Monday, July 20, 2009

Dear Kerrie: Agents & Writing Classes

Every Monday I will answer your writing questions. So send me them by Friday each week. No question is too small or too big and I will do my best to get to all of them



Dear Kerrie,

I am on my 16th draft of my query letter for a YA Fantasy novel , have submitted to 114 agents, had 4 partial readings . . . and still no agent! What am I doing wrong? Or should I ask, "What am I not doing right?"

Darth Writer

Dear Darth Writer,

A literary agent does not get paid until a book deal is made and that is typically 15% of what the author gets. Agents put a lot of time and energy into getting an authors manuscript ready, so they want to take on projects they believe one of the big publishing houses will publish. There is a bigger return for them and their author.

So, it may not be that you are doing anything wrong, you might need to take a different approach. Instead of going through a literary agent for your first manuscript, try approaching some smaller presses. They don't publish as many books and they don't pay as well, but they usually take queries/manuscripts from unagented writers. Also, they are able to give their authors more attention because the don't take on as many projects.

Here are two small presses you might want to try:

Bancroft Press
www.bancroftpress.com

Kitsune Books
www.kitsunebooks.com

-Kerrie
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Dear Kerrie,

I have over thirty short stories published in various journals in the United States and other countries. I am currently working on novels and struggling with it. Everything I learned in writing, I learned on my own. Despite the published stories, I still find myself struggling with writing and confidence.

Do you think someone like myself, that has already been published in journal would benefit from a writing class? There is some excellent online ones. I never had any formal training and I never have been part of a writer's group.Would a writing fiction class help me gain confidence and improve my skills? Or do you think because I already have been published in journals that it would be too familiar.

Also, I am trying to switch from short story writing to novels but am having some trouble doing it. I constantly want to cut most description and details. I want to rush to a conclusion like a short story but my heart and dreams are with novels. Any advise? Should I stop writing shorts for good to change my writing skill?

-Bill

Dear Bill,

Confidence comes the more we do something. So in order to build up your confidence with novel writing, you have to forge ahead and not give up. You clearly have the writing skills since you already have short stories published.

In terms of writing classes, I don't think they can hurt. I believe we can always learn something new. If I were you though, I would see about finding one that is in person rather than online. The online classes are good, but if you are struggling with confidence, it might help to be in a room with other writers to help make connections and to get "in-person" feedback.

If you heart is into writing a novel, and you are not relying on income from the short stories, I would focus solely on the novel. You should set aside time each day to write and just write. Don't over analyse, don't worry about your skills, don't worry about submitting it...just get that first draft written. Then you can go back and rework it, find a critique group to help you and begin figuring out where you want to submit your novel.

Henry Ford said, "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." If you want to be a novelist, then you are going to have to sit down and write.

-Kerrie
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Dear Kerrie,

I have a question about query letters for TRULY first-time authors. Every example of a good query letter that I find online or in a book mentions some kind of credentials. I do not have any publishing credits. I also have not been to any writing conferences and therefore can't lead my query with "you asked me to send you this."

What is a truly first-time author to do? I've written two great novels, I have my degree in English, and I've been trying for years to get published. Is it possible for someone in my position to break in? Or must I write for newspapers and magazines first? I really have no desire to do that. I write fiction and have no desire to write non-fiction.

Are there examples of good query letters out there that were accepted on nothing other than the writing itself? I've ready many books and blogs on the art of writing a good query letter, so I understand how it's done. I do my research on each agent ahead of time, and I taylor my letter to their likes, needs, and desires.

I feel like if I could just get an agent to read my sample pages, they'd see it's good work. But I fear my queries are hardly read do to my lack of publishing history or networking ability. I am constantly writing and improving, and have been for 10 years. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance. ~Jay

Dear Jay,

It sounds like you are on the right track. With fiction, agents are not looking for credentials as much as they are looking for a good story. So there is no need to spend your time trying to get published in a magazine. There are many examples of authors getting agents attention because of their query letters. You can read my interview with Jeramy Fine where she talks about how she found her agent.

Read my answer to Darth Writer above. Maybe you also need to think about approaching smaller publishing houses directly and not put all your time into finding an agent.

I have heard it said many times that writing is a craft, but publishing is a business. Now that your novels are done it is time to turn to the business side of things. Here are some ideas for you to get you going in that direction.
  • Find and join a good critique group. Other writers can provide invaluable insight into what might be missing in your novels or query letters. Try to find an established group that gives good constructive criticism. I have been with a group for 10 years now, and I don't know how I would have gotten published without them.

  • Attend writers conferences. This is a great way to meet agents, editors and other writers. A conference allows you to gain insight into the publishing world and allows you to find out how other writers are finding success. Visit the Shaw Guides to find conferences near you.

  • Go to the bookstore and figure out where your book would be shelved. Look through the other books in that section to get a feel for what is selling. You can also read the acknowledgments. Most authors thank their agents in this section. Then you can query these agents as well.
Above all, keep trying. Many best-selling authors were rejected many, many times before finally getting published. So know that you are in good company.
-Kerrie

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