I always learn something at every panel I attend. I still get giddy, actually! Inevitably I wait for that rogue audience member who asks something obtuse and experience the group squirm. But still, that’s what’s fun about panels and people trying to learn and others trying to educate. You never know what will happen. Perhaps I was extra nervy attending New York Writers Workshop bi-annual non-fiction workshop after a week of horrific news, and the Paris horror just unfolding the night before. By the end of the panel, I was glad to have taken a break from all the unknowns in the world, and feel surrounded by people who had stories to tell. As simplistic as it sounds, I feel the pursuit of personal truth telling and storytelling to be a great unifying force. Now onto what I absorbed!
Laurence Klavan moderated and from the NYWW panels I’ve seen, he knows what he’s doing with asking the right questions and keeping the tone professional and also easy. The agents on the panel were Kristyn Keene from ICM, Jane Dystel from DGLM, and Rita Rosenkranz who founded her own agency.
Agent panel in action
I’ve heard this one off before, but the phrase “the hook, the book and the cook” was mentioned in terms of your query letter. Meaning, the one to two lines that encapsulates the book, the longer paragraph of what it’s about and your bio. Always do your research when querying agents and don’t just paper everyone. Also, do NOT query more than one agent at an agency. All of them nodded wearily in agreement and one agent noted that if they catch wind you are doing that (and they do talk among themselves, of course) – it can totally discredit your submission. Bottom line, do your research. And let that research include WHY you are soliciting that specific agent (met them at a conference, they have agented books that are similar in tone to yours, etc.) Also when selecting agents to query, they reminded everyone that if anyone asks for a reading fee – major red flag. Basically: #run.
The response varied on how many pages they will request when reading submissions. Definitely review every agents specific submission guidelines as it varies. Most of them will get back to prospective authors with a yay or nay, but again, some agents make it clear that if you don’t hear a response, that is a response. But, if it says something like “will hear back in a month” and it’s been two months, feel free to drop a line to check-in. If you are doing multiple submissions and have decided to sign with an agent, please be courteous and let the other agents know who are reviewing.
The contract agreement sounded simple between agent and author. At that point, once your agent thinks your book is ready, they will submit to publishers based on the needs of your book. One agent mentioned that if it’s a niche book, she might reach out to only two or three publishers to begin with. If it’s more standard, they might do a bigger outreach to say ten houses. If the book/proposal doesn’t get picked up on first pass, they might take the feedback, make changes, and do another round. If a book doesn’t sell, it doesn’t mean the relationship has to be over. Of course the agents need to balance monetary demands, but the sense I got was if they like your work and wanted to work with you in the first place, they are not necessarily going to give up on you if your first book is slow to get out there.
One agent mentioned the social media building right away, even if you do have a publisher. Remember dance like no one’s watching? I’d say, market like…no one’s marketing. Of course one will have help (hopefully), but do whatever you can. If you have a non-fiction book that is very niche, try to befriend others who have the same interest on social media channels. Be informative on whatever topic you are writing on social media. Know anyone who can blog about you? Reach out. Have an in at a local bookstore or local media? Tap it.
Self-publishing came up as it always does and a few of the agents had turned down books that authors then self-published, sold well, and when the author came back to the agent, they signed them. One agent advised against self-publishing memoirs because what would be your platform? Meaning, if I’m self-publishing about fly fishing, I can reach out to anyone who might be into that subject. But if I’m self-publishing just my personal story, there might be less of an outreach. Of course, there are always exceptions. Also, most of the agents weren’t too keen on paying for your own freelance PR person. It’s hard to get PR, and it’s not even the publicist fault. So do your research before sinking 15K into something that may, or may not show returns.
Lastly, they all still did read for pleasure, when they could. Oh, and be nice. Don’t think if you are mister or misses fancy pants author that gives you a free eternal ride. Just know that your agent is fighting for you all along the way, or most of them are, and to trust them. I heard that a lot.
I’m a big fan of the New York Writers Workshop and feel lucky to have tested some of their authors books through BookHive. They have a lot of cool things going on, so please do check them out! http://www.newyorkwritersworkshop.com/
BookHive does beta reader editorial research for authors.
Enjoy coupon code NYWW from this last weekend to enjoy $100 off. https://www.bookhivecorp.com
Jennifer Bowen, QueenBee (more fun that CEO) of BookHive Corp.