Random

Introducing…my agent!

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The message from London (England) came at 7am right when I was about to step out the door to go take my first science exam in 15 years. I was pumped on nervousness and I did a final e-mail check before I left. There was a message from Conville & Walsh agency in my inbox. The email said that I had won runner-up in their ‘Word of Mouth Prize’ and they wanted to offer me representation for my first novel.

To be honest I didn’t think it was real. I didn’t actually remember entering the competition.

I read the e-mail again.

Then I looked at Ben and started laughing. Then I cried and laughed at the same time.

I shoved my iPad into his hands and said: ‘read this…is it real?’

There wasn’t time for much celebration before I hauled myself out the door to write my science exam (which I totally nailed BTW).

So that is how I came to work with the absolutely lovely and fabulous Carrie Plitt of Conville & Walsh in London. I’m so excited about the agency, Carrie, and the future of my career now that I have such a wonderful champion for my work. I look forward to working with Carrie to bring my books to the world and I’m sure we will have a long and awesome relationship.

Woo!

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Finding your place

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The publishing world is harsh.  It’s cold and full of rejection.

You write a story, get excited and send it off with hope in your heart. Pick me! Pick me!

And more often than not they don’t.

And then they don’t some more.

Recently I’ve had a good run, six acceptances in a cluster! I cheered: Hooray! They picked me! But once all the celebration sushi had been eaten I started wondering: where did all this acceptance come from?

I’ve been actively trying to get work published for over a year and a half now with some publications and contest wins here and there, but nothing like my recent successes. So what have I been doing differently?

The one major change I’ve made is finding my place. I write magic realism and because I often have speculative elements in my stories I was sure I would find success in the world of sci-fi/fantasy, but that just hasn’t been the case. So as I’ve stumbled along I’ve refined my searches, sought out literary magazines with a subtle (or obvious) surreal/magic realism slant and really aimed as opposed to shooting in the dark. I’ve learned from my rejections.

I spent a lot of time trying to slot myself into the speculative fiction world because I thought it was the most appropriate place for me, but I’ve learned that’s not the case and it’s a good thing to know, because now I can really focus and hopefully hit the mark more often.

When I was an actor years ago I got the best piece of advice about rejection I’ve ever heard: they aren’t (necessarily) rejecting you because you’re bad, they’re rejecting you because you’re not right for the part. Don’t take it personally.

I’ve tried to keep that same advice in mind as I go through the process of becoming a published writer. I need to find the places that are right for me and that takes work, but it’s worth while when you start hitting the right note with the right places, because it can lead to amazing connections and great publications!

The moral? Buck up and focus on getting your work into the right hands. Just because you get a rejection doesn’t mean your story is bad, it just means you haven’t found your place just yet.

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My Agent Wish List

ImageSince I decided to apply myself to my burgeoning career as a writer I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject of agents.  How to get an agent, what an agent can do for you, why bother to have an agent etc… I made the choice to pursue the traditional path of publishing because I’m brand new to the whole writing world and I wanted to find someone who knows more than I can read on the internet to guide me.

Now, for obvious reasons, agents aren’t easy to come by.  There’s the querying, then the sending the pages, then the anticipation and long waits.  But in a lot of cases once you get accepted into Agentland it seems like a pretty good place to be.  However, I have heard some horror stories, tales of neglect and being cheated, of communication breakdowns and other issues relating to writers and their agents.

In all the talk of getting an agent, the breathless hoping and the crossed fingers, I don’t often hear about people setting expectations for their agent.  In fact, more often than not, it seems to be the other way around.  Perhaps it’s the scarcity of the acceptance letters that keep writers from being realistic and business-minded about the prospect of getting an agent’s attention, but the more I dip my toe in the waters of the agent sea, the more I try to solidify my own expectations and form a wish list of my own for finding a good agent match.

I’m an entrepreneur.  I’ve been in business for myself for probably around eight years now and I find that has helped me to understand what it is I’m looking for in a business partner.  Because that’s what an agent is, a business partner.  Agents are the people who will represent you in the publishing world, they are the people who will help you make money and they are the people who will champion your work just as much as you will champion it yourself.  As a writer, you are definitely an artist, but you are also a business person running your own small business and I find it helps me to see it as such.  Because I don’t want just anyone to join my business, do you?

You can learn a certain amount about an agent through internet searches and websites, but the real trick is getting to know them (if they like your work enough to give you a call or offer representation).  It’s at that point when you have a choice.  You don’t just have to jump into business with the first person who likes you, although it may be tempting after all that longing and waiting.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and figure out if the agent you are in contact with is the right fit for you and your work.

Agents often have wish lists, books they want to represent or topics they are interested in (which you can generally find in their interviews or on their websites), but as writers I think it’s important that we do too.  As I spend more time in the industry, meet people and do my research, I try to narrow down my own agent wish list to the most important points.  So in the future when I (hopefully) get the chance to work with an agent, I’ll know what I’m looking for.

Here’s my agent wish list:

Good Communication – Communication is key for any good business partnership.  Can I be honest with this person?  Can I ask them questions?  Do they respond in a timely manner to my communications?  Are they willing to be honest with me?  Do we have a good flow to our communications?

Shared Literary Interests – Although I have a style and a general tone to my work (typically magic realism), sometimes I like to experiment.  I want an agent who enjoys all of my work and is interested in a bit of diversity of style, genre and format.

Open Minded – Most of my main characters tend to be bisexual.  I sometimes write books about sex and drugs (not always, but it happens).  I need an agent who is open to LGBT characters and the idea of things getting a little racy.

Hands-On Industry Guidance – I’m a publishing noob but I’m totally willing to work my ass of to make my career a reality.  I’m looking for someone who wants to work with me to help me learn the ropes of the industry.

Passion – I’m crazy passionate about things I dedicate myself to.  Sometimes to the point of insanity.  I need an agent who is just as passionate and excited as I am, because I want to feel the shared love for the work.

Sense of Humour – I like my business partners like I like my friends, with a sense of humour about things.  Life’s too short to take things too seriously and I want to know that I can have a laugh with someone I’m going to work closely with!

That’s pretty much it.  I guess it’s not a lot to ask for, but I’m sure there are agents out there who will fit that criteria and those who won’t.  But when it comes time to decide I don’t want to settle for someone who won’t be a good long term business partner, I don’t think any writer should!

Writers – Do you have an agent wish list?  Feel free to share!
Agents – What are your thoughts on writers having wish lists? Do you have wish lists of your own?

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Guest Post: Megan O’Russell – YA in an Adult World

ImageI’d like to introduce Megan O’Russell, a Young Adult author and my very first guest contributor Happy Musings!  Megan has written a wonderful piece on publishing YA with a very adult publishing company.

YA in an Adult World

I write Young Adult fiction.  My first book The Tethering is set to release this May, and I am so excited!  I have great editors at Entranced Publishing and wonderful people to back me up in the cold cruel world of books.  But I feel like the black sheep of Entranced.  Not because I’ve done anything wrong, but because I am a part of the Young Adult imprint at the big sexy romance publishing house.  Entranced has a YA imprint called Rush, but most of the books Entranced puts out are of the much more adult and dirty nature.

We have twitter chats where they talk about their steamy love scenes, and I’m worried about my poor characters sneaking out the window.  I can’t participate in their cover reveals because the covers are almost naked!  And the book blurbs are things my readers are not ready for!

I want my characters to have grownup lives.  I want them to live and discover and grow as real teenagers.  But I feel awkward being excited about their first kiss when my fellow Entranced authors are playing with bondage.  In a group where Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t seem all that dirty, can a story about first love hold its ground?

I would like to think so.  Not just because I want my book to succeed.  Not even just because it’s a different genre with a different target audience.  The sweetness, tenderness, and devotion of first love are things that we all have experienced right along with our first heartbreak.  The thrill of the first kiss is just as exciting as dirty things on a bear skin rug.

I mean sure, if you want to throw a little excitement into a YA book, just toss in a bit of non-sexual torture.  Maybe catch a few people on fire.  Dress someone in leather.  But do it all in a PG-13, teen romance friendly way.

I want to branch out, maybe write something a little more risqué for an adult audience.  But until The Tethering series is complete, I will exist in a world of (mostly) clothed, non-cursing, behind closed doors, teenaged angst.  Who knows, maybe my hero will even make it to second base.

About Megan

Megan O’Russell is a Young Adult author whose premier novel The Tethering will be released by Entranced Publishing this May.  Megan’s author blog can be found at MeganORussell.com, and her humor blog is at lifebeyondexaggeration.com.  For more news on The Tethering, follow her on twitter @MeganORussell.

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Stop doing what you think you’re supposed to!

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I’ve written two novels and a novella so far and I am currently working on editing a fourth book.  This new book (What it means to be a man) is a little unusual though because it’s a blend of non-fiction essay style Q&A intertwined with a fictional story.  The idea came to me because I wanted to write the fictional story but I found that it mirrored my real life (specifically my marriage) so I wanted to stir some real life juice from my relationship into the mix.  I’m really excited about it because I love both the real life parts and the fictional parts, but I’m also a little nervous about it because it’s a departure from the norm.

When it comes to publishing there seems to be this idea of writing in your genre, sticking to a single style and building an audience that way, but to tell the truth every time I think about doing that it gives me an existential crisis.  Who am I (style wise)?  What kind of writer do I want to be?  What if an audience would be unwilling to follow me on my journey though the different landscapes of what I want to try?

I started my fifth book (Nil) after I wrote my first draft of the one I’m currently editing (What it means to be a man) and I started out writing it in a pretty traditional way, I had an idea for a fictional story and I wrote it the way I had written the first two books.  But halfway through I started to lose steam and then the whole thing started to depress the crap out of me because I hated its guts.  So after flailing uselessly and trying to restructure it and being seriously depressed over the whole damn thing I eventually gave myself permission to walk away and a weight lifted.

I went back and focused on What it means to be a man and writing a few short stories and started thinking about diving into my travel memoirs from ten years ago to see if that is something worth pursuing (I even struggled through Eat, Pray, Love to try and see what a popular travel memoir looks like).  But then, today, as I was writing some of the non-fiction for What it means to be a man I had a brainstorm.  I found a way to fix the dreaded Nil.  It will require a lot of research and some serious exploration of the concepts of the book, but it could be really cool.  It could be really cool, but what it wouldn’t be is a traditional novel.

Cue the worry about building an audience and marketing etc…

So I bounce into the land of concern over doing the expected and then I think: stop being fettered by what you’re supposed to do!  My biggest passion in stories is the intersection of the fantastic into everyday life.  And what is more of an intersection then merging non-fiction with fiction?  I love the idea of exploring story concepts in real life so why shouldn’t I think that other people might love it too?  I love exploring new and unusual formats, styles and genres, so why shouldn’t I?  I’m not saying I’m doing something completely crazy or totally unique here, but it’s just that it doesn’t follow the format of a traditional novel (of which I have already written two).

But I don’t want to be tied down to traditional concepts of novels just because I think I’m supposed to.  There are plenty of people who have successful careers writing whatever moves them, so why should I be any different?  I find the idea of being tied to one format of book very limiting and on the flip side I am intensely excited to think of all the ways I could branch out and approach a story differently!

So if you are ever stuck on a story, or stuck in a rut, why not consider ways you could alter the style, genre or narrative of the story to embrace your passions and find a new direction?  Because finding your own way of writing and trying new things is so important and you shouldn’t be limited to what you think you’re supposed to do!

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Getting Published!

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A few years back (okay maybe more like ten) I was published in a magazine.  I sent in my story with my SASE and I didn’t hold my breath.  I was young and intrepid and probably high with absolutely no aspirations of being an actual writer.  I had written a bunch of stories about my world travels and so I wanted to see one in print.  When they told me I would be published I didn’t rejoice, but I was happy.  I didn’t jump up and down or hug anyone because it was just a nice thing to have happen, but it wasn’t the be all and end all.

I didn’t know what I was onto then with my very first publication.

Fast-forward to today.  Years later I have finally given up all the false starts I have had career-wise and decided that I want to actually (for reals) be a writer.  Now I have spreadsheets full of magazines and files full of stories to send out in the hopes I will be chosen.  I have a book I am about to send to potential agents and (after about six months of submitting my short stories to magazines in earnest) I got the news on Thursday that I would be published for not one but two of my pieces.  One short story to an online publication and a poem to an anthology.
When I was told I was going to be published this time I did jump up and down.  I did hug my husband and run around a little with excitement.  This time (with queries going out for my first novel on Monday) getting published means something big.  It means someone read my arrangement of words on a page and decided they liked the cut of its jib.  It’s a pretty cool feeling.  It’s also cool to know that at some point soon some random strangers will also be reading my words and deciding if they like them.

I like the idea of publication for so many reasons, but the best is that people who might not otherwise get to read my words will be able to do so.  People who don’t know me will get a chance to peer into my brain and being as I love knowing what’s going on in other people’s brains (if I could read minds I would be pretty excited about it), I think that’s amazing.

When things are more official I will definitely announce when and where you can read my published works, in the meantime I will continue on my journey to get more words out there for the world to see!

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Self-promotion & networking

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Writing is a business.

Whether you’re penning the next bestseller or writing copy for websites about car parts, writing is a business and you (as a writer) are a business person.

So this means you have to sell, sell, sell yourself.  Self-promotion is the other half of writing.  Once the document is closed or the pen is down (or in the case of freelancing before you even start) you have to find a way to get your words out there.

Since deciding to be a writer (for reals) I’ve done a bunch of research on the subject of how to break into the world of writing.  There are (obviously) different rules for freelancing than there are for being a novelist, but the idea is the same.  Here’s some knowledge on the subject I have accumulated whilst researching.

Platform

Agents like a platform, so do readers.  A platform is basically a soapbox upon which you stand to blast your message out into the virtual world.  It could involve a blog, twitter feed, facebook page and linkedin profile, ideally with thousands of followers who are super interested in the words you have to say.  A lot of writers write about writing (like this blog for example) and themselves, they write about their books and engage with fans.  If you are an unpublished writer like myself (for the moment) it is a good place to get your voice out there and say stuff.  For self-publishers, a platform is a good way to sell people on your writing and get yourself out to the public, it also allows you a place to sell your books and build your brand.  For freelancers, a platform is sweet because it allows you a place to send potential clients to give them a taste of how you write and also link them to your portfolio.  Having a well rounded platform is a launch pad for greatness in the future and gives you a place online to send all your adoring fans as they pile up after you publish your first book.

Why not?  Start a blog about your life and interests.  Make yourself a twitter feed for short, but sweet messages to the world.  Start a facebook page and invite your friends to ‘like’ you.

Talk your face off

Gone are the days of being a reclusive writer, shunning the world and swooning alone in the darkness to your own sweet prose.  It’s a self-promotional world out there and even if you’re not super net-savvy you should still be getting out there and meeting people.  Conferences and writing festivals are awesome ways to get your face out there, shake hands and take numbers.  Lots of agents and publishers go to conferences and festivals to check out the new blood and it’s always good to make yourself known (agents might be more likely to look at the work of someone they meet in person).  There are also local events you can take part in, reading nights, writing groups etc…where you can get loads of information on what’s happening in the writing world.  Get out there and get involved.  Also, if you are a published author a book tour/signing or at the very least a launch party is always a good thing.  People want to see the writer who wrote the words they love.  For freelancers, get to know your market.  If you’re a medical writer, get out there to conferences and meet some doctors, talk shop and keep on top of updating your language and voice.  Shaking hands is always more memorable than e-mail.

Why not?  Look up some conferences and festivals nearby and make a plan to head out to one.  Find a local writing group and join.  Find local readings and see if you can sign up.

Look good doing it

This is a personal preference of course, but I find it’s easier to be memorable if you look good at whatever you are doing.  If you’re rocking a medical conference, dress the part, don’t walk around in your old raggedy jeans and expect people to want to do business with you.  Same goes for being an author.  If you are a romance writer, put a little oomph into your outfit.  Sci-fi writers, would a dash of silver really hurt?  Overall your presentation should match how you want people to see you and the best impressions are always made when you give it some effort.  Just because you spend 99% of your time behind a computer doesn’t mean your style can’t be snappy folks.

Why not?  Put together a couple of stellar outfits to wear to conferences and book signings.  Choose a style that reflects the type of writing you do.  Create your own personal look that is distinct and creative.

Discuss

There are loads of writing forums and blogs out there that you can get involved in.  They offer basic writing discussion as well as feedback opportunities for your work.  Forums can be a great way to meet other writers and get your name out there.  Be careful though because they can also be a time sink for your creativity.  Always remember your own writing should come first before all your pals on the boards!

Why not?  Check out some writing forums and join in the conversation.

Don’t just promote

A lot of people think social media is about promoting yourself non-stop.  You see them all the time on twitter, tweeting the same links over and over and generally driving you crazy with in-your-face promotion.  Social media is called ‘social’ for a reason.  It’s a place to discuss and engage, not shove your product into someone’s face.  You want to learn to be part of the conversation, otherwise people will just tune you out.  Saying something relevant and helpful is good, commenting on other posts or tweets is good and not overdoing the links to your books is also good.  Just think of it like a normal conversation in real life, if you just sit there repeating the same sentence over and over at people they will eventually get bored and walk away.

Why not?  Find some way to engage your community with helpful hints or personal anecdotes.  Stop tweeting the same message over and over.  Join in the conversation.

If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all

I was at a writing talk at Ryerson the other day and there was an agent there.  After all the talk of social networking and self-promotion she made sure to add in that sometimes saying something poorly is worse than not saying anything at all.  Ain’t it the truth?  Maybe you just have a knack for writing fiction and really suck at self-promotion, if that’s the case that’s okay.  There’s still the more traditional route of publishing for those who don’t want to get out there online and yammer away.  So take heart if none of the above sound like you, you can still write your heart out, get it published and be a bestseller.  At some point you may be invited to talk at conferences with or without self-promotion and at that point, the talk your face off and look good doing it points will still apply to you.

Why not? Stick to what you’re good at and just keep writing.

Anything to add?  Did I miss anything?  Let me know!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!