Are literary agents the key to a successful writing career?

Author Tahlia Newland has kindly offered to share her experiences finding an agent and if having one is a worthwhile proposition…

Hi. My name is Tahlia Newland. I’m the author of Lethal Inheritance, a YA paranormal fantasy novel.  m.a. invited me over to talk about how I went about getting my agent and whether I think they’re worthwhile.

Lethal Inheritance

There are many authors out there without agents, some couldn’t get one, some never tried, some get on just fine without them, some don’t.  So why did I think I needed an agent?

Literary agents have access to publishers that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.  That keeps you out of the slush pile and increases your chances of finding a publisher.  They also know which publishers are most likely to be interested in your project and good agents have personal contacts in some publishing houses.  These publishers will look at your work more closely because they trust your agent’s evaluation – if you get a good one, if not, that’s another story.

Getting an agent is also a stamp of approval.

An industry professional believes your work is of a publishable standard and that it’s saleable. That might not matter to some, but it gave me a lot of confidence.

A good agent will answer your questions, advise you, guide your career and generally support you.  My agent, Debbie Golvan of Golvan Arts Management, recently suggested that I review my ms again before we submitted it to a second round of publishers. Something I wouldn’t have done without her suggestion. The results prove that it was good advice.

Once the agent finds a publisher, they will check your contract, explain it to you and where changes need to be made, they’ll negotiate on your behalf. They will also support you in any problems that might occur during the publishing process.

A good agent can save you a lot of worry and hassle.

Querying an agent is basically the same as querying a publisher. First, get a list of agents. I joined The Australian Writer’s Marketplace to get access to their listings. Next go through the list carefully to find out which ones represent the kind of work you do. Go to their website, look at their submission guidelines and send exactly that.

Then you wait. Mostly it’s the first round of rejections, but someone might ask for the full ms. You send it. They read it. You wait – again. There’s a lot of that in this business.

If they like what they see, they may offer to represent you. Debbie sent me to her website so I was clear what her role was but she didn’t ask me to sign a contract. That was fine by me. However, I believe that a lot of agents do ask you to sign a contract. Your agent may also ask you to make changes to the ms. Debbie asked me to drop 19000 words.

Golvan Arts will receive my royalties, take 15%, then send the rest to me. As far as I’m concerned, Debbie has already earned that through the support and advice she’s given me.

About the author…

Tahlia Newland

Tahlia Newland is an author, a mask maker and a performer.  She has written scripts for theatre in education and a book of short stories for children.  As well, she is a casual high school teacher specialising in dance, drama, art and whatever else they throw at her!

Tahlia is currently on a quest to publish her first novel Lethal Inheritance, a paranormal fantasy novel.  She is sharing her journey on her blog ‘Lethal Inheritance’.

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A tale of technology and book trailers…

I still don’t have my computer fixed — but it is in hand!  My brother has taken the offending (or should that be recalcitrant?) thing back to his place to fix and cajole back to life.  A little mouth to mouth technical stuff.

In the meantime, I have discovered that my laptop has Window’s Movie Maker loaded on to it.  Oh the joy!  And with a couple of days available to me I have made a ‘trailer’ for my book.  And uploaded it onto YouTube!  Phew!  Who knew I had the technology?  And the knowhow?

Why a book trailer?

Recently, I was at a book signing for George Ivanoff and he had a book trailer playing on his laptop — it attracted people as they passed by.  He mentioned that a book trailer is ‘all the go’ these days.  I immediately decided to get me one of those!  Then did absolutely nothing about it — scary thought, getting a book trailer.  And how was I supposed to do it on a limited budget?  And with no idea how to do it myself?

Here’s what happened next…

This week I had a little time on my hands and with the option of spending it playing spider solitaire or doing something constructive I opted for…  okay, one or two games.  But I soon found myself looking for something else to do — I could write some stuff or get something happening to promote Mis’ka: Rite of Ascension.  I decided on the latter.

So, I Googled and found a great article about writing a book trailer.

Then I set about getting some ideas by viewing a few young adult book trailers online.

Then I wrote a ‘one-liner’ that best described my book — a very long hook if you like, that would get someone interested in reading the story.  After I was satisfied I broke it down into bite-sized pieces and started searching for images to marry up with the words.  I had to use a lot of symbolic images as it is difficult to get the exact pictures that I wanted (I used ‘free’ photos that are available to use as long as the photographers are given credit).  Then I searched iStock for some suitable music — which you pay for but which is then royalty free.

The fun part was putting it together – I learnt as I went.  And I’m sure that if I was a ‘professional’ doing this sort of stuff I would have done it differently.  In fact, even now I keep coming up with ideas… but you’ve got to stop sometime!

Here’s the result…

I know I was going to talk about the premise of your story but I’ll do that next time…

Here are some links to help you with a book trailer:

George Ivanoff

How to make a book trailer

iStock – for music and photos

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What does a writer do when their computer crashes?

My computer has done the nasty and crashed.  As happens with these things, I was happily typing away when… nothing.  The screen had frozen.  In itself, that’s no big deal.  After all, computers are notorious for hissy-fits.  Unfortunately the timing was very off as I was in the middle of an important email to a client discussing some writing I was doing for him.

I hit the reset button.  And waited.  And waited… Alas, the computer appeared to be making all the right noises but absolutely nothing was happening on the monitor — in fact, the screen kept telling me that it was dropping into power saver mode as there was no digital signal.  Okay, perhaps that wasn’t quite what it said but that is definitely what it meant.  Then, it went to sleep.  Sigh.

I ascertained that the mouse did not appear to be working — no glowing red light.  What did this mean?  For that matter, why was the yellow light next to the ‘on’ switch glowing brightly instead of flashing with a subdued hue?  And what the hell is that big box that holds all the parts called anyway?  A processor?  Something else that involves techno-babble that I just don’t get?

A technically challenged writer to the rescue!

The next phase in my voyage of discovery — meaning trying to get my now sadly not-working computer working — was to try a different mouse.  I plugged it in.  This one at least was glowing red — dangerously gleaming up at me with evil intent.  As for the monitor, once again, nothing, nada, nil…

Aha!  I know!  I’ll turn the switch off at the wall.  Excellent.  I gave it a few seconds — long enough to wander off to the kitchen and fill the kettle.  Came back, switched it back on, pressed the start button and sat back, relaxed in the knowledge that all would be well.

Yeah right.

Finally I called my brother, the technical engineer — who, by the way, has a t-shirt with ‘No, I won’t fix your computer so don’t ask’ blazoned across the front and which I, being the ‘kid’ sister, completely ignore — he will ‘drop in’ soon (please, God, let it be soon) to take a look at ‘it’.

Now what?

Luckily I have a laptop (or should that be notebook?  I’m never quite sure what to call it these days) that I am now working on.  But I do not keep any information on it.  Not even email addresses.  This has resulted in a few friendly phone calls to find out addresses for people I need to contact.  As well as logging onto my internet provider (remembering passwords is an absolute pain) to check incoming emails.

Then, there are my files.  They are all on my desktop computer.  Yep, the one that is currently being a fantastic paper weight.  Again, luckily, I use an offshore back-up system — MOZY, http://mozy.com/ — that does a back-up of my files, online, daily.  This means that I have only lost a morning’s worth of work.  Not a lifetime’s worth.  Phew!  That’s great!

So what have I learnt from all this?

  • That I probably need one of those portable drives that you can get these days (have made a note to discuss what I should get with my brother as he mutters and curses his way through fixing my computer).
  • That having a back-up system that does it all automatically for me is a truly great thing.
  • And that I just can’t take the demise of my beloved computer personally.  It hasn’t crashed because it hates me — it has worked its little processors to the bone for a few years now and it has been doing a great job.  Maybe, like all of us, it’s just gotten tired and needs a break… hopefully, not permanently.

Oh, and that my brother is brilliant – even if he can’t fix the damn thing, he’ll give it a go.  And really, that’s all I can ask.

For now, it’s back to trying to remember what I wrote yesterday morning — as well as some work for a client, I was getting into a really great scene for my new book.  It’s all floating around in my head so I want to get it written down — fast — while I remember because there is every chance that it is lost, somewhere in cyber-space (the final frontier!), never to return.

Next time, (if I’m not busy sobbing into a tissue over the ‘death’ of my currently ‘sleeping’ computer — yes I’m living in hope) I’ll talk about how to discover what your premise is — and why you need it…

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Why washing dishes is a useful tool for writers…

I like to wash dishes — yep, it’s true!  I find it very Zen.  And I’m not talking about placing dirty dishes in a dishwasher — I mean real life, filling the sink with hot water and soap, scrubbing clean the dishes.  You know how it goes — dip the dirty plate in the extremely hot and soapy water, clean with the dish-mop until it sparkles and then place it on the draining board to dry.  One dish at a time — which is where the Zen part comes in.

It gives me time to think — and often that’s when I do some plotting — and not the downfall of some foreign country.  I’m talking constructively getting my thoughts around where my story is heading.

So it was with a great deal of joy that I discovered that a very famous writer has felt the same way.

This quote from Agatha Christie invokes what I feel:

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”*

 

Agatha Christie

 

Really, as a writer I can be thinking about a story or a chapter or a sentence or even which word to use, anytime, anywhere, not just when I’m washing up after dinner.  It’s what writers do and why we often have that vague-not-listening-to-you look about us.

Of course the only problem with doing the dishes is that they need to be dried.  And boy, do I hate that part!

*(thanks to http://www.quotegarden.com/writing.html)

**(photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agatha_Christie)

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The elements of story telling — here’s why you need them all:

As I mentioned in my last post a compelling story must contain the basic elements of story telling.  But what exactly is a story?

In its simplest form a story is a sentence containing:

subject / verb / object

cow eats grass

Not much of a story.  But it does actually convey information — that there is a cow that is eating grass.  I suspect that the motivation is because the cow is hungry.

However, conveying information is easier if it’s entertaining.  Maybe the cow is eating because she’s bored.  Or, perhaps she’s being force fed.  So now the story has someone forcing the cow to do something she may not want to do — suddenly there’s more to this than just a cow eating grass… but there still needs to be more.

Is there more to the story that 'cow eats grass'? Photo: iStockphoto.com/aleksask

That’s where the basic elements come in…

  • What? This is the theme of your story.  Every ‘scene’ should reflect this – where is the story going and therefore, where is your audience going?  In Mis’ka, Rite Of Ascension, the theme is war and peace.  Mis’ka lives on Credos whose people have been at war with Nor’la, a neighbouring planet, for hundreds of generations.  Resources are running out for both sides and there is a movement to bring about peace.  The thought of peace throws Mis’ka — she is a Warrior who has spent her childhood training to fight the enemy.  Her internal conflict is that with peace, what happens to her?
  • Who? This is your protagonist, the hero/heroine, who drives your story.  And remember – your hero must want something so badly that they will do anything to obtain this goal.  In fact the higher the goal, meaning the harder it is to reach this goal, the more interesting the journey for the hero and ultimately for your audience.  My hero is Mis’ka – in Rite of Ascension her goal is to pass this test but as her adventure escalates she must do more than just pass – she must find a way to survive and come out of the experience alive.
  • Why? The central dramatic problem.  In the first book Mis’ka thinks that all she’s doing is her Rite of Ascension, which she must pass — the alternative is death or working in the off-world mines.  Mis’ka has a lot at stake here.  But then she rescues Hetat and finds herself thrown into his fight.  Add to this Gabel, an untrained Ma’ji who she must save and suddenly Mis’ka has a whole lot more to deal with…
  • How? Your plot — to get your hero from chapter one to ‘The End’.  And, if you can, you need to have sub-plots to help layer the story and give your audience more to chew on as they read.  And, believe it or not, all your subplots need to have the same theme driving these forward.  Plus they need to have all the basic elements as well!  Phew!
  • Where? Is the setting — because I write science fiction the story is on a planet far, far away!  And to highlight that Mis’ka is in this alone, I have set Rite of Ascension on a moon-planet Asner Major, where she must survive.  From where she stands she can see her home planet Credos and wants nothing more than to be back there.  The next story, Rite of Honour, will take place on Credos and her enemy’s planet Nor’la.
  • When? This is the era — it can be contemporary, in the past or future — or all of them.  Of course, this shapes the ‘feel’ of your story, who your characters are and what societal constraints they face.  Mis’ka’s world is technically very advanced but is filled with traditions going back centuries.  She has rules she must follow and as a Warrior she has the Warrior’s Code she must adhere to.

Once you’ve worked out these basic elements you’ve got the beginning or skeleton of your story.

It is at this point before I even put pen to paper – or should that be finger tips to keyboard? – that I now work out my premise.  Without this, my story can easily flounder.

It has started to rain and the washing that I hung out this morning in the sunshine is now at risk of getting very wet – so I’m off to rescue it.

As for the cow – she really was only eating because she was hungry.  End of story…

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Writing the next novel – an author’s take on the process…

I’m embarking on writing the second novel in a trilogy.  The first, Mis’ka: Rite of Ascension, was published in June 2010.  Although the story stands alone — meaning that the story is complete — it had subplots (or story threads) that began in this first book and are designed to be picked up in the following two novels.

I’m hoping to take you along for the ride.  As I progress, I’m going to tell you about the writing process I follow.  It may not be how you’d do it, or how you’ve heard others do it but, hey, that’s what makes us all individuals – our ability to do things differently and still get to the same end.  Which in this case is a new novel.

A story is a promise.

When you write or even tell someone a story you are making a promise to them.  From the very first word to the last full stop you are taking your audience on a journey — whether that is someone who is reading your novel or a workmate listening to how you missed the train.  And with that journey comes the expectation — or the promise — that you care enough and respect your audience enough to take them on the best rip-roaring ride that you possibly can.

Great stories are like roller coasters - they take you on a ride to remember! Photo: iStockphoto.com/mjbs

For a story to be compelling — that is, make someone want to read it and keep reading to the last page — there are a few things that need to be nutted out first.  This includes all the elements that make a story:

  • What?
  • Who?
  • Why?
  • How?
  • Where?
  • When?

But I’ll talk about these next time – for now I’m off to walk my dogs…

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