Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.
I went to school for and built the majority of my career in the concepts of marketing. I was young, and thought it sounded “fun”. Now? Well, let’s just say it’s one of the hardest things I have to force myself to do as a writer. Can anyone relate?
This month, I found some valuable advice about the art of marketing, networking, and self-promotion from seasoned pros, on what to do after putting the pen and paper aside.
Yes, but HOW?, Allison K. Williams, Brevity
You’re close to done! It’s almost a book! What happens now?
I start querying, I guess?
Great! What agents do you have in mind?
I will warn you, this is a no-nonsense guide to getting somewhere when it comes to querying agents (and it takes time).
When I finish editing a client’s book, I can usually give some suggestions, because I’ve spent ten years researching the query process. But my three or four names aren’t enough. Writers need to know how to find the right agents to query.
Start by setting your expectations: Yes, you may strike gold right away, but it’s more likely you’ll query 10-20 agents before revising your query, another 10-20 before revising your first pages, and another 20-50 after that. You may discover after 30 queries that your book is suited to a university press and you don’t need an agent after all, or realize you’d rather self-publish or use a hybrid service. By expecting to query 50-100 agents, in several rounds, you can be pleasantly surprised if Agent #16 is a big “Yes!” rather than moping over rejections #1-15.
100?!?!? How do I find 100 agents?
Williams details several ways to find and catalog agents who genuinely give a strong, positive feeling. Pinpointing which characteristics make them worthy of your time, when the time comes to query them. She goes on to explain more about timing:
Start building your agent list even before you finish your book—between drafts, when you’re letting your manuscript rest to come back with fresh eyes. When the time comes, double-check that the agent is still open to queries, and don’t query until the book is DONE.
Williams advises that carefully curating a list of 2-3 worthy agents each day, then taking time reaching out to each one in a meaningful way will ultimately make less enjoyable tasks in a writer's process constructive and routine, rather than weighty and daunting.
Coming up with a few sentences to describe something you've spent countless hours thinking about, writing, and editing can be extremely daunting. It's hard to see the forest from the trees when you're actually in the forest. You might even BE the forest. Literary agent Danielle Burby outlines how to make short work of the task of crafting a 2-3 sentence pitch.
The best way to hone your pitch is to practice it on friends and family. What are the elements that spark genuine interest rather than polite nodding? What concise description captures both character and stakes?
Keep it simple. You don’t need to pack in a lot of information. You just need to pack in the right information. Jordyn Taylor, a client of mine, is working on a historical YA called The Paper Girl of Paris (forthcoming summer 2020) and when I was putting together the announcement of the sale, I was trying my hardest to squeeze the most information possible into the smallest amount of space (character names, conflict, stakes, how people were connected etc.).
It was dense and overwhelming and it wasn’t working. Then the editor and I realized all we needed to convey was that the story is about: A girl in the present who inherits a secret apartment in Paris that has been locked since WWII and a girl in Nazi-occupied Paris who joins the French Resistance.
You get the unique setting (Paris). You get the “what if” (i.e. what if I inherited a secret apartment?). You get a sense of high stakes (WWII and French Resistance). It accomplishes everything it needs to accomplish, and by not packing in too much information, you allow the important pieces of information to breathe rather than smothering them in too much detail.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that an important part of a successful writer's process includes things like a quick pitch. When done well, it could be argued that it's the most important part of your finished work.
Jane’s Guide to Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference, Jane Friedman, Jane Friedman
One more (sometimes forgotten) item in the writer's process is the conference, the networking getaway rife with knowledge and creative inspiration. In this guide, Friedman sheds light on the importance of navigation to ensure that time and resources are well spent, based on her 20 years of experience as an attendee and speaker.
Before you select a conference (or get seduced by its advertising or speaker list), first identify your primary goal in attending one. Most goals fit into one of three areas: improving your craft, networking with others, and pitching agents/editors.
As far as networking, many of us cringe at the mere mention. Friedman breaks the process down into digestible pieces, helpful even for the most introverted writer.
If one of your conference goals is to network and develop better community relationships, then pre-conference prep is critical. If you’re not on social media, now is the time to establish at least one account. The big writing conferences have ongoing Twitter conversations months before the actual event. This is your opportunity to warm up the networking fires and make your conference time all the more valuable..
Jane's helpful guide also includes creative ways to boost social media presence, lists of what to bring, and basic etiquette for speakers and attendees. This is an inspiring must for any writer's marketing toolbox.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!