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  Issue #21

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Nov 27, 2004  

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Seven essential points on literary agents
By Jill Nagle, Founder and Principal
GetPublished, guerilla guidance for your writing adventure
An excerpt from How to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar 
www.FindTheRightAgent.com

As an aspiring author, you may have heard, “if your work is really good, you can get an agent. Getting the work into shape is the hard part. If you get the work into shape, the right agent will follow”. Is it really that simple? Well, yes and no. 

The seven essential points below prepare you for what to expect when seeking an agent, or literary representative.

Point 1: fiction or nonfiction? Differences in approach
As a novelist, or fiction writer, you need to complete your whole book, format it properly, and find an agent who specializes in selling novels. If you write nonfiction (self-help, how-to, memoir), forget about writing the whole book, unless you want to self-publish. Instead, write your book proposal.

A book proposal is like a business plan for your book. Its job is to convince the publisher to part with money so you can get paid to write your book.

In either case, to minimise your chances of rejection, you’ll need to have your proposal or manuscript polished before approaching an agent.

Point 2: That someone calls themself an agent says nothing about what they can do for you
Some things haven’t changed in the century since the first literary agent was born. Today, anyone can still hang out a shingle and say they’re an agent – many people do. Not all agents are effective, ethical, or even sell any books. 

Jill’s Guerilla Caveat
Don’t settle for just any agent. Agents vary tremendously in their effectiveness and in what they sell well. Get your proposal (for nonfiction writers) or manuscript (for novelists) into tip-top shape, then go for the agent who has a proven track record selling work similar to your own.

Point 3: Membership in the Association of Author’s Representatives (United States) indicates that the agent has agreed to abide by the AAR’s code of ethics
This professional guild for agents requires, among other things, that an agent:

  • has sold at least ten literary properties (i.e. books) in the eighteen months prior to application for membership; and
  • does not charge any fees for reading or evaluating authors’ work.

However, not every legitimate US agent belongs to the AAR. Many extremely successful agents opt out of AAR membership. A comparable agency called the Association of Author’s Agents operates in Britain.

Point 4: Legitimate agents earn their living by selling to legitimate publishers the rights to publish authors’ books
In return for writing your book and granting a legitimate publisher the rights to print it, the publisher gives you, the author, a percentage of whatever the book makes, otherwise known as a “royalty”. In return for brokering the deal and acting as your advocate, you in turn give your agent a percentage (usually 15 per cent) of this royalty. 

This is how legitimate agents make their money. They pick good literary prospects for the publishers to consider, who rely on them to reduce the time and energy it would otherwise take to wade through the enormous amount of submissions the publishers receive. 

Publishers know the legitimate agent’s living depends on being able to separate the wheat from the chaff, so they tend to look more seriously at submissions from reputable agents.

To reiterate, legitimate agents get paid through commissions on book rights only, period. If an agent charges you any money, except a small fee for expenses (and many people believe agents shouldn’t charge authors even for those; they should simply be considered the cost of doing business), they have little incentive to sell books. 

Successful agents use a well-established network of relationships with editors in legitimate publishing houses. They know the right editors to call for the particular projects that come their way. They don’t have time to do anything but sell book rights, because selling book rights is how they make their money.

Aside from selling the rights to publish your book in your own country, many other possibilities exist for making money from your book both within your own country and abroad. These include translating the book and selling it overseas, making an audio recording of the book, or having the book used as the basis for a movie. The legal permission to do these things are called foreign rights, subsidiary rights and options, respectively. 

To help you make the most money possible from your book, your agent should be able to negotiate for the subsidiary and foreign rights to remain with you, and then work either on their own or with someone else, to help you sell and make yet more money on sales from those rights.

Jill’s Guerilla Caveat
Apart from those agents who are simply mediocre, watch out for scammers – there are plenty! Apart from trusting your gut, and not paying an agent, avoid any agent who:

  • insists you hire a particular editorial or consulting service (this is different from making a referral, or even better, two or three referrals and letting you interview them and make up your own mind);
  • refers you to a publisher who wants to charge you money;
  • suggests representing multiple works of yours simultaneously (unless they have a really good reason for thinking this is a good idea – see Q&A below).

Agents who profit from upfront fees for reading or handling manuscripts, who affiliate themselves financially with editorial, coaching or publishing services, or who claim to need your money for any other purpose probably aren’t selling the rights to your book for a living. 

Why should they, when aspiring writers who don’t know any better are kind enough to bankroll their other enterprises?

Point 5: At their best, agents advocate for author interests, and earn their commissions by:

  • using their inside information, reputations and well-oiled relationships with editors to approach just the right publishers for your book – especially the increasing number of those publishers who won’t take unagented submissions;
  • applying their contractual and negotiating expertise to garnering higher advances, more rights and a lot of other stuff you might not be aware of;
  • helping you refine both the form and content of your book so that it appeals to the publishers they plan to approach;
  • intervening on your behalf if you get into a disagreement with the publisher;
  • assisting you with making long-term decisions about sequels, options, subsidiary rights, next steps and other aspects of your career.

Point 6: Agents reject 99 per cent of all material that comes their way
The best and most reliable way to up your odds of getting published is to a) research your market, b) know and communicate to the agent via a perfect query letter how your work fits in with and stands out from others in its class, c) deliver an original, well-written, impeccably formatted manuscript or proposal, then d) choose an agent who is obviously interested in and has a record of selling work like yours. Read that again.

Point 7: Don’t initiate contact with a phone call really. Approach an agent with a query letter instead
Unless you are famous (and even then), approach an agent with a query letter. A query letter introduces you and your book idea, and invites the agent to see your book proposal or manuscript. We’ll give you a sample query letter below.

Don’t email unless the agent specifically states somewhere in print or on the internet that they welcome email queries. Also, don’t call with general questions about their qualifications. 

Agents who haven’t expressed interest in representing your work generally will not consent to have you interview them unless you’re a journalist calling to give them publicity. 

Once an agent has expressed interest in your work, you can and should ask questions of them, which we’ll cover below, then take up to a week (or longer, by mutual agreement) to decide whether to accept their offer of representation.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations – you now have a solid introduction to agents, a crucial piece of the mainstream publishing world. However, as you might guess, finding exactly the right agent for your work, so you can beat those 99 per cent rejection odds, takes a bit more effort. 

To learn more about how to up your odds of getting published by joining forces with exactly the right agent, get a copy of How to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar

Jill Nagle is a published author and principal of GetPublished, which provides ghostwriting, coaching, consulting, teleclasses and more to aspiring and ascending authors. She has been helping other writers get published for the last decade.

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Paying attention to the man behind the curtain
An interview with wizard-like author Gregory Maguire
Interviewed by Byron Merritt, grandson of
Dune author, Frank Herbert

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy fantasy stories, and 50 year old author Gregory Maguire proves it. His highly praised novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) was recently made into a Broadway musical. It was Maguire’s first shot at an adult fantasy novel and it turned into a major hit – "An amazing novel," said John Updike in The New Yorker. He’s taken on an icon of American culture and wowed the literary critics. Well at least most of them. A select few say he’s borrowed from our childhood and taken advantage of our affection toward certain stories (like The Wizard of Oz). I don’t think so. But this hasn’t slowed down Mr. Maguire. No sir. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, a retelling of the Cinderella story (1999) – which received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, and was made into an ABC/Disney film starring Stockard Channing and Jonathan Pryce – soon followed. Then came Lost, a ghost story (2001) and Mirror, Mirror, a take-off of the poison apple symbol in Snow White (2003). His children’s books include The Hamlet Chronicles, a seven book series that have thus far resulted in Seven Spiders Spinning, Six Haunted Hairdos, Five Alien Elves, Four Stupid Cupids, Three Rotten Eggs, and A Couple of April Fools.

And he doesn’t just stick with fantasy fiction either. He’s contributed articles and essays to the Sunday New York Times Book Review, The Boston Review, Christian Science Monitor, The Horn Book Magazine, and many others. He also helped co-found CLNE (Children’s Literature New England), a nonprofit educational charity whose mission is “to elevate awareness of the significance of literature in the lives of children.” You can find out more about the charity and about this amazing author by visiting his excellent website at www.gregorymaguire.com.

Mr. Maguire was recently married to a very special person in his life and the two have since adopted three children. They currently reside outside Boston, Massachusetts ...somewhere over the rainbow.

Now sit back and enjoy a trip down the yellow brick road. But be warned, it may not be the same road you remember.

Byron Merritt: First, let me congratulate you on your marriage. I understand that you married someone very special to you. Can you tell us a bit about this?

Greg Maguire: We met seven years ago at an arts colony. He was a painter there and I was working on Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.  We had a whirlwind relationship for about ten months and we knew we’d found something special. We’d both been involved in relationships in the past, but nothing like this. It felt right. We were married in Massachusetts thanks to the new legislation regarding same-sex marriages. We’ve adopted three children and we’re living a very wonderful life together.

BM: Has your spouse been an important part of your writing life?

GM: He’s one of the three people that reads my work before it goes to print, but all he does is check for “speed-bumps” in the manuscript. I have very specific guidelines for him when he looks over my writings. I don’t want him to comment on whether he likes it or not because I think that’d be harmful to me in too many ways. My brother, Joe, and I often take walks together and he’s a great person to bounce ideas off of and get some feedback from. He’s stimulated my imagination quite a few times.

BM: I want to thank you for agreeing to talk with me about your marriage. And now lets talk about what it might mean for your books (past, present and future). There are some real idiotic and naive people out there who disagree – fear is probably a better word – with same-sex marriages. Do you worry that once certain parts of America find out about your marriage they might do some form of boycott against your books?

GM: I’d be surprised but not worried. There’s really no such thing as bad publicity anyway. Boycotting me would probably stimulate sales. The thing with me being gay, though – and the people who read my books – is that I don’t think it’ll matter. A lot of younger people are reading Wicked and seeing the Broadway musical, and I think they accept the fact that people in the arts (like me) may be homosexual or lead a lifestyle that’s outside the “norm”.

BM: In your bio it mentions that you served as artist-in-residence at several places. Can you tell us about your decision to write fantasy fiction versus being an artist?

GM: Well I was a "writer-in-residence", not a painter. But my decision to write fantasy undoubtedly came about because of my upbringing in an Irish Catholic home. My mother passed away after I was born and my father was pretty restrictive. Very Edwardian in nature. I loved reading fantasy, though, and I started in on the genre when I was ten years old. The other thing that got me into fantasy (and The Wizard of Oz specifically) is the fact that we weren’t allowed to watch much television growing up. But the one thing that we were allowed to watch – every year – was The Wizard of Oz.

BM: Okay, let’s get into Wicked, your most excellent book in my opinion. Did you speak with anyone from L. Frank Baum’s family (author of the original The Wizard of Oz  back in 1900), or have to obtain special permission from someone to use The Wizard of Oz as your setting for Wicked?

GM: This is one of those times when fortune shined down upon me. As luck would have it, L. Frank Baum’s books came out of copyright protection right at the time I sent the manuscript for Wicked to my agent. I did have to be careful with any references to the film, though, as Ted Turner’s company still owns the rights to that. So you’ll note areas where I’m a bit vague on certain items (like the ruby slippers, which I call “pale” and which Baum mentioned as being silver).

BM: In the original The Wizard of Oz novel by L. Frank Baum, the Wicked Witch of the West is a fairly minor character when compared to Dorothy and her comrades. Why’d you decide to focus on “Elphaba”?

GM: The proper pronunciation of Elphaba is with the stress on the first syllable (i.e. EL-phaba), by the way. I should’ve put that in the book somewhere. I felt that the film left a lot out about her and I wanted to know more about this person. It all really harkens back to my love of the film and growing up watching it every year on TV. I dreamt a lot about Margaret Hamilton and that green skin. It was both terrifying and intriguing at the same time.

BM: The film The Wizard of Oz has become an American icon of sorts. More people have seen it than have read the books by Baum, I’m sure. Was there ever any worry on your part – while you were writing, or before or after you’d finished – that you might be tampering with something almost hands-off when it came to literature?

GM: I wasn’t worried, but some critics were. A New York Times reviewer mentioned that I’d taken a “sacred cow” and used it to my literary advantage. Some newspaper in Chicago called it “heretical”. But I had a love for the material, and that’s why I wrote Wicked. Some people read the first thirty or so pages of the book and put it away saying, “this isn’t the Wizard of Oz I know!” But those who’ve gotten through the book have generally enjoyed it and told me so.

BM: Let’s talk about differences in the film, Baum’s book, and Wicked. In Baum’s book Glinda’s the Good Witch of the South, and in the film she’s of the North. You have her as North, too. Can you tell us how much the film influenced your writing?

GM: The film influenced me quite a bit (as stated earlier). Again, that green coloured skin impacted me greatly. MGM made her green because Technicolor had just come out (and that’s why they made the slippers ruby coloured, too). It’s not really clear in Baum’s book that she’s green, you just know she’s different. I wanted to know why she was different, so I decided to write about her and create a believable life for Elphaba.

BM: What is Yackle’s role in the destiny of The Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West?

GM: That’s a good question. When I first wrote Yackle, I imagined her as a type of female demon. Then later I pictured her more like one of the Greek fates; an agent of the universe. But I just re-read Wicked myself (after ten years) and now I see her as less demonic. She’s under no one’s thumb. I left her character open to interpretation by the reader so that they could come to their own conclusions.

BM: There are a lot of moral questions that pop up in Wicked (what rights do animals have, the nature of good versus evil, the corruption of power, etc.). If you had to pick one thing that you’d like readers to come away with after reading Wicked, what would it be and why?

GM: I think it’s important to keep asking the question "what is the nature of good and evil?". But I think the one message I’d like readers to take away from this book is that they need to question authority. Always. With what happened in the Gulf War when George Senior was president, and now with his son in power, I think this message is even more critical.

BM: What type of positive and negative feedback have you gotten from people regarding Wicked?

GM: It’s been ten years since Wicked was released and I still get emails from fans. Ninety-eight per cent of it is positive. Most of my negative feedback has been sent to me in anonymous letters (some are even sexual comments that immediately end up in the trash). The thing about Wicked, though, is that the range of people who read it is pretty broad. I’ve got a lot of women’s reading clubs who’ve read it, as well as men in their seventies or older and, now that the musical is out, young girls who range from eleven to twelve years old and up.

BM: If you could invite any characters (from any of your books) to a dinner party, whom would you invite and why?

GM: Oh, that’s tough to say. Um... Elphaba would be too intimidating for me, I think. She’s like my alter-ego. She wouldn’t be a good choice. I’m fond of Glinda, but I’m not sure about the conversation. I think I’d pick Margarethe from Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. She’s not a villain, but she is a complicated peasant with strong moral fibre. She’d be interesting to speak and eat with.

BM: As mentioned previously, Wicked was turned into a musical on Broadway. Did you feel comfortable with this adaptation of your book?

GM: I’m almost unrelenting in my support for the musical. Almost. I feel that they “Glinda-fied” it a bit, but the director had to take certain liberties in order to adapt it. The thing about Wicked (the book) is that it’s a tragedy. But the stage version really isn’t. They had to dramatise it, but I’m okay with that. The musical has given new life to the sales of the book, too.

BM: Are there any more Greg Maguire books coming out that we should watch for?

GM: I’m always writing my children’s books, so those come out pretty regularly. But I am working on something. I was troubled by some letters I got from young girls asking me what had happened to Liir, Elphaba’s son. They want to know and I feel obligated to give them a good answer. So I’m writing a new novel that takes place ten years after the death of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s entitled Son of a Witch.

BM: Great title! Thank you for the interview, Mr Maguire. I’m sure our readers will enjoy it, too.

GM: You’re welcome.

This interview was first published on fwomp.com and is available to view at http://www.fwomp.com/int-mcguire.htm 

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News:

Christmas Lights competition launched
A bright new writing competition has been launched, entitled "Christmas Lights" – with no entry fees and only 250 words to write.

Prizes are offered and publication of the top stories is a real probability.

For full details click here. "Christmas Lights" should not be interpreted as shallow and forgettable: the competition seeks a short story with sparkle and perhaps a flash! 

This is an email only competition with full details here.

For details of over 100 competitions click here

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Free publicity for book authors and publishers
BookCather.com, a new website for book authors, writers, and publishers, is inviting authors to promote their newest books through its book newswire section.

BookCatcher's "Book News Releases" section lets authors post their press releases for free; it also allows authors to include up to three images, such as a book cover and author photo.

Once an author submits their book details, BookCatcher.com automatically formats the information into a newsworthy press release. Each press release gives a summary, a description, contact info., images, as well as details on the book's publisher, agent, author(s), distribution, genre, and price. Authors also have their own accounts where they can manage, modify, renew and upgrade their press releases at any time.

Publishers who are seeking content to reprint can peruse the newest book releases via BookCatcher.com's BOOK NEWS WIRE. Publishers also can also sign up for a free account to track and filter press releases according to
subject, genre or keyword.

BookCatcher is in its beta-testing phase, with a launch date in December 2004. In addition to showcasing new and upcoming book releases, the website also will be a portal of book industry news, book reviews, commentary, how-to articles and discussion forums.

To visit the site click here.

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Inspirational true stories sought
A collection of inspirational true stories is being put together about amazing, unexpected, extraordinary, events that seemed to happen against all odds or laws of nature. These are events that seemed like a miracle.

If you have a story like this the compilers of this collection would love to hear about it.

Writers will retain full copyrights to their work and get full credit for it in addition to inclusion of a short bio with contact information about them.

An outstanding Miracle story is one that creates emotion and gives the reader a feeling of hope, inspiration, or faith.

It can involve anything (animals, cars, weather, people, etc) and it doesn't have to be a huge event.

Stories need not be perfect. The compilers are willing to edit and refine work submitted, even if it is only a few sentences that convey the general point the compilers can work out the details. 

Those with suitable stories should contact Ryan Azevedo at ryan@actual
miracles.com

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New newspaper archive launched
newspaperindex.com claims to be the most comprehensive archive of newspapers from all countries. It has recently been launched in four languages and more are soon to come, says Danish journalist Hans Henrik Lichtenberg, who has collected and revised the newspapers.

"To ensure that the sources are of high quality I have only listed newspapers that are daily updated, free to use online and are written by an independent editorial staff. Moreover the newspapers have to write about politics, breaking news, economics and society."

Lichtenberg has chosen not to list sources that deal with gossip, celebrities and sports.

"Most similar projects have not kept their focus on general news, politics, economics, etc. but unfortunately included news sources of low quality and sites with very specialized media. And what is worst, the links have been broken or the URLs have been hard to remember."

newspaperindex.com typically lists 10–20 Medias in every country:

"The project is not about collecting as many links as possible, but about giving the reader an opportunity to quickly and easily get an overview of how the most influent newspapers in a specific country handles a topic."

The archive could prove an invaluable resource for writers seeking suitable newspaper markets for their writing, both at home and abroad.

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M. Geoffrey Brown Agency closes
The M. Geoffrey Brown Agency has closed down. The agent has not responded to our request for information as to why the agency has been closed, or what the status of clients and submissions currently under consideration is. Concerned parties should contact michael.gbrown
@gmail.com
.

For details of over 550 active agencies, click here 

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