I got a literary agent
Interview with author Adrienne Schwartz
recently acquired an agent using firstwriter.com's
database of literary
agencies. We asked her about her writing, and how she found
fw: Congratulations on
securing an agent to represent your book, Adrienne. What is your book called, and what is it about?
AS: The title is The Wizard’s Box and it is a modern fairy tale for 10-year-olds (or thereabouts). It is about the adventures of
Iggle, a bright, inquisitive girl, who lives on a wine farm in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. One afternoon in the vineyard, Iggle digs up a
veneficus armarium, a wizard’s poison box, to give its Latin name. She cannot resist a peek inside, even though she knows it may be risky, and she is not mistaken. Instantly she plunges into a Wonderland-like
adventure where she meets some zany characters and journeys through the enchanted landscape to the Wizard’s Tower. If she succeeds in finding the Tower, she must, according to tradition, outsmart the wizard,
Cuppinsorcerer. Only then can she have her one wish come true.
fw: Where do you get your
AS: All my inspiration to write comes from J. R.R.
Tolkien, but the inspiration for this story is directly from Alice in
fw: How did you go about writing it, and how long did it take?
AS: I would say in total
three months, but it was interspersed with other books I was writing at the time, so from first date to polished final script, over the period of a year. Usually I begin with a story idea and just get it down, quickly as I can. Very rough, no chapter outlines, not much
characterisation and no settings. Very often this conversation is just to get the ideas flowing and I rarely come back to look at the file ever again. I’m very fluid, so I muse on the conversation for a while, maybe take a few walks, think about, do I like it?
Visualising the main character is important to me. I begin to work up small things about the character that have nothing to do with the story but inject a certain reality, perhaps an annoying cough or a particular speech pattern. This is my way of getting acquainted with the character. If I like the story or the character, then I get going with the first chapter and get a feel for things. I do a lot of
rewriting or redrawing if you like, at this point, very much like sketching an outline and then trying out various
colours and brushstrokes inside the lines. Things begin to take form, often unexpectedly. I rarely know exactly where I am going, although I have a fair idea of where I want to end up, and hardly ever write outlines as they tend to constrain me.
fw: It sounds like
writing is something you've done a lot of. What writing have you done before, and has any of it been published?
AS: I have been dabbling on and off for a long time, since
the 1970s, with short stories and romances. I have had both short stories and one full-length
About five years back I decided to get really serious and not just dabble. I wanted to write books that could
– even briefly – transport a reader. For me, books (and reading) have always been the
"open sesame" of the mind and I wanted to be part of that magic. I wanted to be a
storyteller and hopefully use words to move readers in some way.
fw: What did you do to
"get serious"? Did you start trying to find a literary agent straight away?
AS: No, I finished a full-length young adult book (my first) in December and began submitting to publishers in
January. Not The Wizard’s Box, but another manuscript. Turned out to be a frustrating exercise, especially from South Africa, where postal services are expensive and unreliable. Just trying to find a Post Office that sold International Reply Coupons was tedious and difficult. Out of 27 submissions only
4 were actually received, as far as I know. It was like tossing the manuscript into a big black hole. Was it falling into human hands or was this just a void? Impossible to evaluate. I
realised that I needed an agent, but how to go about it? It was then I found
fw: Had you tried any
other methods before you found firstwriter.com?
AS: I had an old edition of
Writer’s Market but it meant I still needed to send queries through regular mail so that put me pretty much on the same footing as when I submitted to publishing houses. In addition, I was limited to those agents who could afford to be in the
Writer’s Market. It all seemed so silly when email simplifies what is otherwise a cumbersome process. I entered the 21st century and found
in early February. For a day I was sceptical and thought "this can’t be
real. So much information, so reasonable, I am going to be hit by a huge bill" but, no, you were exactly what you said you would be: a rich, prolific unending resource.
fw: Were there any particular features of firstwriter.com that you liked or were particularly helpful in finding your agent?
AS: Yes, a number of features impressed me.
I could select criteria that were important to me, not just go fishing for someone who had hung up a sign board with the word
"Agent" on it. That saved me a huge amount of wasted time and effort and cut down on the frustration.
Yes, print publications (and quite a number of web publications) give you out-dated information. For example, sending a manuscript to XX Publishers and following instructions to the letter only to find out
6–10 weeks later that you have wasted time, money and paper sending a partial and carefully constructed query letter because XX Publisher does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. You usually get a curt rejection form letter back from the mail room attendant, to boot.
The information on your website was accurate and current.
And yes, the best part is that even if you get rejected today… check back in an hour and there is another agent to evaluate. How encouraging!
fw: What approach did you take to approaching agents?
AS: In my romance-writing days, I had the agent from hell that ran off with the publisher’s advance. I therefore took note of User Feedback and read the listing information very carefully, I also accessed their websites. A big plus for me was if they accepted queries via email, covered adult and children’s books and were not
abrasive (for example, long lists of "what not to send" put me off immediately). I also took note of how they responded to my email. Mostly, each query was tailored specifically for the agent based on the information supplied by
firstwriter.com. I sent out multiple submissions.
fw: How long did you spend searching for an agent before you got one?
AS: Five months from the time I began looking to the time I signed up with the agency.
I sent The Wizard’s Box to
six agents. I received three outright rejections to my partial submissions (approximately 50 pages) one rejection to a query, and one has not responded to date. The sixth one offered me a contract.
fw: How do you deal
AS: Since January, I submitted four other manuscripts and/or just query letters (no manuscripts) to
ten publishing houses. I received four outright rejections, most of them standard form letters but one (Orbit, Little Brown) astonished me by returning the enclosed
IRC. Six have not responded to date. I submitted to two magazines and received
two rejections but the last one (Missouri Review) very kindly appended a hand-written note telling me to consider submitting again. You have no idea how terrific it is to know that there is a real person on the far side of this submission process. In all, I cannot say all my rejections were horrible but at the time each one is hard. I have to keep on reassuring myself that I can write and that the work is worthwhile. It really helps if you have people around who
believe in you even if you doubt their veracity and think they are only being kind because they are almost contractually obligated to say the writing is good. Trick is to keep on writing despite the rejections. In the end, the way I coped was to admit that I simply was not able to stop writing.
fw: Which agency signed you,
and why do you think they accepted you?
AS: Pamela Scott Shelton.
She said she found the work humorous and it appealed to her. Obviously we both enjoy a certain amount of irreverence of
"things sacred", the magic of imagination and quirky characters that still have relevance in the real world. Most especially, we both believe that instilling a real appreciation for books in young children is vital. It can and does in so many ways define what kind of adults they become. All they aspire to originates in their ability to comprehend the words, ideas and possibilities engendered in stories.
fw: What's it like having an agent?
AS: Having an agent frees me up so I can concentrate on writing. The business of getting published is best left to professionals and Ms Shelton is very definitely that. Although it is early
days (I signed with her only last month) my expectation is that she will find the right publisher for this book and not just rush to dispose of it or me. This is based on our brief correspondence. This is a very responsive person who communicated with me throughout the submission process as no other agent did. When she says she will do something, she does it. She does not leave me dangling in the wind as is the trend in the Publishing industry. She obviously
realises that the writer is anxious to find out what is happening with a manuscript that took time and effort to ‘"bring to life" and must now put forth in blind trust. The moment I signed she began marketing my manuscript. Her method is to make contact with the publishing houses before sending the manuscript.
fw: Do you have any general tips or advice for other writers trying to get
AS: Yes, persevere… if you believe you have the ability to tell a story then tell it your way. Again and again, don’t allow others to tell you what to write. Read as much as and broadly as you can. For a direct dose of encouragement, get hold of a good book on writing, I found Steven King’s
On Writing practical and helpful.
fw: What next? Do you have any publishers in the pipeline – or more books? Where are you taking your writing now?
AS: As I said about publishers, it is early days. I am writing two books at the moment: a novel set in contemporary South Africa that is (hopefully) a light-hearted look at how white people are faring in the newly liberated democracy of Need, Greed and Other Excesses and the second is a children’s book about a girl who has the gumption to think she has what it takes to become the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I have used one of my
favourite authors as inspiration for this one,
T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone.
fall’s publishing season bury your books?
By Marsha Friedman
President, Event Management Services
The season for fall releases is nearly here. And along with the other
authors out there, you probably want publicity for your own
nonfiction title, too. With a little “inside” help, you can enlist radio interviews and print to build a huge demand for your
book… even as your competition wallows in obscurity. Needless to say, this can be a rare advantage. Because when it comes right down to it, media attention is the fastest, most credible way of getting books in the public eye.
Here’s why: Today, people believe, if something’s important, they’ll hear about it on talk radio or see it in print. That’s just the way it is. We’ve become a media-dependent society. What that means is, if you can introduce your books into the “media streams” people most rely on, you have a great chance of building a big following.
On the other hand, if you don’t do that, your
book will probably rank among the best kept secrets in the publishing industry. Here’s more on talk radio and print PR.
- Convenience and talk radio
exposure – an unbeatable combination!
Imagine getting all the publicity you need… without leaving your home or office! Well, all interviews are done by phone so you can conveniently have a live conversation with thousands of people about your book. It’s one of the very finest ways of getting quick, national exposure to your potential buyers.
And it’s the kind of exposure that results in a steady stream of readers into local stores to order your book or purchase the copies already there. It can also mean more traffic on your website, if that’s where you direct them.
And while you can readily land interviews on top talk radio shows, you also want to keep in mind, quantity! Your game is to create a “buzz” about your book – and let people know it exists. Multiple talk radio interviews will incite that buzz.
- Appear in the most credible source of information:
While talk radio is a superior way of reaching people, newspapers and magazines still rank among the most credible, most popular sources of information. So this medium should be an important part of your promotional strategy. There are some powerful ways of doing this. You can put book reviews in newspapers and magazines, for example. Even more than that, though, you can submit articles focusing on the topic of your book. Picked up by a national magazine, these will work wonders for your sales! Don’t discount the value of smaller print sources, either. Like community newspapers, for instance. They’re popular on a local level and often the first door that will open to your print campaign.
Look… you wrote a book for a reason. And it wasn’t to stay a well-kept secret. You wrote it to get read by as many people as possible. Fortunately, we can put that well within your grasp, quickly and affordably.
Event Management Services is relied on by more and more authors and publishers to train the media spotlight on their titles. And the good news is, this doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Ten guaranteed talk radio interviews on nationwide shows will cost you just $1,950. What’s more, we’ll write an article about your book and distribute it tens of thousands of newspaper and magazine journalists whose readers would have an interest in your title – for just $1,995.
Marsha Friedman, President
Event Management Services
1127 Grove Street
Clearwater, FL 33755
727-443-7115 x 208
writers at firstwriter.com
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Renewed is accepting submissions to the Mandy Poetry Contest until September 1, 2005.
The contest is free to enter and is open to poems in any style and on any subject, up to 40 lines. Prizes of $50, $30, and $20 will be awarded.
Entries can be sent by email (one entry per person), including your full name, postal address, and phone number at the top of the email. Send submissions to T. Emmett Mueller at
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Poetry Monthly launches new website
Poetry Monthly's new website is up and running with sample poems and basic information about the magazine.
Poetry Monthly Press (publishers of
Poetry Monthly magazine) also specialise in stapled and perfect bound books, and large format printing (up to A1), as well as greeting, post, and business cards.
You can visit the new website at
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Red Lotus Press closing
Red Lotus Press is closing due to a loss of financial backing. No material has yet been accepted for publication, and all previously received submissions will be destroyed. Work which has been submitted to Red Lotus Press is no longer under consideration and authors should feel free to submit their work elsewhere.
For over 350 other publishers
Call for anthology submissions
Personal anecdotal stories are sought for "A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism", an anthology about the unique aspects of
parenting a child with autism and related disorders (Asperger syndrome, Rett's disorder, disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder).
Stories should be inspirational and drawn from personal experience, rather than
prescriptive articles. Mostly interested in pieces from parents, but will consider items from other connected individuals: friends, family members, professionals in the field, etc.
Stories should be in English, original, and between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Payment is $100 for each story, with $500 awarded to the author of the best story in the book. The deadline for submissions is October 1, 2005.
For more information on this and other upcoming anthologies on various themes visit
www.cupofcomfort.com, or email Colleen Sell at
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