Are you agented? Do you need an agent to get published? What can an agent do for you?
Ask ten authors and you will probably get ten different answers.
If youíre new to the publishing business, you may not be ready for an agent. I usually suggest waiting to query agents until youíve done your homework, researched the agent, and for a newbie -- until you finish a book. For beginners, look for the newer agents, junior agents, who are seeking clients.
No, you donít have to have an agent to sell, especially to category romance. But do hone your writing, study the market, join a critique group, know your lines, and enter contests so you can receive feedback and tweak that project until it is polished.
Often contests are judged by editors or agents so enter those -- if one of your judges really likes the work, you may get a request that could turn into a sale.
Attend conferences and listen to what the editor/agent wants. If he/she says they are not looking for historical, donít send them one! Also, research the agent and agency first - find out who they represent, what kinds of deals theyíre doing, what houses/editors they like to sell to, and get references from other authors they represent.
Once youíve done your homework, try to meet them at a conference if possible. If you canít, then query.
Once youíve made a connection, ask questions. What should you ask?
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR EXPECTATIONS - what you want from the relationship.
Remember as much as you want an agent, you want a business partnership which requires communication and professionalism. You donít have to be best friends, but if youíre personalities totally clash or if youíre so intimidated by the agent, that you wonít ask questions, then he/she is not the right choice.
Also remember that the agent works for you, so while he/she will ask you about yourself and your goals, youíre also interviewing the agent.
Basic questions to ask:
How does the agent handle communication with editors? Which editors does he/she like to work for? What type of work does she represent? What other authors does she represent?
How does she handle your projects? Does she give feedback, editing, hands- on advice? Does she read rewrites? Is she nurturing? How much hand holding do you need? Does she give you positive feedback, support and instill confidence in you?
How does she handle submissions and pitches? By phone, email, snail Mail? Does she have access to the New York publishers? Does she attend conferences and stay abreast of changing in the markets/houses/lines?
Does she offer career counseling? While your goal may be to sell that first book, you want to formulate a plan for your career. Are you going to write other books similar to the one sheís representing? Will you brand yourself? Where do you see your career a year from then? Five years? Ten? How prolific are you and how many books do you and can you complete in a year?
Who are some of her clients? What kinds of deals has she/he done? Ask for references and talk or email a few of her clients and discuss how she works.
Is she steering you in the direction you want to go or suggesting you go another route, maybe follow a trend that you donít fit into? How does she handle rejections? Is she supportive afterward? Do you discuss feedback on projects and make a plan to revise or to move forward?
Periodic Evaluation & Goal Setting
Once you acquire an agent, do periodic evaluations -- you donít have to show her these, but each year or six months, evaluate how you think the relationship/partnership is working. Have you met your goals? Are you working together to achieve them?
Also, have a goal setting meeting with her at least once a year. Discuss positive results, negative ones, and where your career is going.
Questions to ask?
Are you on the same page goal wise?
How often do you talk? How -- phone, email? Do you meet at conferences?
How much time does she afford you -- where do you fall on her list?
Project to project basis -- look at her feedback, communication, how is she representing you? In a positive way? Lukewarm? Is she excited about the project youíre taking out? If not, it may affect her pitch.
Is she open to communication - does she respond to you in a timely manner? Or does she get annoyed when you email too much or call?
Does she send things to the right editor?
How does she feel about your pitching to editors? Does she send you written verification of submissions? Copies of correspondence and feedback from editors?
Does she have a positive attitude? Instill confidence in you or put you down after a rejection?
Does she discuss strategizing for your career?
Does she keep getting rejections for you and how does she handle this? Do you revise?
Is she helping you move forward in your career?
Is she able to push through negotiations on your contract -- incentives, publicity, pub dates, anthologies, continuity projects, etc?
How does she follow up once a deal is done? Does she ask about covers? Print run?
CONSIDERING A CHANGE
If she failed to meet several of your expectations, it may be time for a change. Itís only fair to discuss your needs and make her aware of problems so that you can both fix them. But if that doesnít work, then you may want to consider changing representation.
- What is your agent doing for you?
- Are you happy with your agent or contemplating change?
- When is it time to make the change?
Writers change agent for any number of reasons. Some of those are:
An author reaches a new point in her career where sheís moving up, changing and growing as a writer, and she feels the agent isnít growing with her or disagrees with her moves.
A writer has reached a point where sheís stalled -- she canít seem to move from category to single title, or the mid list to a higher spot? A fresh look at the writerís work, career might be needed.
Communication and problems with attitude
The agent isnít consistent with her attitude -- she may support a project when it goes out, but if itís rejected, she might not pass the rejections on in a positive way or loses faith in you and the project. Remember, she is the middle man -- she has to pass on comments, negative or positive, to you, but she should always be on your side. She works FOR you.
The agent gets annoyed when you ask questions or stops communicating information. She becomes belligerent, belittles the writerís work, and is personally insulting.
The writer becomes more aggressive about her career than the agent.
The editor doesnít want to push an editor or house or fight for you because she doesnít want to damage her image or is worried about other clients she has with the house.
TIPS FOR MAKING A CHANGE
- Set a time to discuss and make yourself clear -- if youíre unhappy express the reasons in a business, professional format and demeanor.
- Ask her where she sees your career in a year, five, ten?
- Clear the air and open communication.
- Donít get emotional or attack personally -- keep business like.
- Donít badmouth your agent in front of others, especially professional.
- Choose your timing -- the best time to sever a relationship is NOT when your agent has ten submissions pending for you! Try to tie up any projects submitted for a smoother transition.
- To get a new agentís interest, start working/planning a new project to pitch for that agent.
ONCE THE DECISION IS MADE
Keep it simple, professional.
Follow the protocol for the agency agreement.
Write a business letter, email or phone call, but get verification that the relationship is being severed business-wise.
Discuss any projects you worked on together - does she have rights? Look at your contract with the agent? Get a release.
Get written correspondence of any submissions, communication that she has made on your behalf for existing projects.
If she has a project currently out, ethically she gets the sale.
Ask for split payments.
Send a thank you note for all the help, advice, work, sheís done on your behalf.
If you sever the partnership while youíre still under contract, honor the contract you signed with her. If she doesn't want to follow up with foreign sales, cover consultations, etc., then ask your new agent if she will.
Phrase your conversation positively and be professional -- emotions/anger/hostility have no place in the conversation.
Remember the publishing industry is small -- youíll see her again most likely and you donít want an awkward, heated confrontation.
At all time, protect your reputation. Then other agents and editors will, too!
Once youíve ended the partnership, put the past behind you and move on! Agents, authors and houses/editors change all the time - donít dwell on it -- youíre taking another step in your career, a step forward!
When I think of layering a story and conflict, I think of my favorite nine-layered dip. First the refried beans, the chilies, onions, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, grated cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. And donít forget the tortilla chips!
Each layer of the dip adds its own unique flavor to the dip. Sure, it would be tasty minus one or two of the ingredients, but itís much richer and more interesting with them all.
Now, think about layering your story. First you have your characters, plot, story theme or idea, whichever comes first for you. Then you build from there. You add internal conflict, external conflict, emotional baggage, obstacles, personal relationships which create problems, a setting which adds a flavor to the story or creates more obstacles.
For a short category book, you can either make thin layers, or choose a couple of really rich ones and blend it together. For a longer book, a bigger book, you want to add layer upon layer to give the story a rich, full-bodied fullness.
How do you do that?
Start by asking yourself questions.
Layering the characters/conflict
First, list the main goal/motivation for your hero, then heroine.
Add the conflict. What internal conflict does he struggle with? What about her? Why do they clash? What is going to keep them from immediately falling in love?
Then delve deeper into each character to find out what makes him/her tick, why he/she thinks the way he does, why he wants this goal, what will happen if he/she doesnít obtain that goal.
Now, what kind of family does he have? What are those relationships, and how can they complicate his life during the course of the story?
Do the same for friends and working relationships.
How about past lovers? How will they affect the hero/heroineís point of view and his/her actions?
Do one or both of them have children? Pets? How do these add conflict?
Is there an antagonist in the story other than the hero and heroine? (An antagonist can be a past lover, family member, friend, business acquaintance or a villain.)
Another way to add layers is to use subplots. The subplot should intertwine with the main plot and be so important that without it the story might not work. Avoid throwing in unrelated subplots as filler. The subplot should evolve from the characters, their emotions, their past, their relationships and tie into the main story line by driving the characters even further apart and making their choices and lives more complicated.
Use strained family relationships to add conflict -- (the heroineís estranged father hates the man she is falling in love -- if she wants to mend things with her father, how can she be with the hero?)
Add a family member or friend who has something inherent to do with the external conflict. For example, a friend owns the business the hero/heroine wants to obtain and refuses to sell it.
A past lover or former husband/wife decides they want a second chance at love and returns to shake things up.
A villain is determined to keep the hero or heroine from achieving his/her goals.
Using Your Setting
Make the setting add to the conflict. If you choose a small town or city, use elements in that town or city to add more obstacles. You can also add a layer by putting one or more of the characters in an unfamiliar setting (fish-out-of-water) so they have to contend with uncomfortable issues.
In a small town, utilize one or two colorful small town characters to challenge the hero/heroine and keep them from reaching his/her goal. The town gossip line might be another source of conflict, or the characterís family who needs him/her to stay close by to make the small family business work.
In the city, use the anonymity of big city life, difficulties of job hunting, red tape with bureaucracy, differences in socioeconomic status, social situations, crime instances (she might get mugged), etc. as forces which drive the characters apart or bring them together.
Throw your characters into the woods, a jungle, an abandoned island or a courtroom and let the setting work as an antagonist to the character.
The country girl moves to the city and canít afford her own apartment so she has to share with a roommate for the first time in her life, job hunt, try to find a man in a crowd of thousands, face the dangers of dating the Ďunknown maní.
The city girl falls in love with a veterinarian and has to contend with animals -- add another layer: she is allergic to the cats and dogs he treats.
A woman inherits a perfume factory but has a migraine every time she goes to work. Another layer; her ex-husband works at the factory.
Thunderstorms, natural disasters, snowstorms, blizzards, flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. can add yet another layer of conflict. They challenge the hero/heroine and make it more difficult for him/her to achieve his goal. You can also use them to force the characters to work together to overcome the weather obstacles while also trying to overcome their own internal conflicts.
Basically, layering adds depth to your story. So remember the more layers the reader has to peel away, the more they will enjoy your story!
First of all, what is the continuity book?
The continuity book is a book that is part of a multi-author written series in which one book begins a series of stories that are connected by an underlying or larger plot or theme. That plot/theme runs throughout each book in the series. However, each book has its own self-contained story line with a satisfying romance and plot which is tied up happily at the end. Certain elements of the larger story line and/or characters are threaded through each book with questions as to the outcome of that plot line which are not answered until the last book of the series.
Most continuity books are part of the category/series (Harlequin lines) although occasionally some mainstream or romance publishers may also feature a connected series. (For example, NALís Bride Chronicle series.)
Usually the continuity series idea is generated in-house by the publisher and an editor or group of editors who come up with the main story line. One editor then takes on the task of creating the Bible for the series. The Bible is an overall outline of the series concept, the characters, setting, descriptions, and plot for each individual book as well as the story arc for the larger plot line of the series.
Generally, authors are invited to participate in the continuity series, are assigned a story-line/book in the series, and are then given the Bible to guide them through the process.
There are definite advantages and disadvantages of writing the continuity book.
It is considered a perk to be asked to participate in the continuity series -- this means the publisher knows that you, the author, can finish the book, can work with other authors, and that they are trying to give you exposure to other readers who might not normally pick up one of your books.
The publisher puts special promotion into the series, and may include all the books in the series in the bookclub.
Once the reader is hooked on the series, she/he usually buys all the books in the series so your sales will be good.
It is a learning experience for you and training ground in case you decide to write your own series. A series can help grow your readership and give you an identity within the category line you write for.
Your freedom within the story line is somewhat limited. You have to write the story line the publisher gives you so that it fits within their larger story line. You may discuss certain elements that you might want to change with the editor, but you must include those continuity elements from the Bible and follow the basic story line you are assigned.
Although your name is on the book, you do not own the copyright of the work, the publisher does -- this means that you canít enter the book into contests or write a spin off character for a book of your own.
You must work with other authors. While this can be fun and exciting, itís also a challenge. You may have to read the other authorís books or at least communicate with them regarding details of the story such as descriptions of places, names, characters, and plot points that might affect your story line. If one author has portrayed a character a certain way, you have to be consistent -- unless your story line calls for this character to change/grow. Then of course, you must show the change in motivation.
You must stick to deadline -- the stories are scheduled to come out back to back (in consecutive months) so if you miss your deadline you can throw the entire series off as far as scheduling and promotion.
Whether or not to participate in a continuity series is up to you. Some authors love them. They like having the plot work already done for them and enjoy the attention the series gets. Other authors moan and refuse to do them, saying itís too much trouble to coordinate with other authors (Some continuity series books have gone on for ten or more books -- that can get sticky!)
But the exposure and publisher support often is worth it!
Your book is typically divided into three sections - the first three chapters (conflict is set up, the reader is hooked), the middle chapters (develop characters more deeply, layer subplots and build tension), and the third section -- the climax and resolution.
Directly before the black moment, the major moment of climax in the story, give your reader a short taste of happily ever after (commonly called the plateau of happiness). At this point, one or both characters are so in love they think things might work out, although they have no idea how.
Then, wham, a dramatic event or situation (external plot) triggers those internal conflicting emotions to rise to the surface. Remember, the conflict or problem canít be trivial or a simple misunderstanding, but should be based on the charactersí internal conflict, his flaws, fears, insecurities, and the loss of his own goals or dreams.
This is the black moment, the darkest time of your story, when both characters feel everything is lost. There is no way they can get back together, forgive one another, or work out their problems. For a seamless story, weave your subplots and external conflict together to trigger this dramatic moment.
Every scene in your story should lead up to this point (it typically occurs about two-thirds through the story.) The more emotional and dramatic the situation, the more difficult the decision for the characters, the more they have to sacrifice, the better!
Directly following the dramatic moment, each character faces the question -- how can he/she go on without the other? How can they overcome their obstacles? If they achieve their individual goals, especially at the expense of the other characterís loss or their own chance at love, do they discover that reaching the goal didnít bring true happiness?
This is a pivotal point where the character experiences character growth. Each character should have to sacrifice for the other, or at least be willing to.
Once the character has faced the dramatic moment and realized his own character growth, tie up the story quickly. Find a satisfactory resolution, a compromise for the characters, and your reader will close the book with a sigh.
Tip: tie up external conflict and plot points before you resolve the internal conflict. For example, in a suspense, the dangerous situation might trigger the black moment, but because of internal conflicts (trust issues, fear of loss, etc.), the climax is heightened. After the killer is caught or mystery solved, the character still must resolve his internal fears. Through love, he/she is healed, learns to trust again, etc.
Once the characters resolve their conflict, end the story quickly. Leave off with a catchy line, a touching moment, or a sexy scene, and readers will put your book on the keeper shelf forever!
- Study the market to see whatís out there and come up with a unique idea that will fit into the line youíre targeting. Other sources to study for ideas or techniques in writing series are television programs revolving around families, friends, sitcoms, soap operas, and mystery series.
- Think on a larger scope Ė think family sagas, communities, settings and work places that invite characters and plot lines a reader would want to revisit.
- If you want to write for a pre-existing series which is open in a line (ask editors which ones are), then read all the stories in that series to get a feel for the storyline, tone, characters, theme, and other elements.
- Keep a Bible of characters, places, names, ages, continuity elements, etc.
- Give the reader a satisfying ending regarding the main romance.
- Plant other characters, family members, problems and threads of conflict that you can bring out later: use your subplot to introduce this conflict or future romances or mystery elements.
- Leave some unanswered questions or a hook for the next story.
- Include a lead-in for the next story, possibly a short excerpt at the end of each book in the series so the reader will be hooked and also will know when to look for the next story.
- Show characters change and grow from one book to the next (for example, your bad guy in book one may slowly progress through the next book or two to be redeemable enough to be your hero for another story.).
- Let old characters revisit in subsequent stories Ė when readers get invested in a family or community or group of characters, they like to see the characters from previous books return and learn whatís going on in their lives (they want to see the couple still happy in love, if they have children, etc.).
- Schedule books to come out close together, if possible.
- Start by boring the reader with long drawn out paragraphs of backstory to catch them up (weave the characters, events from the other books, into the story)
- Start with one book, then move back in time with the second.
- Have too similar elements, story lines or conflicts so all the books sound the same. (For example, if one book has a secret baby, donít repeat it in the next.)
- Watch for repetition of names and similar type characters, make each one different and an individual.
- Rely on the fact that the reader has read every book in the series Ė make each book stand alone and give a satisfying ending, even if you do, leave a hook for the next book.