Last March 16th, 2013, I had the opportunity to attend SCBWI O.C.’s annual Agents Day.
Held at the Newport Sea Base, the conference featured four literary agents:
Stephen Fraser from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Kerry Sparks from the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, Susan Hawk from Bent Literary, and Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary. Also on hand was award winning author Carrie Arcos.
The first half of a day was dedicated to listening and learning from the speakers. I took notes furiously as each speaker had a wealth of information to share. Here are some of the things I learned from each of them:
Stephen Fraser spoke about what agents do, and the different rules by which they are able to sell their clients’ books.
Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
- An Agent is a broker for your manuscript.
- Having an agent is like having your own personal GPS system – he gets your manuscripts to the right editor in the right publisher.
- Happiness is a quiet thing. The same thing can be said of selling books.
- When you’re negotiating a deal, stand up so you’ll feel stronger.
- As long as it’s great writing, it will sell. A good book always has a home.
Taylor Martindale spoke about the all important element of Voice in fiction writing, and why agents are always looking for it in submissions. She also gave us five tips for using voice in our own works, and some exercises for developing voice.
Taylor Martindale, Full Circle Literary
- What is voice?
- Combination of personality, tone and style that is specific to your novel
- The way readers are introduced to your narrator and reader and carried on throughout the book
- What makes your reader care about the character
- What gets you connected to the book before you’re getting into the story
- When working on your books, Specificity helps – generalization won’t make a good start to your book.
- Use the five senses when writing. Sensory details are rich and evocative and connect with the reader
National Book Award finalist Carrie Arcos spoke of her writing journey, and of her experience at the National Book Award ceremony banquet.
Carrie Arcos, National Book Award Finalist
- Don’t put too much stock in praise or criticism. There will always be both.
- On Writing while Parenting: I didn’t wait until I felt like writing. I wrote whenever I had the time.
Susan Hawk of Bent Literary, talked about the books that she loved, and the current publishing trends.
Susan Hawk, Bent Literary
- She looks for books with compelling voice, stories with depth and heart, lovable characters
- She loves historical fiction, humor, mystery, sci fi & fantasy.
- On Querying: Never query a novel that isn’t finished
- On the difference between MG & YA books:
- YA – problems come more from their peers,
- MG – problems deal with authority/parent/teacher
Finally, Lit Agent Kerry Sparks demystified the Author-Agent relationship by taking us through all the steps of publishing. She gave us tips on what to do pre-agent and when we’re ready to get an agent. She also gave us advice on selecting an agent, and explained what happens once a writer gets an agent, and once that agent sells the manuscript to a publisher.
She also gave us a sample query to show us what works in a query and what doesn’t.
Kerry Sparks , Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
- Read tons of books in the genre you are interested in writing for
- A personalized query letter can stand out in a sea of generic ones, so do put more time into this
- When selecting an agent, look at their track record, as well as their website, social media and blog
- Work with your agent to get the manuscript in best shape possible
- Book won’t come out for a year or more after it’s sold, depending on the edits and the publisher’s list
- You have to be the biggest advocate of your book. Think about School & Library Visits, Tapping the local Market and social media.
- Social media is your friend but you have to do genuinely
After soaking up all the information from the wonderful speakers, we broke for lunch. Learning from our experience last year, my fellow carpoolers and I had picked up a Subway lunch on the way to the conference. This was good as we enjoyed a leisurely chat and lunch in the Yacht room, instead of having to walk two blocks to the nearest restaurant.
Lunch was over soon enough, and the session resumed. This time, however, attendees were divided into two rooms, depending on their surnames. A-J stayed in the main hall, while the rest headed for the Yacht room.
We had a Speed Round with all four agents, and we were able to ask them all sorts of writing/publishing questions during the 15 minutes each of them was with us.
In between speed rounds with two agents, we had the First Pages Reading session. Some lucky attendees got their first pages read out loud, and the agents present gave their helpful feedback on what works, and what doesn’t within the pages.
First Pages Reading Session
After the final First Pages Reading, everyone who had paid for a manuscript critique lined up to get their manuscripts. I excitedly read my critique and even got the chance to speak with the agent assigned to my manuscript.
The SCBWI O.C. Agents Day remains to be one of my favorite conferences. I’m already looking forward to next year!
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