Tag Archives: writing

What I Learned Last Year No. 1: Querying and Querying and Finding an Agent

Last week I told you what I did last year. Now I will give you a series of posts sharing what I learned last year. Starting with the answer to “How do you find a literary agent?”

Why, you throw a rock in a bar in Manhattan! Ha, ha.

But seriously, what if you don’t live in Manhattan?

Last year, I learned that there is no one way to get an agent.

There is much advice on the Internet about finding an agent, and much wailing about the agony of finding an agent.

In fact, essays about “How I got an agent” are a whole genre unto themselves. They are agonizingly addictive to read while you’re waiting for responses from agents.

Stephenie Meyer cold-queried to find an agent for “Twilight.” Ignore the part about how writing her book and finding an agent took all of six months. (Although she got a bunch of rejections, so it wasn’t all roses.)

Erin Morgenstern revised her manuscript of “The Night Circus” based on several agents’ feedback, then resubmitted (more than once). (Writing and querying took her more like five years. I know it’s silly, but that makes me like her.)

Kathryn Stockett snuck off to hotels to revise “The Help” while she was looking for an agent.

I think all this sharing of stories stems from the fact that finding an agent is like planning a wedding. It’s a lot of work and a pain in the ass and you hope to never do it again and at the same time you don’t want to waste all that hard-earned knowledge.

Tips for Finding a Literary Agent

So, here are some things you can do to find a literary agent:

  1. Send out query letters to agents that represent the type of book you have written, asking them to represent the book you have written.
  2. Attend literary conferences and network, something writers are all really good at, right?
  3. Tell everyone you know that you finished a novel and want to publish it. Especially tell former writing teachers and friends who live in New York, who have the highest likelihood of actually knowing an agent.

It doesn’t hurt to do all three of these things. I found my agent by cold-querying, but I also tapped a couple of connections.

Links for Finding a Literary Agent

Here’s some advice I like about searching for an agent, and some sites I found useful:

Questions?

Finding an agent can take no time at all or a really long time, and no matter how long it takes it can feel like a really long time. It can also feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

But never fear, because (a) You’ve already done the hard part by finishing your novel (right?) and (b) Anything you want to know about looking for an agent–like, what to do if an agent asks you for an “exclusive,” whatever-the-heck-that-is, or how long to wait before following up after you’ve sent a full manuscript to an agent who requested it–you can find out by Googling, visiting the Janet Reid, Literary Agent website or by asking me in the comments.

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Annual Report of Me, Or What I Did Last Year

1. Queried and queried and finally got an agent*

2. Attended a writer’s conference

3. Applied for a grant for this year (crossing fingers)**

4. Wrote about a quarter of a pretty shitty draft of my new novel***

5. Read more books than I have in a long time

Those were my novelistic goals for the year, so I’m feeling prett-y cool.

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me what you did (novelistically, artistically, whatever you’re proud of) last year.

(Next up: What I learned last year.)

*As my brother said, “Hell yeah!”

**Nearly botched this when they didn’t receive a document I thought I had sent, but they were nice and let me resend.

***This is actually shy of my original goal of 100 pages, but that was crazy talk.

Write Today

One of my first posts on this blog was “You don’t have to write every day.” It was very much advice for myself, as much as for anyone else. (Since then I’ve learned I’m not the only one who believes writing every day isn’t necessary. Nice to know.)

In that post, I wrote that “writers have to figure out for themselves how to make time for writing.” (Again, advice for myself.)

Two and a half years later, I’m still figuring it out. And I always will be, even in the unlikely event that I win the lottery or get an absurd advance or wake up in Ann Patchett’s body.

But recently I hit upon a new strategy for pressuring myself to write while convincing myself that there’s no pressure to write.

Instead of telling myself, “I am going to write every day in October,” and then writing every day for the first three days of October, and then missing a day and feeling terrible about myself, and then abandoning the effort entirely–instead of all that, I tell myself: “I am going to write today.”

I don’t write very long, just 15 to 30 minutes, 250 words or so. Even that small amount of writing feels nice to have under my belt. And it accumulates.

If I don’t write today, it’s a smaller failure than not writing every day. I don’t feel like I have to make up a day by writing double. I don’t even have to promise myself anything new until tomorrow.

The strategy has worked for ten days, with only one day missed. That’s a pretty good run for any writing strategy of mine.

And I really like the Zen of it, if that’s the right word. Because writing is Zen, it’s of the moment, and it’s most fun when I’m letting myself be of the moment.

Write today, my friends. Write today.

No Time for Breadcrumbs

At my house, uneaten bread butts get stuffed, in their original packaging, into the back of the fridge. Months go by, and we end up with a pile-up of stale, hopefully not moldy, bread taking up valuable refrigerator real estate. It usually takes weeks of me saying “I really must make bread crumbs out of all that old bread” before I finally haul out the blender and cookie sheet. Sometimes, the longer I put it off, the more bread there is to tear up, grind into bits, and toast in the oven. It’s worth it though: homemade chicken nuggets, veal parmesan, pasta with bread crumbs. All become possible. Yum.

Sometimes, the longer I put it off the more mold has invaded the plastic bags–and I end up tossing all the bread butts out. No yum.

At this very moment, there is a hill of old bread on my kitchen table, only one batch of bread crumbs done and ready to pour into a Tupperware, and a dawning realization that if I want to finish the whole job, I may have to stay up till midnight.

Yes, this all seems like my writing process. And yes, I’d work on my novel tonight, but I have some bread crumbs to make.

Eight things that seem more important than working on novel No. 2

  1. Eating cake
  2. Watching Gordon Ramsey
  3. Deciding Slate’s tech writer is a tool of Microsoft
  4. Stressing about not working on novel No. 2
  5. Reading blog posts about writing
  6. Writing blog posts about writing
  7. Wondering what the deal is with Tumblr
  8. Thinking about ice cream

Well, when you put it that way …

A book review changed his life

A few years ago, when the Washington Post eviscerated Book World, its standalone Sunday books section, and merged it with the Outlook section, I felt (can you guess?) really upset. Book World was the only section I really loved. Even when I didn’t have time to read books, I could read the book reviews and still feel in touch with the book world.

Yeah, there’s plenty of book blogs and Amazon reviews and Goodreads updates and The Morning News’ annual Tournament of Books and other place to read about books. Even so, I miss Book World.

An essay last month* in, HA, the Post, reminded me of the power of the book review. Inmate Gregory White read a review of a book called “Black Jacks,” then he read the book, then he contacted the author, then he eventually became a merchant mariner, living a life on the seas, just as he’d always wanted to.

Since reading White’s essay, I’ve been thinking about whether I can point to a book that changed my life or made me pursue a dream. For me, that book was “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” which I read as a high school student, at the recommendation of a friend who’d read it in a college creative writing course. I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but Natalie Goldberg’s book came to me at a time when I didn’t have writing mentors or teachers to encourage and push me and make me shut up and go write.

How about you? What book helped you follow a dream? And how did you learn about it?

*Yeah, forgive me for blogging about a month-old article. I’m slowly emerging from hibernation, y’all …

Italians Without Wine and Olive Oil

Olive oil being pouredIf you write historical fiction, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin’s essay at the end of “Lavinia” about the research she did writing the book, a retelling of the Aeneid, and the choices she made about how to portray life before the Roman Empire. Here’s an excerpt:

Like Vergil, I call the towns of the Bronze Age cities, and their people probably saw them as cities, but to us they might look like a walled or stockaded huddle of huts around a fort. Their people went out into the fields to herd sheep, goats, and cattle, and plant and tend barley and emmer wheat and vegetables, fruit and nut trees. They probably had no cotton or linen yet; the women carded, spun, and wove wool into the togas and pallas they wore (not all that different from a sari). It’s possible that they knew only wild vines and the inedible wild olive, and couldn’t afford to buy wine or olive oil from the Etruscans, who by then may have had them. But I couldn’t imagine Italians without wine and olive oil. If it’s any excuse, neither could Vergil.

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