Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Be Shark Bait in the Treacherous Ocean

I have a couple of phobias. One of the things most likely to make me faint is knives. I'm terrified of them, well big ones, sharp and horrifying. Like the Chef's knife, that diabolical slicer made most famous in Psycho. I'm not quite sure why I jump back and shudder at the presence of a knife or why I can't use or wash one in the sink, but that fear is just there. I could never keep the block of them on top of my fridge cuz on the freakish chance you bump into it while getting HalfBaked, the block could tip over and the alliance of daggers would then butcher you to death, or at the very least cut off your eyebrows or do some serious damage to your girls or piggies.

My fear is so intense I can't even watch someone dice carrots or a knife infomercial. Honestly. That Rock-n-Chop is not of God, right out of hacker-slasher hell, and my best friend had the nerve to send some sales guy over to my house for a demonstration. [I don't care that he was earning money for college or whatever. That's Sick!!! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? WHY? How would you like it if I sent a moose over to your house? You wouldn't. That's right. Sick freak.]
And if you've ever seen Predator, you know how violent it is, but the only part I can't watch is where a guy is shaving with a straight blade. Uggghh. I CANNOT watch a guy get shaved that way at the barber or even think of seeing Sweeney Todd live. Panic attack for sure.

I'm also afraid of bees, even so much as to run several feet away from my children to avoid them. I shriek and wiggle and pull over my car if one of those mean creatures invades my space. If I were ever on Fear Factor and bees were involved, I'd forsake the million, or whatever the prize was. I understand their importance, but I despise them nonetheless.

And my worst fear of all is sharks. Though I'd go hang gliding or jump out of a plane no problem, I won't go on a shark dive or surf or do many oceanic activities that might bring me into contact with them. I totally hate that about myself because I love adventure. With writing, I'm afraid of what's out there in the unknown, but I have no choice but to jump in the deadly ocean and watch out for sharks. I do hope to be published, and that's my first plunge into making it happen.

Once work is polished and ready for submission, some writers don’t know what to do next or how to go about finding representation. You’ve written the query, the synopsis. Now what? Don't send work directly to a publisher. Go find a literary agent, a good one. Searching for agents on the web can be overwhelming. In the scary murk, with hundreds of sharks out there hunting for young and na├»ve prey, how do you find the dolphins, who have the communication skills, connections and muscle to get work sold? To avoid being chum, here are some red flags to look out for so you can find the good guys.

If an agent charges reading fees or anything upfront, RUN. Some agents in smaller agencies charge for supplies, but look for sold work, talk to represented authors, make sure there’s a cap on expenses and know exactly what you’ll have to pay, and really only choose an agent like that if you’ve exhausted all other options. Agents should get paid off commission, not nickel and dime writers into the poorhouse.

If there’s no proven track record of sales and more sales, RUN. Look for works sold in the genres they say they represent. Good agents aren’t secretive about their sales. Who would hide published success? Really.

If a website is too vague and sparse, no agents or bios in sight, authors with only first name and last initial giving glowing testimonials, RUN. Sometimes they’ll sweeten their appeal by offering a 10% commission instead of the customary 15. These “agents” are salivating for fresh, young meat. Really. Run.

If an agent’s website is lacking clarity or full of errors, grammatical or otherwise, RUN.

If an agent is not a member of the AAR, the Association of Authors' Representatives, PAUSE and do some more research before sending in or signing anything.

If an agent is running ads to get business, WALK AWAY BRISKLY. Even if it’s a legitimate agent who’s starting up and wanting to get his name out into the world, opt for an experienced agent with contacts. New agents have no clue what publishers are buying or how to get in the door. This is your work we’re talking about. Would you let some inexperienced doctor operate on your child just because he ran a good ad campaign? Think not. Let some other writer be the Good Samaritan and business booster. Top agents don’t have to reel in writers. They’re swamped with submissions already.

If an agent offers to represent you ONLY if you use such and such editing services first or their suggested rewriter, RUN. Kickback is in play.

If an agent hasn’t sold works to the big houses, WALK AWAY BRISKLY. Your book might have the potential to be the next best seller, but who would know? With a smaller press, your spankin’ new, published book could die right out of the box. A good agent knows what type of publisher would be best for your work and has contacts all over the map to get the right deal done.

If an agent works with subsidy or print on demand [POD] publishers, RUN. You could just as easily do that yourself if you wanted to go that rout. Why pay the extra fees?

Check out Writers Beware for already tagged sharks.

You can find a comprehensive list of agents with bios and contact info at these FREE sites: LitMatch and Agent Query. Advanced searches can pinpoint agents by name, genre, location—not only the U.S. btw. You can also organize and track submissions instead of having to set up a spreadsheet in Excel. There’s also a resource page listing agent blogs.
Look for agents who are seeking and selling what you write. Every agent has their own personal guidelines and tastes. Don’t do a blitz submission or even write a form query letter. It’s really impersonal, unprofessional and ineffective. Choose agents carefully and write individual query letters for each one.
Nothing to fear. With your eyes alert and your mind sharp, you can avoid being shark bait and find your way in the treacherous current. Now off you go. Nothing to fear? Maybe I will take a shark dive sometime. Haha. Doubt it. Not without Valium and an army of prayer warriors on their knees.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.


  1. An excellent resource, CV. Well stated advice. In addition to LitMatch, is another potential resource for writers seeking agents.

    And of course, check all names on WriterBeware first.

    Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Darc. Good to know about AQ.

  3. This is bang on, Courtney--good, practical advice. No doubt hard-won. Ah, I'm sure we could swap fascinating stories about publishers and agents. I've been in the biz almost a quarter of a century and the publishing world still confounds me...

  4. Thanks, Cliff. I'm still working on accumulating some stories to swap. Know anything about sports? :)