Tag Archives: Atlanta Writers Conference

Agents Uncensored: A Candid Conversation with Publishing’s Story Pitchers

Photo by: Jeff McQuaid

Connecting with a literary agent is a lot like courting: you need to find the right fit – a collaborative partner who believes in you and your book, and will be in your corner. 

I have a new appreciation for the job agents have in representing authors and finding publishing homes for their stories after hearing an agent panel this past weekend.

Taylor Martindale
 
“Agents have to deal with a lot of rejection — we identify with what you are going through,” stated Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary in San Diego. “You’d be surprised by how long we fight for your books.”
 
Martindale was one of eight agents weighing in a range of topics related to publishing and the craft of writing this past Saturday at the Atlanta Writers Conference.
 
Gordon Warnock of Andrea Hurst and Associates advised that writers interview an agent just as they would a prospective employee. “You need to know why they like the book and what their vision is for not only the book but also your career,” he said, adding that understanding how agents communicate is the most critical component to establishing a collaborative two-way relationship.
 
Common Agent Editing Peeve: Pacing
 
I asked the panelists what was the biggest trouble area in manuscripts, especially for first-time novelists.
 
 
Atlanta Writers Conference agent panel participants.  
“The beginning is too slow and the ending is too rushed,” said Paula Munier with Talcott Notch Literary Services based in Milford, Connecticut.

The first 50 pages “usually can go” because the writer is warming up and capturing details important to the writing process, but that aren’t crucial for readers, said Munier, adding that the reverse is true when crafting the end of a story. Authors frequently don’t flesh out their conclusion because they “see the finish line and are racing towards it.”

Later, Munier said authors need to do three things: write a great book, revise it and then revise it again. “If you do that, you have a much better chance of being successful.”
 
Angela Rinaldi of the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency in Beverly Hills, Calif., urged writers to “find that fatal flaw” in their manuscript. She looks for three things in the opening pages: first, the story promise – “What’s the question that’s going to be answered at the end?” second, “What’s at stake?” and third, “What does the protagonist want?”
 
As Publishing Embraces Digital Revolution, PR Model ‘Broken’
 
Angela Rinaldi

Digital advances continue to rock the publishing industry. And while many book publicists have emerged on the scene with expertise in social media, Rinaldi stated that “the promotion-publicity model [in publishing] is broken and nobody yet has really figured out how to fix it.”

 
One thing is clear, though: authors are expected to connect with their audiences online.  Amy Cloughley with Kimberly Cameron and Associates said that it’s critical for non-fiction writers to have a base of followers before approaching a publisher.  She also urged aspiring novelists to begin building a fan base even while in the writing stages, so when it comes time to launch their book, they’re ready.
 
Becky Vinter

Acknowledging how self publishing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the industry, Becky Vinter of FinePrint Literary Management said self publishing or a hybrid model is a “legitimate choice,” but authors then will carry the burden and expense of getting their book edited, vetted, produced and marketed on their own. 

 
“In traditional publishing, you have all of that support; you have people doing all that work for you, but it is slower,” she said.
 
Story is Still King
Martindale noted that in spite of the many issues today’s authors must juggle in deciding on their platform and publishing approach, “the most important thing is the story, the voice in your book and your characters. Don’t lose sight of that in the midst of everything that’s going on around your book.”
 
The agents also shared that it’s not always the most talented writer they meet who ends up making it big – rather, it’s the person who never gave up.
 
“Stay in the game; practice your craft,” Rinaldi urged.
 
 

Queries, Pitches, Claire Cook and Other Ah-Ha Moments from the Atlanta Writers Conference

 

 

 
 
I’ve attended my share of writing conferences over the years, but seldom have I come out of one as jazzed as I did at the conclusion of this weekend’s Atlanta Writers Conference.  
 
Brainstorming earlier today with an old friend, I realized what I need to do to take my in-progress historical novel to the next level.  It took an outside perspective to help me frame the story. I know I’m on the right track because when I shared my refined concept to an agent, she asked that I send her the first 20 pages when the manuscript is ready. Wow! And that was without a query letter! 
 
Speaking of query letters, one of this year’s conference attendees can best be described as a query letter ninja. She’s perfected the difficult art of query-letter writing by regularly submitting her draft pitches to websites such as Query Shark. She told me you need a thick skin to withstand the public flaying, but it’s a small price to pay if the outcome was what she experienced: two agents wanting her manuscript.
 
I loved hearing bestselling author Claire Cook kick off the conference Friday afternoon. This prolific writer of romantic comedies/women’s beach reads has published a book every year since 2000. Her second novel, Must Love Dogs, was made into a film starring Diane Lane and John Cusack.
 
A firm believer in “reinvention,” Claire recounted her lifelong desire to be a writer that she kept hidden from everyone, including her family. She worked as a teacher for 16 years before having a mid-life wake-up call in her mid-40s.  
 
“I wrote my first novel in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice,”she said.
 
In June, Claire’s latest book, Time Flies, will be released about two friends who get a new lease on life after taking a road trip to their high school reunion. To promote the book, Claire and the Lake Austin Spa Resort are doing a “reunion weekend”contest where one winner can select a friend for an all-expense-paid spa weekend. She shared the contest as an example of how authors can think outside the box and come up with fun ways to engage readers online.
 
Building a social platform is critical for writers.  Claire is a big fan of Facebook, once asking her fans what they have in their junk drawer. The answers she received were so interesting that Claire felt compelled to include as many as possible in her book, Best Staged Plans.
 

Explaining the importance of being disciplined in your writing, Claire credited her ability to release a book every year to her practice of writing two pages a day, every day, seven days a week.  In fact, she won’t let herself go to bed until she’s put in her time writing.

 
“You don’t have to be brilliant every day; you just have to get those pages done,” she said, adding that the first 100 pages are really about “gutting it out.”  
 
When working on her novels, she always does the big-picture content editing first followed by page-by-page editing, and finally, line edits. She suggests that writers read their work out loud to catch mistakes.
 
Concluding her talk, she urged everyone in attendance to build a network, and help one another by forming critique or reading groups.  She said Facebook’s private groups function is a great way to collaborate with others.
 
Here are just a few of my favorite Claire quips:
 
“It keeps me honest.” —  on her practice of using a paper calendar to track that she has completed her minimum of two pages of writing every day
 
 
“We’re really re-writers. That’s the difference in a book that sells and a book that doesn’t.”  — on the importance of editing
 
“Nobody knows anything.” – on the changing landscape of publishing
 
“I’m obsessed with making my craft better.”    
 
“It’s not all about me.” – on putting rejection into perspective  
 
“Can we clone you?” – on what the producers on the set of “Must Love Dogs” asked her during film production.
 
“Be who you really are. People call it brand. I think of it as authenticity.”
 
“I believe we become writers by being readers.”  
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Look for more conference highlights on The Writing Well this week.