by Janet Lane
RMFW (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) annual conference offers a wealth of educational workshops and editor/agent panels to help aspiring writers get published. Go to rmfw.org and click on 'conference' to learn more about next September's conference.
Agents at the RMFW conference this year gave us insight and tips that may change the way you target agents, and when and how you query.
Agents on the panel:
Rachelle Gardner, Wordserve Literary Group
Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency
Rebecca Strauss of the McIntosh & Otis, Inc. Literary Agency
Sandra Bond of the Sandra Bond Literary Agency
Here’s a peek into the Q&A session.
Don’t get caught doing this!
When asked what not to do when sending a query, Rachelle Gardner advised that you don’t start with a rhetorical question, or try to be cute. Follow the submission guidelines for that particular agent.
Sara Megibow suggested that you don’t sub in a genre she doesn’t represent. Write a blurb that will make her want to read the book. “I want your query letter to sound like the back cover of the novel,” Sara said.
When trying to suggest an audience for your work, Rebecca Strauss suggested you avoid saying, “I’m the next Faulker.” Instead, try some content comparison with a known author. Example: “My work is along the lines of X Author.” She said it helps to research what the agents represent. Her example: “I enjoyed Tempest Rising, and my book is similar to that.” That, Rebecca said, will make her love you. “Our books are like our children. If you compliment them you compliment us.”
Does location matter?
Located in New York, Rebecca is in contact by email and phone, but enjoys the convenience of meeting with editors. “It’s fun to get drinks with them.” With personal meetings, she feels they open up more about their editorial needs. She meets with editors once or twice a week.
Sara’s son loves the New York taxicabs. She travels there for business but “I don’t wine and dine editors in New York. You can live in the North Pole, but what you want to ask, if you are offered representation, is, ‘Will you represent my book and get it sold?’ Not, ‘Do you buy editors beer?’”
Rachelle loves being able to live here and do her job. She sells mainstream fiction to general markets and to Christian publishers. There are four major Christian publishers in Denver and in Nashville. She attends conferences and meets editors there. “When I pitch a book, the main thing is will it get read?” she said. “I don’t have any editors ignoring me. It won’t be based on where I live. If I were having trouble getting an editor to pay attention to me that would be a problem, but it’s not.”
Sandra noted that agents live all over the place, and editors know that. “Your job is to target the appropriate agent who is right for your book and our job is to target the right editor for your book,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where we live. We do also attend many conferences and meet editors, and go to New York and meet with the editors when we need to. I have specific editors with whom I want to meet. But I’m also very good at phone relationships. Authors, too, are all over the place. I have authors I haven’t met before.”
E-publishing – panacea, or the death of publishing?
E-publishing is, they agreed, another format of a book, like an audio book.
We may have fewer printed books, but they’ll never ever go away. Yes, there’ll be lots of e-books, but it’s still a book.
Rachelle noted that everyone in the industry is trying to discover how all who are involved in publishing are going to continue to make money from the written word. We can try to re-invent the wheel every day but we still don’t know the answer to that question. How much readers will pay for the written word is the new question.
Sara agreed. “The question is: an author may have 25 rejections and ask, ‘Shall I self-publish?’” Avoid making an emotionally based decision (To heck with you, I can publish and make my millions without you). Don’t e-publish because you don’t like New York, or don’t like not having control of your career. “Be careful.”
Rebecca observed that we’re all trying to figure it out every day, trying to guess how we’re going to stay in business, all working hard to get negotiating language in contracts which limits time, where standing royalty rates are in effect and re-evaluate in two years.
Coming next: bidding wars, age discrimination and surprising insights