Well, it turns out that thriller author Barry Eisler has some exciting news! No, he’s not coming out as a warlock. And no, it has nothing to do with chloroform, or use of the phrase “I can explain this…” He is, however, WINNING. (That joke may never get old.)
Barry’s gone rogue (sorry, Palin). Sort of. He turned down an offer of $500,000 in order to self-publish. Or indie-publish, as the case may be. This was revealed, quite cleverly, on his blog The Heart of the Matter. Joe Konrath and Barry share a dialogue about the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. using a legacy house. The article, which was via live Google chat originally, details the factors that lead to Barry’s decision.
Personally, I think that this is a very exciting opportunity for Barry. I think it opens up a whole set of opportunity. For one thing, he’ll have complete control over his marketing. It’s no surprise that he’s good at that aspect of the publishing business, since he’s been doing it for years now (via his blog, his Twitter, his facebook, and at one point, his myspace page). Toss in there a slew of appearances, guest blog posts, interviews and the kitchen sink – and Barry’s rather adept at reaching out to his fans, his audience, and people who are potential readers. His perfect hair doesn’t hurt matters, either.
So, there you have, folks. Barry Eisler’s self-publishing. What say you?
(Note: This is a repost, and this was originally written about a year ago — but it was never posted on WordPress. This advice is not set in stone. It’s just my personal thoughts, through trial and error.)
Agents are like fairy godmothers: they help you get where you want to go. They’re supportive and nurturing of your dreams, and they want you to land that ultimate dream: a weekend alone with Johnny Depp. Er, no. That’s the wrong dream. (A good one, though.) No, the ultimate dream is a book deal. *cue a rousing chorus of Angels*
Now, agents just don’t fall out of the sky. At least, I hope not. If it’s really raining men, something is greatly amiss. Sometimes, someone gets lucky enough to have a few connections, and you can secure an agent that way. Honestly, connections aren’t everything. Knowing someone gets your foot in the door (someone will read your novel, or part of it), but that doesn’t guarantee admittance. Ideally, you’d like to have all your limbs inside. It’s not an easy process. But what worthwhile thing is easy? That’s right: nothing.
The first step is easy: figure out what kind of book you’ve written. Is it a mystery novel? A non-fiction book? Fantasy? (It’s NEVER a fiction novel. EVER.) Once you’ve determined that, the work begins.
You have to find agents who handle your specific type of book. This is kind of a daunting task, and your first worry is going to be where to look. (Again, this stuff doesn’t fall out of the sky.) The Yellowpages just won’t cut it. So, here three things that are helpful:
• Agentquery.com This is an excellent database with a fairly large list of agents. One caveat: after you do a search, the system will time you out after a relatively short length of time. Then it’s do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly back to the search query page. Pay attention to the page number that you’re on, so that you can just click back to it. Also, sometimes, their information is a bit out of date. Bear that in mind.
• Publishersmarketplace.com This is also a good, and reliable, database. Click ‘search members’ if you are looking for information on a specific agent. Click ‘browse members’ to look through a list of agents.
• Agent’s blogs. These are very, very helpful. And often amusing. You can find some on the menu bar to the right.
Next up, it’s list time! Yes, it’s not just for groceries, anymore. You’re going to need to start a spreadsheet. Not only will this help you keep all your information safe (trust me, if you write it in a notebook, you will lose it or destroy it; it will just skip off into the Land of the Doldrums, never to be seen again), organized, and in one place. But best of all? It will be searchable, which is definitely helpful when it’s three in the morning and you can’t remember who you queried at what agency…and you’re starting to forget your own name. Not that I know anything about that…*whistles innocently* Include a column for the agent’s name and contact info (I also include their submission requirements in that column), the date sent, the type of response expected (email, snail mail), the waiting period given (if any; I loathe that option, but it happens), and a column for the resulting response. Here’s an example:
After you compile a list (usually, I do these ten at a time), you’re going to want to visit the website of the agency each agent works for. Why? Double-checking. In real estate, their mantra is usually location, location, location. Yours has now become preparation, preparation, preparation. Savvy?
When checking your info, make sure that the mailing information you have is accurate. Otherwise, the Universe will eat your query letter faster than Chunk will scarf down a Baby Ruth. Next up is to confirm their submission requirements. Some agencies have standard submissions guidelines, but there are many instances where each agent has different preferences. Make sure you’ve got your facts straight, and if there’s a discrepancy between the agent’s website and what you found at agentquery.com, go with the agent’s website. However, there’s an exception to this rule. (Isn’t there always?) Let’s say that an agency only gives standard guidelines for the entire organization (“To query one of our agents, please…” or “All queries should be…”). You might be able to find a specific agent’s preferences on Publishers Marketplace. If that happens, follow the instructions give there. (Are you dizzy yet? Because I learned this the hard way, people.)
If you can, jot down a blurb about the specific agent. Some agents say something like, “I’m looking for a novel that can make me laugh until milk comes out of my nose!” (Ew. I know.) When it comes time to write, or tinker with, your query letter, that will be helpful. You could then say something like, “Given your affinity for novels that make you laugh until milk comes out of your nose, I think you’d be a perfect fit for [insert title here].” This says several things to the agent: 1) you’ve done your homework (Good for you! Gold star!), 2) you aren’t sending out the same carbon copy of your query, and 3) you are willing to go that extra mile. [Note: I’ve read a few things, recently, that state some agents don’t like stuff like that. So, when in doubt – TALK ABOUT YOUR BOOK. Skip the fancy stuff.]
Never query, or sign with, an agent who wants money up front. Otherwise, he or she will eventually try to sell you Manhattan. That’s just not reputable, and whoever they are, they’re out to scam you.
Barring personal connections or recommendations, there’s another great way to find an agent: Google. Do you know the name of your favorite author’s agent? Google it. See what kind of books they handle. Check the introduction, forward, or author blurb in a book. There’s a good chance that a writer will thank his/her agent. Bingo! Score. You’ve got a name. Hopefully by now you know what to do with it. And if you said ‘shove it up your ass,’ you’re wrong. But snarky. I like snarky.
For the most part, the days of a writer working directly with a publisher are gone. And, really, it’s often to an author’s benefit. Agents know things that you do not know. They want you to succeed, so that they can succeed. They love what they do, and they love books just as much as you do. You want an agent who is just as excited about your book as you are. You want an agent who can spell your name right. You want an agent who will go to bat for you and because of you. And, yes, you want someone who can make things happen.
That agent—whoever he or she may be—is your fairy godmother/godfather. If you stick with it, you’ll find one who will make you an offer you can’t refuse. (Hopefully, one that doesn’t involve a severed horse head.)
As always, stay away from Mooby’s (I here Loki’s on kind of a rampage), remember that screws fall out all over the world, that is how they measure pants (in PRISON), and Empire Records is open until midnight.
There are conversations I don’t like having. These conversations usually begin with an innocuous seeming question. This is merely a clever disguise for a lightning sand conversation, which then brings the burst of fireswamp fire, and if luck is not with me, the ROUSs.
Things like, “Are you seeing anyone special?” or “What do you do?” or “Why aren’t you married yet?”
These things are the Gateway to Awkward. But the “What do you do?” is a flaming hoop that bounces, and I usually try and jump through it as quickly as possible – the conversational equivalent of, “Chug it! Chug it!” Hold your nose, and swallow the medicine. As fast as you can. There is no sugar for it.
“I’m a writer.” [blank, or possibly curious look] Then I’m usually asked, “What have you published?”
At this point, I try and hide. Or I pretend to choke. Or I mutter. Or I just talk very fast in the (vain) hope no one will understand me – and no follow up questions will be asked. (This rarely works.)
I’ve had a few poems published. A couple of articles. I’ve written two books. None of my short stories have seen the light of day, yet. I’m shopping the second book around, and I’m still vaguely hopeful about it. Because I like the story. I had fun writing it. And I think the characters are interesting.
But will it sell? I don’t know. That is not, however, the current point.
As a writer, I often walk around feeling vaguely fraudulent. Like I have adopted a clever disguise, and I’m playacting. When I tell someone that I haven’t published a novel (yet), I usually get asked, “Why not?” as if agents and publishing contracts are something you order from a catalogue or off of the television.
“I’m in the process of looking for an agent” is often met with, “Weren’t you doing that last year?”
Er, um. Yes? But here’s the thing: I haven’t found one, yet. It can be about as difficult as finding a job in this bloody effin’ mess of an economy – which, by the way, affects everything, from agents to book-buyers.
Being a writer takes time and talent – and I have at least one of those things. (Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be here all week.) It has never once occurred to me to give up, which either means I have tenacity, faith in myself, or I am incredibly stubborn. (Possibly a mixture of all three, but I won’t tell you the proportions for that particular cocktail.)
I am, however, lucky in a lot of respects. I have family and friends who believe in me, even when they suspect I might be crazy. There are people in my corner, so I’m less likely to pull a Hemingway every time I get a rejection notice. (If I can find it, I NEED to share with you the worst rejection I ever received, with the name redacted of course. It was traumatic and childish all at once.)
I’m also lucky that I have people in the writing world that I consider friends. People who have been through the trials, tribulations, and trenches – and have emerged victorious. (No name dropping, but you all know who you are. One of you has purple streaks in her hair. Another has fabulous taste in clothing and shoes. And I owe another a long-deserved drink.) This means if I start to panic, or I’m worried about something, I can ask a question. And I do.
There is a sense of camaraderie. (This is the very first time I’ve been able to spell that word correctly, EVER.) There is a sense of, “I’ve been there. I know what you mean.” I’ve also been at this a while that I know a few things, so I can advise others (minimally, in my opinion, but still).
So, I’ll deal with the awkward silences. They’re par for the course. A right of passage, I suppose. Until I can point to my novel, and go – Look, Ma! Top of the world!
Well, that might not be exactly the words I’d use, but still. Without the awkward silences, how could one appreciate the (future) thunderous applause? Or, in more realistic terms, without the error, I can’t learn. Without the difficulties, I would not appreciate the eventual wins. Let’s face it – if everything came easy, and everyone got exactly what he/she wanted without having to work for it, what fun would that be? It would be boring. And we’d all be very bored.
Plus, every writer I know does not write because it is his/her job. He/she does it because of love. Because it’s like breathing. It’s necessary for life. The same goes for every other artist. A painter paints. A sculptor sculpts. A photographer photographs.
We see what we see. And we want you to see it too.
- “Why haven’t you published your novel, yet?” (Pause) “Why not? Can’t you just find a publisher?” Yes, yes, I can. I don’t know why I’m dragging my feet. Perhaps it’s because I’m too busy chasing after a leprechaun and his magic pot of gold. Or I’m lazy.
- “Why haven’t you found an agent yet?” Wait, the agent’s LOST? Damn, here I was thinking I needed to query agents. Apparently, I just need to submit a missing person’s report. Who knew?
- “You know, I want to write a novel. I have all these great ideas. I just never have the time.” Because time grows on trees. It’s not something you make, right? And, you know, IDEAS are enough to make something happen.
- “Why isn’t your poetry easy to understand?” Why is your baby ugly? Seriously, what kind of question IS that? Sometimes, unfortunately for you, you have to think. Meaning isn’t dropped on your head from a four-story window. If anything, that’s a piano—in which case, RUN!
- “Hey, if you’re famous someday, will you help me prompt my novel/screenplay/slam poetry?” Yes, if I’m famous that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to do – focus on YOU. That’ll be my sole purpose in life.
- “Why don’t you write a book about [insert trend here]?” Gee, I don’t know. Why don’t you, if it’s that easy? It’s not like I need to have a story idea or a plot or anything. I can just sit down and write out the next blockbuster hit about wizards who are also vampires, learning spells at an academy in Narnia. Of course, they aren’t your run-of-the-mill vampires – they’re vampires who like DISCO! Or I could write a bestseller about werewolves locked in an epic battle with zombies, who are busy trying to fend off the Bennett sisters.
- “Would you look at my novel/screenplay/short story?” No, no, no. A world of no. What would I then do if your writing, well, sucked? Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Now, if you want me to proofread something, I could be persuaded, but there’s a small fee involved. It usually includes COFFEE.
- “Isn’t writing easy?” Just go away before I smite you. That’s like asking a lawyer if law school is a walk in the park. The short answer is NO. The long answer involves me verbally stringing you up and letting a pack of wild word-dogs ravage you for your insulting supposition.
- “Can I read your manuscript?” Sure. As soon as you give me a publishing contract. In other words, no. Unless I ask for your advice, I don’t want you to read it. I’m most likely filled with abject terror that it sucks – and that the literary community will mock it for years to come. I will not share it with you, my mail person, or the guy I bump into at the coffee shop. I CAN’T HANDLE THE PRESSURE. *ahem*
- “Hey, did [insert thing that happened in novel/short story] this happen to you?” Unless it’s an autobiography, NO. Fiction. Creative writing. I am not writing my life story, yet. When I do, though, it is going to be EPIC. Or, at the very least, I can get back at that one kid was made my life HELL in grade school. I mean…*sheepish look*
- “Why do you write?” Gee, I don’t know. Why do you ask odd questions?
- “You don’t need to finish the novel before you query. Just have a really good first chapter, right? I mean, that’s all agents look at.” Exactly. Good advice. It’s a bad idea to have a finished project before asking people to put their name behind it. And agents really don’t want to read the full manuscript. That’s just SILLY. Thank you for being an expert on all things literary.