Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Last post I made the case for agents (and explained why you may or may not need one). The next step--who do you choose? When I was looking for an agent, I started with Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, which is updated annually, and made a master list of possibilities, keeping the following factors in mind:
• Did the agent represent the type of book I was writing? My first book idea was about how to sustain long-distance romantic relationships, so I looked for agents who represented other relationship, popular psychology, and self-help titles.
• How long had the agent been in business? I didn’t want an inexperienced agent, so I looked for ones who had been agents for at least ten years. [Today, though, with all of the changes in the publishing world, I'd focus more on how the agent had performed in the last several years.]
• Was the agent located in New York? No, an agent doesn’t have to live in New York, but it's a plus when it comes to face-to-face meetings and keeping tabs on the publishing industry.
• Was the agent a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)? Members of AAR are expected to adhere to its Canon of Ethics, which provides, among other things, that agents will not charge reading fees for potential clients. (Many writers have been duped by less than reputable “agents” who agree to evaluate and/or market a manuscript—for a fee of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.)
• How many clients did the agent represent? I didn’t want an agent who only had a handful of clients, but I didn’t want a huge agency either. I thought between twenty and fifty would be a good number.
• What was the agent’s philosophy toward his or her business? Did the agent sound like someone I’d like to work with?
• Had I heard anything else about this agent? I’d seen several agents present at conferences, for example, and knew a few book authors who had agents. Several seemed like they might be the kind of person I’d like to work with; others didn’t sound like a good fit, at least not for me.
Considering these factors, I made a list of about forty agents. Then I headed to the bookstore, where I checked out the relationship/self-help books. I’d looked at the current titles before, when I was working on the competition analysis section of my book proposal. Now, I checked the Acknowledgments sections of books similar to mine—authors almost always thank their agents, and book editors, by name.
[Today, it's a lot easier. Check out the following websites for the scoop on potential agents:
- Agent Query. Informative resources includes agent info along with advice about submitting work, advice for writers, and general publishing info.
- Preditors and Editors.This site lists hundreds of agents and gives "recommended" and "not recommended" ratings.
- Publishers Marketplace. PM is the site if you're serious about writing books. Members can search for agents here; while the popular Publisher's Lunch email is free, for $20/month, you can access all of the site's info. Invaluable for searching for recent agent deals.
- Writers' Free Reference. Includes hundreds of agents' email addresses.]
After my bookstore search, I added a few names to my master list, then went through it and selected my top eight choices. I sent letters out to this group. (The letter I used is included in chapter 8.) Within several weeks, four passed and three asked to see the proposal. One letter came back to me—the agent had moved, so I sent her a letter at her new address. [Note that this was before email became the preferred method of contact.] Out of those three who responded, one agent wanted me to radically rework the proposal, one thought it was too narrow in scope to sell, and one never got back to me.
I was about to send letters to my next batch of possibilities when I heard from Laurie Harper, the agent who had relocated. She asked to see the proposal. I sent it to her and she called me within a week to tell me she loved it and wanted to represent me.
I'd heard positive things about Laurie, and we seemed to connect when we spoke by phone. I asked her about her current clients, how much contact she liked to have with her authors, and how she planned to sell my book idea. In turn, she asked me about my overall career plans and what I was considering for my second book. Her interest in my long-term goals (something I hadn’t given much thought to at the time) was one of the reasons I decided to sign with her. She played an integral role in my career for nearly 10 years.
The takeaway? Don't rush into a relationship with an agent. Put together a list of possibilities, do your homework, and choose the one who's right for you.
Readers, what do you think? Did you find this post helpful? If you have other questions about agents, post a comment and I'll be happy to help.
***Want to adding ghosting to your repertoire? I'll be offering my my online ghostwriting class? I'm offering mine again in September; stay tuned!
***This post was adapted from my book, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money (Kindle edition).
Sunday, August 28, 2011
I get asked a lot of the same questions when I speak at writers' conferences. "How do I turn my blog into a book?" "Is it okay to sign an all-rights contract?" "Can I really make a living as a full-time freelancer?" And the ever-popular, "how do I get an agent?"
Actually I think the first question to ask is whether you need one. Then you can worry about getting one.
If you're planning on going POD, or acting as a true self-publisher (these are not the same thing!), you don't need an agent. Nor do you need one if you don't have a book to sell, or a book that you want to sell to a traditional publisher.
Even if you've written a novel or the proposal for a nonfiction book, you needn't have an agent--you can always approach editors on your own. (That's how I sold my first novel, Did You Get the Vibe?) But here's how I see it: a good literary agent is likely to know much more about the world of publishing (as in what editors are buying, and for how much) than you do. She's up on trends, has a feel for what editors are looking for, and has experience negotiating and working with book editors as well.
In addition to this market knowledge, a good agent also has experience negotiating and working with editors. As a result, she can almost certainly get a better deal than I can on my own. Sure, I was a lawyer in my former life, and I can read and understand what the language in a book contract means from a legal standpoint.
While I understand the language, that doesn’t mean I understand the significance or impact of that language—like if the publisher is requesting a certain type of foreign language rights. What are those rights usually worth? Is the contract reasonable for the industry or should it be changed? Is the royalty percentage standard? Is it better to be paid a smaller percentage on gross sales or a larger percentage on net sales? How much are e-rights worth?
I don’t know the answers to these kinds of questions, so I want an agent to represent me in this all-important negotiation to make sure I get the best deal possible. Before I started writing books, I freelanced, primarily for magazines. I knew little about literary agents and how they worked, but that changed when I wrote my first book proposal.
Sure, I could have tried to sell the book on my own. Big publishers may request agented-only material, but small publishing houses are always willing to work directly with authors, and there are thousands of them.
But I wanted an agent. I was serious about writing books, even if I hadn't actually finished one, and felt (rightly so) that having an agent would increase my chance of selling my proposal. I also wanted to spend my time writing, not marketing my book to publishers (I knew I'd spend plenty of time selling it after it was published), and I was willing to share the proceeds of a book contract with someone who could make that happen. I had a good idea and believed that it would sell. Now, I just needed to find an agent who also believed in it, so I started my search.
Stay tuned--next post I'll tell you how I found an agent, what factors you should consider as you evaluate them, and places to learn more about potential agents.
***This post was adapted from Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money (Kindle edition).
Thursday, August 25, 2011
- With a deadline around the corner, you didn't proofread--or didn't proof closely enough.
- You forgot you're not writing for yourself--you're writing for a client or editor.
- Yikes! You forgot a deadline!
- You were busy, busy, busy...and now you're dead, work-wise. Here's why.
- You wrote an awesome query or LOI...and then? You fell off the face of the planet.
- You turned in a great piece; too bad is that it's not the one your editor assigned. Oops!
- You get stuck searching for the right word while writing drafts.
- You don't know your daily nut.
- You think that your experience alone is enough to get an assignment.
- You never ask for more money.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
I hear from a lot of writers who want to freelance full-time, or who are freelancing on the side but struggling with making enough money or getting enough work. Often one of the things holding them back has little to do with their writing ability. Rather, it’s their attitude and the way they approach their writing careers. In short, they’re not treating freelancing like a business, but rather as a (hopefully) lucrative hobby.
After 14+ years of full-time freelancing, I can tell you that while attitude isn’t everything, it is a critical factor to your success. It’s not only attitude, either; there are other ways to help ensure your success by acting like a professional writer even before you really feel like one, like the following:
Develop resilience. Let me tell you, not every day of freelancing is all sunshine and roses. Some days stink. Some days I really don’t want to freelance anymore and the idea of returning to a “real” job (complete with paid vacations, sick days, and free coffee!) sounds really attractive. But I also know that these days are part of any career, no matter how much you enjoy it.
If you had a bad day at work, you’d chalk it up to just that—a bad day. You wouldn’t question your entire career strategy. So don’t let a rejection or a harsh note from an editor question your ability or desire to freelance. Learn how to shrug it off and keep going.
Keep regular hours. One of the great things about freelancing is that you can set your own hours, whether you freelance full- or part-time. But that flexibility may keep you—or your clients—from taking your work seriously.
I suggest you devote regular time to your freelance business. That doesn’t mean you have to punch a metaphorical clock every day at 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., but it does mean that you put consistent time into your work. When I started freelancing, I worked Monday through Friday, starting at about 7 a.m. (I’m a morning person) and knocking off in the late afternoon. Today my schedule fluctuates but I still work Monday-Thursday mornings, 8 a.m. to noon, no matter what.
Be responsive. We’ve all worked with editors who take weeks (or longer) to respond, but as a freelancer, you don’t have that luxury. You should respond as quickly as possible to phone messages and emails from clients and potential clients; that’s part of being a professional.
When I worked as a lawyer, my rule was to return all phone calls the day I received them. I can’t always be that responsive with every email I get, but I do try to reply to all emails within two to three days—even if it’s just a quick question from a reader or a fellow writer.
Track your income. Serious freelancers want to be paid—and hopefully paid well—for their work. To do that, you have to know how much you’re making, and where your money comes from. That means keeping track of your assignments, what you’re being paid, and following up on unpaid invoices. That’s not being a pest—it’s being a professional.
Project success. Just as successful freelancers must develop resilience, they also must be able to project a successful persona to the world. That means when you attend a writers’ conference or meet with a potential client, you dress appropriately—say, sporting “business casual” wear, not the jeans and sweatshirt you might wear at home.
But projecting success also includes always acting confident, even when you’re not. I go through slow work times like any other freelancer, but when I’m contacted by a potential client, I don’t say, “thank God you’re hiring me—I’m broke!” even though I might be thinking that. People want to work with successful people. So, “fake it ‘til you make it,” and project a confident persona to the world.
**Readers, what do you say? Do you agree that your attitude is essential? And do you have the right attitude toward your business?
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Post Roundup: 10 Query Posts that Tell you Everything you Need to Know about Queries...and Then Some
- How the heck do I write a query, anyway? Here's a simple, effective template to follow.
- You can use a query to pitch a trade magazine too.
- Read about five ways to pump up your query.
- You still hate the idea of querying? Get on board with four reasons you should send them.
- Set your query apart with a secret weapon--a time peg.
- If you want to break into national magazines, try one of these eight ways.
- Should you interview a source before or after you query? The answer may surprise you.
- Before you hit send, take the ten-question query checklist.
- Okay, you sent the query. Good for you. Now what?
- Your query missed the mark? Here are 10 reasons why. Study up for next time.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
- Why add ghostwriting to your freelance repertoire? (And fees for some recent projects.)
- Five more reasons to ghostwrite--including bigger advances.
- Sure, we think of celebs and "big names" as hiring ghosts, but your clients are more likely to be average folks who want to write books or professionals who want to become book authors; here's how to work with the latter.
- What attributes do you need to successfully ghost?
- Not all potential clients are worth your while. Here are ten red flags to run away, fast.
- Here are five simple ways to find ghosting clients.
- Book packagers often hire ghosts; here's what you should know about them.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Fact is, every profession has its archetypes, some more destructive than others. Watch out for these writers:
• The Star. It’s all about her. I had coffee with a freelancer in New York and she spent 90 minutes talking about her latest book series, her new novel, her popularity, her legion of Twitter followers (this was before I’d ever sent a Tweet, of course), and her general fabulousness. I sat there, nearly mute as she ran over my every attempt to enter the conversation with more than a nod or a “wow, that’s great.” By the time it was time to leave (I’d been glancing at my watch for a good fifteen minutes), she said, “Gosh, we haven’t even had a chance to talk about you! We’ll have to get together again soon!” Thanks, but no. The Star has no interest in a real relationship--she’s only looking for someone to reflect her glory back at her.
• The Whiner. While the Explosive is filled with rage, the Whiner can’t summon enough energy for anger. So she whines instead, about the unfairness of contracts, about editors who expect revisions, about plummeting advances, about pretty much everything. This is the kind of person who, if she won the lottery, would bitch about the taxes. No matter how successful she becomes (and she probably won’t, thanks to her attitude), she’ll never be happy--or much fun to be around.
• The Weirdo. The Weirdo stands a little too close when you meet him in person, or stares at you without saying much. He IMs you on Facebook when the only reason you Friended him is because you share 89 mutual friends, and then asks you odd, intimate questions that have nothing to with freelancing. (I speak from experience.) Time to cut bait--and be more choosy about who you connect with on social media. The Weirdo may be perfectly nice, but do you want to connect with someone who makes you uncomfortable?
• The Waif. She wants so much to freelance, and just needs a little help from you. Then a little more. Then a little more. Regardless of age or experience, the Waif is an emotional vampire who will always want and expect more than you can give. You feel sorry for her at first but understand that the time you devote to her takes time away from your own work.
• The User. The User only reaches out because you have something she wants. Once she’s gotten it, you won’t hear anything from her. I got the brushoff at a conference from a freelancer much further along in his career than I was--until he realized who my agent was and wanted to talk to me about getting her to represent him. Then he couldn’t have been more gracious. Strange, huh?
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
There's nothing like a "how-to" when it comes to writing something you haven't before. Here's a "post roundup" of some of the topics I've covered in the past:
- How to write a quiz (it's easier than you think!)
- How to write about parenting (too bad you can't write your kids off as a tax deduction!)
- How to write about health (health and business are the two most lucrative specialties there are)
- How to write "how-to," or service articles (print or online, they'll never go out of style)