Firing Squad Interview

Another quick interview at Firing Squad. A mix of questions about HALO and GEARS.

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How to Find a Literary Agent

First, if you’re writing a novel, you have to finish it before you look for an agent. The only time this is not true is if you’re already a published author or someone famous. Then you might attract the attention of an agent with a mere idea or an outline.

So many new authors get fixated on finding an agent that they spend a way too much time and energy NOT working on their writing. One of the greatest gifts I ever received was when I wrote my first novel. I knew nothing about the business of writing…and I was able to write in a blissful vacuum of ignorance.

Okay, so you have a finished novel. And it’s great. Now what?

You’ll have to make contact with an agent.

Let me pause to remind you to always be professional and polite in demeanor and presentation. Go over all correspondence for typos and grammatical errors. Never appear desperate. Never display psycho or stalker tendencies (even in jest).

Next realize that while editors have come to rely on agents to sort through less desirable submissions for them; agents now have huge “slush piles” of their own to wade through. So waiting weeks or months to hear from any agent is normal.

There are three basic ways to make contact

Meet them. Many conventions and workshops often have agents on panels or in “meet and greet” sessions. I’m lukewarm on this method. Unless you’re good with people you might make the wrong impression. A great pitch of your novel (you have practiced your one-sentence novel pitch, right?) can, however, overcome minor social fumbles. I know several authors who have met their agents this way.

Write them. Get a copy of this years Guide to Literary Agents and make a list of the agents who represent the type of novel you’ve written. Follow their submission guidelines EXACTLY. This is how I found my first agent. It is not ideal way as your submissions are mixed in the with the rest of the “slush,” and you are treated accordingly. It can be a heartbreaking process as you get one form rejection after another. (I actually got one of my SASEs back, empty, save for a red rubber stamped “NO” on the back! Ouch. )

Get a recommendation. Two ways to do this. First, develop a network of contacts—for example, get a job in the entertainment industry (video games, movies, publishing, comics) and soon you’ll get to know people who know people and can introduce you to an agent. Or alternatively, find a mentor who can eventually pass you along to their agent with a glowing recommendation. These are BEST ways in my opinion.

How do you find a mentor? There are many classes and workshops where you can get help with your writing, and meet authors and other publishing professionals. They usually cost a fair chunk of change and time, so do your homework on a particular workshop’s reputation and what kind of fit it will be for your writing. Some of the more famous ones for science fiction and fantasy are: Clarion West, Clarion East, Odyssey.

One last thing: none of this works unless you have something to attract the agent’s attention i.e. a great novel. I urge you to spend 95% of your energies on that.

Good luck!

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A Quickie Interview

At Dead Man’s Hand.

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Yes, You Do Need an Agent

I’ve received a few emails asking me about Literary Agents, if you need them, how to get one, and how to get a good one. Let me start with the first question.

A billion years ago the novel publishing industry was much different than it is today: acquiring editors would look unsolicited manuscripts mailed to their office, hoping to find the next Great Gatsby.

Sadly, those days are long gone. Today’s editors spend their time in sales meetings, answering hundreds of emails, and promoting/defending their novels though a Byzantine corporate structure. They barely have the time to edit the books already under contact (which they usual do when they go home at night).

Complicating this is the advent of word processors and laser printers which have enabled everyone who wants to write a novel and send it to every editor on the planet to do just that. A typical editor might get dozens of unsolicited novel manuscripts a day (thousands a year!).

There is simply no way an editor has time to go through these manuscripts (what is affectionately called the “slush pile”) nor is it cost effective to hire staff to do so, because 99% of such submissions are not good enough to publish.

As a result, editors now depend on literary agents to find promising novel manuscripts. Such agents have a motivated self interest to send in only the best material. Selling blockbuster hits and award-winning prose will line their pockets and boost their reputation. An agent that does not do this soon finds their manuscripts unread and calls unanswered.

The literary agent has become such an integral part of the novel publishing business that most publishers no longer look at unsolicited/unagented material.

Next: we’ll take a look at how to find an agent.

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Signing at the U Bookstore

Authors Bill Dietz, Syne Mitchell, and myself will be talking and signing at the University of Washington Bookstore this Thursday evening at 7 PM for Elemental: The Tsunami Relief Anthology: Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

It’s s a good cause. Come out and at say hi and get your old Dietz/Mitchell/Nylund books inscribed.

I’m not going to read my story in this anthology; that would be redundant since you can download that…but I might read something interesting if I can get permission.

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