Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Great Agent Hunt: Part One

So, lets talk about finding an Agent. Like everything else in the writing world, this too is filled with scams. Keep Mr. Yog in mind, if the money is moving in the wrong direction (i.e. away from you) it's time to go running away.

For example: Reading fees, reputable agents don't charge them. They may want to, and I get that, because they have to read a whole lot of stuff to find the good bits and it would be nice to be paid for their time. However, a whole bunch of scammers noticed that authors are willing to toss money around like a man with a mid-life crisis trying to impress nubile blond girls, and opened up businesses that did nothing but charge reading fees. So to distinguish themselves, the real guys don't charge them.

If an Agent is hot for you but wants you to spend money on an editor, or research fees, or placement fees, or writing workshops, or anything other than what you already spent getting his attention, it's time to find another Agent.

From what I can find there's basically only one legitimate expense an Agent will ask you to incur, and that's the cost of sending them a pile of your manuscripts so they can be shopped around. Which, if you're like me and you wrote War and Peace II: This Time It's Even Longer!, that might be a real expense. Otherwise, they should not be asking you to shell out money.

The job of the Agent is to get you money. He goes out and gets a publisher to buy your book. Then you, and the Agent get paid by you selling copies of the book. Agents seem to get 10 to 15% of what you make. When you think about how much work they do for this money it's rather staggering. Supposedly Jane Average Writer will sell 3,000 copies of her book. If she makes 2.00 a copy, then Joe Agent will make .20 a copy. At 3,000 copies Joe Agent just made $600.00. He's doing how many hours of work for you for $600.00? If Joe can sell your book, Joe is a bargain. (We're not going to talk about how much work you did for the remaining $5,400.00.)

So, because of the work they do, and how little they get paid, it make sense to be kind to Joe and his readers and only query Agents who will actually be interested in your project. Nothing will get you rejected faster than sending out a "Dear Every Agent in the Western Hemisphere" letter. Joe's time is valuable. If Joe represents Christian Themed Cookbook writers, please do not send him a letter about how great your new Dresden Files meets the X-Files mystery thriller is. You've just wasted Joe's time and the cost of your stamp.

Go find five books you think are pretty similar to yours. Now, go find out who their agents were. That's where the hunt begins. Hopefully said agents have websites and blogs that will tell you exactly how they want you to send them things. Pay attention to what they have to say on those blogs. Tailor your letter to their specs. You want Joe Agent's reader to know you did your homework and were paying attention when you picked him.

Once you've gotten those first five agents, and mailed out query letters to them, go find another five. Keep doing this. Every time you get a "Dear Writer... We are sorry to say..." letter, send a new query out. If you've cleared out the library of every book even remotely similar to yours, then it's time to invest in Publishers Weekly's or Writer's Market, etc... There are lots of agents out there, and eventually you'll find the right one. (Though after five or ten rejections it might be worth while to rework your query letter.)

Why not start with Publisher's Weekly or Writer's Market? This is just a matter of personal preference for me. It comes down to this, anyone with money can advertise. An actual published book in your hands tells you that Agent was able to sell the book. A bunch of books is even better. On top of that, with the book in your hand you can check with it's Author, did she like her Agent? How well did the Agent do his job? What kind of contract did the Author get? How long did it take?

Once you get a letter back saying please send us more information we're interested, it's time to do more research. Before you sign a contract head over to Absolute Write and look the agent up. Or get on the discussion board and ask around. In addition to scams, there are Agents who just aren't very good. Time to put your feelers out into writer land and see what the others think about the person who just offered you a contract.

Of course, that's the fun part compared to what we'll talk about next: The Dread Query Letter!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview with Gregory Blecha

After picking Love in the Time of Apocalypse as the indie published book for August, I tracked down it's author and asked him a few questions as to how we published it and what he was thinking about as he did it. He was kind enough to answer my questions, and I am passing those answers along to you.

KR: I'd love to know why you picked iUniverse, and how many other publishers (both mainstream and POD) you checked out.

GB: When I was shopping for a self-publisher, I evaluated perhaps four other houses in addition to iUniverse. I chose iUniverse because of the Editor's Choice program. The Editor's Choice program indicated to me there was a review process and a standard of quality (whether or not the standard was enforced was a different issue, but at least there was a standard I could aspire to). I also liked the fact that the material belonged to me and I retained the rights to what I'd written.

Apocalypse was published in 2005, and the publishing world has changed substantially in the intervening five years. For my next project I will probably produce all aspects of the book collaboratively, from editing to marketing (I have a lot of out-of-work friends who are involved in the arts and who are very talented). I'm not suggesting that I'm dissatisfied with iUniverse; I just like having more control of the process.

Once I've finished a book, I am more interested in my next project. To me, the finished book is like dried paint; I can't continue to change and adapt it. I prefer the wet paint of a blank page.

KR: How many copies have you sold? How many have you given away? What techniques work best at drawing attention in the form of actual sales to your book?

GB:I have probably sold less than one hundred copies of "Love in the Time of the Apocalypse". My best medium has been Amazon Kindle, although I haven't quite figured out how to determine what my total sales has been on the Kindle. I usually gauge the rate of sales by the book's sales rank, which usually fluctuates between 20,000 and 120,000. My best sales venue has been paid advertising on Facebook.

I've given away approximately two hundred copies. I will frequently leave a copy of Apocalypse at a "Friends of the Library" bookstand (where the sales price is fifty cents) or at coffee shops, subway stations and on park benches. This is a marketing technique known as "shop dropping'. I've found that at a fifty cent price point the demand for my book is seemingly infinite, because I continually have to replenish the stock of books I leave at the library. I have noticed that no one has ever returned a copy of my book to the "Friends of the Library" bookstand, so I hope the book stays on my readers' shelves.

KR: Who is your target audience?

I am my own target audience. I wrote Apocalypse to satisfy myself. I wanted to craft a novel that was in keeping with the novels I've read and enjoyed, such as "The Sot-Weed Factor" by John Barth, or "The Frog" by John Hawkes. Sot-Weed Factor is a dense, multidimensional satire that works as an anti-novel (that is, the book is cross-grained to the formulaic definition of a novel) while The Frog is more of a fable where the characters and story lines are instruments of the author's intent.

KR: Do you intend to go mainstream publication for your next book?

GB: I have enjoyed tremendously the modicum of exposure I've received, having published my own novel. Once or twice a year, someone happens upon Apocalypse, reads it, enjoys what they've read, and then is moved to drop me a line to express what they've appreciated about the book. Of course, with equal frequency someone happens upon Apocalypse, reads it, is convinced that I am a moron and have wasted their fifty cents, and then is incensed enough to drop me a line to to express disdain. I've learned to savor the former and ignore the latter.

Speaking of moments to savor, when I first published Apocalypse in February of 2005, a local book club was kind enough to feature my novel as its book of the month. During the meeting we spent an hour discussing the plot, the characters and the writing style. You can argue that someone who self-publishes a book is not a writer or author in the conventional sense, but for an hour I felt like a craftsman, a weekend hobbyist whose work someone enjoyed and admired. That moment affirmed to me that I made the right choice in publishing my own book.

If you're wondering what kind of reception your DIY novel will receive, let me just share my experience: the praise will be muted and condemnation strident. You'll have to be pretty thick-skinned to put up with the vituperation that emanates (mostly) from other aspiring writers. It's the equivalent of a flesh wound in a pool of sharks.

KR: How did you get your cover design?

An august pair of statues overlooks the Hoover Dam. The statues are the "Winged Figures of the Republic", designed by Oskar Hansen to commemorate the dam's construction. Apocalypse opens in Las Vegas with a trip to the Hoover Dam. The book describes the momument as follows:

"On either side of the pole sat a pair of bronze figures, erect and austere, with daunting wings protruding upward from their shoulders, like kitchen knives."

I was fortunate enough to visit Hoover Dam in 2004 and took a picture of the monument. The black and white rendition of the picture appears on the front cover of Apocalypse.

I enjoy designing my own book cover, and will design the cover of my next book.

If you want to know more about Greg or Love in the Time of Apocalypse you can find him at his website.