Tag Archives: agent

Genrecon Australia 2012

Last weekend I went to the inaugural Australian Genrecon and I have to say WOW! What an excellent decision that was. Yay me!

Of course the real congratulations should go to the likes of Peter M BallMeg Vann, and the ninja team from Queensland Writers’ Centre. What a magnificent event they organised and managed!

This was my first ever convention, and I have to admit I had no real idea what to expect (or what I was doing). I read a few tips. Chuck Wendig’s were pretty helpful. A lot of common sense of course but a good guide nonetheless. (He was also quoted in a panel by P M Newton: ‘Plot is Soylent Green’)

The other massive help was Twitter. I was flying basically solo… I knew a couple of people from online interactions, but only one person I’d met face-to-face. So when I walked in to the opening function on Friday night it was a massive relief to start recognising some twitter handles on name tags.

One face I did recognise was International guest of honour Joe Abercrombie. He was surrounded, and congenial and charming and gracious and relaxed and just a wonderful international guest. Full credit to him.

I managed to spark up a chat with Ginger Clark, about whom I knew enough from twitter to give me some icebreakers. We discussed zoos and Australian fauna and Sandy and suddenly the crushing weight of Curtis Brown NY was lifted a little. She’s really a nice person and I had a lot less fear for my Sunday pitch.

The adults only panel was excellent. Good natured and great fun. I worried that I had made a fool of myself in a discussion of the C-bomb, but everyone was great. I’d never considered the difficulty romance writers had choosing between descriptions which were either twee or coarse.

Afterwards I met some great Romance writers who were kind enough to explain to me some of the subtleties of their craft and how careers are forged from one’s writing. Thanks to Denise RossettiNikki LoganAnna Campbell and Alexis (sorry Alexis – I forgot your surname).

I’m on the right, with idiot grin!

Saturday morning was a great highlight. I was running a little late, stopped in for a quick toast and a take-away coffee with the intent of sneaking into a 9am seminar moments late, but Joe was alone at a table, enjoying a pretty good approximation of a full English brekky… what’s a fanboy to do?

Joe was great. We chatted like old pals for nearly an hour. Talked black pudding, Lancaster accents, kids, nappies, travel, Australiana, First Law, Red Country, westerns, my fledgling attempts at a career, Batman as vigilante and Superman as fascist. I got a photo in which I’m grinning like an idiot child on Christmas day.

That an author of his stature should be so welcoming and open, and for him to show such interest in what I was writing, was magnificent and I am so grateful!

The panels were universally excellent. Special mention goes to: Kim Wilkins and her impressive (to me especially) use of Old English; Crime author P M Newton for being so erudite and articulate in the face of Joe Abercrombie’s wise-cracking; Peter Ball and Alex Adsett for their insights into writing as a career; Ginger Clark for her excellent presentation on what an agent does (and how);  the Saturday night Snark from ‘Smart Bitch’ Sarah (Platypus of Doom, Gay Tarot Reading Vampire Were-Roos, Mr Darcy’s horrible secret…); the conversation with Joe Abercrombie (of course).

Thanks also to Peta Freestone and Amie Kaufman for helping me hone my pitch, and to Lindy Cameron of Clan Destine press for her encouraging feedback.

Thanks to everyone who made the weekend so wonderful (especially my wife, who looked after our two boys solo all weekend! How did I get so lucky to have such support?).

It ended with a successful pitch (with a caveat for length) to Ginger Clark and an invitation to submit pages. Could not have hoped for anything more!

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Product over profile

For a while now (read several weeks) I’ve been devoting myself to refining my product and this has come at the expense of my profile, on this website, on Facebook, on Twitter, etc… There really is too few hours for me each day at the moment.

The deadline looms for me to have that product ready though. I’ll be attending my first writers’ convention in one week’s time. Flights are booked, accommodation too. I have  some acquaintances with whom I’ll be able to become more acquainted, some twitterati who I will be able to meet IRL, and hopefully there will be new and interesting people for me to meet, with whom to share ideas, discuss our shared and varied experiences of writing, etc…

That said, one highlight for me will be the opportunity to pitch my novel manuscript. It’ll be a verbal pitch, five minutes in a tight schedule where I and presumably many other hopefuls will be trying to convince an agent (or editor, but I have preferenced agents) that we might be worth doing business with.

Worst case scenario it’s a ‘thanks, but…’ response, and I’m tying to establish that as the default expectation, not in a cynical way but in a realist way. Expectations and hopes vary though, and I hope I get a great response and a request for a full manuscript… in which case I better have one to provide which is polished to the point of shining with brilliance.

Now having said all that I’m reminded of some wisdom that came to me via twitter from the dark and twisted (but no less wise for that) mind of Chuck Wendig. Conventions should not be about schlepping the goods and forging commercial interaction protocols. They should be about meeting people as people, not as cogs in an industrial writing complex (or publishing receptacles). Sure that industrial side of the pursuit is there, let’s not be naive, but I’m kinda looking forward to just meeting people and sharing ideas.

Product over profile, people over platforms, proficiency over publication.

Always remember that my stated goal is not to be a published writer (that’s easy enough these days if you have enough spare cash and low enough standards) but to be a good writer (or at least a better one than I was yesterday).


Query Letters

Query letters are hard!

Sure there’s plenty of sites that give you some advice*, and often agents have blogs where they explain what thye like or don’t in a query letter. Often though these contradict, and what one agent recommends another despises. Sometimes the same agent will advise against something in early posts and change their view over time. Other times there’ll be a query letter that breaks all the ‘rules’ and yet gets the desired attention.

So here’s my (humbly submitted) take on query letters:

They have one purpose – get you to the next step. 

This sounds simple (I hope), but it sometimes gets lost in the minutiae. Query letters are a tool with a purpose. That purpose is to intorduce yourself and your work and get someone interested enough to want to read more. That doesn’t make them simple to produce, but it needs always to be the guiding principle. All the other rules and recommendations support this goal, but they are subservient to it. If you break all the rules and yet someone is interested enough in your letter to want more, then it’s a good letter. If you follow all the rules meticulously and get a dozen rejections before someone wants to see more, it’s still a good letter; it’s served its purpose.

They need to be honest.

I think query letters are a case of don’t try to please everyone. If your query letter does a good job of introducing you and your work then consider it a success. If it gets rejected that doesn’t mean the letter’s not a successful letter. It might mean that the agent or publisher you queried is not a good fit for you, or for your work. There’s nothing to be gained from a query that represents you or your work as any way other than truthfully. If an agent does make a request based on that query they’ll soon find out that your chapters or your manuscript aren’t exactly what they were looking for anyway. That’s another rejection and back to square one. All you’ve gotten is false hope and it’s cost you time when you could have been finding an agent that wants to work with you.

They need to show your talents.

It’s not just about your work; it’s not just about your bio. It’s a combination of both, and it’s also a kind of demonstration piece. Being able to explain your novel succinctly shows you have a plan, and a structure. Being able to attract interest shows that you have the hook, or point-of-difference, that will make your work marketable. Being able to discuss your work as a product shows that you consider yourself a professional. Being able to write an engaging and interesting letter shows that you have the command of the language to write engaging and interesting prose.

I found that breaking the query letter down into these three focus points helped me cut out a lot of unnecessary plot synopsis and really hone in on what was important. I don’t know if it will work yet, but I’m a lot happier with what I have now than what I first sent out.

This is a query letter I had for a while and submitted to a couple of agents. It relates to my novel Exile, and it was not successful. I’ve changed it because it’s not honest. Reading it I get the wrong impression about who is the protagonist of the novel (Duc Abastille isn’t introduced until about a third of the way through the novel).

I was too focussed on exposition of back-story that I barely introduced the characters which my novel is about. I think it’s an engaging query (but I’ll let you judge that), and some of it I’ve retained for the revised queries, but it is not an honest one.

Specific Agent

Specific Agency

Address

As a young man Gerard Abastille was an acclaimed hero of the Battle of Three Fords. His victory brought peace to the warring families of Alterre, and brought him the noble title of Duc… but that was seventy years ago. Now Duc Abastille is old and the peace he won is worn and brittle. When his sons are killed in suspicious circumstances he is left without an heir, and his legacy is threatened. He suspects his old enemy Jarl Blodax, but in the internecine politics of Alterre no one can be fully trusted.

Jacqueline, only daughter of Duc Abastille, has been disowned for her love of the commoner Selwyn. Together in exile, they have raised a family beyond the borders of Alterre, but their past is not so easily left behind. When become victims of a broader conflict their children are thrust unprepared into a brutal world. Rymon must conform to a role demanded of him by his birth, Marianne must find her place in a world that treats her as chattel, and Jolyon must somehow overcome his guilt and perhaps find a way to bring his family back together.

EXILE is a Fantasy with minimal, ambiguous references to magic and non-human races. The morality is gray, and while the setting is epic in scale the plot is focussed on the narratives of Selwyn and Jacqueline’s surviving children, not the fate of the world. It is complete at 241,000 words. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

* Some of the linked sites here are for cover letters, not query letters. Cover letters are usually either for short fictions (and therefore you’re sending the whole story so a synopsis is, in a sense, redundant), or will accompany a synopsis and/or sample chapters. There’s plenty of other sites too. Google ‘how to write a query letter’ and you’ll have more to options than you know what to do with.


Submissions

Recently I set myself some goals , so I thought I’d better keep you up to date on my progress:

Firstly – Today this blog went past 500 views! I’m pretty happy with that. So far this week I’ve had 100 views and it’s only Wednesday. I’ve also got over 40 followers and the blog has been read in Europe, Asia, the US and Australia. So over-all I’m calling the goal of ‘set up a blog’ a successful one so far.

Secondly – I haven’t got an agent yet, but really that’s a longer term goal. I’m hoping I’ll get one this year, so I’m calling that goal in progress. The next agent on my list requests paper manuscript samples rather than electronic so next week I’m going to do some printing and put together a really enticing package that’ll make them thrilled to represent me. Or at least that’s the plan.

Thirdly – I have submitted two short stories this week. One to a paying market and the other non-paying. We’ll see how they’re received but it feels good to have them out there. I also submitted a third story to a third market but it was automatically rejected because it was shorter than their minimum fiction guidelines. This was entirely my fault and I’m a bit embarrassed about it. The lesson of  course is to always read the submission guidelines carefully. Even if you’ve submitted to that magazine before and you think you know them.

Fourthly – I’ve been writing some more on my Untitled Novel project and I’m pretty happy with most of it. One conversation sticks out to me as a bit forced. It’ll need some drafting work, but the protagonist’s voice is flowing well and I’m getting a feel for the piece. Thanks to my wonderful wife’s patience I had a good block of writing today, adding 3,000 words to take me past 8,000 and almost completing chapter 3. I’m about 10% of the way there I think.

Fifthly – (and lastly) I tried writing a query letter for my novel Exile which I plan to submit to a small press when their submissions open next month. I’ve got the manuscript complete. Now all I need is a good synopsis which summarises 240,000 words and at least six Point-of-View characters across split narratives into a page or so. Then I have to improve this query letter in which I use about 300 words to entice the publishers (and hopefully readers) to pick the book up. Not easy, but if it were easy everyone would be doing it.


Ups and a down

So I’ll go in reverse alphabetical order and deal with the good news first.

The blog seems to be going pretty well. Today was my third best day since the big opening day of the blog in terms of views. I’ve got more than ten followers through wordpress (thanks guys!) a couple of followers via e-mail (thanks guys!) and nearly 30 followers on Facebook (thanks to you guys too!). If you aren’t following yet it’s easy. Just look to the right-hand side of your screen and use either e-mail or Facebook to stay up-to-date with my posts!

Not bad for the first week.

Even more importantly than the stats the blogosphere has exposed me to lots of other people doing lots of cool stuff and to helpful resources and opportunities I wouldn’t have found otherwise. It’s also been really inspiring me to write, and I suppose that’s the most important function it can serve. If I feel there’s an audience for what I’m writing then it’s more than just me bashing a keyboard, it becomes a more shared experience of creating something, and I think that’s been really energising. A week ago I hadn’t even conceived the novel project I’m working on, but now I’ve got a plan and characters and some major plot points and I’m drafting.

Which brings me to my second ‘up’.

Despite all the distractions of life and the competing commitments that have needed juggling I wrote over 1,000 words today on my untitled project and have a total of over 5,000 words. That’s a complete prologue and chapter one and a start on chapter two (in draft stages). I’ll keep posting some excerpts in the drafting section as I go, as I did with the prologue and with chapter 1.

And now the bad news…

I’d put a query in with a Literary Agent here in Australia whose website suggested they were open for submissions and accepted Fantasy manuscripts. The list of Australian Literary Agents who fit that description is quite small, so I was hopeful of at least being able to send them some of my writing.

Not to be. They’re “not looking at manuscripts such as the one I describe”. It was a basic form letter (e-mail) rejection but they sent me a link to a list of Literary Agents. It was the same site I’d used to find them but at least they’re being a little helpful.

Anyway rejection is always bad news, but it also means my search for an agent is now a little more focussed. Not too many more can reject me here in Australia, and it may mean I need to find one overseas, but in the age of the internet that shouldn’t be an insurmountable hurdle. New York and London are as near to me a Sydney for all intents and purposes.

So I leave today feeling energised, with a little more written than I had this morning, with a little more clarity of focus, and with determination to keep working at it.

I read an interview with Joe Abercrombie wherein he said his First Law trilogy was rejected several times and kicked around failed submissions for almost a year… and his First Law trilogy is excellent, so I’ve got a few months and a few more rejections and revisions up my sleeve yet.