by Karen Ball
I travel to writers’ conferences all over the country. I love being surrounded by others who love words and want to serve God through their writing. But over the years I’ve seen a number of interactions between agents/editors and conferees that were…well, less than positive. It was clear the conferee was passionate about his/her work, and that the writer was looking on this encounter as THE chance to make his/her dreams come true. Unfortunately, it was equally evident that the agent/editor wanted nothing more than to escape.
One of the workshops I taught at the Write! Canada conference a week ago was focused on attracting agents’ and editors’ attention. I asked editors and agents to share tips, based on what they’d actually encountered, to equip writers for positive interactions with them. I was delighted at the number of responses I received. So, what with ICRS just around the corner, and writers’ conference season in full swing, I thought I’d share some of those tips with you. They fall into four categories, which I’m calling them the BPs of Happy Editors and Agents.
#1: Be Professional.
- Do your homework. As one editor put it: Be your own eHarmony.com. Make sure the agent you’ve sent your picture book to actually represents children’s books. Check out publishers’ catalogs to see if they publish the kinds of books you want to write. But take note: odds are good publishers have key authors writing in certain genres or categories. Be sure you can identify for them what makes you and your book stand out.
- If you haven’t visited a bookstore recently, do it. Ask yourself: where would I expect to find my book in this store? That’s what a publisher’s sales people ask editors when they’re presented with your proposals. If you can’t answer that question, it’s time to do a little focus work. Bonus question: after you find the shelf, ask if your book would be lost there? Again: What makes it stand out?
- Have mercy on weary eyes and make your proposal as easy to read as possible. Don’t use a variety of fonts. What if the “perfect” font you’ve chosen isn’t on the agent’s/editor’s computer? What looks wonderful on your computer may show up in 36-point type on another. Yes, it’s boring, but 12-pt Times New Roman is a safe choice. Also, please, no line spaces between paragraphs in sample chapters. Finally, give your cover letter one last look to make sure you didn’t address it to Steve Laube and greet him as, Dear Karen. (I just had this happen…)
- Also, make sure your copy is as clean as it can be. Proofread your proposal yourself, and then hire someone to go over it again (if you don’t have a heartless friend to proof it for you).
- Signing with an agent or getting a contract from a traditional publisher is like a marriage–you want to enjoy the time together. Ideally, both parties will like each so much that that you’ll want to keep working together for as long as possible. The best way to ensure that happens is to do your part to the best of your abilities, be willing to invest in your own career with both time and money, and make sure you co-ordinate your efforts with your publisher. Be a Partner, not a Lone Ranger.
- Working with an agent or publisher is a team process. You are part of that team. A big part, yes, but still only a part. While editors and agents love that an author is thinking about such things as title and cover, they’re not swayed by cover designs included with a proposal or by glitzy headshots. It’s almost certain that your book will have a different title at the end of the process, and that you may well have to change some things in your manuscript to ensure you’re hitting the target market. Be teachable and flexible, and when you need to stand firm on something, remember: this is your team. Not the enemy.
- Think like marketer! Agents and editors–and publishing marketing departments!—love, love, love authors who can, in 25 words or less, give them the “hook” for the book. They also love authors who think creatively about marketing and want to be enthusiastic partners in this area.
- Remember, just like you, we have lives outside of publishing. When you meet us, see us as people first, agents/editors second. Yes, much of this industry is about networking. We love helping authors we believe in, but we can tell when you’re genuinely interested in us, and when you’re just looking at us as a way to get what you want. Let’s extend each other the grace to see beyond the profession and to remember we’re brothers and sisters in the One who gave us this calling.
Next week, we’ll take a look at BP #2: Be Passionate!