  • You write a meaty summary (synopsis).
  • You condense that into the back-cover copy three paragraphs, which becomes the most serious part of your query letter.
  • Finally, you pitch — to an agent in person, if you’ve paid your $400 to attend.

If you’re not quite prepared to pitch, it will be worthwhile to find someplace to practice. In our Workshop group, we can pitch to one another. This is a rehearsal kind of thing. No matter how much you dislike giving the sizzle of the story in a conversation, it’s crucial to getting an agent. They need to have the sizzle to get a publishing house to read your book.

There’s a “how to pitch” pre-conference meeting that always sells out at the Agents show. It’s often full of people who have not pitched before. In my opinion, it takes a special kind of writer-performer to make changes to improve their pitch, just 24 hours before they need to start making it.

And you begin to pitch your book as soon as you register and walk into the conference hotel. “What’s your book about?” is the icebreaker question. Or even better, “tell me about your book.” Always lead with a character if you can when you answer. As humans, we care the most about people.

We create art to make meaning from our lives. The meaning comes from experiencing what people in your story go through, in person, in scene. Lead with people in trouble in your pitch, meeting a crisis that will change their lives every day going forward.