Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Browsing Effect

I was in Bluestockings the other day–an independent book store on the Lower East Side that publishes a lot of provocative titles, including gender and area studies– browsing books.  I didn’t have an agenda in mind in terms of what book I was looking for, just something interesting and fast to read.  Although I am inundated with submissions and queries, I still find it really important to take some time out everyday and read for pleasure.  I think being open to other genres and types of books, sharpens your instincts as a reader.

I came across a book in the YA section called, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron.  I liked the premise of the book.  I liked the title.  I read the blurbs on the back and then turned to a random page in the book.  I didn’t sniff the book but I did read the prose and liked what I saw.  I turned to another page in the book, and continued to like what I was reading.  I decided to take a chance and purchase the book.  I’m about half-way through it now in one-sitting.

The nice thing about bookstores is that you don’t lose the browsing effect.  Because you can see the books in a physical space, it is easier to chance upon a book you wouldn’t have noticed while browsing for instance.  True, different review services, blogs, book clubs, writer’s groups all serve similar purposes in terms of exposing us to new books.  But sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than going to a bookstore and plucking one book out among thousands just based on the back cover copy, the writing on one random page, or even the title.

How do you browse for books online versus in a bookstore?  Does the cover matter?  What about the title, have you bought a book based solely on an interesting title?  What makes you take a chance on a book you’ve never heard of?

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Filed under Musings, Reading

Caveat Scriptor: What Writers Should Truly Be Wary of When Looking for a Literary Agent

I read an very interesting article published in the Huffington Post the other day (written by the Writer’s Relief staff), that I would like to address.  You can read that entire article here, but basically the three major red flags that the Writer’s Relief staff addressed were ineptitude, advertising, and fees.

Ineptitude.  This is stating the obvious, but you want a literary agent that knows what he or she is doing.  As the article states, “Some agents are not necessarily dishonest, but are merely clueless.  These agents submit your work to editors without doing the proper research…”  I have to agree with the article here.  Doing research and getting to know editors, what projects they’ve acquired, and what they are looking to acquire is critical, as is knowing the marketplace.  Also, knowing the internal politics and how each imprint acquires books (because they are all different, some imprints are smaller and associate editors have a lot more power, others are bigger and the books have to be pre-approved by the marketing department) etc., is important.  It’s pretty obvious what ‘bad agents’ look and feel like when it comes to having no strategy, foresight, or deep knowledge of the industry.

Advertising.  I take a bit of issue with this point highlighted in the article.  The Writer’s Relief staff admonishes not to “trust an agent who approaches you without any previous contact,” and frowns on practices such as trolling writers forums or purchasing subscription lists from writer’s magazines.  Yes, if a literary agent is just a troll, with no real interest or connection to your work, you should worry.  Given the information that is out there in the digital space however, being pro-active and thinking of multiple ways of reaching writers is not a bad thing.  I attend conferences and meet writers in person and I have also reached out to writers over the internet, based on something I read off their blogs.  These e-mail communications are the start of a conversation that can develop organically into something more.  Last week I Skyped with a potential client so it was almost like having an in-person meeting, complete with our faces, over the internet.  So although I agree that trolling for the sake of trolling is not good, thinking broadly and brainstorming more than the old-school ways of connecting with writers, is a good thing.

Fees.  The Association of Author’s Representatives has a Code of Ethics, that I fully abide by, even though I am not yet a member.  I do not charge any of my clients for fees or readings.  You should be wary of any agencies that charge so-called ‘reading fees.’  Agents obtain the fee if and when they sell your manuscript, and they shouldn’t charge for expenses unless they are extraordinary and only then, with your prior consent.

I’d like to add a few of my own ‘caveats’ to the list provided by the article:

Gut Check.  What does your intuition say about the literary agent you’re interested in?  Have you had a chance to sit down and meet with the agent in person?  What were your feelings?  Did you feel comfortable?  A lot of us in the literary world are introverts, so any sort of ‘forced interaction’ can feel uncomfortable, but if, after a hour of talking, something feels off, pay attention to that feeling and proceed with caution.  Sometimes the chemistry isn’t right but don’t be discouraged, keep on sitting down with literary agents that you are interested in and see if it feels right in your gut.


Receptivity & Responsiveness.  Is your literary agent available, responsive to you and a good listener?  I’m not saying that your agent has to e-mail you back right away (they have lots of reading and other clients to attend to), but it’s always a good sign if your agent treats with you with enough attention and is quick to respond.  I even know some agents that text and tweet with their clients regularly, I think that’s great and if that works for you, even better.  Find an agent who meshes with you in terms of communication.

Manner.  Luckily, most people in the publishing industry are  polite and patient.  I think having a pleasant demeanor doesn’t hurt.  Not everyone has a sunny disposition, but those agents that can remain calm, diplomatic, open to suggestions, and work well with others, I think, tend to go far.  Maybe I’m being a bit idealistic here, but I know this is also true for our doctors.  Would you rather spend time with a doctor that actually listens to your concerns seriously and has a pleasant demeanor or one that is more gruff, even if an excellent doctor?  Courtesy costs nothing.

What other red flags do you look for as a writer seeking an agent?  Are there any non-negotiables on your list?


Filed under Authors

Good Writing vs. Good Storytelling Abilities

Agents are often asked what exactly they are looking for and writers often receive a nebulous response from them.  We’ve all heard agents say that they are looking to ‘fall in love’ with the story.  That’s a given.  If an agent cannot emotionally respond to a story and feel passion for it, then it makes complete sense that the agent wouldn’t want to use his or her valuable time and resources to represent the writer.

To me, the most important thing is the story.  Without a story worth telling, something someone hasn’t said before or maybe something that has always been said but not in this particular way, most people probably wouldn’t be interested in reading it.  There are so many fine writers out there but sometimes I wonder, where the story and why should I be interested?  Some people are natural storytellers and highly entertaining in person.  The question is if that translates on the page.

I believe that writing can be taught and honed but there are individuals out there who have more talent than others.  However, if you don’t nurture that talent by writing, critiquing and generally engaging in the process of writing on a consistent basis, it’s going to be harder to reach your goals.

At a bare minimum, both good writing and good storytelling ability is critical to developing a manuscript that will be attractive to editors.  Forget the other hurdles of platform, sales, comparable titles.  The marketplace can wait until you, dear writer, have polished and finally made your manuscript ‘ready’ for other eyes to pore over.

What do you think is harder to master, good writing or good storytelling?


Filed under Craft, Musings