Ad Astra 2016, day 2: How to get an agent

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires correction or clarification, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com.

Panellists: Amanda Sun, Mary Fan, Gerald Brandt, Matt Bin

HowToGetAnAgentPanel

AS: Online resources that can help you get an agent: #MSWL, Miss Snark, Query Shark, Guide to Literary Agents blog.

MB: #MSWL is critical these days.

GB: You have to do the research.

MF: There are writers who get an agent and their first novel fails to sell, their second novel fails to sell, but then their third sells big.

MB: The agent has to love your book.

GB: If your query doesn’t match their submission guidelines, it will be rejected.

AS: I used to be an acquiring editor for Room. If a submission didn’t meet the submission requirements, I’d never see it. It would go straight to the spam folder.

Q: How formal does your query have to be? I write YA.

GB: You have to be professional up front. Your second paragraph, where you’re pitching the novel has to have the flavour of your book, but it’s a sales pitch.

MB: The agent wants to understand how your book works and why it will appeal to readers.

MF: 250 words is a good goal length for your query.

Q: At what point do you look for an agent?

GB: As soon as you have a book that’s finished and ready to go out into the world.

MB: Query agents first. If you submit to publishers, agents will have their sales channels limited. Remember, it’s your agent’s job to sell your book to publishers.

GB: Take advantage of pitch sessions at conferences and conventions.

AS: And work on your next book.

GB: The agent is in it with you for the life of your career.

Q: So querying an agent first is better? Is that because editor A might love you book and editor B might hate it?

GB: At Penguin Random House, if one editor rejects the book, all of them do.

MF: That can happen at agencies, too. Agents can move around, too.

Q: What happens when your agent leaves the agency?

GB: In my experience, I was given the option to follow the agent or stay with the agency.

MB: When agents send your novel to publishers, they do so with a different perspective.

MF: I know a writer whose agent is all business. Some agents will want to help edit or develop the work prior to submission to publishers.

MB: Look at the agent’s reputation before you sign with them. You have to be able to work with them.

GB: When an agent is interested in your work, the tables turn.

MF: When you get an offer, don’t be afraid to ask for references.

AS: Don’t be too eager. You don’t have to back down 100% of the time. It’s a partnership.

MF: There are some Schmagents who aren’t legitimate. There should be no reading fee.

GB: The money should flow to the author. Check out Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors.

MB: Querying is the traditional road. Networking at conferences and conventions can help.

GB: But don’t be stalkery. Have your elevator pitch ready, just in case.

AS: Don’t burn your bridges. Publishing is a surprisingly small world.

MF: Maybe we should talk about the structure of a query? It’s three paragraphs. Introduce yourself and your book. The second paragraph is your pitch. Then the third paragraph is about you and your qualifications.

GB: List publication credits if you have any, memberships in any writing organizations. Make sure you look serious.

AS: Your introductory paragraph should focus on the reasons you’re querying this particular agent. Have you met at a con? Do you write books in the same genre as other authors they represent?

Q: Do you use Canadian, or US spelling?

GB: Everything should be in US spelling.

MF: Your comps (comparative novels) should be published in the last three years.

AS: X meets Y is a popular formula to use. Agents can use it to pitch to publishers.

MB: We should also mention online pitch contests like #PitMad. Look them up. Most of them are on Twitter and you have a limited time to pitch directly to agents. Use the hashtag. If an agent likes your 140 character pitch, they’ll respond to you. The rules are all online.

Q: How long should my book be?

MF: It really depends on your genre and category. There are a lot of resources for this online.

Q: Should you query to an agent if you mostly write short fiction?

AS: You can do that without an agent and, in fact, most agents won’t represent short fiction, even for authors they represent for novels.

GB: Collections of short stories are a hard sell.

And that was time.

Next weekend, it will once more be time for a next chapter update (already?).

Be good and write well!

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Canadian young adult literature

Panellists: Amanda Sun, E.K. Johnston, Monica Pacheco, Jane Ann McLachlan

Canadian YA panel

MP: What makes a YA novel Canadian?

JAM: Weather. We have a unique obsession with seasons, weather, and winter.

MP: Setting. American cities are the default for most YA authors.

EKJ: The Story of Owen is set in my home town. When I go to read at local schools, the kids are always excited: “Hey! That’s my street!”

MP: There’s a trend for setting becoming a character in its own right.

AS: Can lit is starting to embrace the speculative.

EKJ: We have horror to thank for that.

MP: For me, it always comes down to the writing and the voice.

JAM: There’s a difference in dystopian, too. Americans don’t trust their government as much as we do. It’s a central theme. Canadians are different. Our dystopias are often ecological disasters.

EKJ: One review of The Story of Owen said, “This is a poorly written dystopia.” It’s not a dystopia!

JAM: Even people on the right are left-leaning in Canada. How do we sell to American readers?

EKJ: I actively don’t care. Readers are looking for interesting and different books.

AS: My editor is American. He’s the gatekeeper. What’s March Break? What’s icing sugar (it’s powdered sugar in the States)? You wrote “in hospital.” Did you mean in THE hospital? Are you done work, or done working?

EKJ: I reclaimed Canadian spelling in subsequent printings of my book. It was a victory.

AS: I write in Canadian English.

JAM: I edit to American spelling but I’m afraid we’re going to lose Canadian spelling if all our young people are reading American English. I feel like I’m contributing to the delinquency of our youth.

Q: What’s your opinion of the renaming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone in the States?

[There was a brief discussion of how Scholastic made the decision to rename the book in America and how this translated into the movies. Was it a “dumbing down”? No, just a matter of wording, like icing sugar vs. powdered sugar.]

MP: Both authors and editors expect advocacy. There’s more acceptance of diversity now.

EKJ: Maureen Johnston is an American author, but she wrote an amazing book that is British in every way: setting, weather, politics, and language.

JAM: That’s another thing that distinguishes Canadian YA: our sense of humour and multiculturalism. Canada is a mosaic and America is a melting pot.

EKJ: I have friends in the leadership of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It’s a slow burn.

AS: We don’t understand how divisive race is in America (or other countries).

Q: What about the “white washing” of diverse characters (the character is one of colour, but the cover image shows a white character)?

EKJ: It happened to Beth Revis. In Across the Universe, the male love interest is black. The actor in the movie is white.

AS: I wanted my novel’s Asian love interest on the cover and was nervous, but the publisher agreed. Julie Kagawa’s Clockwork Prince features an Asian on the cover. The cover for Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is culturally appropriate.

EKJ: YS Lee’s Agency series is another example.

MP: I have noticed some of this, but I’ve seen more graphic covers that don’t feature a person at all. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, though.

JAM: What about the humour aspect? Canadian humour is self-deprecating.

And that was time.

Next week: We’ll be cutting contracts 🙂

On deck (today): The next chapter June update and a Caturday quickie pupdate.

Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Paying your grocery bill: Grants and writing grant applications

Panellists: Amanda Sun, Karina Sumner-Smith, Sandra Kasturi, Chadwick Ginther, Bob Boyczuk

SK: I apply for Toronto Arts Council (TAC), Ontario Arts Council (OAC), and Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) grants for ChiZine and as a writer. OAC runs the Writers’ Reserve. There’s also the Works in Progress (WIP) grant. There are three deadlines a year. If you’re successful, you can’t reapply for two years.

KSS: The first time I applied for a grant, I did everything wrong. Reframe your application in literary or academic terms. I went from applying for a WIP grant so I could write my science fiction novel, to applying for funding to support the creation of post-apocalyptic literature.

SK: The jury changes every round. Keep applying, even with the same application. If you’re turned down in one round, you may be successful the next depending on who’s on the jury.

CG: CCA is the most open to experimental projects, I find. The OAC is the most conservative.

SK: The Writer’s Reserve runs from September to January every year. You send your manuscript to select publishers and one form to the OAC. Publishers get a set amount. ChiZine gets $13,000. That means we can publish about nine books.

KSS: The Writer’s Reserve has funds set aside for residents of Ontario outside of the GTA.

SK: The Speculative Literature Foundation offers two grants per year.

A: Actually they’re up to four now. Check them out.

BB: For the TAC, they ask for five copies of the manuscript and your name is not supposed to be on them anywhere. The judges actually sneak a peek.

SK: Guidelines may be hazy.

Q: What can you tell us about reporting?

SK: It varies between grants and organizations.

CG: There are also literary awards. The CCA runs the Governor General’s Awards. Generally you have to have a publisher to put your book forward for awards.

AS: Register for Access Copyright and the Public Lending Right programs as well.

Mel’s notes: Municipal arts councils will vary in the amount of support they can offer. TAC has money because it’s a big city (may go without saying, but . . . ). The Sudbury Arts Council has to be more selective in the projects it supports and has more limited funding. Provincial arts councils also vary widely. I’ve heard great things about the Edmonton Arts Council and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. Other arts organizations, like the Canadian Authors Association, offer literary awards. Check out the individual sites for further details. Finally, the CCA is currently restructuring its funding programs. Check them out.

Next week: Self-publishing 🙂