April 19, 2011

Regional SCBWI Conference, Part 2

Onward with the notes!

I had the opportunity to listen to Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  This was possibly my favorite part of the conference.  I've been sending out query letters lately, and seeing an agent be a real person instead of The-Sender-of-Rejection-Letters was heartening.  In fact, I think it would be hard to sit in a room with Jennifer Rofe and not feel a little better about life, the universe, and everything -- she's energetic, enthusiastic, and made me wish I had a book that matched her interests so she could champion it.

Eight Things an Agent Does:
1. Agents take on clients (hopefully for the long haul)
2. Some agents edit clients' work
3. Agents know and track the current market.
4. Agents submit manuscript (using their market knowledge).  Jennifer noted that doing this in rounds is best -- if you have twenty editors, maybe send to just five to start.  They may not take the book, but may have editorial comments.  Edit, then submit to the next five, etc.
5. Agents sell and negotiate books.  I loved Jen's approach to this.  She told a story of a book she sold in three hours, and the story of another book she believed in and wouldn't give up on.  After four years, she sold it.  Amazing.
6. Agents advise clients about career choices.
7. Your agent is your advocate: if you have a problem with your editor, the agent can deal with it, leaving your relationship with your editor clean.
8. Agents also do bookkeeping -- handle royalty statements, send you your tax forms, etc.

*One of her clients said that if you can't ask your boss for a raise, you need an agent.  (This was a lightbulb moment for me: I will need an agent)

Interviewing Agents:
Take time to interview an agent before you sign with them.  Some authors are happy to just have any agent, but if they sell a book for you, there's always a connection there.  Don't be afraid to turn an offer down.  Put aside excitement to think it through.  Look at their work style: will it work for you?  Do you have similar thoughts about the manuscript -- both with revisions and where to submit it? (Though the agents may not say everything; Jen noted that some authors will take all the labored-over comments and run with them)  She highly reccomended getting even just a one-month subscription to Publishers Marketplace to research prospective agents (many sales are listed here, though not all).

Before Approaching an Agent:
*Do your research
*Have a polished manuscript, critiqued by someone other than friends/family
*Write a query letter.  Jen said she only needs three paragraphs:
      1.Introduce the work and explain why you're submitting to her.
      2. Very brief synopsis, including the hook (or the "So What?" factor -- which will be in Part 3 of these posts).  Jen noted that she's yet to buy a book where this is written in the character's voice.
      3. Pertinent biographical information: any writing credits or memberships to organizations like SCWBI.

Lastly, Jennifer did talk about things she's looking for, but I found a great interview with her (click here) that covers it very nicely.  The only thing I didn't see that Jennifer talked about was the importance of being silling to market yourself and being active in your writing community.  There are scads of agents and authors on Twitter having conversations about writing, and it's easy to be a part of that.

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