The Big-Big Question: How Do I Find a Good Agent?

Th_asktheagent_art Greetings WEbook. So, if you’re serious about getting your writing published, you’ll probably need an agent eventually, right? But how do you find one? Who do you ask? What tools are available and where do you find them? And finally, how do you know if you’ve done everything you can to find an agent?

All good questions, and the ones I hear most frequently. Asked all at once, they can feel overwhelming. But if take them one at a time, each can be conquered with a little work and good decision making.

WHO do you ask? Well, start by asking yourself this: Who do I know who might know someone who might be dating (or married to or friendly with or working for) someone who might know an agent? What I mean is, if you’re serious about your writing, then you probably know others who are too; and referrals are--even by several degrees of separation--the most reliable way to start the process. So, start asking everyone you know.

WHAT tools are there? There are many websites and other resources devoted to agents--their interests, specialties, client lists, how to contact them, submission guidelines, etc. One popular site is www.1000literaryagents.com. There are also a couple of good annual print sources: Guide to Literary Agents and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Agents. Or check out PublishersMarketplace.com, which has become one of the best sources for everyone in the industry--editors, agents, and writers--and many of us use it every day. It lists new books sold/deals made every day organized by category, and it provides the names of the agents and editors involved. So if you have written an amazing new romance novel, go to PublishersMarketplace and search by fiction, then romance, and zero in on recent sales made in that category, and by whom. You’ll quickly have a good long list of agents who handle the kind of book you’ve written, which is one of the key things you want in an agent.

WHERE can I go for help? If you’re in a writing group, ask others in the group who they know. If you take a writing class, do the same, starting with your teacher. If you’ve never attended a writers conference, do so, soon. Most conferences feature agents, editors, and published authors as speakers, and they are all there to help you (that, and the all-expense-paid trip, is what they’re there for). The more people you meet in the business, the closer you’ll be to finding an agent.

HOW do I know if I have done everything I can to find an agent? There’s always more you can do… One last tip? You know that novel you read recently and really enjoyed and thought to yourself, the novel I’ve just written is every bit as good as that? Open it up and go to the acknowledgments page. In addition to their parents, their loving partner, their local librarian, and a zillion other people who helped make their wonderful book possible, authors thank their agents. They thank their agents for finding their book a good home, for sticking with them when the going got tough, for hand holding, and sometime for just being a good friend. For whatever reason an agent is thanked, his or her name is there. Write the name down and you’ve got the start of a list. And then go to other books you’ve read and liked and jot down the names of the agents acknowledged there too. Soon you’ll have a good, focused list of agents to start querying.

Looking back at some of the questions and comments from last week’s column (thanks for those, by the way), Brian, Keisha, and Misty all seemed to want to know the same thing. And that is, does a young person (say, 15 – 20 years old) have a chance in hell of getting the attention of an agent or a publisher? The answer, of course, is yes. There are many examples of young people getting published. Christopher Paolini of the Eargon series is one such “kid” who, not too long ago, wrote a wonderful book and got the attention of a very good agent. The writing process and finding a home for your work has no age requirements. Regardless of how young or old you are, if you’re smart about your search for an agent, you’ll have a good shot of eventually getting your work into the hands of one. And that, after all, is the goal.



--Ken

Ken Wright is an agent at Writers House, a leading NYC-based literary agency with a wide
range of bestselling and award-winning authors
. Read more of Ken's columns.

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Power Writer ArtemisX5 is WEbooker of the WEek

WoW_button_1 Hello WEbookers! My name is Emily and I’m one of the summer interns here at the WEbook. I’m covering for Melissa this week for the WEbooker of the WEek, er, this week. (Whoa, that was awkward!)

While WEbook poets are busy soaking up their 15 minutes of fame, we decided to bring a prolific novelist into the spotlight. As a Midwestern mother of a two-year old, it’s a wonder that WEbooker ArtemisX5 finds the time to produce a multitude of projects – many of contain over twenty chapters! Her fans are devout and always waiting for the next major plot twist. She has classified the majority of her writing as “romance” or “teen,” bringing those awkward, yet enthralling adolescent “rites of passage” to life in her addictive narratives. This week, we sat down with ArtemixX5 to find out a little bit more about the girl behind the pen name.

What’s the brief story of your life, including your history with writing?

I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I have a deep affection for the Midwest. I love that pretty much everyone around here suffers from a massive inferiority complex. We know we’re behind the times with fashion, food, and every other trend on the planet. But we don’t know what to do about it, so we just go about our business being polite to each other and producing memorable things like beer, cheese and serial killers. As for me, I’m a bit of a cliché. I married my high school sweetheart, I live in the suburbs and I have a two-year-old son. I watch too much TV, I eat cookies while I work out, and I type very loudly—according to my husband. On the plus side, none of that really bothers me, as I am easy-going to the point of a near-comatose state.Artemisx5-avatar

Oh yeah, we were talking about writing. The first story I have a clear memory of writing was when I was nine. I couldn’t tell you anything about it, other than the fact that it featured a secret passage. I’ve written almost continuously since then, some of it concentrated into stand-alone novels. In graduate school, I stumbled into an on-line relationship with a very talented reader and editor. She taught me the in’s and out’s of grammar in fiction, and was the first person to help me focus on those precious elements of good storytelling, like character motivation, believability, the arc and shape of actions vs. quiet moments…. I could wax poetic about Sallie for a long time.

Since then, I was lucky enough to find WEbook. Here, I’ve met some of the most talented and enthusiastic writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. It has been an absolute godsend to me. I cannot overestimate the power and thrill of near-instant feedback. I’m addicted and this is one vice I’m hanging onto. (Ew! A dangling preposition!  I can’t believe I did that in an interview!)

On average, how long does it take you to complete a novel or short stories?

If I’ve really attached to an idea, I’d say about six weeks for a novel. Short stories are usually just a day or two. My latest project, Last Call is taking longer because I haven’t figured out my characters quite yet. I know I’ll hit the tipping point soon, but right now I feel like I’m wading through pudding. I wish I had more time to write everyday!

You incorporate an immense amount of dialogue into your novels. In fact, We Should Meet is written entirely in dialogue! Would you ever write a dialogue-free story?

At this point, I’d say “no.” I like to think that I’m growing as a writer, so maybe someday I’ll be ready to take off the training wheels and do something dialogue-free, but right now, it’s my safety zone. I’ve been criticized for using too much dialogue, but I love it. I love two sharp minds engaged in a verbal dance. This probably means that I talk too much. Hmm…

When you’re writing an extensive narrative like A Game of Risk, do you outline the plot beforehand or let the story unfold naturally?

Ah, yes…A Game of Risk…a.k.a. The Epilogue that Would Not Die. I originally intended to stop after  Book 1, but then I found myself wondering about what might happen to Gwen and Jack next. So, I wrote an epilogue. I kept adding to the epilogue until it was about 1000 pages long. I took that as a sign that there was more story to tell. It was largely through the encouragement of my awesomely loyal WEbook readers that I kept reworking parts of the existing epilogue and posting more and more of the story here. Seven volumes later…there it was. I guess what I’m saying is, I let it unfold naturally. 

According to your profile, your lifelong dream is to have the ability to teleport. If your wish was granted, where would you teleport to?

Oh my gosh, I would teleport everywhere. I mean it—everywhere! I could sleep until five minutes before I had to be at work! I could go on vacation every weekend and still come home at night to sleep in my own bed. I’d never have to pack! I would visit my friends all over the world just for dinner, or even on their lunch breaks. I wouldn’t have a car. If you’ve ever seen the movie Jumper, that’s what I want it to be like. You know, except without the forces of evil pursuing me and trying to steal my powers.

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of the WEek




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The fantastickest feedbacker? Or anyone else who goes above and beyond to make WEbook the best writing, reading, and
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--Emily



What Agents Do for Their Authors, Part II

Th_asktheagent_art Greetings WEbook. I can’t believe it’s been an entire week and here we are again. Speaking of an entire week, just so you know, going forward I am going to try to be here for you on a regular basis. And by that, I mean weekly, but, you know, I am a busy guy (a busy and hugely important agent at that!). Really, I’m busy like everyone else, so I can’t absolutely promise the weekly thing. However, I will endeavor to not let too much time go between posts. That I CAN promise.

I also want to thank those of you who took the time to read and write in about my first post. I know you’re all busy too, so it means a lot that you’ve taken the time. Thank you. There were a lot of good questions and points, and not one that I won’t address in future postings. The most frequently asked question last week was about finding a good agent -- specifically, how do you do it? -- and that will absolutely be what I’ll write about next, after today. So stay tuned. But first I want to finish up my top ten list from last week about what good agents do for their authors.

Here it is:

6) We help shape your ideas into full, selling proposals for nonfiction; and we edit your fiction manuscripts into shape to send out to editors.

7) Because we know all the editors pretty well, we can identify the ones right for your project. We will strategize about the submission process and tailor a submission list that is right for you and your project. A good agent will not simply throw your work out there and hope it sticks. 

8) We’re also your career advisor. We’re not in it for just one book. Because we’re in it for the long haul, we will be thinking, and encourage you to think, about what’s next and why; and we’ll help you get there. We do this with an eye towards your entire career in writing.

9) Eventually we WILL sell your book, and that means you will have to sign a contract. Have you ever seen a publisher’s contract? Twenty-some legal-size pages of fine print… We negotiate with the publisher all the fine points on your behalf -- the advance and its payout, the royalties, the subsidiary rights, reversions, delivery dates, option, revisions, etc.

10) We’re your partner in this whole writing and publishing thing, and your champion and advocate every step of the way. On call 24/7. Well, not exactly, but we do return your emails and phone calls pretty quick!

I’m going to end today by answering one of the many questions that came in this past week. It’s from Athinia, and the question is: “What is the most wanted type of book?” And I say, good damn question, Athinia! If I really knew the answer to that one, I’d be a very rich man. 

There is of course no single answer, just like there is no one type of book everyone wants. If you tune in here from time to time though, I think you’ll see that it’s both more complicated and more subjective than you think. But what it really comes down to is your book has to be the very best one you can write. Period. You write that good book and you really will have a shot at finding a good agent.

More about which next time… 

--Ken

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Q&A with Player/Poet Etan Thomas (Part 1 of 2)

Etan@Antiwar small Etan Thomas is the editor of, and force behind, the WEbook project Voices of the Future. Etan is a professional basketball player, published poet and political activist. He regularly works with youth groups with a focus on creative writing as a form of expression. He has campaigned on behalf of President Obama, blogged for The Huffington Post, and is sometimes known as the “gentle giant” of the NBA. In addition to his stewardship of Voices of the Future, Etan will occasionally be weighing in on the WEbook blog. By way of introduction, WEbook hit Etan with a few questions about his project on WEbook and life and politics offline. Check back next week see Part II of this Q&A.

Describe Voices Of The Future in your own words.

Voices of the Future is a project that will allow young people to express their opinions, beliefs, and thoughts to the world. The book is going to be broken down into chapters ranging from the War in Iraq, racism, abortion, and President Barack Obama, etc. I will begin each chapter with a poem on the particular subject, and all of their writings will follow. And just to be clear, it’s not about getting a lot of young people who agree or view a certain topic the same way I do. I want to get all opinions and beliefs no matter what side of the fence they are on. I want them to speak with passion and present their position through poetry, a speech, prose, or whatever method they choose.

What advice can you give to potential contributors who want to submit to your project? What should they write about? How should they decide?

I want them to just go with what they are passionate about. That’s what I’m looking for in submissions. I want them to express to the world how they feel about the particular topic. I don’t really care which side of the argument they are on, just as long as they speak passionately about their opinion. Sometimes when I go to schools and speak, I love when some of the young people disagree with me and present their position. I guess that’s the speech and debate coming back out of me. But whatever they believe in, I want them to dig down deep and express that opinion. I’m not looking for fluff poetry. Nothing against imagery or poems about the trees or sun (unless they are relating to the ozone layer or the environment or global warming or something), but I want them to present their thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. to the world.

You chose some hard-hitting topics (HIV/AIDS, race, religion, police brutality, etc.) as inspiration for contributors to your project. Since the book is being written for, and by, people age 13-25, are you worried that these subjects are too sophisticated?

Definitely not. I think that adults don’t give young people enough credit. Adults think that young people are only interested in BET and MTV and video games, but that is far from true. That’s why I want to show this side of young people that often goes unheard. I wish people would be able to see what I see when I go and speak at some of these schools. These young people are up on current events; they know the issues, have well expressed positions and present their arguments well.

Can you give us an example?

I remember going to a charter school in DC, and I asked the audience what they wanted to talk about. I do that sometimes because I would rather know what’s on their minds then stand up there and talk their ears off for whatever time is allotted. Well, I asked this question, and they wanted to talk about gay marriage. I looked at the teachers and they said, yea that’s fine with us. Then, the debate started. Hands started shooting up all over the audience one after the other. These were teenagers expressing positions for gay marriage and against it. They presented the same arguments you would hear on CNN or MSNBC. But adults for some reason don’t believe that young people have opinions on these subjects. Even WEbook (no offense) was a little hesitant with some topics that I wanted to include, but my manager, Carlisle Sealy, made a good point to me in saying that hopefully, if this project goes well, we will do a Vol. II and then we can include those topics such as gay marriage, health care, pedophiles and repeat sex offenders, etc. I was thinking about having an entire chapter on R. Kelly because he was the only topic young people wanted to discuss on a few occasions.

I need to ask an obligatory NBA question for the basketball fans on WEbook. You were recently traded from the Washington Wizards to the Oklahoma City Thunder. What are you looking forward to most playing with a new team this year?

I am very excited to play for the Thunder. I just returned from getting my physicals and meeting the staff and looking at schools for my son and a place to live. I am really excited. I am going to a great ActionEtanorganization with very good people. The team is a young team filled with guys who are humble and all work hard. That’s what you want. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green both reached out to welcome me to the team. I have played pick up with them around DC, so we already knew each other. I grew up about an hour and a half away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After news of the trade surfaced, I received calls from all of my friends, old classmates, even one of my old teachers. I have been blessed to have been with one team for as long as I was. In the NBA, guys move around a lot. I am settled in Maryland, so that’s still going to be my off-season home. I have done a lot of work off the court in DC and will continue doing that. You’ll still see me pop up at a rally from time to time, but if I was going to get traded anywhere, I couldn’t think of a better place.

--Etan

****

Check back next week for Part II of this Q&A.

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"Flying 600-pound Man" = Weekend Story Winner

Chore-laden teenagers, MacGyver obsessions, and deranged sheep led the way in last week's "So, How Was Your Weekend?" story smackdown. But alas, it was gojake's "Flying 600-pound Man" that swooped in and won the day.


Gojake_avatar Flying 600-Pound Man
by gojake

There's nothing big about me. Okay, perhaps my mouth at times. But all and all I am petite, weighing in about 100 pounds.

I am also granted with the gift of doing things for a living that I love. One of my jobs is a recreational technician at a rehab nursing home. It is my job to get as many residents excited about crafts and ball tossing as I can.

One resident, we'll call him Joe, never leaves the room. Being a newbie at this facility I balked at the warnings to not go in there. I wasn't prepared for the mountain of a man that lay on a double bed.

Joe, well, has attitude. He's angry at the world, anti social, so I go in everyday to irritate him, perhaps entice him to play cards. He gets discouraged because it takes an hour to get him from bed.

On Sunday, I went in an asked him to play cards with a couple guys. He refused.

"What can I do?" I asked.

"I gamble. How about a bet?"

"Deal," I said.

"Okay, how about this. If you beat me to the card room, I'll come to activities all the time. But if I get there first, you have to help bathe me."

My lips fluttered. You're on. I'm thinking: sucker bet. He weighs 600 pounds.

Card playing time was at 2 p.m., so I waited to see him come around the bend, figuring I'd give him a little head start. Next thing I know "beep beep," he here comes in a motorized wheelchair, zooming right by and beyond me.

Well, I ran, as fast I I could. To no avail. I arrived last, out of breath, hanging on to the wall.

He smiled. "I bathe on Thursdays."

*****


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competition. It's easy and you can do it every week! Enter your 200- to
300-word story about your weekend this week by clicking here. Then check back next Monday to see if you won. (HInt: the winning story will appear on the blog.
)

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Introducing Kenneth Wright, Literary Agent & Columnist

Th_asktheagent_art Starting today, Kenneth Wright, a literary agent at Writers House and a former editorial director at Scholastic, will be penning a (semi) weekly column on WEbook. Ken’s primary focus will be to shed some light on the agenting business, how it works, and why it’s important. The column will sometimes take the form of a Q&A, a list, or a short essay. Ken will try to answer questions as part of this column, so don’t hesitate to leave one in the “comments” area below.


Greetings WEbook. Starting today, in this space, I will be talking a lot about how good agents can – and do – help their clients through the entire publishing process. I’ll cover everything from finding an agent, what we look for in queries, where we look for new writers, what you should know about editors, the submission process, receiving and surviving rejections, getting offers (!) for your book, and helping you decide which offer is best. I am absolutely sure there is more I’ll cover, as I start getting questions from all of you, which I encourage---in fact, I need you to write in, ask questions, and share your experiences so this remains interesting for you AND me.


To kick things off, I asked three writers in different stages of their careers what was the first question they asked themselves when they were thinking about finding an agent. All three said essentially same thing: Do I really need an agent? Not “How do I find an agent.” Not even “How do I find a GOOD agent.” Nope, the most common question we get is “Do I really need an agent.” And the answer is an unequivocal (and an un-self-serving) YES. Why? Because most importantly it frees you up to have the creative relationship with your editor and publisher that you need in order to do your best work. Of course there are lots of other good reasons…


My top ten list of what good agents do for their authors:


1) We’re your eyes and ears to the marketplace. We really do have breakfasts and lunches and drinks with editors nearly every day of the week. We listen when editors tell us what they’re looking for, what’s selling, what’s hot, what’s not. And we read all the trade magazines (PW, LJ, Kirkus, etc), all the consumer magazines, the appropriate sites, blogs, newspapers, etc. We follow the bestseller lists. We go to the trade shows (BEA, ALA, etc). We are plugged into what books sell where and how.


2) Spouses and best friends excluded, we’re likely to be your first sounding board for your ideas. And since we’re so plugged in, we can really help you as you think about your writing, your next project, or your career.


3) We’re one of your first and harshest editors and critics. Because we’re usually your first readers, after the above-mentioned spouses and best friends (and, increasingly, writing group members), and because we have a vested interest in your work being the best it can be, we will be honest with you.


4) We’re the bad cop to your good cop. For example, if a big marketing problem comes up about your book, we’ll make that difficult call to the publisher on your behalf.


5) We’re likely to be the one constant in your professional writing life. Editors come and go and switch houses all the time. We tend to stay put. And we know where those editors have gone, why, and who has replaced them, all the better to help guide you through the tumultuous world of publishing…

Okay, I am going to keep you waiting for the other five points. I’ve gone on long enough for the inaugural column. Come visit next week for the rest of the list. It gets better. And leave questions or comments below if you have them. In the meantime, if you’re still asking yourself why you need an agent, maybe this will help: When you buy or sell a house, you get a realtor, no?  When you need legal help, you go to a lawyer, right?  When you write a book and want help navigating the book publishing business, you need an agent. YES.


--Ken


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SPMount Wins "So, How Was Your Weekend?" with "Glassy Eyed"

WEbook's new weekly weekend writing competition was a hit! Included in the submissions last week were stories about bear encounters, backwoods country diners, and stand-up paddle boarding in Hawaii. All were fine submissions, but one was too irresistible to pass up. Read on to see why SPMount was too "high" to notice that he was being vandalized...

SPMountAvatar Glassy Eyed
by SPMount

My new addiction gives me such a high.

I really shouldn't stay up; late on a Friday night; running my own shop; I do anyway; I can't help myself.

In fact it's getting worse; I’m succumbing to the delights it offers on a nightly basis. Probably,  I think, it's a hallucinogenic ... certainly I see spots; stars; all sorts of weird visions ... in front, and to the side, of my eyes ... but then I do do it all night long.

It's interfering with my work ... but who cares? It makes me really happy. I don't give a crap that I look sallow; drawn; all the other things a drug infested night can display on the skin; the hair.

I was going to call it quits; at least try to sleep - despite wild imaginings; the kaleidoscope swirling inside my over-active mind - I decided to go out on the back deck; stare at the blackness of the mountains; enjoy a smoke - always a nice way to bring me down; a relaxing antidote to the euphoria of my main drug.

Then it happened; it wasn't imagined; quite distinctly; a tremendous banging. My mind wasn't playing tricks now; this was real. My induced high didn't need a smoke; chamomile tea, to bring me down; to relinquish me to the sandman.

My body froze; numbed; a massive crash happened; lightning after the thunder.

Police told me; unless I’d seen the drunkard actually kick my window; not just bleeding on the ground, before staggering away quicker than perhaps alcohol should permit, they wouldn't be able to charge him.

Why couldn't I be high for one more minute? Had I stayed where I was; savoring the drug, I would’ve stopped the second kick; gotten to bed before 5am.

Why ... couldn't I have ‘WeBooked’ sixty seconds more?

*****


Want to submit to WEbook's new "So, How Was Your Weekend?" competition. It's easy and you can do it every week! Enter your 200- to 300-word story about your weekend this week by clicking here. Then check back next Monday to see if you won. (HInt: the winning story will appear on the blog.)

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