Category Archives: Agents

DON’T leave your MSS moldering in a drawer…

Recently, I attended the Fall meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Book Publisher’s Association (MBPA), a regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publisher’s Association (IBPA). The whole day was devoted to discussing e-books.

The industry continues to change at breakneck speed. When I mentioned at the beginning of this year that I was still seeking representation, an online acquaintance dismissed that with the comment that is was “so 2010”. On the other side, I once heard a well-known New York agent say, when asked about self-publishing, that she wasn’t interested in stuff that had already been published. That was in December 2010. Now, it is November 2011, and my colleagues at the MBPA were sharing stories of how agents are actively pursuing some of us who have self-published. Why? Because if we can demonstrate that we can sell our books, they become very interested.

Similar changes are taking place at Publisher’s Weekly, which is now giving self-published authors an opportunity to present their titles to the publishing trade, in recognition of the fact that  valuable works are being published outside traditional publishing. PW has launched a new program called PW Select, a quarterly supplement that presents self-published books to PW’s trade audience. Authors are required to pay a processing fee of $149. The carrot is that if PW really likes your work, they’ll do a full review of it in this supplement. A lucky few from among the listed titles will be selected for an interview and given an opportunity to pitch their book.

To read more, click here.

The moral of this story? Don’t leave your MSS moldering in a drawer. With determination, persistence and a great deal of work, self-publishing can be a venue to a publishing career.

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I get a free critique of the first 3 pages of SOMEONE

One of the benefits of signing up for a Writers Digest Webinar, is that you get a bonus after it has ended. The first webinar I took allowed us to send in either a query letter of the first 300 words of our manuscripts. This webinar, titled  HOW TO HOOK AN AGENT, offered to send the agent leading the webinar the first three pages of your novel-in-progress. Accordingly, I sent in the first 3 pages of my second novel, titled HE MUST BE SOMEONE.

Set in 1922, it is a coming-of-age story about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. When Dominick Rossi arrives at Georgetown University to study at the School for Foreign Services, he dreams of meeting his aunt and three half-sisters. But Rossi’s actions lead to an unexpected death, and a forced separation from the woman he loves.

To my great surprise, I received a reply from the agent about a day after I sent in my pages. She liked them, but she also told me something useful. She said that my style of writing led me to do too much telling, which had the effect of distancing the reader.  This helped me to understand what it was about my writing that the other agent “didn’t love”.

Next: I enter the Amazon novel context

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I get rejected by an agent and participate in another webinar

As I said in a recent post, I was awaiting a verdict from yet another agent on ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, who promised me she’d get back to me after holidays. I finally heard from her January 8. She passed. She told me that it wasn’t right for her because “she didn’t love the writing.”

If you are an unpublished novelist, you know how frustrating this is. There you are, working so hard on your art, faced with an agent who is demanding an exclusive. You give it to them, and honorably keep your side of the bargain so that no other agent sees it, while they take their sweet time. Then you get dismissed with a one-liner.

What did I do? I swallowed my bile, wrote to the agent, and thanked her. Then I signed up for another webinar given by Writers Digest. These webinars are not cheap (they cost $89), enough so that I nearly didn’t sign up. But I was very pleased with the quality of the first one, so I decided to sign up for this one, entitled HOW TO HOOK AN AGENT WITH YOUR FIRST PAGES. The speaker was a newish agent who was actively seeking new work. Here are 4 tips that I thought were important:

  1. Be careful with the quality of writing in your query letter, because the agent will take it as an accurate representation of the quality of writing in your novel.
  2. Prologues are a real turnoff, so don’t do one unless you have a very good reason for it.
  3. Readers hate data dumps, so when introducing your characters, go lightly on descriptions. Instead, focus on their thoughts and actions.
  4. Perhaps the most important, if you’re having trouble getting your novel off the ground, write down what the inciting incident is and start over. What is an inciting incident? In ONE SEED it’s Cecily’s betrothal to Richard, Duke of York. In SOMEONE it is Mr. Rossi’s moving to Georgetown to study at Georgetown University. In THE HEIR it is when Count von Lietzow hears that Grace has moved back to Berlin. You get the idea.

To find out more about Writers Digest webinars, click here.

Next: I get a free critique of the first 3 pages of SOMEONE.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I get a FREE critique of the first 300 words of ONE SEED

As I said in my last post, I recently participated in a webinar given by a well-known agent, who has a reputation for looking after her authors. As part of the fee we paid, we were eligible to have this agent critique the first 300 words of our novels. So I sent in the very beginning of ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED.

To my delight, the agent responded within 2 days. Her response was that she wasn’t sure that my protagonist (Cecily Neville) was enough of a name to be able to sell books. On the other hand, she did have some interest as the mother of Richard III. What would make a difference for this agent was how good the writing was.

I would like this agent to represent my novel, but I’m taking her warning about the quality of the writing to heart. I’ve decided to explore some other avenues first before I submit it to her. Stay tuned.

Next: I get rejected by an agent and participate in another webinar.

Image: Castle Raby, near Durham England, where Cecily Neville spent part of her girlhood.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I participate in a webinar

As you know, I am seeking representation for my novel ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED. I’ve been sending it to agents, and haven’t had much luck, when I noticed that Writers Digest was giving a webinar about how to attract an agent, given by a widely-respected agent who has a reputation for looking after her authors.

So I decided to participate in this webinar to see if there was anything I could learn from it.  There were several things that the agent advised us all to do:

  1. Be yourself. Don’t do a hard sell, because unless you are very good at doing it, it will come across as a hard sell.
  2. Don’t talk about all the writing you did in a corporation, or as an academic, because that isn’t relevant. In your query letter you really want to focus on writing you have done that is relevant to the novel you are trying to pitch.
  3. It sounds obvious, but DON’T pitch an agent a novel that is exactly the same as one they have sold, because it will be competition for that novel. Instead, find an agent who has sold something that is similar, but that won’t compete.
  4. Try to get a feel of where your novel will sit on a bookshelf in a bookshop.
  5. Lastly, be prepared to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes time to sell your novel. You may have to hire a publicist. You definitely want to have a following. Agents will be asking you these questions, so if you are not comfortable marketing yourself, then find someone to help you.

Next: I get a free critique of my first 300 words.

Image: peaceatwork.org

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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I fix the MSS and send to another agent

As I mentioned in a recent post, I was extremely fortunate to find an agent who gave me valuable feedback. I read the 120 words she’d written carefully, and then spent a month fixing up the MSS. She told me she had problems relating to the main characters, because I’d written my novel in limited 3rd. So I thought about what I should do. Should I go through my 120,000-word MSS, and change it to first person? Should I write in present tense or past?

My novel is written in four books. The first book deals with Cecylee’s childhood, the second, her love-affair with the archer, the third about her husband’s political struggles with the King of England, and the fourth is about her life as an old woman. It seemed to me that each book demanded a different treatment.

Accordingly, I re-wrote the first book in first person present, to get that fresh voice suitable for young girls. I re-wrote the second book in first person past, to get a more adult voice. The third book, I kept in 3rd-person limited, because the complexity of the material demanded that the story be told from more than one point of view. For the fourth book, I re-wrote it in first-person past to convey a feel for the past, which is where most old people are. Then, for good measure, I added in more interior monologue.

After all that work, I sent it to another agent. I am awaiting her verdict as I type this. (She has promised to get back to me after the holidays).

Next: I do a photo-shoot for Cecylee

Image: penhero.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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I am referred to an agent

Getting into the Napa Valley Writers Conference was one of the best things that has happened to me. The workshop leader was kind enough to say that she thought my novel was ready to send out. Then she turned to me: “Do you have representation?”

At that precise moment, I was with the agent who didn’t want to sign a contract, but had offered to show it to a couple of editors.

“I’m not sure,” I replied. And then explained my situation. A few of my classmates nodded sympathetically (they had similar stories to tell). The workshop leader explained that sometimes relationships with agents could be murky, and it wasn’t always clear whether you had representation or not. This was news to me.

She took me aside later, and gave me the name of her agent. I didn’t hesitate. Within a week, I’d contacted the agent, telling her that I’d been referred by the workshop leader (a New York Times bestselling author).

The result was astonishing. The agent contacted me within a day, asking for a synopsis and the first 50 pages. Then I had to settle in for the inevitable wait. It was summer, and the agent was traveling.

I finally heard back from her 2 months after I’d sent the MSS. She told me that it didn’t click for her. However, she did spend the time to give me some feedback about what she thought wasn’t working. I am eternally grateful to her for taking the time to write me 120 important words.

NEXT: I fix up the MSS and send to another agent.

Image: wallpapers-diq.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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My MSS gets slammed

Somewhere in my journey to getting ONE SEED published, I decided to approach someone well-known, to ask for advice on my novel. She was kind enough to reply, making flattering remarks about my website, and telling me that there was enormous potential interest in my novel.

She asked to see the first couple of chapters.

The next day, she slammed me.

Of course it hurt, especially as she had built me up. But I am British and she is British, and I understand that criticism is dished out much more violently in Britain than it is over here.

I managed to take a deep breath and write a polite note asking her for specific details. She responded by telling me two important things: 1) modernize the language, and 2) wear the historical research lightly.

I gave myself about three months before I did anything to the MSS. Then I fixed it up per her instructions, and submitted it to Napa Valley Writers Conference. At the end of April, I was invited to come.

You have to be invited to Napa, you can’t just pay and show up. So I was thrilled to be asked to come, especially because I’d been turned down three years before.

The moral of this story? Yes, the feedback hurt. Yes, I think she was too savage in the way she treated me. On the other hand, I learned some valuable things that enabled me to get into Napa. So if you run into an unpleasant experience, take a deep breath and try to hear that nugget of information that you really need to hear.

Next: What I learned at Napa.

Image: 70filmopening09.blogspot.com

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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I almost get representation

After getting turned down by an agent at a top New York agency, another one almost immediately appeared. I dutifully sent in the MSS and hoped she wouldn’t take three months to give me an answer.

She didn’t. Instead, she said she’d like to represent me.

You can imagine how happy I was. “So,” I said to her over the telephone, “do you send me a contract?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t work like that. I’ll send it out to a couple of editors, and then if there’s some interest, I’ll represent you.”

I had attended many workshops with titles like How to Get Your Novel Published, and had never heard of an arrangement like this. But no-one else was beating down my door, so I agreed. At least, I told myself, you haven’t signed anything.

I heard nothing more for weeks. Finally, after some prodding, she admitted that she’d gotten no response from her friends in the editing business. But by that time, I’d attended the Napa Writers Conference, and found another agent.

Next: Getting Slammed, or How I got into Napa.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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