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  Issue #23

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Jan 30, 2005  

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How I got a literary agent
An interview with author David C. Burton

David C. Burton recently acquired an agent using firstwriter.com's database of literary agencies. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.

fw: Congratulations in securing an agent to promote your book, David. What's your book called, and what's it about?

DCB: The title of the book is Fear Killer. It's about a timid, abused woman who is attacked in her home. She manages to kill the attacker. However, before he dies she sees the fear in his eyes. She has never made anyone afraid before and wants to do it again, and again, and again. An older female detective with her own problems is after her.

fw: That sounds like an interesting twist on the genre. How long did it take to write? Is it your first book? 

DCB: No, I've had two other novels published, a mystery, Manmade for Murder in 1997 by Write Way Publishing, and a fantasy / adventure / horror novel, Hell Cop, in January 2004 by Silver Lake Publishing. It takes about a year to 18 months to write a book. I have a full time day job so that makes it a little hard sometimes.

I actually wrote Fear Killer quite a few years ago. I decided it was time to get serious and resurrect it and get it out there. Serial killers were popular in books at the time so I thought that women should have equal opportunity.

fw: If you've already had books published, what made you decide to try and get a literary agent? 

DCB: There's not much money in publishing fiction with small presses. If I wanted to get serious about writing I needed access to the bigger publishers that don't accept unagented writers. So, I got serious about finding a real agent.

fw: Did you ever try to get a literary agent before?

DCB: I've had several agents before, none of whom did me any good. The ones I paid money to (not a lot of money, fortunately) promised the most and delivered the least. My advice to writers: don't pay reading fees, marketing fees or any other fees. Agents should earn their money by selling your work. 

fw: Once you had subscribed to firstwriter.com, how did you go about searching for the right agent for you?

DCB: I clicked on the list of agents who handle suspense / thriller books. Being able to narrow the list down to specific genres is a very handy feature. Saves a lot of time. Then I checked out every listing, every website. Any one that looked promising I noted what they wanted and how they wanted it from their website if possible. That's the latest info.

fw: Once you had found some suitable agents, how did you go about approaching them? One at a time? All at once? What kind of approach did you use?

DCB: I sent them exactly what they wanted. Query / query and synopsis / query, synopsis and chapters. I sent by email if I could, otherwise by snail mail. I sent whenever I was ready. I had the query all written out except for the name. When a possibility presented itself I could email them right away. Three or four a night sometimes. 

fw: How much do you think having a previous publishing history with the small press helped you get an agent?

DCB: Apart from my two novels I've won a couple small screenwriting contests. I think it helps to have a publishing history, no matter how small it might be. But the quality of your query letter, and the quality of your writing and story are the most important.

fw: Did you receive a lot of rejections? How long did it take to be accepted by someone?

DCB: Lots of initial rejections. Over three or four months I got just three manuscript requests. One rejected the manuscript, one accepted it, one I never heard from again.

fw: Was there any particular feature of firstwriter.com that helped you?

DCB: The agent listings seemed very complete. Being able to have a list of agents that handle what I write saves a ton of time rather than checking out listings that aren't interested in my type of work. The InstantAlert feature (where you get emails every time a listing is added or updated) is great, also. 

fw: What next? What's happening now that you've got an agent? What are they doing for you? Is there a publisher or a sequel in the 
pipeline?
 

DCB: The agent wanted a few edits and it's only been a week since I sent in the final draft. So, now it's a waiting game. I'm working on the next book in the Hell Cop series and thinking of a sequel to Fear Killer. It can't hurt to be prepared! The main thing I'm doing is writing and not giving up. Persistence pays. 

fw: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, David; I'm sure your story will be an inspiration to many aspiring writers out there. Good luck with the books.

To search firstwriter.com's database of over 550 literary agencies yourself, click here
For more details regarding David C. Burton's books visit www.Silverlakepublishing.com and http://hellcop.home.att.net

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Leave feedback on literary agencies

Are you looking for a literary agent? Have you had good experiences with an agency that was particularly polite and helpful? Or bad experiences with one that was tardy and rude? Well now you have the chance to report their behaviour for the benefit of other users!

At the end of last year, firstwriter.com introduced its new feedback system to its literary agents listings. Users can now easily post feedback for a literary agency right on the listing. We asked Managing Editor, J. Paul Dyson, what he thought the benefits and the impact of the new system would be:

"The feedback feature revolutionises literary agency listings. Up until now – both in print and online – writers have been presented with listings created either by the agency themselves, or a researcher, or a combination of both. Now, at last, writers can get a writer's perspective on each agency, as listings on firstwriter.com become increasingly composites of information from the agencies themselves, independent sources, and an unlimited number of users."

Of course, there are lots of sites that already allow users to post feedback – on Amazon users can post reviews of the items for sale; and on eBay users leave feedback on each other – but this is the first time that the principal has been applied to listings for writers.

The system has only just been set live, but already more than 5 per cent of agency listings now include user feedback. There is no limit to how many comments can be left for each agent, so as time goes on the listings will provide a better and better impression of each agency, giving access to all the feedback people have left, and summaries of the numbers of positive, negative, and neutral comments.

We've already received a torrent of positive emails regarding the introduction of this new system, but the feedback system can only be as good as the users who leave the feedback make it – so thank you to everyone who has already left feedback, and please everyone remember, whenever you receive a response to an approach to an agent, to leave feedback (whether positive, negative, or neutral) on the site. To leave your feedback for an agency simply find their listing, and click the "Leave Feedback" button at the top!

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What's in a name? Giving birth to your characters
By Celise Downs

So you've got your plot outlined, a title lined up, and the research is done. You're ready to start writing your novel. But wait. Now comes the fun part: creating names for your characters. One of the best things about being a writer besides the innate ability to create imaginary worlds is giving birth to a character and then bestowing a name upon him or her. True, you didn't carry the character in your womb for nine months (especially if you're male). But he or she could've been in your head for nine months or nine years. So choosing a name for your character seems almost as important as the one you would give your own child.

The name you decide on will dictate the reader's perception of that character, so select wisely. If your character is an agoraphobic scientist, he or she should not be named Brittany or Rick. Does this bunch of hoo-hah sound familiar to you? Raise your hand now, don't be shy. I thought so. Now let me remove the rose-coloured sunglasses so you all can see the harsh light of reality. The reality being that having a common name conjures up a stereotypical image. What picture forms in your head when you hear the name Tiffany? Pretty, popular, blonde-haired cheerleader? What about the name Melvin? Skinny guy with glasses and a pocket protector? Now what comes to mind when you hear something unique like Lyric? Or Dax?

We as writers have been blessed with a wonderful gift. We are a rare species unto ourselves in such a way that we can build alternate realities for the public to enter. We are storytellers that pull ideas out of our minds, invent our own language even, and the only names we can come up with for our characters are John, Susan, Kathleen, and Sam? 

Unacceptable. These are perfectly good names, don't get me wrong, but they're safe names. I used to be in an online critique group and someone said that if your main character has an unusual name, the secondary characters should have more common names; that way, it won't be so confusing to the reader. My initial response wasn't printable, but I can tell you that it sort of went a little like this: "who died and made you Ruler of the Writing World? Heaven forbid we throw our readers a curve ball every once in a while".

It's called variety, folks. In the Dictionary, this word is defined as "the quality or condition of being various or varied; diversity". If you don't step outside your comfort zone and offer your readers some different flavours, you're not going to sell any books. I decided from the get-go that all the characters in my books were going to have unique names. I wanted to stand out from the pack and dance my own little jig. So here are some suggestions on finding primo names for your characters:

1) Books, magazines, and newspapers: These are wonderful sources. In magazines and newspapers, a story, a self-help column or even a product ad could house a name that would be worth writing down. People use baby books to choose names for their children, so why not do the same for your characters? These books can be very in-depth, stating the meaning of the 
name as well as its origin. I've used The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook (1994, Sherrilyn Kenyon with Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet). It features more than 20,000 first and last names and their meanings from around the world: Norse, Slavic, Teutonic, Arthurian Legend names, and more.

I've also discovered the hidden cache of names in other people's books. I'm severely addicted to the adult romance books that come out every month: Harlequin Blaze and Temptation, and Silhouette Desire. And my favourite authors are Janelle Denison, Kristine Grayson, Carly Phillips, and Julie Kenner. Every once in a while, I'll find a name in their books that I can add to my continually growing list. Science fiction, time travel and fantasy books are good for names as well.

2) Walk of Fame: Hollywood actors and actresses may have been born with common names like Julia and Brad, but that doesn't mean their offspring have to suffer the same fate. Will and Jada Smith's children: Willow and Jaden; Demi Moore's girls: Scout LaRue, Rumer Glen and Tallulah Belle; Gwenyth Paltrow's daughter: Apple Blythe; John Travolta and Kelly Preston's son: Jett; Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke's son: Ronin. Singer Brandi's daughter: Sy'rai; Thomas Jane (The Punisher) and Rosanna 
Arquette's daughter: Harlow.

Even some famous faces were lucky enough to have been born with one-of-a-kind names: Keanu Reeves, Jude Law, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Macaulay Culkin, Kiefer Sutherland, Oprah Winfrey.

3) Movies and television shows: This avenue isn't as unorthodox as you might think. I guarantee someone out there could come forward and claim, "I was named after some character on a soap opera". Ridge and Thorne Forrester, The Bold and The Beautiful; Topanga Morris, Boy Meets World; Teal'c, Stargate SG-1; Leelou, The Fifth Element; Blade, Ellora Danan, Willow; Teela, He-Man cartoons. Need I say more?

4) Daily life: For almost two years, I worked the night shift, keying medical claims. Due to that job, I now have a nice long two-paged list of boys and girls names. You would not believe how many wonderfully unusual names I came across every time I flipped a page: Princess, Precious, Treasure, Oreo, Malachi, Ashanti, Treyvon, Diabolique (for real!), Natividad – the list goes on and on. Just think. You could be sitting at your desk, standing in line at the grocery store / coffee shop / fast food joint, listening to a song on the radio, eavesdropping on a conversation, or talking to your neighbour and the next thing you know, you're bombarded with names for your characters. Being a writer, one can only hope that you're aware of your surroundings at all times and can see a potential story in everything that goes on around you.

5) Character naming contest / vote: I did this for my third book, which will be Book One in a teen series I'm creating. I had about four different combinations of a name I was trying to come up with for my main character. I sent an email out to my co-workers, close friends and family, asking them to vote on the name they liked best. The name that got the most votes became the name for my character. In return, I'll be including a special thank-you on the Dedication Page of the book. Although there are too many names to print, if they buy the book, they'll know they had a hand in choosing the name of the character. If you go the contest route, offer the winner a free copy of the book, a special gift, etc. If nothing else, you'll get plenty of names for future books.

I attended a book festival in Prescott, AZ last year. A mother and daughter came up to my table, read the back covers of both books, then walked away. A half hour later, they came back and purchased my first book (Secrets and Kisses) because the female character's name was Skylar. For whatever reason, the name meant something to that young girl. It could've been her name, the name of her friend, a relative – who knows? The point is, your readers are going to appreciate an "anomalous, exceptional, extraordinary, far out, incomparable, inimitable, special, standout, strange, uncommon" name. Now, you are ready to begin writing your novel. Your character has been born, breathing passages cleared (nice set of lungs there), weighed, measured, and awaiting a name. Get creative, step outside the box and remember: a rose by any other name should be something besides Tom, Dick, Harry or Jane.

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Resources for writers at firstwriter.com

Visit firstwriter.com for the following invaluable resources for writers:

To advertise on this newsletter for as little as $30 / 20 click here

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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:

Submissions needed for anthology series
Adams Media is seeking submissions for a new anthology series: "The Rocking Chair Reader".

Stories should be true, set in a small town in America, and relate to Christmas. The deadline for submissions is April 2005.

Authors whose stories are selected for inclusion will receive a byline, bio, copy of the book, and $50. The author of the lead story receives $250.

For more details email rockingchairreader
@adamsmedia.com
, or write to: Rocking Chair Reader, Adams Media, 57 Littlefield St., Avon. MA 02322.

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Promote your books online
Two new websites have been launched which allow authors to promote their books online.

The Underground Who allows authors to submit news of their books to be featured in the headlines, and offers the opportunity to advertise on its pages for $20 a month.

NewBookSeller.com gives writers the chance to post descriptions of their books and a link to their website, free or charge. 

For further details visit the sites at www.under
groundwho.com
and http://NewBook
Seller.com
 

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Ag Partners literary agency closes
Ag Partners literary agency is closing at the end of January, 2005. 

Andrew Silvers cites personal circumstances for the closure. All submissions with SAEs are in the process of being returned, while the rest will be shredded and recycled once the authors have been contacted.

For over 550 active agencies click here

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Confiscated sci-fi to be released
A confiscated Bulgarian sci-fi novel will be released in the United States in May 2005 after a 25-year unscheduled delay.

The sci-fi novel Timeship, by Boris Belovarski, was first written in 1980 when the author was only 19. The manuscript was confiscated by the Bulgarian Secret Police
and deemed "ideologically unfitting" (a KGB term for "politically incorrect") and destroyed. Restored by acute memory, and early drafts that survived in Bulgaria and which were shipped to the author in his country of exile via West-European tourists, Timeship was published in Bulgarian in 2000 by Biblios ET (ISBN 954-9921-04-02). The same year, the Marquis Publications Board of "Who's Who in America" awarded the newly-welcomed US writer for "outstanding achievement" and "betterment of contemporary society" (Millennium Edition 54).

You may read a PDF
excerpt of the first chapter at the author's website, Belovarski.com.

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Sam Smith wins 2004 SKREV Prize
Long-standing stalwart of the British small press, Sam Smith, has recently been announced as the winner of the 2004 SKREV Prize for Science Fiction, for his novella We Need Madmen, which is available in the winner's anthology Electric Sheep

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firstwriter.com 2005
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