Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG: How to Get an Agent

Do you want an agent?


I see lots of you nodding your heads.


Getting an agent isn't the huge mystery some think it is.  Yes, plain old luck -- being in the right place at the right time with the right ms --  accounts for about 40% of your chances.  However, most of it comes down to one thing.

Learn Your Craft.

About 5 years ago, I joined a small online critique group.  We wrote short stories and polished them until they sold to zines and anthologies.  Then we started writing novels.  From the original group, some people have come and gone, but about 4 of us have remained with the group all this time -- and 3 of us got agents.  Yes, that's 3 out of 4.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.

Here's how we did it.

We started a private online forum, and anytime someone found a great article on writing craft, we'd run back to the forum and post it so others could read it.  When we found writing or first page competitions that offered agent feedback, like Miss Snark's First Victim, we shared the info, joined the contests, and discussed the agent feedback we and others received.

If one of us took a class from professional authors or editors, she'd rush back to the group and share all she'd learned.  

We picked apart each others work.  We didn't get defensive or angry or have hurt feelings.  We said "Thank you," took good suggestions, and worked hard to improve our writing skills.  

We began to improve.  A lot.  

We began to win or semi-final in competitions (like ABNA or Writers Conferences).  We queried and got a few full requests.  We commiserated on our rejections and learned from them.  Then we wrote new novels and got a lot more full requests.  Then we wrote even more novels until -- suddenly -- instead of a rejection, we each got an OFFER!


*And there was much rejoicing!*



Some of you may think: 
I don't have time for a writing group.
I can't find a group I like.
The groups I find don't write in my genre.
I can't afford to buy expensive craft books.
I don't have time to go searching for articles on writing craft.
I want people who're *nice* about my work -- it's my heart and soul after all...

You have more options than you think. 

Sometimes my group goes into hibernation when we're busy with life or writing new projects.  But we eventually come back together and share crits.  We are busy people, but we are committed. And whereas local writing groups obligate you to set aside time to go to meetings, online groups just need 15 minutes for a check-in -- any free 15 minutes you can spare.

Just as reading others books is important, so is reading articles on craft.  You don't have to buy expensive books.  There are plenty of excellent online articles that are free.

You don't need to have others writing exactly your genre.  Of the three of us who got agents, one writes Paranormal Romance, one writes YA Contemp, and I write Horror (and others in our group write everything from literary to epic fantasy).  The genres are different but almost all the techniques of good writing are the same.

Be aware of agent judged competitions (like Miss Snark's First VictimPitchWars, and SC Write Query Contest -- all free to enter and going on now), and read the feedback other readers and agents give.  Agent feedback is gold.  They rarely give it because they don't have time.  Soak up as much as you can.

If you want *nice* feedback, give your ms to your mother.  If you want to get an agent, find critique partners who know their stuff.  


You don't want an agent?  You're going indie?  Fine.

You Still Need to Learn Craft!

(If I sound unhappy, it's because I get disappointed when I pick up a book from an acquaintance on FB or wherever who has begged, "Please, please read my book," and I find things like info dumps, POV head-hopping, cliches, and no understanding of "Show Don't Tell" or basic writing craft.  It's like they don't respect their readers enough to make a serious effort.)


To help you out, here are some excellent articles on craft:

Activate Your Story by Agent Jill Corcoran -- on how to make sure you’re starting your story in the right place on Agent Jill Corcoran’s blog.

How to Open Your Story Three Dynamic Ways by Dr. John Yeoman -- on how to write openings that will make the reader keep turning pages on the Writer’s Village Wicked Blog.

Turkey City Lexicon from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) -- their list of writing "dont's," ways not to write a story, or things they've seen too much of.  (This is a great article and very funny too!)

Writing Fix: Reinvent Your Story by Linda S. Clare – on how to take a trunked novel and breathe new life into it on the Linda S. Clare blog.

Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories by Jeff Lyons – on how to make sure your story premise is high concept and stands out from the crowd at Writer’s Digest blog.

How to Write Genius Characters by J.S. Morin – tips on how to write characters who are smarter than you are on the J.S. Morin blog.

Finding the Right Door to Enter Your Story by P.J. Parrish – on how to write the crucial beginning chapters to your novel at the Kill Zone blog.

10 Errors to Avoid When Writing About Guns by Benjamin Sobieck – on how to write the correct details if your characters are using guns or rifles on Jane Friedman’s blog.

Skeletons in Her Closet – The Forensics of Skeletons by Fiona Quinn – on how to correctly describe skeletonized remains at the Thrill Writing blog.



This is a post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, the brainchild of Alex J. Cavanaugh. It exists so the community of blogging writers can share and support each other, blog-hopping to cheerlead and commiserate. To find out more, visit: Insecure Writer's Support Group. Plus, check out the IWSG Website for lots of helpful info and links.
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