How do I Find an Agent?

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Google “how to find a literary agent for children’s books” and you’ll get 1,580,000 hits. Over one and a half million! And that’s just in the kidlit world. There are many, many theories on how to find one, just like there are many many theories on how to write the perfect picture book. Many roads will take you there, my friend. You just need to start walking. THEY AREN’T GOING TO COME TO YOU.
First things first. You need to make sure your manuscript is print ready. Never send something that isn’t perfect/finished! Has it been copy edited? Have you had more than one other person review it–do you have a reliable/experienced critique partner/group? Have you been working on it for longer than, say, a month? The ironic thing here is that the next thing I’m going to say is be prepared to make changes if necessary which contradicts the “make sure it’s perfect/finished” statement. An agent might have suggestions on how to make your manuscript better, and you might need to make those changes before he or she agrees to represent you. (It’s ALWAYS up to you to decide if and how those changes will be implemented. It’s your manuscript, afterall. Feel free to say “No, thanks” and move on to the next agent on your list if the recommend changes don’t feel right to you.)
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Second, you need to research the right agent FOR YOU, one that will like/accept not only your genre and age range but fits your style. That means your style of writing as well as your style of a working relationship. You do that by researching reputable agencies online and reading up on every agent that reps the kind of manuscript you have–based on what they have already sold and based on what they say they are looking for. Have they represented authors that have books similar to yours? That’s what you are looking for. This may be the only time you don’t want uniqueness. You want someone with relevant experience so they can get you the best deal and offer you the best, most applicable guidance. A super YA agent, for example, might be a crappy picture book agent. It’s a different world. Maybe it’ll work out–see what else they’ve sold. The good news is they will tell you directly on their page what they are looking for and have sold but that bad news is it’s a lot of work b/c there are so many agencies and so many agents.
How to get started researching, you may ask?
  • https://janefriedman.com/find-literary-agent/ gives an excellent overview on finding agents. It’s not specific to kidlit, but is worth reading every word. This post is from 2015 but still very much valid. Jane gives tips on checking an agent’s track record, what to expect from a good agent (are they members of AAR?), and explains submission guidelines piece by piece. READ IT. I’m not kidding.
  • The very first blog page on that Writer’s Digest site that I’d recommend you read is http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/pubtips. Editor Chuck Sambuchino culled advice from real agents, who Tweeted their top tips on what to do and how to do it. For example, some advice from 2013 that still stands is from agent Jacquie Flynn’s (@BookJacquie): “Check out an agent’s website, tweets, & blog posts to get a sense of her style & taste before you query. Customize for best results.”
  • Speaking of Twitter…I’ll go ahead and quote Chuck from that same blog, who says, “Many, many agents are on Twitter. And by reading their tweets, you can get a deeper understanding of what they seek as well as what kind of writing excites them. Use an agent’s online footprint and research them. Read their blog interviews. Review their website. This helps you better target agents to query, and it also helps you learn more about each rep, giving you information you can use to begin your query letter. For example, ‘Dear Ms. Flynn, I saw your tweet about how you seek irreverently humorous young adult books such as Spanking Shakespeare. For this reason, I think you would like my YA comedy of errors, [Title].'”
Social Media

Social media is your friend when researching agents

  • And speaking of matching up agents with what they’ve already said they like…Have you heard of MSWL? If not, write it down! There is a great website/resource called MSWL — Manuscript Wish List  — where agents regularly Tweet out exactly what they are hoping to find, and the results are tallied and searchable here: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com You can do a search for exactly what you’ve written, such as #magic #chapterbook #unicorns, and see if there are any matches. It’s worth coming back to again and again.
  • If you’re a member of SCBWI (and if you’re not, don’t be an idiot, join already!), start looking up names and agencies with “The Book” that is online to members http://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/the-book/. Go to the Agents section. It lists websites for every agency that’s worth reviewing. [“The Book” also lists all major kidlit publishing houses, and gives websites and contact information as well as if they accept unagented or “unsolicited” manuscripts (unsolicited means you need to end a query first), if you decide against pursuing an agent.] Narrow down the agencies you like, then look at their agents, and if the agent reps your age range and/or genre and you think you’d get along, then give them a whirl. There are other sources online that charge for this information and may be worth looking into if you don’t have SCBWI access. Either way, always verify your searches with the agent websites and/or agent social media accounts. Do that with a basic Google search.
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  • Wondering about warning signs, such as contests disguised as paid editing services or agents asking for a reading fee? NEVER PAY AN AGENT TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT! RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY! [The exception is legit conferences where you submit your work for a fee in exchange for a critique/feedback, or fundraisers like #PensforPaws where agents (or editors) donate their time to giving you feedback and the money goes to charity. These are NOT solicitations for representation so don’r count as creepy agent maneuvers.] Tally up sleeze-meter readings with help from this list created by “Writer Beware” http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/agents/
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In all honesty, you don’t NEED an agent in the children’s book industry. If you ask me (and you did) I suggest you take all that time researching agents and spend it perfecting your manuscripts. You can submit to many editors and publishing houses directly.  The key is always quality writing, not the agent that submits it. 
The bottom line is: just like when writing your manuscript, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Perfect your work. Research out a few solid agents that will work FOR YOU, submit per their exact submission guidelines, and see what they say. If they all pass b/c they say your manuscript isn’t ready, well, you know what your next steps will be.
If they like it, well, wasn’t all that work worth it?
Write on!
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Creating an Author Platform

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Quick quiz: You’re told you need to work on your “Author Platform.” You:

  1. Smile politely, then go back to searching online for cute cat outfits
  2. Nod, smile, then furiously Google “Writers’ d” hoping you’re not the last to know what the heck that is
  3. Think “Oh, yeah it really is time I update my Facebook, Twitter, blog and website,” then dig right in
  4. B or C but definitely not A (unless it was a really good sale)

Correct answer: D.

What is an Author Platform? And why do you need to care?

Let’s break it down. Author. Platform. It’s like a compound word. (Author Platforms or Writer Platforms, no matter what you call it, are the same thing, don’t get hung up on author vs writer. For the sake of ease, we’ll use the terms synonymously here. I’m also capitalizing the words here for effect, which is unnecessary elsewhere.) A writer or an author is someone who has written something. A platform is a raised surface, something you’d stand on for better visibility. Like a stage. Put the words together and you’ve got an image of a writer standing on a, well, platform, a little taller than everyone around them. They stand out; you can spot them in a crowd.

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That’s the writer you want to be.

You want to be the writer/author that people can find easily or can recognize…the one that stands out. And you’ll need a platform on order to do it.

“Author Platform: your visibility as an author, utilizing your personal ability to sell books through who you are, the connections you have, and the media outlets you use.” –Writer’s Digest

I think of the term as a less-commercial way of saying “author branding.” It means how you present yourself to the public, and how you are seen/viewed by readers, agents, editors, fellow writers/artists and anyone else paying attention. It’s a way of showing your unique qualities that “brand” you as a person, as a writer, or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales.

Don’t confuse it with image. Image implies something perceived. You’ll be putting the real, flawed you out there, just like you do for your main characters. An Author Platform should be based on truth. You’re not an actor hiring a publicity agent to get media attention. You’re you, showing who you are, with the ultimate goal that the likeable you is worthy of following or noting or reading or acknowledging, and it will at some point lead to book sales. Isn’t that why school visits, book signings, special promotions, launch parties and all that exist, to sell books? Well you’re the in-person version of that, the walking billboard, the neon sign, open 24/7. Except when you’re asleep. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

You are NOT shaking hands and asking people to buy your book all th
e time, oh no, you’re missing the point. No one is going to follow or buy the book from a guy that’s sending pestering Tweets or spamming Facebook posts or always standing up in groups asking people to buy their books after the meeting. Boy is that annoying or what? I hate that guy. What I’m saying is you are your brand. You represent you. So be respectable. Make me like you. Make me WANT to buy your book. If you do it right, you will probably never have to say the words “Buy my book.” I’ll decide I want to on my own.

 

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Note this is a Writer Platform, not a book platform. This is about you, not your book. Why?
Because you’re more than one book. If you brand yourself too closely with one title, on the next book you’ll have to do it all over again. That confuses people. They can handle lots of books, but they only want one you. Brand yourself correctly and all your books will easily fall under that one umbrella…you!

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Everything you post online becomes a part of your brand. Your Tweets, your FB posts, your blog updates. Your forwards, your shares, your likes. It all shapes the person people see. Those who have never met you can only form an opinion based on what they see. And that’s based on what you do. How you reply to comments. What you post or repost. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Continue reading

3 Ways to Rock Your Bio

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? Your bio may be the only time someone decides if they’re going to invest more time or energy into getting to know you, into hiring you, or into trusting you. So you want to put your best foot forward. Make that both feet.

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This image was brazenly and randomly stolen off the internet

1. Know Your Audience  What is the bio for? A book flap? Conference? Website? School visit? Who is reading it? Make sure your qualifications match the reason you’re there as a speaker, writer, professional. You’re a complicated (yet attractive) beast with many facets. You can’t possibly put everything down every time; nor would you want to. Play up your experience for that circumstance, adapting as needed. If you’ve written a piece on molecular biology, your stint in improv has no place in that bio. Your experience as a second grade teacher might, if the piece was written for grade schoolers. If it’s for college level, though, just mention being a teacher. Do you see what I mean? Highlight what uniquely qualifies you or makes you stand out for that situation. Do your audience the Continue reading

How Many Pages Should Your Manuscript or Book Be?

Sometimes it’s easier to see than explain:

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Revision: Taking A Step Back

 

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Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?

Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.

After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.

Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:

Dear Bitsy,

Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.

A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.

A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading

Setting Means More Than Location

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We recently moved. We are only a dozen miles from our last house, but it’s a world away. We went from “the middle of flippin’ nowhere” to “closer to society.” The drive time alone makes a huge difference to my peace of mind. But there are other, seemingly smaller things that have an impact on the everyday me.

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It got me thinking about setting. I’ve been writing more now, and have been hyper sensitive to what is going on around my main characters. Where a story takes place is more than location. It affects a person’s (or character’s) mood, mindset, and inherent and unknowingly learned truths.

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Let me give you some examples.

In the new house, I’m surrounded by things I’ve forgotten. Maybe I never realized how much I enjoy them. They include:

1. The sound of a lawnmower   lanmower

Country living provides the every-so-often drone of a far-off tractor. Or the faint hum of a riding mower. Now, hearing a lawn being mowed in close range reminds me there are people nearby. In my mind, when I hear the mower, I see a person pushing the mower. People–my neighbors–are up and about, caring about their yard and tending to it. It makes me feel like I’m part of the bigger picture. Had I not lived the rural life for the past 14 years, I probably wouldn’t even notice the sound. Or, it might make me crazy to hear it all the time. Maybe I’d wake in a fury if the buzzing was wafting through my open window at 7am on a Saturday. Now, though, I love it.

When your main character hears the whir of his next door neighbor’s lawnmower, how does he or she feel about it? And maybe more importantly, why?

2. The smell of cut grass                                                                                                     rotarymower

I’ve always thought heaven will smell like a freshly-cut lawn. That smell is so overwhelming wonderful to me, I can’t even tell you. And I get to smell it now! The sound of a lawnmower being pushed around next door is wonderful to me not only because of a sense of community, but because the soft wind will carry that lovely, earthy scent directly to my haven’t-smelled-that-in-ages nose. It smells divine. And I have the loud murmuring lawnmower to thank for it. rainbows from Amys window at delapre abbey

Does you main character even recognize the smell of grass? Why does where they live make a difference to their reaction?

3. Construction sounds                                                                                                 tractordirt

BEEPBEEPBEEP throughout the day might make one go mad. But now, I hear it and smile. It’s the sound of progress. It’s the sound of roads being made and homes (not houses) being built. It’s a harbinger of a future community, a community I can’t wait to be a part of. So bring on the beeping and pounding and shouting. It’s worth it.

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What would your main character think?

4. Blasted radios and shouts from construction workers

The daylong hustle and bustle is a welcoming noise to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city-like atmosphere so shouting-over-the-banging reminds me of that simpler time in my life? Those sounds I hear today come from the very people that are making way for MY neighbors. No, I don’t like the chosen radio station and no, you shouldn’t park your truck in the middle of the road every morning, and would it kill you to walk five feet instead of shouting? But I know it’s temporary, and I know it’s the price to pay for the incoming greater good. These people made my home too. I don’t begrudge them; I thank them.

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How would your main characters react to construction going on down their streets? How do they feel about commotion they can’t control? Would they try to change it? How? Would they complain to a supervisor, write a letter, complain yet do nothing? Their reaction (or lack of action) is telling.

5. No ever-lingering horse-poo scent, no roosters, no windy roads, no driving three miles to get my mail and newspaper

Have you ever heard a real sheep? I swear to you, it sounds like some guy is standing out in a field going “BAA baaa BAA BAA.” It’s hilarious. Maybe I’ll miss that sound just because it makes me laugh. But probably not.

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Other frustrations are sure to replace the ongoing eau de manure we had at the old house. But I know for CERTAIN I will NEVER EVER EVER no matter what EVER miss hearing cock-a-friggin-do ALL DAY AND NIGHT. Whoever told you roosters cackle at the break of dawn is lying. ROOSTERS CROW ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND IT NEVER STOPS NOT EVEN WHEN YOU REMIND YOUR NEIGHBOR THAT FARM ANIMALS ARE AGAINST ASSOCIATION RULES. There are no chickens or roosters or horse droppings in my new suburbia. None. And that’s pretty flippin’ cool.

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How would your main character react to city racket vs urban din vs suburbian quiet? What are they used to hearing, smelling, seeing? Which do they prefer? Do they even realize they prefer one over the other?

These are just a few ways my outlook has changed since moving. I’m sure the fondness will wear off, but I’m thinking I’ll miss the clamor when construction ends. I really like being in the middle of things. It’s why we moved. If I hadn’t had all those years surrounded by our home on the range, I doubt I’d feel any of the above. I’d probably be tired of seeing garage doors and dream of moving out to the country.

Our stories need all this background too. Setting is more than location. It affects more than you think. Make sure your characters feel what they feel not just because it’s how you wrote it, but because it’s their truth.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some windows to open.

8 Phrases that should NEVER come out of your mouth

Here are eight words and phrases that should never, and I mean NEVER come out of your mouth. At least not to me. In random order:

1. When you see I’m in the midst of a book you’re already read: “Did you get to the part where…

Don't. Say. A. Word.

Don’t. Say. A. Word.

Are you serious? What if I’m not there yet, you idiot? You just ruined it for me!

2. When discussing a book or movie I haven’t read/seen, but you have “Oh the ending of that is sooo unexpected.”

"This is the part where they all die in the end..."

“This is the part where they all die in the end…”

 Come closer so I can smack you. You pretty much just ruined any surprise I wouldn’t have seen coming. Now I’m gonna be on edge the whole time thinking Is that the shocker? Or is that it? She said surprise, so it can’t end up this way. I wonder if x or y will happen… Oh, I bet he turns out to be that guy’s father… Anything creative I come up with will make the real ending suck. Continue reading