Monday, January 25, 2016

Just Say No to Exclusives

Let’s talk about exclusives. For a person who wants to find an agent, sell a book, have a career, etc. exclusives are BAD. I’m not talking about when an agent says, “Is anyone else reading this?” That’s fairly common and usually fine. But when an agent says, “Send this to me and me alone,” ask yourself: How does this benefit me as a writer? (Hint: It doesn’t)

If the agent reads the book and doesn’t want to sign it, you’ve lost all the time you could’ve spent finding the best fit for your book. If the agent reads your book and loves it, you’ve lost the right to decide on your own who the best fit for you book is: the agent has decided for you that no one else should get a chance to throw their hat in the ring. And this is bad for you, because you don’t just want AN agent. You want the BEST agent to champion your work and, hopefully, help you throughout your career. Only you can decide who that is. Honestly, most good agents also want you to have the best person to champion your work, so eliminating the competition makes me wonder about them.

I’ve seen agents say, “I don’t have time to read a submission I might lose to another offer.” The solution to that, my friend, is to read faster. You can’t control how fast other agents are going to read, but if you desperately want this manuscript so much that it will destroy your soul if another agent offers on it first, then make reading it your #1 priority. Read it on the toilet if you must. 

How it’s supposed to work is, the writer queries lots of agents. When an agent loves it, they make an offer (yay!), you tell everyone else who’s reading, some of them offer too (yay!), you talk to everyone to find the best fit, and the two of you live happily ever after. Yes, some agents are sad in this scenario. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the best one we have. 

An agent who tells you that their time is more valuable than yours possibly does not understand how agents get paid. The ideal agent/writer relationship is a partnership. If my agent is making me feel like an unimportant peon who is wasting her time by sending her manuscripts to read, do I want to work with her? But an agent who also insists that you only send to him or her makes me wonder: Are they afraid of the competition? Do they think they won’t be able to convince you to pick you over another agent? Because if an agent doesn’t have faith in their ability to to sell YOU on THEM as an agent, does that give you faith in their ability to sell your book to others?

Your agent has an obligation to act in your best interests. This is a fiduciary duty that is inherent in all agent relationships. Even though this person isn't your agent yet, if they're already evidencing that they're not interested in your best interests, take that to heart. An exclusive is almost never in the writer's best interests. What's best for the writer is to query widely and find the best fit for your manuscript and your writing career.

From your dream agent, OK, I could see saying something like “I’ll give you a two week exclusive before I send to other agents.” Let that person get a jump on reading if they want. Maybe. If you’ll die knowing you missed a chance to work with this agent. But an open-ended exclusive? In a world where many agents don’t reply at all on full manuscripts and it’s not uncommon to wait a year to hear back? Nope-ity nope nope nope. 

For an agent’s perspective on why exclusives are bad, check out Janet Reid’s blog on the subject.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

This Book's My Pitch: SIDEKICK

As you may be aware, I help host the PitchSlam contest run twice per year. Writers submit a 35 word pitch for feedback, then their first page for feedback, then both together for consideration for the agent round. The hosts, with a slew of talented readers, work to pick the most polished entries for the agents to read and request.

After the last contest, I agreed to help use my blog to for pitching tips and examples to show that any book, no matter how complicated, can be boiled down to 35 words or less. Personally, the format I like for a pitch is:
When [inciting incident], [main character] must [basic plot] or [stakes]. 
This week, I'm looking at SIDEKICK, a YA contemporary novel by Natalie Whipple. Here's the blurb from Amazon:
Russ is tired of coming in second to his best friend, Garret. Whether it’s in sports, in school, or with girls, he can never get ahead. Something has to change, and when a new girl comes to town he sees his chance. He has to win her over before Garret does, but proving he’s not second best won’t be easy when Garret is a pro. 

Russ will do anything to beat Garret, including using his little sister to get closer to the new girl. He has to be careful, though, because if anyone at school finds out he attends anime night (and he might even enjoy it), it would ruin his reputation, just like his secret love for cooking and James Taylor. 

But pretending to be something he isn’t will catch up to him eventually, and Russ can only get away with living two lives for so long. As more than one friend reveals they aren’t who they seem, Russ must figure out what and who he really wants in his life. And more than that, he needs to find the courage to make it happen. 
So, how do we pitch the story in 35 words or less?
Russ's best friend is a high school superhero. No one ever notices ordinary Russ. He must get the new girl to like him before she falls under Garret’s spell, or he’ll be the sidekick forever.
That's not bad, right? It could be worse. But the problem is, it's not really an accurate representation of the book. We're talking about manuscripts, not reality, so as soon as you start talking about superheroes and spells, there's a good chance I'm going to take you literally. Since this is a YA contemporary book where the characters are all human, the above pitch is misleading, and that's not going to work.

Let's try something else.
Being second best sucks. Russ resolves to win the new girl from his flirtatious best friend, to be #1 for once. But the price for beating Garrett may be Russ’s best friends and little sister.
See how that's better? The first sentence give some voice. The second tells you what Russ wants to accomplish, which sets up the main conflict. And the third tells you what's at stake for Russ. You know that if he does what he wants - stealing the girl from his best friend - everyone will hate him. And that's the kind of thing that makes me want to know what Russ will decide to do, so that makes me more likely to read the book.

Make this story your pitch. Put your own 35 word pitches in the comments.

Monday, January 4, 2016

My Goals for 2016

I can't quite believe another 365 days has slipped past me, but no matter how many times I double-check, my calendar still says it's 2016. I can't believe it. Shouldn't I have a flying car by now?

Well, flying cars and hover boards may still be a distant dream (those modified Segways don't count), but there are things I CAN work on in 2016.
  1. I will write two new manuscripts (at least).
  2. Finish reading through the manuscript I finished in September to see what work it needs and make a plan for revision. Accept help from my amazing critique partner instead of insisting that I need to do everything all myself - especially when I'm stumped. 
  3. Read and review my Netgalley books before asking for more. No more than 3 unreviewed books at once from now on.
  4. My Goodreads challenge last year was 30 books, and I finished in August, so I may need to step up that game a bit this year. (Note: This does not count the 70 or so manuscripts I read for my internship, critique partners, paid critiques, etc.) Sure, I have a lot going on, but I suspect I can read at least 35-40 books.
  5. Tendonitis sucks. I will not re-injure my bad shoulder doing stupid things and will rest when needed. 
  6. Last year was awesome, but I really can't participate in every writing contest. When contests happen at the same time, I will pick one.
  7. There are many important people in my life, scattered around the world. But there are also many important people at home. It's time to find more of a balance between my social life and social media.
  8. Instead of looking at how far I have to go, I'll stop to appreciate how much I've already accomplished.