Sunday, 7 August 2011

2011 Agents . . . What Do They Really Want?

It was November 2010 . . . I had made a vow to query agents and publishers for one full year before I'd seriously consider Self-Publishing my memoir.  But somewhere along the way I was subtly seduced by the many facets of marketing, drawn from a multitude of online articles and books I discovered.  Soon I was up to my chin in market research gasping for air, while my Agents sulked in the corner.

This came to a screeching halt last Sunday afternoon when I realized how many days and months had vanished . . . it was time to get back on track.

Self-discipline is a writer's key to success!  We must be as passionate in our self-discipline as we are in our writing!  It doesn't come easy, but it can be attained with practice.  I must stay focused!

The future of your book is in the hands of the person who knows more about it . . . cares more about it . . . and will benefit more from it than anyone else . . . you!     
               Michael Larsen, How to Write a Book Proposal

My initial blog on Agents was posted June 19th, so let me continue . . .

At first, I was excited to be searching for an agent after spending 16 years writing my memoir.  Once the novelty wore off, I was able to look at the process more clearly and uncover key data . . .
  • Most agents want clients with the ability to produce more than one book stating they represent careers . . . not books.
  • If your writing focuses on a particular area . . . you may benefit by submitting your work directly to a small or specialized press.  Small presses often give greater attention to the writer with editorial help and marketing expertise. 
Since my book is a memoir, my research should focus on the small or specialized presses.  I will never stop writing . . . I'm only uncertain of the genre.

An exciting find for my memoir . . . On Friday, I came across an agent who has worked in the publishing business since 1979, first as an editor at W.W. Norton.  There she published DEAR AMERICA: Letters Home From Vietnam, which became an Emmy award-winning documentary.  This is the first agent I've found who was passionate about my subject.  Will my query letter ignite this flame again?  Only time will tell.  This weekend I plan to redraft my query for submission.  All prayers are welcome . . .

What are agents really looking for?
  • Agents can only spend a minute at most reading your query letter . . . explain what you want them to know IMMEDIATELY.  They want to be taken by SURPRISE.  Be surprising!
  • Fiction - Agents look for a track record.  Are you committed to your craft and building an audience?
  • Memoir is a tricky genre.  Agents look for two main things: a UNIQUE story and GREAT writing.  Memoirs should read like novels.  They should have suspense, conflict, emotion, character development, dialogue and narrative throughout.  Why will people be interested in you?
  • Why are you qualified to write what you wrote and how does it DIFFER from what's already been published on this topic?
  • Agents want to see a MARKETING PLAN.  What the author can really do that will sell the book, not wishful thinking.
  • It's not rude to ask for more detailed feedback following a rejection . . . but be POLITE.
A sampling of agent footnotes:
  1. "We like storytelling defined - by its extraordinary power to resonate universally on a deeply emotional level."
  2. "We seek strong new voices in fiction and nonfiction and are fiercely dedicated to our authors."
  3. "Narrative nonfiction - projects that simply teach me something new about the greater world and society around us."
  4. "Accomplished storytellers with their own distinct voice, who are able to create psychological conflict with their narrative."
  5. "Projects that tackle big topics with an unusual approach."
  6. "An analysis of why your proposed book is different and better than the competition is essential."
What your giving can do is . . . help your reader be braver . . . be better than they are . . . be open to the world again.   Anne Lamott, bird by bird

The 34th Annual Family Reunion . . . 

I leave for Ohio on Thursday at 8:05 a.m.  This is where I grew up . . . until my husband was transferred to California.  Yipee!!  I escaped the SNOW!

The announcement displays a full-color group photo with my mother, the matriarch of our family, seated in a folding chair surrounded by grinning faces and a sea of children at her feet.  42 attended last year.  These are my roots, where I feel safe in times of trouble.  Though we may not always agree, we're a family who cares with unconditional love.

At 94, my mom still lives at home with the help of a caregiver five mornings a week.  Her mind is sharp as any of you, though her body grows weak.  She may use a walker, but every year she makes over 100 cream puffs from scratch for "her family."  This is tradition. 

I look forward to this trip back in time, surrounded by family and friends, reliving tales of when we were young.  Two weeks brimming with lots of love, lots of laughter and lots of food.  These times I truly miss . . . until I remember the SNOW!

Lesson learned . . . my two cents  

"We meet no ordinary people in our lives." - C.S. Lewis 


  1. Nancy - I always appreciate your useful advice on the business of writing. I wish you success with your latest agent query and will keep you in my prayers.

  2. I'm so glad you are able to go back and spend time with your family. It sounds wonderful! Safe travels and enjoy!

  3. Good tips here, Nancy, thanks for sharing.

  4. 108907279337394695259 - I'm glad you're able to use some of the information I share from my own journey. With so much out there, sometimes it's hard to focus on what's really important. Please visit again.

  5. Thanks, Sheryl. Hope you're enjoying the rest of the summer with your family. xo

  6. Beverly - As always, thank you for your comments. I respect you as a writer and appreciate your favor.

  7. Thanks Nancy. I really learned a lot from reading this. I hope to learn more from you

  8. Val - Thank you! I'm so please you stopped by. Since you learned from this blog, you might want to glance at some of the others. After "The Beginning," I was still settling in.

  9. Good morning Nancy, your posting directions are spot on!
    I love your post. Agents sometimes forget the value of one book and what can spring from those pages into our hearts. I melted when you shared about your family and your dear mother, what precious times. See you in class next month, thank you for writing to all of us.

  10. Patricia - You finally did it! Hooray! Wonder why your name doesn't show? Thank you for your sweetness. See you soon!

  11. Nancy - I always feel guilty when I am reaping the benefits of other writer's research, but.. I thank you anyway for sharing and keeping 'this writer' informed. Have a wonder holiday with your family... Take good care.

  12. Brenda - Don't ever feel guilty from reaping! Remember . . . Writers write to share! This is what we do! And Brenda, you've given me so much through your work, I'm content knowing I can give back. Am I babbling yet?

  13. Nancy,

    I've been following your blog and appreciate all the great info...not to mention your inspiring attitude. What you are doing is not easy, but you have a powerful story to tell. I can't wait to see it in print!

  14. Becky - I'm honored you're following my blog inasmuch as I feel your writing is far superior to mine. Thank you for your kind words. And may you find the perfect agent for your beautiful story.

  15. Just found your blog after you commented on mine. What a gem. I'm going to read your back posts and catch up. Brenda

  16. No, Nancy,you are not babbling. And thank you kindly for the thoughtful words...

  17. My 2nd Brenda, Sorry it took so long to reply. I left for Ohio the day of your comment. I'm so pleased you found me, and thank you for your compliment and joining as a follower. I love sharing what I've learned with other writers.