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Posts Tagged ‘Agents’

How to handle contracts …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on August 28, 2011

Unless you have a background in dealing with contracts, they can be  pretty daunting for writers. When my contract came through for my first trilogy it was 75 pages long, (25 pages for each book). Gaah. I was swamped. Luckily I had an agent and handed it over to him. Before this I’d been published with my children’s books and short stories and the contracts had been pretty straight forward.

I did have one experience where I signed a contract to deliver 6 children’s books, then the editor left the publishing house and the publisher reneged on the contract. In this case I contacted the Australian Society of Authors for advice. (This is where it pays to be a member of a professional body such as the ASA or your State Writers Centre. I’m a member of the Queensland Writers Centre. Here’s a list of their resources for writers).

The ASA was able to get me a ‘kill fee’ on the contract. Of course I would much rather have had the books to add to my CV, but the kill fee was certainly better than nothing.

As a member of the ASA you can take a look at their standard contracts. Non members can purchase these. There are also free how-to-guides for members, which can be purchased by non members. And while I’m talking about writers getting ahead the ASA offers several mentorships each year. This year’s mentorships are closed, but watch out for the program, when it opens. Working with a published author as you develop your book is a wonderful opportunity.

While we’re talking about opportunities there’s the QWC Allen & Unwin Development Program and the Hachette Manuscript Development Program. Both are closed for this year, but watch out for them next year. All of these are great ways to get your manuscript noticed by an editor, develop contacts and polish your writing.

Back to contracts, over on The Pitch University Blog  lawyer, Jeffrey V Mhalic, analyses a contract and shows you what to beware of. This is where having an agent is great because they have experience in this field. I have one multi-published author friend who uses Alex Adsett’s services. Alex has experience in publishing and contracts. She will go over the contract for you.

So, if you get a contract, don’t feel overwhelmed, you have options.

Posted in Agents, Contracts, Mentorships, Nourish the Writer, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

That dreaded Query Letter and Synopsis

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 23, 2011

We all have to write them, and I don’t know many authors who enjoy doing it. The query letter isn’t so bad, for me it is the synopsis that I dread. How do you write a synopsis for a 100,000 to 150,000 word fantasy novel without making it sound generic? When you reduce even the most inventive fantasy books to its bare bones, it sounds derivative.

Over on Donna Hanson’s blog, she talks about the good and the bad she’s seen in query letters and synopsis while reading for Angry Robot. On the topic of query letters, she says:

‘What made me lift an eyebrow and wonder was the A4 page of oversharing, unamusing attempts at humour, which make the writer sound wankerish, (just personal taste), saying that you have submitted 500,000 words, or 300,000 words or even 275,000 word manuscripts. These word counts are well in excess of the guidelines and did not give me a good impression at all.’

Donna says When writing a synopsis …

‘It helps not to clutter it up with sub-plots and minor characters. In my opinion, you need the central narrative of the story and those bits that impact on it and not every single detail. Angry Robot asked for character lists. I remember rolling my eyes when someone would say there are hundreds of characters but here is the first twenty or so. Yep I’d head straight to the MS tail between my legs.’

As a writing tool/exercise for myself I like to write a one page character bio for my main characters (usually the PoV characters). It covers their back-story, strengths and weaknesses and I also include a description of their character arc. I know what they want when the story starts, and what they need to achieve to reach their potential during the course of the book.  I’ve found, not only does this help me when I write the book, but I can use an updated version of these character bios when I come to story background for the series on my blog (see Outcast Chronicles).

For a few tips on writing  synopsis see this ROR post, based on what I’ve gleaned over the years. In some ways I find it easier to write a synopsis of a book I haven’t written, because before I start I have a general idea of where I want to go, the characters and the theme I want to explore. As it isn’t written yet, I don’t get bogged down in details. The synopsis helps me get my thoughts in order to write the book. Invariably, the book varies from the synopsis, because the characters come to life and insist on their time centre stage. But this isn’t a problem as publishers understand the final book will vary from the synopsis.

I tend to write a variety of synopsis:

There’s the one paragraph synopsis, which appears in the query letter and can be tweaked to create the back cover blurb.

There’s the one page synopsis which gives a brief overview of the book.

And there’s the 5-10 page synopsis which covers the major plot points of the book. Since I write fantasy novels which contain convoluted plots several narrative threads, I find it useful to keep a second document open beside me while I write. Into this document I put the scene length and page numbers, whose PoV it is in, and a brief description of what happens. I’ve found this really helpful when writing the long synopsis.

Don’t get a synopsis mixed up with a chapter outline. That’s what I was working from. Because I’m obsessive, I colour code the PoVs, so I can see at a glance if one of the character’s is getting forgotten.

If you are looking for an agent, then you can’t go past this site: Agent Query.  How does it work and what does it do? See here. This site includes How to Write a Query Letter. I read it to make sure I hadn’t been steering people wrong all these years. Whew!

Here is a ROR post on The Getting of an Agent. The business model of publishing is changing, but there are still times when it is a relief to know that you can call/email your agent for advice.

And, if you’d like feedback on your Query Letter there’s the Query Shark.

Do your research, send the kind of synopsis the publisher is looking for, be professional. Is there anything to do with writing craft and the publihsing industry that people would like the ROR team to cover in these posts?

Posted in Agents, Editors, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Query Letter and Synopsis, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

How writers can create their own luck

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 19, 2011

Professor Richard Wiseman (no I did not make up his name) is a psychologist who writes about luck, deception, the paranormal, humour and the science of self help. I came across the principles behind his book The Luck Factor several years ago.

In this book, he analyses why some people seem to have better luck than others and discovers it comes down to four principles, which I’m going to relate to us as writers.

Authors  often feel a sense of helplessness. We slave over a keyboard, pour our hearts and souls into books only to send them out into the cold cruel world of editor’s desks. And even if our book does appeal to an editor it has to get past marketing at an acquisitions meeting. Then, if it makes it that far, all sorts of things can happen to it. It can get a terrible cover and never make the sales it deserves. So we tend to feel fatalistic about our books.

We can promote our books. We can do guest posts and send off copies to review sites and arrange give-aways. But there is always this element of luck. Luck to sell in the first place, hitting that Right Editor at the Right Time with the Right Book. And then, once the book is out in the shops, it has to be in the Right Place at the Right Time to appeal to the Right People, who will pick it up and champion it.

It helps if your books are lucky enough to get brilliant covers!

The publisher of Twilight did not expect it to be a smash hit, same with the publisher of the first Harry Potter book.  It is easy to look back and say, Oh Twilight appeals to the Tween market offering an adoring male (the leashed beast), or Oh Harry Potter offered the familiarity of boarding school with the fun of fantasy and an updated version of Enid Blyton’s Fantastic Five mysteries.

But we can’t anticipate what the next big thing will be. It is fair to say that publishers really don’t know why one book makes record sales and not another, otherwise they would only be publishing best sellers.

So what can you do to maximise your chance to get published in the first place. There is a point you reach where you have done the hard yards and you can write a good book. Then you have to get it in front of an editor. Let’s look at Wiseman’s four principles.

1. Maximise Opportunities

I’m always telling aspiring writers to enter competitions, go to festivals listen to editors and agents and find out what they are looking for. Your books will not sell on your hard drive. Only recently we’ve seen  self published author Michael J Sullivan get picked up by Orbit and Angry Robot signed Adam Christopher who had developed a following via Twitter. Then there’s Amanda Hocking the Kindle Millionaire who bypassed traditional publishers all together. So do your research, be ready with the book of your heart to place it in front of the public/editor/agent.

2. Listen to Lucky Hunches

At first I didn’t see how this applied directly to aspiring writers. Then I remembered how I sold to Dreaming DownUnder, the anthology which won World Best Fantasy. It was being edited by Jack Dann and Janean Webb and it was submission by invitation only. But I had a hunch that if I approached them and asked to submit a story, they’d say yes. They did and my story was accepted. The worst that could have happened was they might have said no. So follow your hunches.

3. Expect Good Fortune

This one basically means even when things go bad (as they did for me with a lean patch of nearly 10 years between my trilogies) lucky people don’t stop trying. I kept writing, kept polishing my craft, kept my eyes open, ready to take advantage of the first sign of positive feedback. So don’t let knock-backs stop you, after all, you’re not a writer, if you’ve never had a rejection. (See here for 14 Best Selling books that were repeatedly rejected).

4. Turn Bad Luck into Good

Sounds a bit Pollyanna, doesn’t it? Wiseman says: ‘Lucky people employ various psychological techniques to cope with, and often even thrive upon, the ill fortune that comes their way.’ Or if you are a fan of Julie Andrews – when one door closes a window opens. Who knows it could be a window of opportunity. <grin>

So there you have it, advice from Professor Wiseman that applies to writers. And if this is all a bit serious, see here for Wiseman’s LaughLab, where he set out to discover the world’s funniest joke.

(I posted this blog last night and totally forgot to give it a title. Blame my husband. He was hovering over me saying. Is it done yet? I want to put the movie on. LOL).

Posted in Agents, Creativity, Nourish the Writer, Pitching, Promoting your Book, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Sales, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

What will you do when you get the call?

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 18, 2010

They say writers serve a 10 year apprenticeship to learn the craft. I know I’d written 10 books before I sold my first one. In Tansy’s interview she said the one thing she would tell herself if she could go back to her first book sale is – don’t sign anything until you have an agent.

(This post is a starting off point. You need to do your own research).

Maybe you’re lucky enough to get an offer after submitting to a competition or a manuscript development program. Should you approach an agent now? Well, yes, if you have a concrete offer from a publisher.

Editors like to ring up authors when they make the offer because they get a buzz when normally sane people start babbling and doing cartwheels. If an editor rings you with an offer of $X for your book/trilogy, you don’t need to agree to anything right away. In fact, you can say ‘That’s great. I’ll just call my agent.’

An agent will be happy to take you on, if you already have a concrete offer from a publisher. Once you have that offer you need to approach an agent, but which agent? Have you been doing your homework? Do you know the top agents for your genre in Australia? Would you prefer an agent based in the US or the UK? What are the pros and cons?

A good Australian agent will have intimate knowledge of the Australian publishing scene. They will have contacts in literary agencies in the US and the UK, who can try to on-sell your work over there. (Your Australian publisher will probably want limited world rights so that they have the option of on-selling for 12 months). Now it begins to get complicated and you see why it is worthwhile having an agent who knows their stuff.

If you do get an Australian agent who has contacts in agencies in the US and the UK and one of those over seas agents sells some of your work, they will take a percentage, then your Aussie agent will take a percentage and you will get what is left.

If you opt for a US or UK agent they will not have the same intimate knowledge of the Australian publishing scene, but they should have  in-depth knowledge of the UK/US scene. There is lots of consider when ‘shopping’ for an agent.

Australian Literary Agents Association.

Association of Authors Representatives US.

Association of Authors and Agents UK.

Note – the money flows to the author. If an agent asks you for money to read your manuscript, or do photocopies (no one uses photocopies any more) or make international calls (what about email?), then they are feeding off aspiring writers.  If an agent says your book is good but it needs work, and then recommends a manuscript appraiser, be very wary. The agent should take an agreed upon percentage of the advance that the publisher pays you, that is all.

Then there is the larger question of your writing career. So you’ve sold one book and maybe the publishers want a three book deal because they want to grow you as an author. So suddenly you have to produce two more books, while editing the first one and deliver them all to deadlines. Here is  Zoe Archer’s post about what happened when her first book was accepted.

If you’re anything like me you have a backlog of books you’ve written, but they could be from different series and the publisher wants three books in series X. Maybe you are lucky and you’ve written three books in series X, but they’ll be at different levels of readiness because you’ve been growing as an author, while you’ve been working on them.

You need to work out how long it will take you to either tidy up the three books already written, or write two new books. Be realistic in your estimates. Publishers like you to deliver on time, but they do understand that life happens. If it looks like you are not going to meet your deadline, don’t panic and stew about it. Plan ahead, contact your agent to let them know and they will go to your publisher to negotiate a new deadline.

So, have you done your home work on agents? Do you have a career plan?


Posted in Agents, Editing and Revision, Editors, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »


Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on May 29, 2010

I don’t have an excuse for using this picture, I just liked it.

Okay. Agents. This post came about because I was running a workshop where someone brought up the topic of agents.

How do you get an agent?

Take a look through the Australian Writers Market Place, which is available through your library, or you can subscribe to the up to date online version here. This will give you an idea of who is out there and what genres they represent.

You can send them a proposal. (Synopsis and three chapters). Or can can attend a conference or festival sign on for a pitching opportunity and pitch to them. See here for a list of pitching opportunities.

Say you do get a nibble from an agent, but something strikes you as a bit odd.

Things to beware.

The money flows from the publisher (via the agent if you have one) to the author.

The money should not flow to an agent before they have sold anything of yours. ( Agents’ percentage is 12.5 to 15%).

So there should be no reading fee to look at your work.

If an agent says that your work is nearly ready, but it needs polishing and they happen to know a manuscript appraiser you should use, and they hint that they will be much more favourable about representing you after you’ve used this appraiser, they are probably getting a kickback from the manuscript appraiser. Don’t trust them.

Your agent should not charge you for photocopies or phone calls. My agent accepts my book as an email attachment, he sends it to the publisher the same way. Their editor goes through the book using track changes and they send me the edited book for approval via email. Nothing gets photocopied or printed.

Is the agent a member of the Australian Literary Agents Association? Here is their code of practice. And here are their tips on finding an agent.

What does a Literary Agent agreement look like? Thanks to the Australian Society of Authors for their support. Skim down this page to find the Literary Agent & Author Agreement.

Hope you find this useful. Any questions feel free to ask.

Meanwhile check out Predators & Editors — a really useful site.

Posted in Agents, Publishers, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The getting of an Agent

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 30, 2009

Love’ em of hate ’em, a good agent can do a lot for your writing career. Many publishers say they only accept agented submissions. But how do attract an agent’s attention and what can they do for you?

Over at the Mad Genius Club — Writers Division, there’s been a couple of posts about agents. Click here for Amanda Green’s post, full of useful links to agents and sites about agents. And click here for Dave Freer’s post on agents on why we need them.

Over at here Writer Beware Blogs Victoria Strauss is talking about dodgy agents.

Agent inBox is something a bit different.

‘How does it work for agents? According to AgentInbox’s FAQ for agents, agents create a profile listing their interests and submission preferences. They can then check their submissions online, sort them by various categories including genre, and “[r]eject unsuitable submissions with a single click, and contact the gems directly.” ‘ Victoria Strauss comments on this idea here.

With evolving technology the publishing industry is going to change. Just how is anyone’s guess. Here Victoria Strauss does a post about the perils of searching for a publisher using the internet.

And here is her post on ‘Learning the Ropes’.

With the internet, you can do your research while sitting at home.

Here’s my agent story. I applied for a grant to go to the World SF Con in Glasgow in 2005. My Australian agent had just retired and left me orphaned. Thanks to Arts Qld, I got the grant, flew to the UK.

Before I left I approached John Jarrold, offering to meet him at the World Con. (I thought I made me sound committed, coming all the way from Australia). I sent him the first 3 chapters of the trilogy he has since sold to Solaris. (King Rolen’s Kin, due out in July 2010).

The day before I was due to meet him, I slipped into a panel where he was speaking. (Later he told me he recognised me, because he’d been to my web page to research me). At that panel he said he had been approached by over 500 hopeful writers and had taken on 13. My heart sank when I heard that. The next day when we had our meeting I was convinced he wouldn’t offer to represent me. When he said he would, I felt like I’d been mentally derailed, in a very nice way. For the rest of the convention I was bobbing on air!

My story makes it sound easy, but I did approach a dozen or more agents before I went to the World Con and John Jarrold was the only one who offered to read my work. So there is an element of timing involved. Your work has to be good, it has to be marketable and the agent has to be looking to acquire authors.

So put yourself out there. The worst people can say is No. Does anyone else have an inspiring story to share?

Posted in Agents, Editors, Publishers | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »