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How I Got an Agent

writing, authors, agent signing

By Christopher Mannino

I have been writing for a long time. Heck, I’ve wanted to be a writer since middle school. I’ve been writing ever since.

The very first book I wrote took ten years. It’s a mess. You’ve never heard of it. It’s shelved on a floppy disk (remember those?) among other places but was never revisited.

Then, during my time in Oxford, I was inspired to write School of Deaths. It took me a year to write, and then I began trying for agents. In publishing, if you want your book published with the big publishers, distributed widely, and making money, you need an agent. The “Big Five” publishers (all subdivisions of just five companies) only take manuscripts from agents, and even then it’s not always a guarantee of publication, much less success. Yet agents are the first gatekeepers in the business.

Getting an agent involves writing a query letter. This is a single page long- a blurb about your book, a paragraph about similar books in the marketplace, and a paragraph about you. It’s an email you send out and know you’ll probably never hear back from. Some agents ask for just this, some for your first five pages. Most agents receive hundreds of email queries a DAY. Of those they receive, they might request pages from 5%, and of those pages, maybe request a full manuscript from an even smaller number. And it’s not just based on the quality of your writing. It’s based on a lot of subjective factors, like the agent’s preferences, if they think they can sell it, does it conflict with other clients they have, and so on. In short, getting an agent is very, very difficult. It feels a bit like falling through mid-air and trying to catch (and hold onto) a single raindrop.

authors, writing, agent signing

After a year of querying, and 130 rejections, I gave up trying to find an agent for School of Deaths. Instead I began querying small presses. 30 queries of publishers later, MuseItUp said yes.

Small press is a form of traditional publishing in between the big guys and self publishing. In a way, it’s sort of like the minor league baseball league. Minor leaguers are pros, and paid to play ball, and some are amazing, but you’ve never heard of them. They’re all hoping to make it into the majors, but to do so they need that scout. With writing, you need an agent.

After Scythe Wielder’s Secret I wrote a sci fi thriller and re-entered the querying phase. Months passed. Nada. I’ve since decided to rework the project.

Then, I had an idea for a book. A series. The ideas kept coming and coming. A world that’d been in night for a thousand years, and now faced a sunrise. A man with a powerful form of magic, and a terrible price. An exciting new fantasy series called Everdawn Rising. I wrote the book, and right away knew something was different. It was without a doubt the best thing I’d written. I decided, yet again, to plunge back into querying. Querying is a SLOW process, I’ll add. Some agents have an AVERAGE response time of 115 days. That’s just to hear back, even if it’s a no. And if they request pages or your full manuscript, you have to wait months upon months.

authors, writing, agent signing

I began querying Everdawn in January. I queried and queried. I became active in the Manuscript Academy, which gave me a lot of opportunities to work with pros. I had skype sessions with agents and not only pitched my book, but got help rewriting my query. I was in a workshop to help revamp my first page and ended up a part of a writing community that’s still wonderfully supportive today. And I worked with editors from St Martins and Tor (two imprints of the “Big 5” publishers) to rewrite the beginning completely. On the advice of an agent, I began “re-querying” – contacting agents who said no months ago or who never responded. I was hopeful, but still not sure. I was ready to enter PitchWars when everything took off.

authors, writing, agent signing

First I got an offer from an agent. I then had to let my outstanding (hadn’t heard from them yet) requeries know. Within hours, I had six more full requests. I eventually got a second offer and it came down to an insane day of phone conversations, nerves, and difficult decisions. After talking to the two agents, however, I knew the original offer was the agent I wanted to stick with.

I am elated to announce that I am now represented by Will Reeve at the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. Kidd is a smaller agency, but one with an impressive track record in SFF, launching the careers of greats like Isaac Asimov and Ursula LeGuin. This is only one stage in a longer journey. The next step is for Will to work with me editing the book, then he’ll take the manuscript to the publishers and try to sell it to them. Even then, it’s a while before it releases. However, this is a huge step for me and my career as an author.

authors, writing, agent signing


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Posted by Michelle Lynn.

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Know Thy Audience. ALWAYS.

Know Thy Audience Always - Young Adult Author RendezvousWritten by K. R. Conway

If there is ever a phrase that sends chills through my body, it is: “Well, I’m not really sure if my COMPLETED manuscript is exactly aimed for teens. Maybe it is more middle grade? But then again, I guess it could be adult.”

Oh, dear lord.

There is nothing, NOTHING more important than knowing WHO you are writing for before you even put pen to paper. You need to know EXACTLY who your audience is – from how they live, talk, socially function, what would make your book appeal to them, WHY they would buy it in the first place, blah, blah, BLAH. How do you sell something if you have no clue who would want to buy it? That’s like designing a hot air balloon that can’t fly and saying, “I know this will appeal to SOMEBODY.” Well, heck – you would be 112 years old before you figured out WHO would buy an unfloating air balloon (FYI – this would sell to those funky, futuristic tent designers who want some killer fabric and who would upcycle the basket parts. SEE??? I know my audience!!!)

As cool as your story may be, it NEEDS a set audience to S-E-L-L. So . . . let’s take, uh . . . OH! The Shadow and Bone series by Bardugo. Dark fantasy set in a brutal remake of a Russian-like empire. Totally awesome. Love it. Go read it. Well . . . go read it IF YOU LIKE THAT TYPE OF THING. See???? Audience. I like dark and creepy with a few well placed bodies here and there. I can do fantasy as long as the fairies are the type to murder you in your sleep while acquiring your tooth.

So Bardugo’s audience is the type that:

A. Likes dark fantasy. This would include those who enjoyed the last few books in the Harry Potter series best, and those who liked Lord of the Rings and (if you’re ancient like me) The Dark Crystal.

61sIOGA4rqLB. They are 14 + (maybe a few, high-level 13-y-o readers too). She appeals to those who like vivid world building over smooching scenes. People who are willing to see a character fail and have mixed feelings about the “bad” guy (who happens to be a hottie).

C. Her readers tend to be thinkers. People who like puzzles, especially the ones that require you to out-manuver an opponent. They are the people who tend to be the quiet ones, but their imagination is always running and it isn’t playing Cinderella scenes over and over, if you get my gist.

D. They are bold, but not for the sake of others. They will pierce their tongue not to fit in nor stand out, but because doing so speaks to who they are as a person. They don’t follow the crowd.

E. They like twists and unseen complications. They like to see the characters fail as well as conquer. Romance is okay by them, but it is not the only reason they read the story. In fact, the romance aspect is low on their list of must-haves and they like that the main characters are a bit tortured in their love for one another.

You may say, “Holy heck, Conway – that is a TON of detail. How are we supposed to know that much about our audience?!” Well . . . that’s part of being a writer, and I was a journalist before I was a novelist. As a journalist I had to always, ALWAYS sell my story – not only to my editor, but to my potential readers. I needed to pitch every story to my editor and tell them WHY it was timely. WHY people would read it and WHO would read it. I needed to tell them how I would learn about the topic I was pitching and LEARN ABOUT WHO IS INTERESTED in such a topic.

I basically became my audience, every time, for every story. To become my audience for UNDERTOW, I began reading any and all YA books that were a bit similar. I started watching every teen movie I could find, plus those that were not aimed for teens but had young main characters. I shifted my playlist in the direction of pure Alternative music, hard rock, and a bit of metal.

I was willing to be a teenager – jump on beds (okay – my daughter’s bed at least), leap from the Town Neck bridge, argue over t-shirts at Abercrombie, and generally act like I was 16 rather than . . . well, older. I began to look at the world as a high schooler again – to understand fully what they loved, what tormented them, what mattered to them. Now-a-days it is easy for me to shift from the “run for your lives, MOM IS PISSED!” mode into a full on, nag-worthy, “Can we please, PLEASE, PLLLLLEEEAAASEEE go to the movies???? Can we go dye our hair??? Can we go hang out at the beach with our kites??”

If you have any doubt in my ability to be a teenager, just ask my daughter and her friends. They will tell you I am full-on nuts, but 100% wildly fun. Well . . . until you pick on your little brother or dare to sass me.

Then it’s GAME-ON-EVIL-MOTHER MODE.

And yes – I will totally write my Mean Mom character into a novel at some point . . . as long as it fits with the audience I am writing for. As for now, I work exclusively for the teens I strive to please, and always, always for my fans.

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5 Steps to Getting Published

5 Steps to Getting Published - Young Adult Author RendezvousWritten by Christopher Morgan

Whether it’s skydiving, visiting the Taj Mahal, riding an elephant or learning to play the piano, everyone has that bucket list they’re trying to work through before they die. Having done all of these things myself already, my own bucket list is much smaller nowadays but one of the last remaining entries was to publish a novel.

This year, however, I was successful at putting a check into that box with the release of Forestium: The Mirror Never Lies. If you’ve ever wanted to put a check into that box, here are the 5 things you’ll need to do.

Step 1 – Turn intention into action

It might sound straightforward enough but the truth is that the vast majority of people that intend to write a novel never actually start. Sadly, the majority of people that start don’t even finish it either, and many of those that do get that far never cross the final hurdle of actually getting their book published. Overcoming this mental hurdle and believing in yourself is the very first, all-important step towards your goal of seeing your book in print.

Step 2 – Write something

Whether there’s something that you’ve always wanted to write or whether you are inventive enough to conjure up something on the spot, your book content is your next hurdle. Many people think that this is the hardest past of the process but that’s not necessarily the case. Don’t worry about making it perfect – just get something down first. You can always go back and make improvements.

Step 3 – Editing

There will be lots of opportunity along your journey to try to scrimp and save and do things on the cheap. This isn’t one of those. Don’t try to do this yourself! Get a professional to assist. Once you have finished your last chapter, the real work begins and it should start with you going over everything yourself – repeatedly – to make changes, corrections, tweaks, adjustments, etc. Then, solicit some beta readers to give you an honest assessment. These should be strangers that have no investment in wanting to spare your feelings. Your Mum will love your work and your friends and family will probably tell you it’s terrific. Ignore them all and get total strangers to give you the honest feedback you’ll need at this point. When you’ve done all of this, engage a professional editor to go over it all. You’ll be surprised at just how much better a good editor can make your manuscript.

Step 4 – Book cover

People do judge a book by its cover, so make sure it’s a good one. Yes, you can make a book cover cheaply and with readily available software programs like Microsoft Word but this is another area where money could be very well spent. The right book cover can make or break a book, so it’s worth spending a lot of attention on this. Engaging with a book cover designer is likely to be money very well spent.

Step 5 – Getting published

Sounds easy, right? Well, the truth is that it can be – depending on which route you take. When it comes to publishing, authors fall into two broad categories: Traditional (trad) or Independent (indie). The trad publishing route typically involves engaging with an agent, who then sells your idea to a publishing house, or at least tries to. This can and does work well for a lot of people. The catch is that you have to pay a percentage to the agent and also to the publisher. But, if all goes well, your book will be marketed far and wide. The downside is that you lose a percentage of your book sales, as the agent and publisher each take their cut. If you publish the book yourself, which is quite easily done nowadays, you’ll retain more of the profits for yourself, although it can be hard work competing against the traditional publishing marketing machines and will definitely require a lot more work on your part.

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