Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Literary Agent: How Does This Work?

(Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, gave us permission to reprint this article from his blog.)

The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) began in 1991 as a professional organization representing literary agents, mostly in the broader general publishing world. Their Canon of Ethics are a solid foundation for anyone in the profession.

So, why are agents needed?

For authors, an agent is the professional voice of experience and insight on everything from the contract to the relationship with a publisher. Without agents, authors need to depend on their own knowledge and experience, which for many is limited, but not an issue for others who know how things work.

For publishers, agents perform a valuable service.

First, agents curate proposals from thousands of aspiring authors, locating those who have the best chance for success and present them to appropriate editors. This saves the publisher time and money.

Second, agents are a good liaison between the author and publisher, often handling difficult issues and serving as mediator between them. Publishers’ staff might say something to an agent they wouldn’t say to an author.

How are agents paid?

Agents are paid when an author is paid and for nothing else. They are not employed by an individual or group of publishers.

The AAR Canon of Ethics discusses the problems with agents charging for proposal review or other fees. It would be widely agreed in the agent community that agents would only be paid their commission (usually 15%) whenever the author is paid.

This is why agents are less likely to be interested in an author who is “more interested in getting a book published than making money.” You need to forgive the agent community if we lose interest in representation when you declare your disdain for earning money from publishing. It is how we earn a living and we won’t apologize for it.

However, if your only motivation is money, I can suggest a wide variety of professions and positions which earn far more than book-writing for a large percentage of authors.

It’s all about balance and respect for what each party brings to the table.

What do agents do for an author?
  • Find a path for an author with a greater chance to be published “well.” Believe it or not, there is a difference between being “published” and “published well.”
  • Make sure an author is treated fairly in the contracting process and they are aware of potential difficult issues with it.
  • Give authors advice regarding the business and emotion of publishing. Believe it or not, publishing is an emotional business.
  • Give a perspective on the industry. An agent should know how things work.
  • Communicate good and bad news with perspective. Good things and not-so-good things happen to authors in the past, and they survived. It might be nice to know how others handled the same situation.
  • Translate negatives into positive action. While I’ve know some people to translate positives into some kind of negative, agents know how to make lemonade from lemons and turn what might be a discouragement into a series of positive experiences.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 7 of 7)

When I create an illustration or story inside my head, it's always wonderful and oozing with emotion and action. When I put it on the page, it's never as powerful as it was in my imagination.

That's probably true of all writers.

However, some writers carry those images, write a few words, and they feel they've created a picture with which readers resonate.

"My crystal ball refuses to function," I told one writer. "I can't see inside your head, no matter how wonderful your prose." It took her several weeks of struggle before she was able to move the images to her computer screen.

My assumption is that introverted and introspective authors have the biggest struggles in this area. Because they have what I call a rich interior life, they have to learn how to translate those mental pictures to the page. It may be difficult, but they can learn.

Inside my head, my words are always wonderful; 
I seek to match that with the words on the screen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 6 of 7)

You work hard and learn to write descriptively. What are the payoffs for you? The first and most obvious answer is that you feel you've written something worthwhile—that's the intrinsic reward.

You also create the illusion of reality. You subtly invite readers to keep reading. As one of my friends said, "It's the proof that supports and sustains the story."

When done well, the sensory details penetrate layers of consciousness by grabbing readers both intellectually and emotionally.

Descriptive writing establishes characters and settings quickly and efficiently. Well-placed phrases move your prose along and act as a transitional device by linking scenes or changing of time and place.

I'm an artist and my words create pictures for readers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 5 of 7)

When writing descriptively, don't hesitate to use figurative language—if it fits. The first two below are my own.
Having planted seed in my curiosity patch, Mark will watch to see if it sprouts in my actions.

Darkness dwells within the best of us; in the worst of us, darkness not only dwells but reigns.

Love was a sacred garment, woven of a fabric so thin that it could not be seen, yet so strong that even mighty death could not tear it, a garment that could not be frayed by use, that brought warmth into what would otherwise be an intolerably cold world—but at times love could also be as heavy as a chain mail.—Dean Koontz, False Memories, p.71. 
Metaphors, if well written, enliven our writing. But don't use them unless they flow from you. Here are two negative examples.

* His writing was like brilliant comets that streaked across the sky, drenching readers with a blizzard of insight.

* In the meeting, thorny problems—which we tried to sweep under the rug—bobbed up several times. 

The above examples are bad because they used mixed metaphors (i.e., comparisons that aren't consistent). In the second, thorny problems starts the sentence and we get it. But do thorns bob, and do we sweep thorns under the rug?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 4 of 7)

What makes description effective?

You first know the correct names and terms that catch the emotion or the image. Good description goes beyond accuracy and precision to include the musical qualities of language. The sounds of your words and the cadences of your sentences reinforce the content of your description.

Think of good description as the use of the senses. Your readers need to see things. Here's descriptive writing that makes me feel I'm right in the middle of the dust bowl in 1934 Oklahoma:

Dust coated the dials on the radio, the plates on the table, and the dishes in the cupboards. Evelyn rinsed the lenses of his spectacles, and a few minutes later, she had to do it again.

Are you there? Notice the use of spectacles—which was the common word in those days. That single detail lends authenticity to those two sentences and pulls us into that kitchen.

Good description employs specific, concrete detail for readers to visualize or experience the scene through their senses.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 3 of 7)

Descriptive writing isn't a long list of adjectives. Some writers strain over using what they call strong verbs. Don't do that.

Descriptive writing flows from your understanding of what you want to say, and you use your own vocabulary and styles (we call that your voice). It's not what someone called "that flowery stuff that embellishes stories."

For example, why would you write "her visage" or "his countenance" when you'd normally use the word face?

Descriptive writing tries to create an image—a picture—by selecting exactly the right words that clarify. You provide visual details that include sounds and smells, and texture.

Here's my favorite explanation, written by Richard Price: You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road.

You need to present the most significant details—those that reveal the essence of the person, object, action, or situation.

To write descriptively, I don't need to search for strong verbs;
I need to embrace my own natural voice.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Writing Descriptively (Part 2 of 7)

When you write descriptively, readers nod because they get it. You pay attention to the details by using as many of your five senses as you can.

Another way to say it is that you write in such a way that readers feel they're involved in the story or the illustration.

I caught this April 30, 2001, from a lead article in USA Today. This is nonfiction called, "A puff of smoke, and then chaos at 4,000 feet" by Jack Kelley.
Missionary worker Jim Bowers peered uneasily out the front passenger window of a Cessna 185 floatplane. To his right: a Peruvian air force fighter jet.

It had been tailing the Cessna for about 15 minutes.

Suddenly, there was a puff of smoke from the fighter. Bullets pierced the missionary plane in machine-gun fashion. The jet flew under the Cessna, reappeared on its left and fired again.
Notice "peered uneasily," "puff of smoke," "bullets pierced." That's descriptive writing and puts us inside that Cessna.

Because I want readers to feel they are part of the story, 
I write descriptively.