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!
Another great post, Karen. It’s tough for us to keep it together when we’ve been writing and waiting all year for that 20 second shot at a conference to make our pitch. I think it would be easier if all writers, agents, and editors moved to one big community (someplace warm), where we could sit around and discuss our ingenious ideas. That may be heaven (or not, depending on your point of view). Okay, I’m off to check my fonts. God bless and keep up the wonderful posts.
I’ve just come across this article. It’s wonderful advice. What I’m trying to figure out is if you are both an illustrator and writer and gave completed a first book how do you submit both the text and illustrations?
Thanks again for the great article.
Nancy B. Kennedy
One attribute a writer might want to cultivate is discretion. I’ve seen countless writers trumpet the news on facebook and in blog posts that an editor/agent at a writers conference requested their manuscript or proposal, as if publication were a sure thing. Conversely, I’ve also seen writers trashing editors/agents who passed over their work or are taking too long (in the writer’s opinion) to get back to them. Keep it to yourself! If you’re going to be a partner in this enterprise, be a silent one until the time is right.
Great advice, thank you! I love that it can be a partnership, can’t wait for the moment.
Karen, thanks for these BPs for professionalism. Good stuff!
Concerning your final point, be assured that some of us in Authorland do understand that editors and you agents are flesh-and-blood mortals. For that reason, some of us pray for you pros in biz, even when we don’t expect to work with you as partners. After all, you are the ones who collectively determine what the face of modern Christian literature will be. That should automatically put you all on our prayer lists!
Blessings to you.
Good advice, Mr. Barry. Thanks for the informative posts, Karen. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog site is it feels as though you all have our backs–so to speak–whether we’re clients, or not. It’s appreciated.
Such a helpful article in navigating this exciting path. I’ve always approached someone as a person first, their title and what they do second because I appreciate it when others do it with me. Thank you.
Another great post, Karen. I’m looking forward to what you have to say about more of the BP’s. I appreciated the challenge to look in a bookstore to see where my book might live. I think I need to do this and consider the questions you asked. Part of me feels like that’s dreaming a bit too, which isn’t a bad thing. 🙂
Loved this post today!
P.S. I loved the picture at the beginning of your post. 😉
The image you used was perfect! 🙂
Thanks for these helpful tips. Great article and I can’t imagine what it’s like for you who read proposals over and over again and hear the same lines from aspiring authors. We all want to be published, but as authors we should remember that this is your area of expertise and you are just trying to help us.
Aside from “doing the homework”, having a good critique partner would help an author prepare for pitching to agents in the sense that our skin needs to be toughened by hearing honest feedback.
Thanks again and God Bless! 🙂
Karen, thanks for another informative article. I think in today’s world, professionalism is slipping away. It’s nice to see it is still a respected and expected thing in the book market. Someone’s got to keep it going so future generations know what it looks like. I’m so glad we book lovers are some of the ones making sure professionalism sticks around.
The kudos for the picture go to our wonderful leader, Steve Laube. He’s the genius who finds the perfect pix to match our blogs!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And I’m aware there are folks praying for us. That means more than I can say. And it moves me to pray for all of you as well. We’re all in this together!
Love this!! And if I bring coffee with me to an agent pitch, is that rude? ‘Cause it REALLY calms my nerves. I’d bring one to the agent too — but then that could look like bribery. See? Us writers totally over think this stuff. AHHH!
Jaime, I never mind if someone brings coffee with them. And I ESPECIALLY don’t mind if they bring me some as well! Actually, I don’t think they’d see it as a bribe. Many have been sitting in appts for a long time and don’t have time to go grab one themselves. But you raise a good question. Maybe I’ll check with my editor/agent pals and see what they all think…
I’ll let you know!
Thx Karen!! 🙂 And coffee is on me at ACFW in Sept if you’re there just as a thanks for contributing to this helpful blog! 🙂
Great post, Karen. Lots of solid, practical tips.
Thank you so much for sharing so generously of your time, energy, encouragement, and wisdom with Canadian writers who are Christian at the Write! Canada conference.
Thanks for the insight. I can’t wait for part 2!
Great advise Karen. I think the marketing piece is the toughest for me since I have no training in marketing. I’m a medical professional, so I feel like my day job occupies my left brain and my writing, my right brain. But it often feels like marketing is the furthest from my experience base, and it feels un-natural to “think like a marketer”. But-I-can-learn it! I’ll just have to keep gleaning from agent blogs! Thanks.