Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Publishing Talk

With advice on writing and more, here are the latest Publishing Talk newsletters:

Publishing Talk: 5 rules for setting a writing goal you’ll stick to

Link to Publishing Talk

Posted: 13 Dec 2017 11:00 AM PST
Want to write more in 2018? Follow Chris Smith‘s five golden rules to set a writing goal you’ll stick to.
Writing Goals
4 minutes to read
You might have a burning idea for a novel, something half-finished you’re determined to complete – or a blog that you know you need to update more regularly. Whatever it is you want to write, you’ve decided, 2018 is the year that you finally want to kickstart your creative project.
Amazing! But when research shows that 92% of all New Year’s resolutions rarely make it past January, how can you make sure your writing resolution sticks? The first step is having a really great writing goal.
Writing goals are super-important in the pre-writing process. Having a goal gives you a sense of direction and something to work towards. If you don’t have a goal then you don’t have anything to aim for you can start off in the wrong direction. Setting a goal also helps you think about the future – and neuroscience tells us that this releases chemicals in the brain like dopamine and oxytocin and makes us feel happy and creative.
But some goals are better than others – some are great and others, not so good. We’ve helped thousands of people set writing goals using our digital writing coach and these five golden rules for setting goals work.

1. Make your writing goal specific

The first step in achieving any New Year’s writing resolution is to give yourself a target to hit.
You’ll need to make your writing goal measurable in some way. Think about how you’re going to achieve that goal – if it’s a large goal you need to break it down further into small steps. Do you want to write a certain number of blog posts over a period of time? Write a certain number of words each week or spend a certain length of time per month?
Make your goal as specific as you can. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: “How will I know that I’ve completed this goal?” If you don’t know, you’ll need to make your goal more precise.

2. Give your writing goal stakes

A good writing goal is personal to you and has stakes attached to it. This means that there needs to be some consequences if you don’t reach your goal and there needs to be some benefits if you do.
If there are no consequences or benefits attached then you’ll struggle to care whether or not you reach it because… well, what does it matter? And that means that you will lose motivation.
One way to give your goal stakes is to imagine yourself into the future and make a list of the benefits of meeting your goal – and the drawbacks of not meeting it.
Think about your life in 2019. How will your life have changed after meeting your writing goal this coming year? Will you have increased your career chances, improved your business? Will you feel more fulfilled, creative and happy?

3. Your writing goal must stretch you (but not too much)

Your New Year writing goal needs to energise you but it also needs to be winnable otherwise you’ll just lose motivation. It’s good to be ambitious but if you’re too ambitious – you risk falling at the first hurdle.
So, don’t get carried away. Try to get the balance right. Set a goal that stretches you in some way but is also realistic.
Saying that, don’t make your goal too easy to achieve either. If you think your goal looks a cinch to complete then you’ll probably just get bored along the way.
An indicator of a good goal is you want to achieve it – but you’re not 100% confident you can. Setting a goal that excites you is a good way to keep you motivated.

4. Schedule it in

Our research among thousands of writers indicates that planning in the time to write matters far more than the amount of time you allocate to writing.
It doesn’t much matter so whether you write in daily chunks – or whether you binge write to a deadline or whether you block out a portion of your day, week or month for writing – the key is that your writing time must be identified in advance – in whatever way works for you.
The very worst type of routine comes when you ‘try to find the time’ to write at the last minute. Not only is this a waste of time, it’s also a psychologically and physically depleting approach that will grind you down!

5. You’ve got to want to write it

Let’s face it, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your writing project – so you’ve got to feel committed to it in some way. You have to feel an enthusiasm and passion for the project – or that you’ve just got to do it!
When you’re thinking about what you want to achieve in 2018, try to pick a goal that energises you in some way. Something that fires you up and you’ll get a kick out of achieving – or that if you don’t achieve you’ll be kicking yourself this time next year.

Things to remember

§ Vague goals lead to vague outcomes. You have to know when you’ve reached your goal, so get specific.
§ It’s good to feel a little scared by your goal. Not 100% sure you can make it.
§ ‘Trying to find the time’ to write is depleting. Plan in the time in advance and prioritise your writing time.
§ A goal without a challenge is just like work. Stretch yourself. Make your goal winnable, but not a sinch to achieve.
§ You’ve got to want it. You have to really want to (or have to) write your project. Otherwise you’ll lose motivation.


Publishing Talk: How to get published – 6 steps to a traditional publishing deal

Link to Publishing Talk

Posted: 20 Nov 2017 02:27 AM PST
To build a career as an author you need to know how to get published as well as how to write. Jon Reed shares some pointers to help you navigate the process – and know what to expect.
How to Get Published - 6 steps to a traditional publishing deal
17–20 minutes to read
You’ve written a book. Now what? To take the next step and get published, your main options are to go down the traditional route of getting an agent and landing a publishing deal; or to self-publish. This article focuses on the traditional route to publication, and concentrates mostly on fiction.

How to get published – at a glance:

1.       Identify your genre
2.       Showcase your writing
3.       Find a literary agent
4.       Prepare your materials
5.       Submit a query letter
6.       Get a publishing contract!

1. Identify your genre

What sort of book have you written? (Or are you writing, or do you plan to write?) And which other books is it similar to?


Your book may not fit neatly into an obvious genre such as science fiction, historical fiction, crime or romance. Your genre may simply be ‘literary fiction.’ Or it may be a combination, such as sci-fi-horror or romantic comedy.
Think carefully about how to categorise your book – because agents, publishers and bookshops will. But do this when you’re preparing to submit to an agent or publisher – not while you’re still writing.
Genre is a sales tool. When your book is finally ready to be read, it will help it find its audience. Genre is something you should be aware of because you will, at some stage, need to explain what yours is to a prospective agent or publisher. You may have a clear idea of this from the start. You may be writing crime fiction because you love crime fiction and it’s what you read all the time. If not, don’t worry about it – yet.
Never try to second guess the market. Don’t write vampire romances or political thrillers just because that’s seems to be what’s selling at the moment. By the time your book comes out, the market will have moved on. And, unless you truly love the genre you’re writing in, you will soon get bored and your lack of enthusiasm will show. On Writing by Stephen KingWrite the book you want to write and you’re more likely to get published.
Stephen King, in his classic On Writing, says the time to really ask yourself what your book is about is when you’re writing the second draft. Then, if a theme suggests itself, you may want to enhance it in the re-write. You will also have a clearer idea of the genre your book fits into then, if you haven’t already.
Another thing Stephen King says is read. Make sure you read books in your chosen genre, or books that are similar to what you are writing. Read recent books, especially debut fiction, in your area. This will help you keep up with the ‘competition’ and the latest publishing trends. You can use that knowledge later to demonstrate your  market awareness to a prospective agent or publisher – as well as to hone your work.


In addition to genre, think about which books – or even film or TV – your book might be considered similar to. A comparison will help you get published because it will help you pitch your book. It is a shorthand that helps communicate what your book is like – quickly, without anyone actually having to read it. Agents, publishers and readers want this.
§ Agents want to be able to say to a publisher: “This author is the next Karl Ove Knausgård,” or “It’s a bit like The Da Vinci Code but set in 16th Century Japan,” or even “It’s Stranger Things meets Adrian Mole.” If you want to get published, think of an “X meets Y” that could describe your book.
§ Publishers want a hook to hang your book on. An editor will first need to convince his or her colleagues to publish a book – partly with sales figures of similar titles. And a publisher’s sales rep will want to be able to say to bookshops: “You took X copies of our title Y. This is a similar type of story by an exciting new author.”
§ Readers want reassurance that they will enjoy book Y because they enjoyed book X. This what drives Amazon’s “People who bought X also bought Y” algorithm. But you’ll see it in blurbs too. For example, the Amazon.co.uk description for A Man Called Ove says: “Perfect for fans of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and David Nicholl’s US.
None of this means you have to copy someone else’s story or style. Your unique story and individual ‘authorial voice’ is exactly what agents, publishers and readers are looking for. But people in the book trade will always want to compare you to other authors and titles. Publishers always want something the same (because it provides a reassuring track record) but different (because they need something fresh and new to sell).
How to Get Published - 24 Feb 18, London

2. Showcase your writing

If you want to get published, first publish yourself. That might seem odd advice for an article on how to get published traditionally. But I believe building your online platform is an essential first step. Agents and publishers today want to know what ‘platform’ you have – i.e. what audience can you already reach. Start building your platform whether you’re just starting to write, or have a manuscript ready to send out.
Use the following approaches to help you develop your craft as a writer, raise your profile – and, ultimately, get published.

Start a blog

I used to lecture creative writing students on social media marketing – and always advised them to start a blog now, rather than waiting until they got a book deal.
A Conspiracy of Alchemists - by Liesel SchwarzIt’s something that paid off with, for example, Leisel Schwarz – who went on to become the ‘High Priestess of British Speampunk.’ Create a well-written blog and it can attract the attention of agents. If nothing else, it proves you can write for an audience.
A blog can also become a book: Emily Benet’s Shop Girl blog caught the attention of Salt Publishing and became Shop Girl Diaries – and even went on to become a pilot for a sitcom.
It works for non-fiction too – in fact it’s even more important for building authority and an audience in a niche topic area. This blog helped me get published: my first traditionally published book, Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing (Pearson Business, 2010; 2013). If you regularly blog about a subject, your blog could become the starting point for a non-fiction book. A book based on blog posts is often called a ‘blook.’

Write on Wattpad

Wattpad is an online platform that lets you upload stories and read thousands of others for free.
The Temp - by Emily BenetUse it to serialise your work – either something you’ve already written; or something you write as you go, released a chpater at a time, adapting and reacting to readers comments along the way (is one character unexpedly popular? Build up their part!)
Some authors reach millions of readers on Wattpad. Agents and publishers spot emerging talent on the platform too – and will be impressed by the size of your audience as well as the quality of your writing. Emily Benet wrote a novel called Spray Painted Bananas on Wattpad over four months, posting two chapters a week. She soon got half a million hits and a two-book deal with HarperCollins – who published the novel as The Temp.

Self-publish first

Self-publishing can help you get published traditionally. This is another way publishers talent-spot: by looking for successful self-published authors. The key word here is successful. If you self-publish and don’t sell many copies, that could actually harm your chances of becoming traditionally published. But if your self-published book is a huge success, you’ll have publishers beating a path to your door, and no trouble getting an agent.
Locked In - by Kerry WilkinsonThis happened with such self-publishing successes as Amanda Hocking, John Locke and Kerry Wilkinson. Sometimes a publisher will offer you a deal for print-rights only, and let you keep your existing digital rights. A win-win if you only want to self-publish ebooks, but gain a wider reach in bookshops.
And there’s no reason you can’t do both: become a ‘hybrid’ author by traditionally publishing some books and self-publishing others, according to what you think is right for each book. Nick Spalding and Emily Benet are examples of authors who take this approach.

Write short stories

Show that you’re serious, develop your craft and get a publication credit in the process by writing short stories. Many novelists started out by writing short stories for magazines. While the market for short stories may be smaller than it once was, there are still plenty of outlets to submit to. You won’t necessarily earn much money – but you will get published. You’ll gain a writing credit for each story published, and build your writing resumé / CV.
One way to earn money from writing short stories is to enter competitions – and win them! Here are 15 short story cometitions to enter to get you started.
Midwinter by Fiona MelroseIf this all seems a distraction from the novel you want to write, remember that a short story can become the first chaper of a novel. This happened with Fiona Melrose: her short story The Fox was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as one of the winnners of their 2014 Opening Lines competition, and helped her get published. It became the starting point for her first novel Midwinter, which was published in paperback in September 2017.
Use any short stories you get published – especially if they win an award – in your submission to agents as evidence of your ability to write, and increase your chances of getting an agent. List them in your query letter (see Step 5) – but don’t send them unless you’re asked.
See also:
§ 10 ways to win with WordPress – by Jon Reed
How to Get Published - 24 Feb 18, London

3. Find a literary agent

Most publishers will only accept submissions via a literary agent. So, in order to get published, your goal is to get an agent, rather than a publisher. Your agent will submit your work to publishers on your behalf.  And there are many other benefits to having an agent. They will:
§ Know the market
§ Have the right connections in the publishing world, and know who to approach
§ Get the best deal for you
§ Handle contract negotiations on your behalf
§ Manage your rights. You will retain your rights to e.g. film and these can be sold separately. If you sign a contract with a publisher without having an agent, your publisher will usually also own film and TV rights, and you’ll only get 50% of any proceeds.
§ Handle media requests for you, including invitations to write press articles
§ Take a fee of around 10% of your earnings. This is a good thing. Because their fee is based on your earnings, there’s an in-built incentive for them to get you the best possible deals – and you’ll end up earning far more with an agent than without one.
Some (but not all) agents also offer editorial support. They will critique your work and offer feedback, to help you get your final draft into the best shape before submitting to your publisher. Some even have in-house editorial staff to do this. If this is important to you, find an agent who will support you in this way – but don’t automatically expect it.
Writer's Market 2018Start by researching agents to find one you think will be a good fit for you and your book, and who you’d like to represenent you. Then prepare your submission materials, as set out in Step 4.
Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2018Start with one of the directories of agents and publishers. The main ones are Writer’s Market (USA) and Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (UK). These are invaluable reference books for when you’re ready to approach agents, and include details of each agent’s submission policy and what sort of books they’re looking for. Take a look at agents’ websites too, to see who they already represent.
Pick the right agent for you and your book. You might want an agent with the backing of a large organisation. Or you may prefer a small independent agent with lots of time to invest in you. Or you might aim for the best of both worlds with a new agent in an established agency who is starting to grow his or her own list of clients. You might want an agent who will offer lots of constructive feedback on drafts and help you develop as a writer; or you might not be bothered about that and just want one who can get you the biggest advance.
But don’t approach anyone yet: prepare your materials first.
See also:
§ How to choose an agent – by Kirsty McLachlan
How to Get Published - 24 Feb 18, London

4. Prepare your materials

You will soon start preparing your query letter (see Step 5 below). But not yet. Work on your supporting material first: your synopsis and sample chapters. Together these might be called your book proposal. They are the essential documents you need to get published.
Because you need more than a letter. If an agent is to assess whether you have potential as a writer, have something they can sell to publishers, and if you might be a good fit with their list, you’ll also need to send them your stuff. You won’t necessarily send this with your query letter (this depends on each agent’s submission policy); but even if you just send a query letter first, you’ll need to have the following material pre-prepared in case the agent is interested and wants to see more.


I’m more used to writing synopses and treatments for screenplays. But the same principles apply. Write out everything that happens in your novel, in the order in which it happens, in the present tense. Keep it to no more than two pages, and don’t hold anything back – let us know how your story ends! You may have intriguing twists, turns and reveals in your novel that you want to hold back from the reader – but don’t do this with your agent or publisher. This is no time to be worrying about spoilers: they need to know everything that happens.
You can still build tension in the way you write your synopsis, and keep the reader intrigued. Do this by only revealing plot points at the correct time in your synopsis. So don’t say: ‘…and he later turns out to be the killer all along’ in your opening paragraph. Save that information until the part of the story when it is revealed to the reader. Then your synopsis can be as engaging and satisfying as the full book.

Sample chapters

The purpose of your sample chapters is to flesh out some of your synopsis and, importantly, to demonstrate your writing style. An agent wants to see that you can write – or at least have potential. A couple of sample chapters is usually sufficient.
However, while a synopsis + 2 sample chapters may be typical, it’s not what every agent wants. The research you did in Step 3 will reveal not only which agents might be suitable to submit to, but what they want you to submit. Some might want one chapter, or 10,000 words. Some might want to see the whole thing.
There is a bit of a trend for agents wanting to see the entire manuscript upfront. Indeed, many articles advise that, if you want to get published, don’t approach agents until you have written a full manuscript to the best of your ability. But this isn’t always the case. Most of the debut authors I’ve known over the last few years got a publishing deal on the strength of a writing sample, not a whole manuscript. And the point of an advance is, after all, partly to give you time to write your book once an agreement to publish it has been reached. But if you want to wait until you’ve written most of your book before seeking an agent, that’s fine too. Sometimes you want the time and space to do just that, and to work out what your book is really about before you think about publication.
See also:
How to Get Published - 24 Feb 18, London

5. Submit a query letter

A query letter is a one-page sales letter that you send to a literary agent to pitch your book and ask them if they would be interested in representing you. The ‘query’ is, essentially: “Will you be my agent?” And the ‘letter’ isn’t necessarily a physical one. These days it’s more likely to be an email – but check the submissions policy of each agent you approach.
Approach literary agents with a query letter only once you’ve prepared your synopsis and sample material – even if you don’t send this with your letter. If they ask for it, you need to have it to hand. Some agents will want your query letter to be a covering letter that you send with your book proposal. Some will want it as an email with attachments.
A query letter is a form of cold calling, or like sending a speculative job application to a company you’d like to work for. You’ve researched names of agents and checked their submission requirements. You might be sending out several. But be sure to personalise each letter: use the agent’s name (spelled correctly!) and include a short paragraph about why you’ve chosen to approach this particular agent.
You should also include an enticing paragraph of blurb ‘selling’ your book, a bit about yourself and any writing credits you have (such as published short stories), and something on your ‘platform’ – i.e. your existing (online) audience, if you have one.
If you’re in the fortunate position of already knowing some agents – perhaps from having met them at writers’ conferences or other book events, or through author friends – you might not need a query letter as such. You might be able to briefly explain what your book is about in person (always have a pitch prepared!) Then, if the agent thinks it sounds interesting, arrange a meeting.
You’ll still need to prepare your synopsis and sample chapters to send on in advance – and a covering note sumarising the key points and reminding the agent how you met. But it’s a warmer approach than a letter out the blue, and a route by which many authors get published.
Coming soon:
§ 7 things to include in your query letter – by Jon Reed

Can I query multiple agents?

Yes, absolutely. It may take three months for an agent to reply to you – you can’t wait around that long. Draw up a list of agents you want to submit to – including those you’ve met at events – and send out queries to up to six of them. This will help you guage responses. If you get no requests for further material, your query letter needs work before you send it out again!

What happens next?

You’ll likely get one of these responses to your query letter:
1.       A rejection
2.       No response at all (usually also a rejection)
3.       A request for some sample material
4.       A request to see the whole manuscript (if available).
The last two of these responses may subsequently also result in a rejection. Don’t give up. Sometimes an agent will reject you simply because their list is full. Or they might think your book isn’t the type of book they can sell to publishers. You might get some feedback on your submission. More often you’ll get a standard rejection slip. Don’t take offence – agents are busy people and get a lot of submissions. If you hear nothing, follow up with a polite note after 6-8 weeks.
If you get several requests to see sample material but then get rejections, it’s your writing that needs work rather than your query letter. Seek more feedback – maybe by joining a writing group. Re-work it and re-send it.
However, if an agent is interested in you and your book, the next step is a meeting with them to discuss it. And then, possibly, an offer of representation.

What happens when I get an offer?

Congratulations! Getting an agent is, understandably, the most exciting step for many aspiring authors. Finally the doors to the publishing industry have been thrown open to you – big advances, bestseller lists and literary prizes await!
Well, maybe. But don’t get carried away just yet. And don’t let your head be turned by the first agent who offers to represent you. Landing an agent is, understandably, seen as the Holy Grail by many an aspiring author. It’s easy to get carried away with excitement and gratitude and accept an offer – any offer – from the first person who shows an interest in you.
Don’t underestimate your value as a new writer. Debut fiction is very saleable! If you have more than one expression of interest, weigh up the pros and cons of each, ask questions, and be honest with yourself about what’s important to you. Crucially, do you get on with this person? So much of the publishing industry is based on personal relationships – and the author-agent one is a critical one.
Keep it professional, make sure your prospective new agent is the right agent for you – and your book. Meet your prospective new agent. Be prepared to talk about your writing – and what books you like reading – but also ask questions. Ask about how they work with clients (do they offer editorial support or are they more of a deal-maker?), which books they’ve done well with – and what their terms are.
Don’t let yourself be pushed in a radically different direction, if that’s not what you want. Occasionally you might pitch your book to an agent, but find that they want you to write something very different. They may like your style, but think that another type of novel is more saleable. An agent may sometimes even have a specific project in mind that they’re looking to get published – and are looking for someone to write it. Tread carefully. The agent may be right – they know the market, after all. But it’s your book – and you must write the book that you want to write.
The best agents will not only help you get published, they will manage your career, help you develop as a writer, and think about your long-term potential as an author. Ideally, this will be a long-term working relationship – so pick one you think you can work with. It is possible (and sometimes desirable) to switch agents later – though it’s a bit awkward and can get a bit messy with the rights in your earlier books. So it pays to spend a bit of time and effort into making the right match – for both of you.
Once you accept an offer, the next stage is to sign an agreement with your new agent – and for them to start working for you!
How to Get Published - 24 Feb 18, London

6. Get a publishing contract

As a newly-minted author, you will quickly become used to legal paperwork. There are two main contracts to be aware of:
1.       An agency agreement – this is a contract between you and your agent, setting out their terms (their fee is usually around 10% of your earnings). Always ask for a formal, written agreement. And don’t be shy about asking what your prospective new agent’s terms are when you’re looking for representation.
2.       A publishing contract – your agent will handle this, and negotiate the best deal, in discussion with you.
There will be other contracts – but your agent can advise on them all. A key one is an Option Agreement, which is when a film or TV production company buys the rights to adapt your book.
But the key one, in terms of how you’ll get published, is the publishing contract. Now that you have an agent, it’s his or her job to get you one of these. Your agent will try to ‘place’ your book – i.e. sell it to a publisher. The basis for this sale will be the materials you submitted earlier (probably with a bit of reworking), plus a formal pitch from the agent, which will include some information about the market and commercial potential of your book.
This to can be a lengthy process. Don’t become disheartened. Remember that JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter was placed with Bloomsbury. She was subsequently also rejected as Robert Galbraith.
When a publisher makes an offer your agent will handle the contact negotiation. If more than one makes an offer, you may even get into a bidding war. The highest bidder isn’t necessarily the best place for your book – though a big advance is an incentive for the publisher to get behind the book with some marketing effort in order to recoup their money!
You should also take into consideration what editorial support the publisher will give you, how much marketing they will do – and how much they will expect you to do – and how well they are likely to do with it based on previous books. The offer may be for multiple books – such as a ‘three book deal’ – tying you into that publisher for years. Your agent can advise on the pros and cons and make recommendations.

What do I get paid?

Publishing advances vary wildly. Big advances are the exception, and it’s not easy to earn a living as a full-time writer. You might get anything from low four figures for a niche publication with a small publisher, or up to six figures from a big publisher who thinks your book has major commercial potential.
Remember that an advance is literally an advance on royalties. It is an advance payment against money that your book will subsequently (hopefully) earn in the future once you get published. You will get a royalty statement from your publisher once or twice a year, which your agent can help you understand. Only when your royalty account has earned out your advance will you earn additional income from royalties. If your book doesn’t recoup the advance, it is usually not refundable, so long as you have met your contractual obligations.
Royalties are set at a percentage (e.g. 10%) of either:
§ Net receipts – the net income the publisher receives from booksellers, who but their stock at a discount
§ Published price – a percentage of the retail price of the book.
Net receipts is far more common these days, especially given today’s high bookseller discounts. A bookseller discount might be set at 35% for a small independent bookshop, up to 60%, 70% or more for a big chain, supermarket or online retailer. Each is the subject of a negotiation between publisher and bookseller.

When do I get paid?

Your payments will usually be staged. You’re likely to get something on signature of the contract with the publisher, something on delivery and acceptance of your final manuscript, and something on publication. And that might apply to three books. So if a publisher offers you an advance of £100,000 for three books, don’t expect it all at once: it might be split into nine payments!
See also:

If you want to get published, get educated!

If you want to get published, it pays to learn not only about the craft of writing, but as much as you can about the pubishing industry. Arm yourself with knowledge. Read blogs, read books, listen to podcasts, subscribe to trade magazines, go on courses or attend events. Maximise your opportunities to meet people who can further your career – whether they’re authors, agents or publishers.
Your hard work will pay off. Once it has, and you’ve landed your first publishing deal, enjoy the moment. As soon as your first book publishes, the pressure will be on to publish your next!
Find out more and meet authors, agents and publishers on our How to Get Published masterclass in London on 24th February 2018.
How to Get Published - 24 Feb 18, London

Publishing Talk: How to choose an agent – which of these 7 types is right for you?

Link to Publishing Talk

Posted: 27 Oct 2017 02:49 AM PDT
You choose an agent as much as an agent chooses you. But which one is right for you? Kirsty McLachlan looks at what different types of agent can offer.
How to Choose an Agent
5 minutes to read
You’ve written your book, spent months, possibly years writing it and you need to find an agent to represent it for you. An agent works for you – on your behalf – and the relationship should be a two-way street. As much as an agent chooses an author, so an author must choose an agent. As an agent, I’ve heard endless stories of mismatches, relationships that haven’t worked out and unhappy authors who simply feel ‘unloved’ by their agents. So how to choose an agent?
Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2018Firstly, research, research, and research. Spend time on this and you will ensure that the submission list you draw up will fit your book. There is no point sending your book to every agent in London. Get Writer’s Market (USA) or the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (UK). These will give you the address, website and crucial details of every agent. They are your first port of call, but you also need to investigate at a deeper level – look at the agents’ websites, look at the books they represent, try and hear them talk at events and festivals – and get a sense of who they really are.
Subscribe to The Bookseller magazine, which will keep you up to date with deals and movements of agents. The industry is always in flux – agents move to different agencies and agencies are being bought by other agencies etc – so you need to be on top of the industry news.
Getting an agent is like playing the dating game: you need to work out exactly who would be right for you and your writing. I’ve identified seven types of agents – there are others (and some combine some or more of these ‘types’) – but it will help you to work out exactly the ‘sort’ of agent you want:

1. The young and hungry agent (YAHA)

The YAHA is always on the lookout for books, they have small lists but are building them so you won’t get ‘sorry, I’m not taking on clients at the moment’ rejection letters from them. They are out there and busy in the publishing world – speaking at festivals, events and literary evenings. The YAHA is on Twitter and whirling around the social media networks, chatting to authors and to other YAHAs. Any authors they take on will be given lots of attention and they are always thinking long term. YAHAs are in touch with all that is new – they are the ‘new kids on the block’ but the better for it.

2. The more established agent (MEA)

The MEAs have been around since the days of long lunches and deals on napkins. They know how to make a deal in five minutes, on the street, and made with a handshake. They have Power – their authors have all written five books at least and sold in high figures. The MEA isn’t really looking to add to their list. They have genuine friendships with publishers and can actually get an editor on the phone – a rare thing these days. When they submit a debut, it makes an impact, it becomes a MEA book and editors sit up and take note. On the down side, MEAs have assistants, secretaries and rights people, all who stop you getting to the agent in question.

3. The ‘can do’ agent (CDA)

The ‘can do’ agent, or the ‘360 degree agent’, can quite simply do stuff for you. They are working on all levels and can see the bigger picture, of which your book is just one part. So they can sell foreign rights, US rights, Film/TV, stage, can arrange speaking engagements and newspaper columns. With publishing deals getting smaller, CDAs make their commission from other streams of income. CDAs are sometimes called the New Model Agent. As income from books shrink it is worth keeping your eye on these.

4. The corporate agent (CA)

The CA works within a pack of agents. A pack can be more powerful that a sole trader (below). They work as a team within the pack and have lots of support. The CA recognizes that publishing is a business and can be run as one. A good CA runs a tight ship, efficient and slick. They have nice offices. A bad CA is a dinosaur and gathers other dinosaurs around them – they move slowly and hold onto the mast as the ship slowly goes down.

5. The sole trader agent (STA)

There are many STAs in the agency world. It’s knowing who to choose – and who not to. Their lists are generally small, they have the ability to be nimble and change according to changes in the industry. Often STAs are expanding their lists steadily – they take on few writers but they really feel passionate about their list. They don’t have any support but can multitask – you will always get them on the phone and face-to-face meetings are a given.

6. The nurturer agent (NA)

Nurturers are wonderful if you want lots of input in your book. They can edit (they have often been readers or editors in a publishing house) and will go through your book line by line. Do you want that sort of input and care and attention? Editors are demanding manuscripts to be as polished as possible now so nurturers are coming in their own. They can ensure a proposal is brilliant and that novels really work – even if it takes four or five drafts to do so. NAs have small lists and spend a lot of time on each client.

7. The deal-maker agent (DMA)

DMAs are frighteningly prolific with their deal making. These are the agents who appear again and again in The Bookseller listing their deals done that week. They speak of high six-figure deals and move with the kind of speed of a jaguar on course for their prey. Publishers are naturally wary of DMAs but can’t leave them alone. Be afraid: be very afraid. If you want your book sold – and for lots of money – these are the ones to go to. Don’t expect lots of cosy phone calls, coffees or one-to-ones though.

Choose an agent that’s right for you

Draw up a wish list. What do you want your agent to do for you? Do you want lots of editorial input or do you want someone who will really make the high level deals? Do you want to work with a sole trader or within part of a bigger organization? Be focused with your submissions and they might just hit the right spot.
Publishing Talk issue 3 - NaNoWriMoThis article first appeared in our NaNoWriMo-themed issue 3 of Publishing Talk Magazine – also available as a Kindle edition.


Publishing Talk: NaNoWriMo – The Haynes Manual

Link to Publishing Talk

Posted: 17 Oct 2017 12:05 PM PDT
Elizabeth Haynes tells Danuta Kean how she researches her bestselling crime novels – and how NaNoWriMo helps her write.
NaNoWriMo - The Haynes Manual
Publishing Talk issue 3 - NaNoWriMoThis interview first appeared in our NaNoWriMo-themed issue 3 of Publishing Talk Magazine (Nov-Dec 2012) – also available as a Kindle edition.
It may be a cliché, but bestselling writer Elizabeth Haynes doesn’t care: she has bought a writing shed. The bestselling author of Into the Darkest Corner and Revenge of the Tides wanted a shed after seeing one owned by fellow crime writer Julia Crouch. ‘I saw it and thought: I’m having one of them,’ she says pointing through a sunlit sitting room window to the part of the garden where it will be.
Haynes and Crouch, however, have more than sheds in common: both are successful graduates of National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo to the cognoscenti – and used the internet-based 30-day writing challenge to write novels that have gone on to be bestsellers.
I wrote my first full-length book thanks to NaNoWriMo.
‘I wrote my first full-length book thanks to NaNoWriMo,’ Haynes explains over tea and cake – for me, not her, she’s on Lighter Life, she says. We are in the sitting room of her modern semi in rural north Kent. It feels cosy and familiar, very different to the dark, vicious world of her imagination. The only hint of that is a long bookshelf along one wall, which is crammed with crime novels, many with broken and bruised spines.
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth HaynesShe started using NaNoWriMo in 2005 and completed two manuscripts before hitting pay dirt with Into The Darkest Corner (Myriad Editions), her 2011 bestselling début. The writing challenge enabled her to make the leap from short fiction to something more sustained. ‘I think with our busy lives it’s easy to see writing as a self-indulgent hobby; with careers, families and other demands on our time it’s hard to justify spending time writing just for fun. NaNoWriMo gives you a reason to do just that,’ she explains of why she used it.
As with her unpublished NaNoWriMo novels, Into The Darkest Corner began with the germ of an idea and a couple of ‘nebulous’ characters. ‘I’m very careful not to over-think the plot before I start.’ In this case the idea was domestic abuse. She sounds surprised as she recalls: ‘I thought there is a possibility that I could do something with this as I had a beginning, middle and end that I liked.’
It’s hard to justify spending time writing just for fun. NaNoWriMo gives you a reason to do just that.
And what a beginning! A blood-spattered scene sees a woman bludgeoned to death in a ditch. From there Haynes unfolds the story of Catherine, whose meticulous planning had enabled her to escape an abusive relationship. But a phone call reveals her suffering is not behind her. What follows is a plot that twists into a gripping and believable climax that works as genre crime thriller and, thanks to its intelligent portrayal of domestic violence, book group staple.
Given its success, it may be surprising that a multi-million pound imprint wasn’t behind it. Instead it was in the vanguard of a new fiction list from tiny Brighton-based independent Myriad Editions. As a result it was not supported by the advertising clout usually associated with bestselling crime débuts. It didn’t matter: readers loved it, quickly loading it with five star reviews on Amazon UK. Within a short time the book had received over 600 reviews, almost 500 of which awarded five stars – it has now reached 700 out of 900. Amazon recognized its quality by naming it the 2011 Book of the Year.
Key to the novel’s success, says blogger and book prize judge Rhian Davies, is Haynes’s voice. ‘I think her distinct and unique appeal lies in her voice,’ Davies explains. ‘It’s like having your best friend sitting next to you telling you a story.’ Victoria Blunden, Haynes’s editor at Myriad, agrees the author’s knack for creating sympathetic female leads is at the heart of her success. ‘Elizabeth has a knack for creating strong female characters that the reader cares about, and building tension so that the pages turn themselves.’
Originally sent the manuscript with a view to providing feedback, Blunden recalls that even at early draft stage it was obvious the book had potential: ‘The pace of Elizabeth’s storytelling, and the way she’d used the structure of the book to fuel the drama, were completely captivating, and she’d handled her subject matter – the terrifyingly real depiction of an abusive relationship and the attempt to live with the aftermath of trauma – with real sensitivity.’
I explore the characters and unravel the plot by re-writing, rather than planning it out in the first place.
The quality of this early draft reflects what Haynes sees as both the strengths and weaknesses of NaNoWriMo. While writing is quick, she finds the editing process ‘tortuous’. ‘I know of several non-NaNoWriMo authors who complete manuscripts slowly, over a year or more, and then only need to do maybe two drafts with some copy editing to finish off.’ Not so Haynes. ‘I end up writing several drafts, each time exploring the story further – and this takes about a year. I explore the characters and unravel the plot by re-writing, rather than planning it out in the first place.’
The strength of the ‘get it on the page at any cost’ approach is that you relinquish editorial control, letting the words flow in order to meet the daily target. Summing up a struggle faced by most writers – including this one – she adds: ‘Before I tried NaNoWriMo, all my attempts at writing were brief because sooner or later it would feel pointless or I would run out of steam.’
I find the best ideas come to me when I’m writing fast.
NaNoWriMo liberates Haynes, enabling her to write from her Id, unhindered by self-criticism. ‘I find the best ideas come to me when I’m writing fast and don’t have time to say “that’s silly” or “that won’t work” – I just do it, knowing that if it falls flat, I can take things in a different direction when I’m editing.’ She adds: ‘By sacrificing quality over quantity – after all, it’s only about the word count – your creativity is liberated and you write without worrying about anything else.’
Risk-taking with plot is not the only beneficiary from this unfettered method of writing a first draft. Haynes is adamant her leads have strong voices because she does not ‘over-think’ her characters at this stage. ‘It takes a few days or a week of writing for things to gain momentum, and then I find the voices of the people I’ve created become clearer. That’s when it really gets exciting.’
Revenge of the Tide - by Elizabeth HaynesI suspect her continued use of NaNoWriMo is also about not over-thinking the reception of each new book now she is tied into a five-book deal with Sphere. She admits as much when she tells me using the site for Revenge of the Tide, her second published novel, was ‘very different’. The greatest pressure with the book came during editing. By then her début was accelerating up the charts. ‘I suddenly realized that I had an awful lot to live up to,’ she recalls, pulling a face of mock fear, followed by a warm smile.
The novel, though different in character to her début, retains her trademark believable female lead, flawed in character and judgment. ‘I was anxious to make Genevieve quite different to Catherine,’ she says of Tide’s narrator. That is an understatement: Genevieve supplements her wages from a job in marketing by working weekends as a pole dancer. A less than reliable narrator, she is all ambition and no insight, which means the story unfolds at a seductive pace as she becomes enmeshed in a world that operates on the fringes of criminality and exploitation.
For Genevieve money is everything, it buys her the life she desires (in this case one refurbishing a barge on which she can live without ties). Haynes subtly creates a character more complex than might be expected in a genre thriller, one who is fearless, but also remarkably naive – she goes from selling financial products to selling her body with the blithe rapaciousness of a reality show contestant who disrobes for Nuts. As Genevieve narrates, it is easy to believe the ethical creep that leads her from a bit of a laugh on a Friday night to consorting with gangland figures better avoided.
For both books, Haynes drew on her experience as a police analyst for Kent Constabulary. The day job involves analyzing crime patterns. Finding links – geographical and temporal – and patterns of crime helps detectives crack cases and commanders direct resources. It also provides her with an intimate knowledge of crime, though she emphasizes her novels are fiction.
‘It’s more subtle than that,’ she says of how the job helps her write. Into the Darkest Corner was inspired by reports of domestic abuse she read for work. ‘I was very struck by how I had probably had a stereotype of the kind of woman or couple who would be involved in domestic abuse. I had that perception thrown out of the water. There are lots of reasons why women and men stay in abusive relationships. They are not always the most obvious ones.’ It is a neat summary of what happens to Catherine.
I still have to pinch myself that I am writing and published and have five books that I can write.
With Revenge of the Tides she used her understanding of organized crime. The actuality of the novel came from first hand research of pole dancing, including a weekly class. ‘The warm up nearly killed me.’ We are both laughing: I’m trying to imagine Haynes – more WI than Spearmint Rhino – writhing round a pole.
She also met women who worked in the industry. An active listener, she quickly recognized the disconnect between the excuses women use for taking the job – to pay university fees or buy homes – and their inability to escape it once they have bought their dream. ‘It’s very difficult to give up that kind of money, even if they don’t want to go back to it.’ There is a note of sadness in her voice: not judgment, but sympathy for freedom compromised by money. ‘To leave and feel sad about going back means there has to be an element in your mind that says this is not a career choice.’
Haynes has been luckier. Next February Myriad publishes her third novel, Human Remains, written during NaNoWriMo 2011. It will be, she promises, ‘really grim and dark’. ‘It is another standalone, but all three fit together nicely as psychological thrillers.’ After that she is tied into a five novel deal with Sphere in the UK and HarperCollins in the US.
The first of the series is a reworking of her second NaNoWriMo novel, and sounds experimental in a good way. ‘I intend to use an awful lot of source text: witness statements; forensic reports; emails. The idea is that the reader has the same access to source documents that the investigators have and can solve it along with them.’ She pauses when I ask how it feels to be one of NaNoWriMo’s most successful graduates? ‘I still have to pinch myself that I am writing and published and have five books that I can write,’ she replies. ‘I mean where can it go from there? It’s amazing.’

Elizabeth Haynes’s Guide to NaNoWriMo

§ NaNoWriMo gives you the ultimate deadline pressure
§ It is a tremendous motivational boost by writing alongside hundreds of thousands of other people, all around the world, with an element of competition as well as support
§ It has motivational tools there to keep you going – discussion boards which allow you to pose plot problems, ask research questions (someone out there is bound to be an expert in whichever random situation your character has found herself)
§ Participants organise impromptu ‘sprints’ through social media in which you write for an agreed period of time, say 10 minutes, and then compare word counts
§ It’s great for meeting other writers in your local area. I now have some great writing friends I can meet with all year round
§ It’s fun writing at speed, allowing your characters to do unexpected things and setting yourself seemingly impossible writing challenges
§ If you’ve ever had the urge to write a novel, but never had the time; or if you thought it was pointless doing it because the likelihood of publication is so small, then NaNoWriMo is for you.
Never Alone by Elizabeth HaynesUPDATE: Elizabeth Haynes’s latest book Never Alone is out now.
Publishing Talk issue 3 - NaNoWriMoFind more NaNoWriMo advice in issue 3 of Publishing Talk Magazine.

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