We’ve been talking about writing conferences and about agents and editors for quite a while now. I think it’ll soon be time to move on to a new topic. I’ll try to answer any pressing questions that are still not answered.
So how do you pitch a book series instead of just a stand alone novel. Most of my novels are part of a bigger series, so how would I got about doing this?
Randy sez: Pitch Book #1 in the series as if it were a standalone novel. (Assuming it stands alone. If it’s one long story in seven volumes, like the Harry Potter series, then you need to make that clear up front.) At some point in the conversation, the agent or editor will probably ask if you have anything else. Then you say that you have ideas for other books in the series. This is normally considered a Good Thing. Then they know you aren’t a one-trick doggy.
So would people agree it is generally a bad idea to mention the word “series” as a first-timer, unless handed an appropriate lead-in, as alice was?
Randy sez: It’s not so much a “bad idea” as “an irrelevant fact.” The first thing you need to do is show the agent or editor that you can write a book. One book, start to finish. Once they see that, then they’ll naturally be interested in followons. Tom Clancy’s first book featured Jack Ryan, who then featured in Books #3 and on. (Book #2 was RED STORM RISING, a co-authored book that stands alone from the others.)
Jack Ryan has proven to be a durable player who could carry the ball for a long time, occasionally handing off to Clark, but usually doing most of the work. And Jack, (as Sarah Palin may possibly do) became an out-of-the-blue vice president. Jack even made it to Prez, allowing Clancy to show how things “ought to be done” in his opinion. The one thing Jack Ryan couldn’t do well was to wear a bikini. There is a PhotoShop-faked picture on the web of Sarah exhibiting that very skill and holding a gun. The photo is funny, but it would look simply stupid if it featured Jack Ryan.
Heather asked a second question:
actually, I am curious about this because I wonder whether to go for a series as I would like (which would develop the story so that the “meatiest” parts are in subsequent books), or, if a series deal is thought to be more unlikely for a newbie, then changing the story so that everything important is encompassed in the one book (and possibly sacrificing telling the story exactly as I had envisioned). has anyone grappled with this conflict before?
Randy sez: Write the first book as well as you can without cramming it too full of the meat. If it does well, then those meaty parts will make it in to the later books. One only has to look at Harry Potter, where the meat gets juicier the further you go. My kids and I are almost done reading the series aloud together. There is a 30 page section of backstory just before the end. This is the place to put the backstory–just before the extraordinary, incredible ending.
A novice writer puts the backstory at the beginning when nobody cares yet about the character. This is why JK Rowling is worth every dime she earns. She puts the backstory at the tail of about 3000 pages of story, and NOW it all makes sense. Every detail of the story now has a clear place.
I’m really seeking advice for how to go about finding the RIGHT agent/editor for your genre & someone you’re comfortable with in the on-going process of making it all happen? Especially for an unknown.
Randy sez: The first thing is to know your genre and know your niche. Then look for agents who cater to that niche and who like that genre. My niche is Christian fiction, and my genre is suspense. So if I needed an agent, I’d go to a major Christian conference, such as Mount Hermon or the upcoming ACFW conference and talk to those agents who do suspense. If I had a mystery for the general market, I’d go to a major mystery writers conference, such as Bouchercon. If I were writing a romance, I’d go to RWA.
So ask yourself: What books do you like to read? What authors do you love? Can you find out which agents have represented these authors? Can you find which agents represent these kind of books? Of course you can. Authors often thank their agents in their Acknowledgments section of their books. They may link to them on their web sites. The reference book WRITER’S MARKET lists zillions of agents and tells you exactly what they want. If you go to the web sites of those agents, you may find out what conferences they go to. Or you can search for conferences near you and research the agents that’ll be there.
You need to do your research, but it’s easier than ever to do that research. When you sit down to your appointment with the agent, you will make things massively easier on yourself if you can show that you have a clue who they are and what they do. It is extraordinary to see writers sit down to an appointment with an editor or agent who caters to a genre or a market niche wholly unrelated to what the writer is writing.
I have a question regarding not finding an agent. What are your views on being an agent to oneself? For me and for many of my European colleagues finding an agent is just not an option; we have to talk to the editors first hand at all times. So, my question is, how do you become your own agent?
Randy sez: If an agent’s not an option, then it’s not an option. Fifty years ago, many American authors didn’t have agents. Now most do. There are some books on how to be your own agent. Check Amazon for exact titles. It’s been a long time since I considered this option.
Hmmm all very interesting. Knowing that the ideal situation is probably to develop relationships at conferences, can email also work if you are on different continents? I’m not at that stage yet (realistic expectations!), but assuming that when I am ready, I don’t make it over the ocean, is it likely that I would have any luck via email? I’m guessing (hoping) the answer is that if the writing is good and I’ve done my research and chosen the right agent/s, it is likely. I wonder though, how to get their attention (professionally) in a mail box that’s likely full to the brim of people they do know…
Randy sez: Yes, email can work. It’s not as good as in person, but it can work. Remember that agents probably hear from zillions of people every day. Many of the writers who query them are spammers, just blasting out shotguns full of email queries. If you’re going to shoot out a query by email, use a rifle. Study the agents and send each one a personalized and short query that makes it clear you’re a professional who respects them as a professional.
Do publishers prefer to work through an agent or directly with an author?
Randy sez: I’m not an editor, but if I were, I’d prefer to work with somebody who understands the business, knows how to negotiate, plays fair, and gets back to me promptly. This describes most agents (but not all of them) and some writers (not as many as we like to think).
Typically, the agent’s job is to do those things that you don’t do well. Most agents will not get between you and the editor when you’re working through the editing phase.
The one exception is if a problem arises. If you know you’re going to miss your deadline, call your agent and let him deliver the bad news and negotiate a solution. If the editor is asking for outrageous changes, call your agent and let him show the editor the proposal and remind her what the contract says. If the marketing department is backing out of spending all that money they promised in the contract, call your agent. The agent’s job is partly to be the bad cop so you can be the good cop.
I think I’ve now caught up with all agent questions. Let’s turn to something new. What’s your biggest craft-related problem in writing fiction? Post a comment here and I’ll read through them to decide what I’d like to talk about next.