The Fun Part: Choosing an Agent

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Greetings WEbook. Sorry to be gone so long. I was on vacation and it‘s been hard getting back into the swing of things. But I haven’t forgotten where we left off … so far, I’ve written about why writers need agents and how you can find an agent who might be simpatico to both you and your work. We’re now going to take a small leap and suppose that you have sent your beautifully crafted query letters out to a bunch of agents and you got great responses from some of them, all of whom have now read your novel. Now, several of THOSE have called and left messages saying they love your work and would very much like to represent you. First thought: OMG!  Second thought: Holy shit! Now what? How do I decide between these guys?

We should all have such problems, right? Well, while it CAN be tricky, there are a few things you can think about in order to guide you to a good decision.

First, return the calls. Immediately. One by one. Listen carefully to what each agent has to say and start asking him/her questions about your novel, the working relationship you’d have together, the process of getting the manuscript to publishers, and anything else that comes to mind.

Here’s a quick laundry list:


  • What does she like about your novel?

  • Why did she pick yours out of all the submissions she must get?

  • Does she think your novel needs work?

  • Will she be providing extensive notes for revisions?

  • When will she get those to you?

  • Will she read it again after you have revised?

  • What if she thinks it still needs work then?

  • Does she have a submission plan?

  • Which imprints/editors would she approach?

  • Will she send the manuscript out widely to many editors at once, or to a smaller, more selective group? Why?

  • Does she have a sense of timing? Is timing important?

  • Has she thought about the kind of advance he might get you?

  • What is the commission structure? [Correct answer: 15% is the norm on all domestic sales; 20% for foreign sales.]

  • Does she handle foreign/translation rights, or does she work with sub-agents? Or would she expect the publisher to do that? Why?

  • Should you expect to have any out of pocket expenses? [Correct answer: no.]

  • Are there any hidden charges involved in working together? [Correct answer: no.]

  • How does she make payments to you once a deal with a publisher is made?

  • Does she or her agency have a standard author agreement?

  • Are parts of that agreement negotiable?


Then, get her to talk a little bit about herself and how she actually works. Draw her out. Who are some of her other clients? Will she be generally available to you when you have questions? Will she keep you informed of the submission process along the way? And how will she do that? How involved will she be after he has sold your book? Does she prefer communicating by phone or email? Even ask her questions about her own reading habits.

Finally, ask her some basic questions about the book publishing business. After all, you want a sense that she is experienced and knowledgeable, and knows her way around, don’t you?  Ask her about the marketplace. If your work is literary fiction, get her to tell you about other literary novels that are selling and being published now. We all know the publishing industry is in a state of flux. Does she feel optimistic about the future of book publishing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a small publisher vs. a large one? Ask her about things like the Google settlement, the rise of e-books, and her opinion about the Kindle vs. the Sony Reader. 

The point is, ask lots of questions like these, and really listen…  And then say thank you for her time, you’re very excited at the prospect of working with her, but that you would like to think about it all for a day or two. Then make the call to the next agent, and the next. When you’re done with the calls, you have to decide. And, frankly, your decision will mostly depend on instinct, because there really is no right or wrong answer for most of the questions you’ve asked (except for the basic business questions, of course). Bottom line: you ultimately want a good rapport with your agent. You need to like her. You need to trust her. You need to have faith in her style and taste and openness. You need to feel you have a partner. She is someone you will, with any luck, have a relationship with for many years. So, it’s got to FEEL right. If you have asked a lot of questions like these, and if you have LISTENED, chances are you will find this decision pretty easy to make. Trust your instincts.

Next? Sleep on it. When you wake up, think about it for a half hour and then call the agent you have decided on and tell her how friggin’ excited you are that he wants to work with you and that you are thrilled and yes, yes, yes…

Congratulations. You have yourself an agent. You are on your way!

 --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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New on the WEbook Blog: Esther Cohen and “My Writing Life”

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Starting this week, Esther Cohen, author of five books, including Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree, will be contributing a new column entitled “My Writing Life.” In it, Esther will discuss any and everything that goes with a writing life … which pretty much means any and everything, period. Most importantly, Esther will take questions, so please, don't be shy.

I am glad to be here with you on WEbook. Because we are all in the virtual sphere, I am free to describe myself any way I like: taller or shorter, younger or wiser. My hair can be long and straight, even black (it is actually short and wildly curly, usually yellowish red, depending on the month and the year.) I am a writer and a teacher, a poet, a novelist, a humorist. My words come in many forms. I’ve published five books, and hope to write many more. I’m here on this site to describe my writing life, and to help you with yours.

I have always loved putting words right onto a page, watching them the way some people watch movies. My words are often parts of pictures: deep orange-yellow cantaloupes, a midget in a pin striped suit. I collect words the way some people collect stamps. For instance, here are some names of hair-cutting places from my beauty parlor notebook: Hair We Are, Hair-Em Salon, Shear Creations, Hairy Situations, Split Enz, A Cut Above. I’ve always loved words and what they can do.

Even so, I’ve wondered (although I have been writing as long as I can remember) if I am a real writer. It took me years (and years) to understand that real writers just write. That’s more or less what being a writer means. Whether the story or poem or memoir she writes is worthy or clever or interesting or good is another matter entirely. We learn to be some of those things, through practice. The way athletes practice, and musicians. We practice writing often, in any way that we can. I write words down when I hear them, fragments, overheard conversations, knowing maybe I’ll use a line or a phrase one day. Maybe I won’t. But it doesn’t matter. What counts is writing it down. (At Viand Coffee shop yesterday the woman sitting next to me, a stranger in a bright red dress, said to the patient Dominican waitress, “I’d like a fried egg without any yolk.” Both the waitress and I wondered why. Cholesterol? Religion? Maybe the red dressed woman didn’t like yellow. The fragment seemed worth recording.)

Writing is always about stories, and stories need interesting details. Good Stories is the subject of a class I’m teaching this fall, at Manhattanville College. We will, together, try to uncover the elements of a good story and what we need to tell them.

Here’s my good story of the week, in a poem.
 
Ken lives across the street
Old style pre hip hop
You’re in the navy now tattoo
Chain smoker one cigarette
In back of his right ear
At all times Ken
 
I never liked him much
Until this summer. Hilda,
His gentle gardening nurse wife
died in May. He held her hand
and said goodbye.

Now something of Hilda
is inside Ken and when he
comes over every single afternoon
around four
even though he didn’t come
across the road for 22 years,
he walks over as though
he always has and it’s ok with me
because I see Hilda inside Ken
and when he tells his long
long story about his baking truck
and Brooklyn I can see Hilda
and she’s smiling.

I never liked him much
Until this summer. Hilda,
His gentle gardening nurse wife
died in May. He held her hand
and said goodbye.

 
That’s my good story for today. Can you send me yours?
Or tell us what you think a good story might mean?
 
Can’t wait to hear from you.

--Esther
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Jayne Reads, Starts Own Blog, Wows World!

Follow Jayne Bonilla, author of Shirt for Dessert, WEbook’s first published children’s book, on her new blog. On it, she’ll be detailing her merry march of readings and promotion in the greater Miami area.


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It all began a few weeks ago when I ran into a friend, Glenda Abbate, in the grocery store while signing copies of my book. Now, as I drove to the Jack & Jill Children’s Center to read to 156 pre-schoolers, I felt the momentum coming to a crescendo.

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend like Glenda. She’s passionate about everything she does and is probably the most generous person I know. So when she asked if I wanted read Shirt for Dessert to the kids at Jack & Jill Children’s Center, I agreed immediately. “They will love your book and you will love them,” Glenda exclaimed, then insisted on buying each child their very own copy!

After I arrived, Jack & Jill’s executive director, Shannon Prohazska, gave me the grand tour. I felt like an invited relative in the home of a large progressive family. At Jack & Jill’s, a pre-school/nursery for kids with mostly single mothers, children are rewarded with chores. Yes chores! Since chores demonstrate leadership and responsibility, they are correlated with pride and success. Mealtime is eaten “family style,” with children serving one another and establishing manners and practices that emulate real-life situations.  The staff, faculty, parents and children all seemed connected to a, unanimous purpose at the center – to prepare the children intellectually, emotionally, and socially while honoring their individuality. Additionally, the center is consistently plugged into the needs of parents, as keeping their batteries charged is a means to transfer positive energy to their children. Jack & Jill refers to this as the “wrap-around” philosophy, which focuses on strengthening and supporting the entire family unit.
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The success of this philosophy became evident when I finally got to meet the children. They were eager to listen and displayed excellent manners. They were also attentive and engaged as I read. Glenda was right of course: I did fall in love with each of them. If somehow I could record their giggles, I would play it for the world to hear. And if I could package up their hugs and dispense them with the sincerity and love in which they were given, violence would cease.

After it was over, I felt myself lingering after the children went back to their classrooms. The vibe of the kids remained in the air. The future felt very bright. As I made my way to the lobby to head home, I was thanked profusely for my visit. But it should’ve been me thanking them – for Glenda’s generosity, the amazing work being done by Shannon Prohazkska and her staff at Jack & Jill’s, and the amazing children. But the greatest gift by far was from the 156 kids who permanently penned their signatures on my heart. 

--Jayne Bonilla

Check out Jayne's new blog

Learn more about Jack & Jill’s Children’s Center

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WEbook Launches AgentInbox

After much covert programming and the lost sanity of more than one engineer, WEbook is proud to present the beta version of AgentInbox, a new author-to-agent service that connects publication-ready writers with AgentInbox_Beta_Logo_2reputable literary agents.

At WEbook, we know that the process of finding a literary agent can be confusing, especially for the uninitiated. When are you ready to pitch an agent? How do you find a good one? What elements need to be in your query letter? Should you pitch more than one agent at a time?

Enter AgentInbox, an online submission “wizard” designed to take the mystery out of finding — and landing — the perfect agent for your book.

With AgentInbox, you can:



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Here’s how it works:

  • Registration is fast, easy, and free. If you’re already a WEbook member and you’ve got a completed fiction manuscript or a non-fiction proposal, just sign in and get started on your author profile. Not sure if you’re ready? Check out our tutorials.

  • Next, enter your book’s vital stats, including the title, genre, query letter, and part or all of your manuscript or non-fiction proposal. You can save your info and return at any time.

  • You’ll be matched only to agents who are currently looking for projects in your genre. Only the agents you select will see your work and only those interested will contact you directly.

  • WEbook will run a quick flight check on your submission to makes sure it meets basic submission standards, then you’re on your way!


So, are you ready? AgentInbox is! Thanks to the perseverance of those aforementioned WEbook engineers, a starter crop of participating leading agents (with more to come!) and now, you — we’re all set to launch.

--John

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

Etan@Antiwar small Welcome to the second part of WEbook's Q&A with Etan Thomas, the editor of, and force behind, Voices of the Future. For those not familiar, 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 on WEbook, Etan will occasionally be weighing in on the WEbook blog. If you want to ask Etan a question for future installments, leave a comment below. (If you haven't read part 1, check it out first.)


One of the topics that you suggest contributors to Voices of the Future write is “Haters” For everyone who doesn’t exactly know what that means, can you explain?


Sure. Its simple. Haters are people who want to keep you down. Want to discourage you from achieving your goals. In my first book I told the story of Doug Collins, who told me my rookie year that he didn’t feel that I would make it in the NBA. He told people around him, other coaches and media people as well. He was a real piece of work. But I wrote a poem about how his words wouldn’t defeat me and that I would make it despite what he thought. I used that poem as motivation for quite sometime. I would read it or listen to it and it would remind me that there were people who expected and sometimes hoped for me to fail. Why you ask? Because they are haters. That’s what haters do; they hate, like it’s their job or something. I want young people to write about the haters in their own lives and how they were going to make sure that they proved them wrong. That’s the best feeling in the world. To prove someone wrong who told you that you couldn’t do something. My message to young people when speaking about haters or people who did you wrong or people who you thought were on your side but turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing so to speak is to write about it. Poetry can be therapeutic. Its not good to keep all that inside. You have to have some type of an outlet and this is one that is positive. I utilize this method when having sessions with my guys at the Free Mind Book Club at D.C. Prison. Everyone can relate to haters because they have been around since the days of Jesus. I always quote my mother in saying,” If they hated on Jesus, what makes you think that they won’t hate on you too”? But getting that anger that frustration out in a positive way can really help, especially if you prove them wrong.

A topic that you added late to your topic list for Voices of the Future was “relationships.” In what ways do you think this is especially important for younger people?

I made the decision to add relationships after speaking to a group of young women at a school in D.C. with my wife. I sat on a panel of all women including Dominique Dawes, Ms, Black D.C., my wife Nichole Thomas, and a few other women and we spoke to an all-female group. I was a little uncomfortable at first being the only male, but my wife always tells me that I only speak to young men and that I can’t leave out the young women, so I decided to give it a try. There were so many issues that they explored dealing with relationships, and when I told them about the project, that’s really all they wanted to talk about. They went from Chris Brown and Rhianna, to For the love of Ray J, to divorce and growing up without a father in their lives to Steve Harvey’s book, or their children. It’s a different time now and sometimes these kids have kids of their own. They want to talk about the relationship they have with their children or the struggle to raise them by themselves. It was a whole different type of dialogue than what I was used to. They had a lot that they needed to get off their chests. So I encouraged them to write about their feelings and thoughts and that I would add a section mainly geared toward them.

Beyond the content, how will Voices of the Future be unique?


The book will also contain an insert of a CD with tracks of me reciting some of my poems to beats, similar to the one you can hear on WEbook. I did this with my first book More Than An Athlete and it seemed to go over pretty well. Sometimes, young people like to hear poems as well as read them, its just good to have that option. I remember when I was younger listening to poets like the Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron, and Shakespeare on CDs. Even now listening to poets like Saul Williams, Black Ice, Talaam AC, Queen Sheba, 13 of Nazareth or Nathan James on CDs, you just get a whole different feel for the poems. So therefore, I like giving that option of reading or listening.


Do you have political aspirations? If not, what do you see yourself portraying when the beard is gray?


I have always had a strong interest in politics. I don’t know if I would want to run for congress or anything, but at the same time, I wouldn’t rule it out. There are just a lot of things that I see that aren’t fair, and that’s what drives my passion for politics. Whether it’s the war, the school system, health care, police brutality, and the death penalty, there is just so much in society that isn’t the way that it’s suppose to be. Not to mention foreign policy, immigration, the environment, abortion, gun control, which are topics that simply cannot be ignored. I could definitely see myself looking into becoming a professor at a HBCU. I am going to continue writing regardless. I could also see myself coming back to Maryland and running for Executive of Prince George’s County. I am actually going to shadow the current Executive of Prince George’s County Jack Johnson for a day early in August. I want to learn as much as I can and really see everything his job entails first hand. Who knows what will happen in the future. I am going to try to stretch out my basketball career for as long as I can, and then we’ll see what happens when the next phase of my life begins. I have to say, I am blessed.


--Etan


See Part I of this Q&A.


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