Monday, January 17, 2011

The Case of the Perfect Agent Part 1 with Detective Rosemary Allspice

Rosemary Allspice here, and I’m delighted beyond words to guest on this tasty little blog today. I’m here to spice things up with bits of news about the daunting task of finding a literary agent. The Alley Cats sent me on assignment two weeks ago and the trail has been peppered with clues.

Heavens, but where are my manners?

I’ve brewed up some delicious British tea (really what other kind is there) in my Red Victorian teapot, baked up my grandmother’s best scones, and brought delectable information on fiction agents. Sip the tea carefully, ducks, for I prefer a dark, robust blend.

I'll report some helpful hints today and more at a later date. Too much information is disagreeable to a full stomach. Now, shall we get on with it?

Literary agents are not plentiful, and agents who represent Christian fiction are fewer still. Before I delve into remarks from some award-winning informants, let me introduce you to a comprehensive list of agents from the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Michael Hyatt.

For writers, his blog should be a daily, or weekly read, because it is brimming with nuggets of wisdom for the new or experienced author. Here is Mr. Hyatt’s list entitled Literary Agents who Represent Christian Authors.

But a list tells us very little of how to go about discovering the right agent, which is why I’ve winkled the information out of some award winning authors. Here’s what they have to say:

Author Kaye Dacus, whose website is brilliant really – full up with writing tips – gave these top three hints for finding an agent:

1. Attend writing conferences and go the sessions taught by your target agent(s).

2. Sit at the agent's table at meals (at conferences).

3. Develop a relationship with the agent by talking TO the agent (and listening) rather than always talking AT the agent. Remember, the agent is a person, too, and gets tired of people constantly pitching to them, wanting something from them.

Brilliant notions, aren’t they? And might I add, Ms. Dacus portrays her Brits quite authentically. If you’ve not had the opportunity to read her novels, you might begin with her contemporary Stand In Groom, or her first regency novel, Ransome’s Honor.

Glynna Kaye, a marvelous lady with the propensity toward encouragement, gave these top tips for the agent hunt:

1) Don't be in too much of a hurry to find one. Many writers feel that the ONLY thing that is holding them back from publication is not having an agent when it's really that they still have a ways to go to learn how to write truly publishable fiction.

2) Know what YOU want from an agent that would, in your estimation, earn them 15% of your hard-earned advance & royalties. Remember, YOU are hiring THEM. Read up on what professional agents are expected to do, then remember that in addition to those basic qualifications/expectations some writers want a critiquer, a line editor, a brainstorming partner or a cheerleader; other writers want to do all their own publishing house networking/pitching, then let the agent step in to close the deal; others want the agent to submit their manuscripts wherever the agent feels is best but don't want to know where or when (or anything else about it) unless something sells; others want . . . [ fill in the blank ]. So educate yourself, decide what YOU want, then start researching specific agents.

3) Keep your eyes and ears open. Talk to other writers/editors about who they like to work with; attend agent panels at conferences long before you're ready to "pitch" to one. Do you think you'd get along with them? Personality and knowledge-wise would you want them to represent you? What is their reputation? Qualifications? Who else do they represent? Do they represent what you write? What kind of contract do you sign with them? How do you get out of it? (And remember, any manuscript they've "pitched" to a publisher that accepts it means they get a piece of the pie and you must be in relationship with them until the book is no longer in print--or possibly longer with the e-book issue now--even if you decide to break your contract and get a new agent.) How often do they communicate with their clients? How quickly are they known to respond to client-initiated contacts? Do they understand the legalese of contracts? Do they have legal advisors? Are they committed professionals or is agenting just a hobby? Do they have a reputation for following-thru on commitments--or dropping the ball? The publishing industry is a small, small world, so it pays to do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

Poignant words, wouldn’t you agree? And it appears that any good author should also have a bit of sleuthing skills about their person. Oh Ms. Kaye, are you good at winkling information from people?

This agent business is quite serious and keeping a sober eye out seems not only beneficial, but wise. One author even referred to it as being ‘married’ to the agent, in the sense of agreeableness and understanding of each others’ expectations and responsibilities.

I recently completed one of Julie Lessman’s novels, and I must say those stories would cause my mum to blush from her toenails to her hairline. I'm quite certain such kisses can't be proper. But oh what marvelous stories -  tales of love and Christ’s redemption. And Luke McGee… Let me take a sip of tea for a moment before continuing. My collar is a bit tight.

I caught up with Julie while she was on a Caribbean cruise. There are days when I simply love my job. Amidst the warm breeze and relaxed atmosphere, Ms. Lessman's personality simmered with bottled up energy. It must be from where all the passion comes in her books. You’ll be hard put to find a more passionate Christian author, I daresay.

Now, Ms. Lessman's notes were to the point. Her top three keys to finding an agent were:

1.) Query like crazy.

2.) Referrals from friends who have agents.

3.) Pray your guts out.

For a woman who gushes 3-inch novels, this is succinct, but her third point was particularly spot on. Where would any of us be without divine intervention?

Oh dear, I only have time for one more interview.

Do not despair, however – I have more to report on January 31st.
Now let me end with an author who is a character in her own right.

Mary Connealy’s books left me wondering about the West’s view of propriety, and I was a bit overwhelmed by their astonishing use of firearms. With women jumping into rivers, near-death falls from cliffs, or an astounding number of gunfights, it is difficult to imagine surviving Ms. Connealy’s world long enough to drink a spot of tea, let alone live through an entire day. However, after the shock dissipated, a surge of euphoria, (which I can only explain as reading-induced insanity,) ensued and I was compelled to finish the books. All of them. In less than a week. They were simply marvelous – and I don’t think I should recover.

I keep them well-hidden from my mother, who might never understand.
Our meetup was lovely, and despite what some of her friends said, she did not offer cold pizza for an appetizer – or pizza at all. Where do such rumors get started?

Be prepared for what Ms. Connealy added on securing a literary agent:

1) Take anyone who says yes who's not listed on preditors and editors.

2) If you make a sale, email the agent of your choice and offer then the agent's cut of the advance if they'll sign you. Easy money for them.

3) Enter contests with agents as finalist judges.

4) Send a mass mailing to every agent listed in Writer's Digest. That's actually how I got my first AND second agent.

That sounds really wrong now.

Oh Mary, you are quite genuine, aren’t you? It is a charming quality, really.

My investigations concluded personal contacts and contests to be at the top of the list for securing agents. Would you agree?

For more about the Case of the Perfect Agent, enjoy this informative post from Seekerville. The ladies of Seekerville are a lovely lot, who provide insight, encouragement, and a vast deal of entertainment.
I'm aware that The Writers Alley's very own Pepper Basham concurred with Glynna Kaye's remarks regarding knowing one's own mind in expectation for an agent. "It makes for a happier fit if the author knows what she's looking for and the agent meets those expectations. I like what Glynna said, the agent is earning 15% of your sales - what do you want them to get paid to do? I think lots of newbies jump at the first opportunity that arises. This isn't necessarily a bad choice, but it may be an uninformed one - so that the author and agent don't have the best fit. I want to find someone who not only believes in me, but wants to encourage me to be better than what I am."

Well, I’ve waffled on long enough, much too long for any proper Brit, so I shall end now – and continue my search for the next post. I’m to glean future information from authors such as Patti Lacy, Jody Hedlund, Deeanne Gist, Deb Raney, and Ruth Axtell Morren, so my next post should shed more light on the mysterious world of literary agents. Needless to say, regardless of which agent you set your cap on, it is worth the wait and the investigation.

I look forward to sharing more on 31, Jan.

Send questions and I'll try to suss out the answer for you.


Rosemary S. Allspice, Amateur Detective


Sarah Forgrave said...

Such sage advice! *snicker* I'm scribbling notes as fast as I can. Can't wait for the next installment!

Pepper said...

Sarah, luv
You do get up on the right side of the bed, don't you?
A spot of tea and morning wit.
I think the day is starting quite well.

Michael Hyatt's article is quite relavent and helpful, a true treasure along my hunt.
And the authors?
Nothing compares so well to life-experience, don't you think?

Pepper said...

My mum would be ashamed, not to mention my editor.
Look at the horrid spelling.
and my last sentence was mean to read:
Nothing informs so well as life experience.
I must take that other cup of tea before writing another word.

Angie Dicken said...

Absolutely lovely, dear! Makes me miss the ol' country, now doesn't it? And your brilliant research has shed great light on the daunting task of finding the right "fit" in an well as sobering up my mind a bit, that having an agent=publication.
Looking forward to your next installment!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

*guffaw* Mary Conneally's tips made me laugh out loud...and I'm all alone! Was she being serious about the mass email? lol

I must say, Miss Allspice, your topic is a good one and so appropriate for so many of us in our writing journey. In thyme, we shall all have the agent of our dreams if we do our homework and are persistent.

Sherrinda (aka Miss Nut-meg)

Bahahahahahha! (been missing that, haven't ya?)

Pepper said...

Now, now dear Angie,
It is of vast importance to have an agent, and the probability of publication does increase exponentially should one be agented, but authors still surprise.

There are quite a few stories of authors finding publication through contests, so there are still other avenues - though those are a mere chink in the larger view.

Peseverance, Patience, and Prayer seem to be the utmost needs for this topic, wouldn't you agree?

Pepper said...

Do I sense some mockery in your tone, Sherrinda luv?
Nut-meg? Truly?
Please, luv, choose something a bit more flattering than that. Or is it your code name? :-)

I would take Ms. Connealy's comments with a smile. A chuckled at first when she mentioned them. Yes, she was delight.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh no, Miss Allspice, no mockery. Just concurring that with persistence we shall overcome and get that coveted agent. Okay, maybe the "thyme" part was a little tongue in cheek. ;)

Angie Dicken said...

Oh yes, Miss Allspice! Don't get me wrong, but it has been a misconceived idea of mine that once you have an agent you are on a short path to opposed to the long road it takes to get there! ;) I very much agree in the value of having an agent for that first step!
Ta ta!

Pepper said...

Angie dear,
Almost as if your words were prophetic, an informant just left this tip:
Keli Gwyn received the 'Call' for publication.
Agent Rachelle Gardner has been with Keli for a year, I believe, but Keli has been at writing for much longer.
Wonderful news!

Pepper said...

Sherrinda luv,
As a Brit, I have no trouble whatsover with tongue and cheek humor. In fact, the whole of England practice it before breakfast every morning as if a dictate from the Queen

Casey said...

And what an honor to have you here Miss Allspice. What delightful nuggets of advice, especially researching and listening to an agent, not talking at them. Makes me eager to attend that first ACFW so I can be "all ears". :) I don't plan to pitch anyway- unless something changes.

And how EXCITING for Keli Gwyn! I simply cannot wait to see what she is going to be coming out with. She is well deserving for sure.

Can't wait until you return dear, Rosemary. It has been a pleasure. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Alrighty, my dear, I will take a spot of tea. Do you have any clotted creme for those scones? Although I really should watch my cholesterol.

Loved these tidbits, Miss Rosemary. Quite classy, not a all like those other Ms. Spices my raucous young relatives used to play at irritating decibels.

What delightful advice! I agree with Casey, I'll be eager to attend ACFW someday and just learn more!

Ms. Gwyn, I'm so excited for you!!!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Julia, no, no, no! You can't use clotted and cream in the same sentence, girl! Ugh...the visual! lol

Pepper said...

Oh ducks,
All this talk about clotted cream.
Julia luv, clotted cream is not as tasty as one my expect. Truly. Not a wit of sugar.
How could I compare it to an American dish? It is similar to biting into a stick of unsalted butter.

And Julia, you are a dear. I've heard such stories about musical spices.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Ok, I must admit I've never tried it...and it does sound a bit like curdled milk doesn't it, Sherrinda?

I suppose I'll have a smattering of jam instead.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Rosemary, darling, what great tips :) Thanks for this post--these authors know what they're talking about!

Audra Harders said...

Miss Allspice, thanks for sleuthing out this great info! Ms Dacus brought up a good point to talk with agents and get to know them. How else will you know if your your personalities mesh?

Ms Kaye reminds us of that 15% we pay the agent to work for us. So it's wise to review Ms Dacus' comment about getting to know the agent and then deciding if you want them to represent your work!

And Ms Connealy? I've learned to just do as she says no matter how bizarre the process sounds.

Wonderful post. Can't wait to read what the next group of authors has to say!

Audra Harders said...

Oh wait! Ms Lessman's answers were so short and sweet (nothing like her books!) that I almost missed them.

All three suggestions are winners. Hmm, the pray your guts out might get a little messy, but very effective.

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for your excellent advice, Miss Allspice. Your sleuthing produced some great points. My favorite is Mary's third point because it's the one that worked for me.

3) Enter contests with agents as finalist judges.

Rachelle saw my entry when she served as a final round judge in The Launching a Star Contest in the fall of 2009 and offered me representation when I sent the full to her that December.

You're right, Miss Allspice, about the misconception that getting an agent leads to a contract offer right away. In my case, I had to delete 3/4 of my story and start over, a process that took the better part of nine months, before I had a manuscript Rachelle felt was ready to be pitched.

Thank you for sharing my good news here. I appreciate all the Alley Cats who popped over to my blog to attend the awesome party hosted by my amazing CP. You're. The. Best.

Julie Lessman said...

Miss Allspice ... LOVELY post, dear, and my apologies for being late. But all the words that didn't clutter my response above are now in my WIP as I have FINALLY begun writing again!!! It's downright criminal what a romantic cruise does to one's word count, you know, as they tend to promote communication of a nonverbal nature, if you get my "drift" ... :)

YEAH, KELI!!!! Soooo thrilled for you, girl!!


Pepper said...

I must say jam is a better choice...unless one chooses to do both. The sugar content in jam makes the clotted cream quite tasty. But clotted cream on its own - well, it is not to my taste, luv.

Pepper said...

Cindy dear, so nice to have you visit. It has been my pleasure. I hope to winkle out more news for the next post.

Pepper said...

Oh my heavens, is there possibly anyone more lovely than Audra Harders. I am at a loss of words to see such a sweet dear visit.
I must confess, the phrase 'praying your guts out' was such an unusual American colloquial I had to google it. Thankfully, pictures were not provided in the definition.

Pepper said...

Keli dear,
Your story is an inspiration to aspiring authors everywhere. And what splendid news. I was in an absolute flap about it yesterday. Marvelous.

Pepper said...

Look at this! Julie Lessman has come to see if I quoted her correctly.
Though, Julie luv, I would prefer you keep your wordcount for your manuscripts since they are positively divine.

And Collin...oh heavens, where is my tea?

Debra E. Marvin said...

Wonderful post Miss Allspice. I hope to acquire an agent this year so I appreciate the tips and the tea. I like my tea 'robust' as well, and we seem to share the same favorite authors. (Or are those everyone's favorite authors?)