On Meeting Editors and Agents at Writers Conferences

Most writing conferences offer opportunities to meet with agents and/or editors one-on-one. Some people are confused about the purpose of meeting with an editor. Before you register for a writing conference, you need to be clear about this. And of course, meetings with agents and editors are for writers who want to be published through a traditional publisher. If you are self-publishing or indie-publishing, you don’t need to meet with agents and editors.

Logo for Carolina Christian Writers Conference 2018
Source: https://www.fbs.org/christian-writers-conference-2018/

But first, you need to understand there are two kinds of editors. Some operate like independent contractors. You can hire one to edit your manuscript. I’m still trying to decide if I want to do that, because it is an added expense, I’ve already done a good bit of self-editing, and I don’t know if it will really help me get accepted by an agent or publisher. But if I were self-publishing – which I’m still considering – I would definitely hire one of these editors, because I don’t have a traditional publisher to provide one for me. However, when conferences offer a chance to meet with agents or editors, these are not editors who edit your manuscript.

The other type of editor works for one publisher, and part of his/her job is to acquire new manuscripts for his/her employer, i.e., sometimes called an “acquisitions editor.” Ultimately, an editor is a gatekeeper to the publisher, but most of them will only accept manuscripts submitted by an agent. An agent has relationships with many publishers. He/she can submit your MS to editors who are looking for your type of book. Though the role of agent and editor is different, they are both at the conference because they are looking for new manuscripts and authors they believe are ready to publish now.

An agent is usually necessary to get your foot in the door with an editor. However, the one exception is at conferences, editors will hear pitches directly from authors. And if they like your pitch, they may ask you to submit a book proposal and sample or even a complete MS.

Logo for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference
Source: http://ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/event/blueridgemountainchristianwritersconference#.Wo2lvHxG3IU

So in moving up the ladder to publication:

  1. An agent shops your MS to (acquisitions) editors.
  2. An editor presents your MS to representatives of his/her specific publisher.
  3. Publisher representatives accept your MS and offer a contract.

At that point, you will want your agent to negotiate your contract with the publisher, and the editor will be your liaison with the publisher.

Moral of the story: Agents and editors are both necessary to get published, so talk to any of the ones who are most likely to be interested in your manuscript.

Q: So this is not an editor who is offering to edit my manuscript?

A: Correct. There may be some of those editors as attendees, but the kind of editors conferences will make available to you are the ones that could potentially get you accepted by a publisher.

Q: If these editors will only accept manuscripts from agents, should I only talk to agents?

A: Normally, yes. But as I said, the one exception to this rule is at conferences. When editors offer one-on-one meetings at conferences, they are offering a rare chance to bypass the agent and pitch your MS directly to them. If they like your idea, they might ask you to submit something to them. Every editor is different in terms of what they want to receive initially, but most will ask for a book summary and/or outline, some sample pages, and a brief author bio. Only submit directly to an editor if they ask, and give them what they ask for specifically.

Q: If through the conference I can get an editor to accept my MS without an agent, why do I need to talk to agents?

A: Two big reasons:

  1. Your chances of being accepted by an editor are still much greater through an agent than on your own.
  2. Even if you do get an offer from a publisher because an editor was excited about you and your MS, you should still have an agent represent you in contract negotiations. If publishers can take advantage of you, they will – even Christian publishers. They’re not bad people, but this is a business to them. They want the most advantageous deal they can get. An agent knows the tricks they will try to pull and how to protect you from them.

Q: What if I do get a publishing offer, but I don’t have an agent?

A: Contact a few agents who represent your type of book and tell them you have a publishing offer and need an agent. My guess is your phone will ring off the hook.

Q: How do I know what agents and editors are interested in?

A: Find a recent copy of the Writer’s Market. For the editors listed in the conference, look at their publishers and see what they publish. That will tell you what the editor is looking for. You might be able to find a copy in your library. However, if you are serious about getting your MS published through a traditional publisher, it is worth buying. If you want to focus on agents, the Guide to Literary Agents can give you more detailed info.

Q: So at the conference, is it better to talk to an agent or editor?

A: It’s best to talk to whoever is most likely to take an interest in your manuscript. You will need both of them to successfully navigate the publishing process. If you get an editor first, you should have no problem finding an agent. If you get an agent first, his/her job is to get your foot in the door with an editor. Where you start your journey is not nearly as important as finding someone who really wants to help you get in.

Is Multiple POV Dead?

When I first started seriously shopping my novel manuscript in 2014, secular agents/publishers said

  1. It’s too Christian for us.
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

Christian agents/publishers said

  1. It has too much sex and violence for us (none of it gratuitous, I assure you).
  2. We don’t want more than two points of view.

I expected #1 from both to be an issue that I would just have to negotiate and maybe make some changes for them. #2, however, came totally out of the blue for me. All my life I’ve read and liked novels with multiple points of view (POV). Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel devotes a whole chapter to how to write in multiple POV. But they just wouldn’t seem to budge on that. They really prefer one POV. Even two is pushing it.

When I first started writing this manuscript, I envisioned it as two POV, a criminal condemned to death and his prison guard. It wasn’t working. After trying different things with the plot and working on my writing technique, it improved, but I still didn’t feel like it was ready for publication. When I wrote some chapters in a third POV (the wife of the condemned criminal), that opened up new scenes and characters that made the story and main characters more real to me. I felt I was moving in the right direction.

Then I tried out a chapter from the perspective of the Procurator of the Games, to get access to important Arena scenes and intrigues around the emperor. My critique group loved it, so I wrote some more. So that meant I had four POV characters.

At the time, I had no idea it would even be an issue. When I kept running into the same brick wall, I stopped sending query letters and tried to figure out what to do with it. Can I eliminate two POV’s? And if not, what then?

A sock in the gut from an author and an agent

A few months ago, award-winning author Lynette Eason spoke at the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She writes mainly romantic suspense for the Christian market. She wrote one novel with four POV, like mine. It was 90,000 words while mine is 76,000. She suggested they might be thinking it’s not enough words to develop all four of these characters. It was the first thing anyone in publishing said that made sense to me.

However, I recently attended a workshop through Writer’s Digest that suggests I may not be able to overcome this no matter how many words I add. I got to ask all my burning questions to a reputable agent. She asked if there were any bestsellers comparable to mine that

  1. Were written by debut novelists, and
  2. Were published in the last two years.

There’s the rub. I can think of multiple POV bestsellers. Preston and Child’s Pendergast series, the most recent of which was The Obsidian Chamber (2016). George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, which has been adapted very successfully for television. Jodi Picoult’s latest novel, which has seven POV in one chapter. But all of these authors have consistently written bestsellers going back to the 90’s. They have a proven track record. As a debut novelist, I do not. In fact, the last multiple POV bestseller from a debut novelist I can remember was The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009). Eight years ago.

And I can’t fall back on Donald Maass, as great as his book was, because Breakout Novel was published in 2002. Book publishing has changed a lot since then. That’s why in your query letters, when you name published books comparable to yours, you can’t go back more than two years. What sold three or four years ago is already outdated. The one bit of good news I have is I found three novels set in ancient Rome all published this year. But, of course, they are all single POV.

I spent about twelve years working on this novel, writing and failing, writing and failing, over and over again until I finally had a manuscript I believed in. And in that twelve years, the very thing that breathed life into my novel like God breathing life into clay became the thing that makes publishers say, “Thanks, but it’s not for us.”

What to do now?

I don’t know. I could maybe bring down the number of POV’s to three. That’s still too many for the major publishers. Are there any agents, and maybe independent publishers, that are willing to take a chance on a debut novelist with a multiple POV story that is a damn good novel if I do say so myself? I’m going back in the ring to find out. Because after all the work I’ve put into it, I just can’t accept that I created something no one will care about.

If you are a writer, what POV do you write in? First person? Third person, deep POV? Third Person omniscient? Do you use one POV character? Two? Do you ever use more than two?

And whether you are a writer or reader, what do you think about this situation? Are publishers right that multiple POV novels don’t sell any more (unless you are an established bestseller)? Or are they misreading the market? I would love to hear your comments.

_______

In the meantime, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. I wrote a short story imagining them meeting in heaven called “A Requiem for Two.” It’s available on Kindle for only $0.99. And it’s only one Point of View (Princess Diana) in case you were wondering. If you like it, I would so appreciate a rating or review.

Writing Devotion, 1 Sam 17:49

I was asked to give a devotional for the June 24, 2017 meeting of the South Carolina chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). The pattern they prefer is 1) a bible verse, 2) reflection from personal testimony or other illustration, 3) a lesson learned or life application, and 4) a prayer. I chose to draw from the story of David and Goliath.

***

David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground (1 Sam 17:49).

I remember when the writing bug bit me. I thought about Jesus and the sinful woman, and something stirred in me. I grabbed a pen and notebook and started writing the story as if Jesus were telling it. I didn’t think about it. I wouldn’t even have attempted it if I had. But somehow the story just flowed out of me. I looked at it and realized I had to be a writer.

After that, it was like I was on a writer’s high. I wrote constantly and thought everything on the pages was brilliant. I would write, look at it, and I was like, “I can’t believe I wrote this.”

Some months later, the high wore off. As I studied more about what makes good writing, I found my clever turns of phrase were really clichés. My profound comments on the human condition were breaking connection with my POV character. My masterpieces were filled with rookie mistakes. Weak verbs, info-dumps, irrelevant details, characters that were spokespersons for my beliefs rather than real people, not enough emotion and suspense, too much internal dialogue, tell don’t show. And I looked at it, and I was like, “I can’t believe I wrote this.” Not in the good way. I was writing, but I still had a lot to learn about the craft of writing publishable stories.

We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath. Do you remember that when David told Saul he would fight the giant, Saul gave him his armor and weapons? And what happened? That’s right. He did not take it. The armor probably didn’t fit. Don’t forget Saul was the tallest man in Israel. That’s why they wanted him to be king. And David had never worn armor or used a sword or spear. So he went into the fight with what he knew, a sling and five smooth stones from the brook.

david and goliath

But after that initial glory, David would be called upon to lead the armies of Israel. He had to learn new skills and techniques. He had to learn how to speak in a commanding and inspiring manner, make battle plans, lead marches, choose terrain for battle, maneuver units to outflank the enemy, coordinate infantry, chariots, and slingers, and start wearing the armor and using the sword and spear he had not been ready to use against Goliath.

As writers, we will probably never be called upon to lead armies or kill giants. Unless we want to write stories about them. But like David, this calling to be a writer will require we learn new skills and concepts like, plotting, characterization, style, dialogue, creating scenes, how to work in description and backstory without bringing the action to a screeching halt, and what exactly does “Show don’t tell” mean?

So if you find yourself annoyed with all the technical stuff about writing, think about David. He may have had moments when he pined for his sling and a giant to take down. But after Goliath, there were no more giants. If he was going to make the transition from baddest slinger in the Middle East to commander of the armies and eventually to king of Israel, it was time to put his sling down, put his armor on, and practice with his sword and shield. And also like David, whatever new adventures writing brings you, keep your faith in God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your gift of the written word. Bless this ACFW chapter to train and equip these people gathered here to make the most of their gift and calling, so that we may point others to the light of Christ. And it’s in his name we pray. Amen.

_____

Amazon Author page

Published!

It’s been a good week. I made two of my short stories available on Kindle for only 99 cents. One is called “Many Waters.” It tells Luke’s story of the Sinful Woman (7:36-50) from Jesus’ perspective. I think I must have been crazy to do that. The Preface tells the story how I came to make such a bold move. I included an Epilogue with some FAQ’s from people who have read it.

The other is also one I wrote years ago. This year is the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. Since they died within a few days of each other, I wondered what it would be like if they met in heaven. It’s called “A Requiem for Two.”

I also picked up an issue of Anderson Magazine (several, actually) that ran my story “Church Street Heritage Project: Looking Forward by Looking Back.” I wish I could give you a link to it, but it’s not available on the website yet. Anyway, if you’re in Anderson, South Carolina, the May/June issue is available now.

Blog Review: Warrior Writers

Very pleased to recommend Kristen Lamb’s author blog, which I just discovered. Have just started with it but I can already tell it will be helpful for me and any other aspiring author.

In a post titled Author Animal Farm—New York Goood, Self-pub Baaaaaad she responds to a piece in The Huffington Post trashing self-publishing. She addresses whether self-pub is a legitimate path for an author, whether traditional or legacy publishing is really better, and whether we as writers should contribute to sites like Huffington Post that only pay in “exposure.” Here is the comment I left on this post (with a few proofing corrections, bold and links added here).

*****

This gave me a lot to think about. On Huff, I thought it would help me to get published there. I’m already not getting paid for my blog posts. At least I would get some name recognition from that. On the other hand I hate to see publications who have the money to pay writers but still don’t pay. On self-publishing, I’ve seen both sides. C. Hope Clark is the author of two mystery series set in coastal Carolina. She says Legacy Publishing made her a better writer because after 36 rejections, she looked over the manuscript again and realized it wasn’t ready. Having that measure of quality control made that first novel better and those lessons carried over to the others. If it makes my work better, I’m for it. However, I’m in a bind because my novel doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. I knew it would be a challenge for traditional publishers because of that. But I find myself having my manuscript rejected for ridiculous reasons.
I read about the multiple points of view approach from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, and I was encouraged because it applied to my novel. I followed his advice for using it effectively. Most agents and editors are telling me now that I have to stick to one point of view, two at most. WHY????? The lead agent of a highly respected agency wrote a book on how to write a commercial best-seller, said this is a legitimate way to do that, and now all the gatekeepers think it can’t possibly work?

The Pendergast series from Preston and Child is one of my contemporary favorites and always a guaranteed bestseller. They always use multiple points of view. And what would Game of Thrones be if we could only experience the Seven Kingdoms through one POV character? And at the risk of sounding immodest, I know I have a good novel. In fact, it’s better than a lot that actually gets published through Legacy Publishing. I know that because I’ve read some of what’s out there. No one could read it all, but I’ve read enough to know mine compares favorably.
I also know because my first draft sucked. It took a lot of time, educating myself on the craft, blood, sweat, and tears, and critique groups who kicked my butt to teach me how to create tension, drama, and characters they would care about. So I know it wasn’t always worthy of being published, and self-publishing that first or second or seventh draft would have been a disaster. But now? I’ll give the “real” publishers some more chances, but if I have to go self-pub, it’s still a good novel and worthy of being published.

*****

Btw, I also know it’s good because it recently won an award for unpublished fiction.

Reblog: “Clean Fiction” as Evangelical White Magic

Great post from Mike Duran, “Clean Fiction” as Evangelical White Magic.

This is a point I’m trying to make about my fiction and Biblical fiction in general. If Philippians 4:8 means to only watch, read, consume, or create media that is “clean,” i.e., devoid of violence, gore, nudity, profanity, sex, and other types of immorality, why does the Bible contain stories with all these elements?

So how do you consume or create material with immorality and not be corrupted by it? The same way you do when you encounter it in the Bible, by exercising discernment. And such “unclean” elements exist in media for the same reason they exist in the Bible. Because they exist in the world, and telling the truth sometimes requires we make that plain.