One Writer’s Journey

January 29, 2018

Using a Decision Matrix to Select an Agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:17 am
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This weekend, I had to select which of four agents to have critique my manuscript at an upcoming  event.  I started by Googling each of their names.  By the time I had read a bit about each, I couldn’t remember which had looked like a great match.  Or had it been two?  And one didn’t rep half of what I do. But which one?

There was just too much information to keep straight. At least that’s how it felt at first.

Fortunately, my husband is the King of the Decision Matrix.  We’ve used this technique to buy a car and select a vacation destination.  It’s a great way to convert information to a visual format and compare apples and oranges.

pb mg ya nf other
Agent 1 X X X X Christian but interested in other faiths.  STEM. URL for “what I’m looking for”
Agent 2 X X Quirky nonfiction. Very into crystals etc.
Agent 3 X X
Agent 4 X X X X Weird. Creepy. Loved I’ll Love You Forever

The first thing that I did was list the names of the four agents.  Here, I’m calling them Agents 1 – 4.

Next, I included various types of children’s books – PB (picture book), MG, YA, NF (nonfiction).  Ideally, I want to find an agent who does a bit of everything because my own writing interests are diverse.  Reading up on each agent, I X’ed what each of them reps.  Agent 1 has a good spread but so does Agent 4.  Agent 2 listed only middle grade specifically although she also does nonfiction.  Agent 3 only does middle grade and young adult and doesn’t rep nonfiction.

This eliminated 2 and 3.  But I still had two equal candidates.

This time I read interviews and bios.  I quickly found that Agent 1 is Christian but also interested in acquiring work about other faiths. She’s interested in STEM and her wish list sounded like a go-to of things I’ve done or am working on.  Only one of my pet projects wasn’t specifically listed.

Agent 4 loves nonfiction. Especially the weird and creepy.  Pukeology would be her cup of tea.  Then I read about her favorite books.  I’ll Love You Forever.  Ugh.  Personally I”ve always considered that one both weird and creepy.

Using the matrix I could see that Agent #1 is an excellent match.  Agent #4 might also be and is someone I’ll consider submitting to after the event.

The next time you are trying to choose between several agents or several publishers and are having troubles keeping the information straight, draw up a decision matrix.  Not only does it make the information visual, it makes it easy to compare several things at once.  Give it a try the next time you find yourself question which project to work on next or which agent in a specific agency to approach.




January 8, 2018

The Agent Search: What to Look for

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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After getting discouraged in searching for an agent in 2017, I’ve rebooted my search.  This means that it is time to study up on a batch of new agents.  Here are some of the things that I look for when I’m checking out an agent.

  1. Make sure the agent is taking clients.  I know.  It sounds like a no brainer.  But I’m constantly finding excellent interviews that make me want to approach this agent so badly.  Then I do a bit of reading and discover – too bad, so sad – this person is not taking clients.
  2. Check out what type of books this person does.  This is a tough one for me because I do a variety of work.  I need someone who is willing to do nonfiction because that’s where I am strongest.  I also need someone who will take not only mg and ya adult novels but also picture books.  Nonfiction and picture books are often the problem.
  3. Check out book specifics.  Once I know this person does more or else everything that I do, I start to look at types of books.  This is where I often have a problem.  For example, I love, love, love so many of the books that Kate McKean loves.  It looked promising enough that I requested four titles to read.   But you have to go beyond the books they’ve repped and the ones they love.
  4. Read interviews.  This is super important because while I was busy requesting books on McKean’s list, I was also reading interviews which is where I came across one horrible line.  “No gross out nonfiction.”  What?  Nooooooo.  That may not be my mainstay but if you can combine science and gross, I love it!  I write it.  Ker-plop.  That was just me falling into a despondent pile on the floor.  Ignore me.  I’ll get hungry or thirsty and snap out of it quickly enough.  Read all you can because there’s more you need to know.
  5. Check out this person’s vision/publishing world view.  As you read, find out all you can about how this person works with authors and thinks about publishing and author careers.  I want someone who wants to help an author build a career.  Some agents think book by book.
  6. Searching for a pro.  Also remember that you are looking for a professional.  I took one agent off my list because although I liked the sound of her interview, I couldn’t find her affiliated with an agency.  Yes, she may have her own agency but I couldn’t find anything that said that either.  I kept finding places that mentioned her as an author.  No, no.  I’ve got that covered.  I want an agent.  In an agency.  I’m not saying that I’ll only work with someone with 20 years experience, but I want them to be part of an experienced team.

So there’s your short list of things to look for – taking clients, part of an agency, the right types of books, books you love, and a publishing world view that matches your own.  It seems like a lot but it is all essential if you are going to build a partnership that works.



November 17, 2017

Querying Agents: Wait!

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
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When is the best time to send out your agent queries?  In truth, I was just getting ready to send a few out.  Getting ready can take a while and that’s a good thing.  Wednesday I was reading the November 2017 Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter.  Kristin Nelson recommends waiting until January 2, 2018.  Why?  Because agents are clearing out their in-boxes.  Don’t worry!  Whether you are approaching an agent with a picture book or a young adult novel, this means that you have almost 2 months to do your homework.

  1.  Check out the listings on Manuscript Wish List, #MSWL tweets and agency submissions information.  This first step just involves finding people who might be a good match.
  2. Google their names.  Read every interview you can find.  Look for the names of books they love.  Look for the titles of books they’ve sold.  Keep an eye open for the things they are passionate about.
  3. Start requesting some of these books.
  4. Read, read and read!  Don’t just request the books.  Read them.  This is vital because you need to know that an agent who is looking for quirky middle grade humor will find your humor quirky vs frightening.
  5. Keep track of what makes this agent a good fit.  This list will fluctuate as you do more reading and find more information.  Agents will move up the list and down.  But that’s okay.  You really do want to submit to someone whose an excellent match.

Whether you go with a new agent or an established agent is a matter of personal choice.  There are pluses to submitting to a new agent.

  • New agents need to build a client list.  They need to find new clients.
  • New agents are often the ones granting interviews and going to conferences because of #1.  This means that it is easier to find out about them — whether they are editorial agents, what they like, etc.
  • New agents don’t have as many estaliblished clients taking up all their time.

An established agent has a client list and can be pickier about what new work they sign, but there are also pluses to established agents.

  • Established agents have more contacts.  They can get your manuscript read by editor you can’t approach.
  • They have a track record.  A google search will show you what an established agent has sold and often find comments (hopefully praise) from their authors.

Fortunately you’ve got some time.



September 15, 2017

Looking for an Agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:43 am
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mswlAre you looking for an agent?  One of the best ways to find out what agents want is to explore the hashtag #MSWL on Manuscript Wish List Day.  The most recent #MSWL Day was Tuesday, 9/12.

I have to admit that I started out with good intentions.  Since it was Tuesday, I didn’t have yoga so I popped over to Twitter several times to see what various agents and editors had posted.  The easiest way to do this is the search #MSWL and then just click on the Twitter bird to add the newest tweets to the top of the feed.

The first time I popped by there were 40 or so posts.  Several of them weren’t terribly specific – just agents reminding you to go by the MSWL site and check their listing.  Honestly, I can see how this makes sense.  For many agents, these listings are incredibly thorough.  You get what the agency likes, what they want to see, recent favorite books and movies and more.  I saved a short list of names to check out.

Then I got busy writing.  The next time I popped by there were almost 70 new tweets.  I skimmed them and copied out the ones that overlap by own work.  The next time I came back, there were between 150 and 200 new tweets.  (help)

At that point, I decided that I better spend some serious time with the submission that is due a week from today.  I’ve worked on my chapter and outline for two days, popping back over to Twitter on Thursday.

By Thursday I know that the agents and editors have had their say.  Instead of searching “#MSWL,” I got a bit more specific.  First I searched “MSWL PB.”  That gave me 8 listings.  Yes, there were a lot more than that but there were 8 that describe my work.  Then I searched “#MSWL nonfiction.” Again, I narrowed down the search results to (drum roll) 8 listings.

One of the things that I noticed on #MSWL Day was the number of agents asking people to take their time to submit.  Make sure your work is ready to go.  Don’t get in a kerfuffle and send in something that isn’t ready just because you saw a tweet.

If you’re looking for an agent, pop on over to Twitter and do a search.  Don’t forget to check out anyone that intrigues you.  I’m sure the majority of agents that post are legit but, as G-ma used to say, use your head and be careful.  And, good luck finding the help you need to get your work into the hands of young readers!



May 12, 2017

Agents and/or Editors

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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When you are shopping your work around to agents, do you cease and desist sending it to editors?

Yesterday, I read a post on Janet Reid’s blog about Twitter pitch events.  In her post, Reid discusses the fact that she was out with a group of agents.  One of them mentioned contacting an author whose manuscript she had only to discover that said author had some interest from editors based on a Twitter Pitch.   Based on said interest, she had sent them the manuscript.  All agents present sighed deeply.

What the heck?  Do they expect us to sit on our duffs while we wait for one of them to snatch up our manuscript?

Sadly enough, that about sums it up.  If you are submitting your work to agents, they would very much prefer that you not also submit it to editors.  Why?  Because if you sent it to Betty Boop, senior editor at Lotsa Books, and she turns it down, the agent cannot then send it to Mata Hari, editorial director at that same publisher.  Never mind that this agent knows for a fact that Ms. Hari has been looking for just this sort of manuscript all along and that Ms. Boop is more interested in author/illustrators than authors.  It just doesn’t matter.  By sending in your own manuscript, you’ve crossed this publisher off the list.

Does this mean that I’m not sending any of my work to publishers at this time?

Most of what I send out isn’t the sort of thing an agent is going to represent anyway.  I’m submitting more to magazines right now but also doing work for hire.  If I see a publisher that is beyond perfect and it is a smaller niche publisher that is open to slush submissions anyway, then I might send it in.

And, on that note, I need to get my work out to another two or three agents.  If for no other reason — I’m getting sick of not submitting to editors.



March 27, 2017

The Nonfiction Proposal: Or Rebooting My Agent Search

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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At this point all of my agent queries are dead in the water.  I’m going to have to wait until I finish the book that I’m working on before I can get any more queries out there.

No, I’m not procrastinating.  The first batch of agents didn’t want proposals.  They just wanted a query letter and X number of pages.  I was kind of surprised since I thought most agents want proposals but I wasn’t going to argue.  After all, I had rewritten the manuscript for an editor who wanted to see it.

Apparently, wanting a proposal is still the norm at least for about 2/3 of the agents I’ve researched.  It is apparently just a coincidence that none of these agents were in batch 1.  So what goes into a proposal?

Overview: This section includes the specs (title, word count and hook), short description of the subject, target market (reader age range), and why the book is necessary.

Markets:  Who will buy your book. Include stats. My current book deals with a STEM topic so I will mention that.

Promotion:  How to get your book into the hands of those would-be readers.

Competing Books:  Other books on your topic published in the last 5 years.  How does your book differ?

About the Author:  Why are you the ideal author for this book?  

Outline: List your chapters and summarize each.  In my Abdo outlines, a chapter is 12 lines max.

Sample Chapters: What I’ve seen listed most often is 3 chapters of the finished book. 

The entirely may be 15 or more pages long but the bulk of that consists of the outline and the sample chapters.  The rest should be detailed but fairly brief. For a more detailed look at what goes into a proposal, see my post from yesterday on the Muffin.

Don’t let a missing proposal keep you from sending out your work!



March 8, 2017

Query Letters: Connecting with the agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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A query letter is a business letter.  Check.  That’s easy and straightforward enough that most of us get it.

A query letter is also the writer’s opportunity to connect with the agent.  But remember, it is still a business letter.

Did you hear the agent speak at a conference?  Then say so.  “When I heard you speak at the Mashed Mangoes SCBWI conference, your wish list included picture books about tropical fruit.  Enclosed…”  In much the same way I’ve reminded agents that we had dinner together as fellow conference speakers.

In much the same way, you should also let the agent know if your manuscript is a good match for a recent #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) post on Twitter or their profile listing on the Manuscript Wish List web site.  Just be sure to keep is short and simple.  “On March 2, 2017, your blog post included a call for …”  “Your February 22, 2017 #MSWL tweet …” You don’t have to quite them word for word.  Just mentioned the post, tweet or whatever.  This will let the agent know why you have chosen them and that you aren’t sending your work to every agent in the SCBWI directory.

But keep it business like.  If the agent likes dogs and you have a canine manuscript, say so but don’t gush on-and-on about man’s best friend.  If the agent tweeted about Firefly and you have a manuscript with the same feel, say so without confessing your undying love for Nathan Fillion or Gina Torres.

Loved her hair?  That’s awesome.  But keep it to yourself.

Think he has great taste in messenger bags?  Cool!  But don’t mention it.

You want to make a connection but you don’t want to come off stalker-ish, creepy or just plain strange.  I know, I know.  Most of us don’t need to be told that but my job at one conference was to follow the editor to the restroom and make sure no one bothered her while she was doing her business.  Yep.  I was a bathroom bouncer.

Make that connection but be professional.  As Cobra Bubbles would say in Lilo and Stitch, “Do I make myself clear?”



February 10, 2017

#MSWL Day: Boom or Bust?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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twitter-1138522_1920Were you one of the many writers checking out all of the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) tweets?  I planned to leave the feed up all day, stopping in to check every once in a while and read the latest posts.  But that plan went out the window when I got home from yoga and saw 400+ new tweets.

With so much being posted, I knew there was no way I could read it all.  So I’d scan the new posts when there were 20 or 40 but when I’d come back and find another 100 or more I simply refreshed the feed.

I know I missed a lot that way but I wasn’t too worried.  Toward the end of the day, I searched on a few key words.  #MSWL PB.  #MSWL picture book.  #MSWL  STEM.  #MSWL nonfiction.

As I found posts that interested me, I took a screen clipping and pasted them into a Word document.  All in all, I ended up with 9 leads.  Specifically, I was looking for picture books and nonfiction.  If I was looking for an agent who does young adult, I’d have had pages and pages and pages of tweets to go through.

There are three ways to see what a particular editor or agent wants.

Go to Twitter and read their feed.  This can be tough if it is someone who posts very often.

Go to Twitter and search #MSWL (agent or editor name).   This can be helpful if your target agents posts often.

Go to Manuscript Wish List.  Once there, search for your agent or editor of interested.  On their profile page, in the center column is a button that says “See my latest #MSWL tweets.”  Guess what?  Click it.  I’ve yet to figure out just how the tweets are arranged.  Not by date.  Not by reversed date.  Skim them and see if this agent still looks promising.

You can also like tweets as they are posted.  Then you go to your twitter profile and click likes.  Everything you liked is going to come up which might be a problem if you like a lot.

If you find a recent tweet that jives with something you’ve written, mention it in your query letter.  This is another way to show your agent or editor of choice that you’ve done your research.

Good luck!



February 8, 2017

Agents: Susan Hawk

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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moving-dayToday is #MSWL day over on Twitter.  If you have an account, be sure to pop over there and see who wants what in terms of manuscripts.

If Susan Hawk is one of your dream agents, note that she has moved.  Formerly of The Bent Agency, Susan is now at Upstart Crow Literary Agency.

Susan recently blogged about what she would like to find this past year.  She is interested in:

Picture books that click in terms of the childhood experience (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), concept books (Not a Box), great character stories like Olivia or Pigeon, and lyrical, informational books (Over and Under the Snow).  

Middle grade mysteries ala US Agatha Christie, edgy and dark stories that push boundaries, contemporary stories with STEM interested female characters, historical fiction, and fantasy.

Young adult stories that focus on family, siblings and strong parent/child relationships, rich world building, non-Euro American historical fantasy, science fiction that deals with changes that might happen in our lifetimes, epistolary novels, unreliable narrators and more.

Good luck on your agent searches!   I still have two pitches out and am getting ready to work on a third.




February 7, 2017

Warning! Warning! How to Know An Agent May Not Be Legit

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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agent-legitSince I’m looking for an agent, I’m paying more attention to what other people have to say about their own agent searches.  There are a lot of great agents out there but there are also people who call themselves agents but don’t get the job done.  Here are some warning signs.

First things first, just check for “official” recognition.  As with many professions, agents have a professional organization. Is the agent or their agency a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR)?  Go here to search for agents or agencies.

Does this agent charge a reading fee?  If so, scratch that name right off your list.  Money should go to the author not the other way around.  The agent gets paid when he or she sells your work, not before then.  Reading fees are a bad, bad sign.

Who do they work with?  This is a two-fold question.  First things first, I’m suspicious when an agent won’t name clients.  That makes me wonder if the so-called agent has clients.

But also check to see who publishes their clients work.  You want an agent who can open doors that you can’t.  A friend of mine was offered representation by an agent who would only submit her work to open houses, places that will take unsolicited material from the authors themselves.  Again, that’s a good time to say adios.

Also, pay attention if someone to that uneasy feeling that you get when you look into someone.  A friend recommended an agent she had met at a conference.  Remember, anyone with a checking account can attend a conference.  I checked the agents website and . . . something just wasn’t right.  It didn’t feel professional.  I never could put my finger on it but it turned out that this person was taking in manuscripts and then nothing.  No one really knows what happened but she wasn’t sending work out, had no relationships with publishers, etc.

I don’t think I’m an overly suspicious person but there are people out there who are more than ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting writer.  Check an agent out and if they aren’t listed with the AAR, want money to read your work, don’t seem to have clients or ins with publishers or just make you squirm, pick up your things and leave the table.


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