Closing Down The Blog

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Hi everyone, it’s been a great 6 years of blogging, but it’s time to end the party.

My advice to all writers regarding social media and blogging is that if you can’t post consistently with new content then it’s not worth it–and I’m taking my advice! I will leave it up so that you can still read the articles for information.

Thank you to my 3,000 blog followers–and 80,000 visitors a year!– for engaging with me and asking great questions.

Here are some of my top posts from over the years:

On comparison to other writers

On where your book begins

On Instagram

On characters

On category and genre

On querying

On personalizing your query to agents

On your first page

Did you have any favorite posts over the years? Let me know in the comments.

Moving forward, I’m taking the energy I was using on blogging and spending it on my other social platforms. Come follow me over there!
Instagram / Twitter / Tumblr

 

 

 

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Things I Wish I Knew: Kurestin Armada’s First Year of Agenting

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photo-1434030216411-0b793f4b4173Being an agent is a tough job in general. Your first year of being an agent is one of the toughest of your career if not your life! Not only are you learning as you go, you’re also acquiring clients and building your career from the ground up. I likened my first year or two of agenting to a startup. We have to pitch ourselves to prospective clients, start a brand from scratch, network all the time in person and online, work around the clock (often while having other jobs) and keep up with all kinds of reading and events while our brain expands with new industry knowledge. Not to mention we have other people’s careers in our hands! We take that very seriously.

Today, we have P.S. Literary Associate Agent Kurestin Armada with 3 “Things I Wish I Knew” about being an agent. She just finished her first year at PSLA and we’re so glad to have her. Follow her on Twitter for more. Here, she reflects on her year:

Network with Your Peers

I knew going into this that I would need to constantly be looking for ways to network with authors and editors, the two groups I’m looking to more or less “get something from” to make connections and deals. But I didn’t realize until further into things how important networking with fellow agents would be! Google hangouts, happy hours, snatching meals at a conference, and of course Twitter, all of these are ways I can touch base with other agents. We let off steam, we laugh, and I get to hear so many stories about how other agents tackle things.

Agents have many different methods and viewpoints, and we’re a remarkably open group when it comes to helping each other. I always leave these hangouts feel refreshed and energized, and maybe with an extra tool tucked into my belt for the next time. It’s easy to think of networking as always trying to get an “in” somewhere, but really, it’s also about building a support system of other people who have been in the exact same place.

Trust Yourself

Initially building my list was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience. I knew that the things I brought on had to have two qualities: 1. I really enjoyed the book and could read it five times and not be tired of it, 2. I could see its place in the market. But when it came time to go through the first wave of submissions, I kept wondering… will I know it when I see it? Will it feel that noticeably different when I encounter a manuscript I want to offer on?

The answer is of course, yes, it does feel that noticeably different. As I’ve encountered the feeling a few times now, I’ve begun to sense earlier on in a manuscript when I’m probably going to offer on it. There’s the feeling of excitement that hits, when I start to think “Oh please, let the second half of this book be just as good!” If I get to a certain point and haven’t felt that flare of excitement, and I feel like I could put the book down and never care what happens next? I know then that it’s not going to work out long term. FOMO (fear of missing out) is always a ghost over your shoulder, but at some point you just need to trust the taste, experience, and skills you’re bringing to the table.

Protect Your Time, and Don’t Feel Bad About It

This is one I’m still working on, admittedly. Working on creative pursuits, or working from a home office, or having a flexible schedule can all lead to people thinking you’re eternally free and available. It can be difficult to enforce the boundaries around your work time gently but firmly, but it’s also incredibly important. Just because you’re in the next room, doesn’t mean you can help solve every family dispute!

I also need to protect my time from myself, oddly enough. Since I work from home, it’s very easy to get drawn into doing just one more hour of work, until suddenly it’s 12pm and I need to go to bed. For a while I was doing nothing outside of work, literally no other activities besides eating and sleeping, and that was really bad for me. Now I make sure I spend a certain number of hours in a week reading “for fun” (which is really necessary market research!), and I stop working a couple of hours before bed so I can knit or watch TV. I try not to feel too guilty about these times, because I know I’m overall in a better state of mind (and thus more productive in my work hours) when I make time for relaxing. Sometimes I even take a whole day off on the weekend!

Kurestin Armada began her publishing career as an intern with Workman Publishing, and spent time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency before joining P.S. Literary. She holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, as well as a publishing certificate from Columbia University. Kurestin is based in New York City, and spends most of her time in the city’s thriving indie bookstores. She reads widely across genres, and has a particular affection for science fiction and fantasy, especially books with a fresh spin on a familiar trope. Query her at query(at)psliterary(dot)com.

Things I Wish I Knew: Navigating Publishing Contracts

Woman's hand signing documents

Woman's hand signing documents

I’m obviously pro-agent. I believe we add huge value to a writer’s career in all areas, but most importantly protecting their intellectual property rights through their contracts. However, sometimes writers get into contract situations without an agent and don’t know what to do. Or, some writers like to learn about the business side of things. This post is for you.

Susan Spann is a publishing law attorney and hosts a Wednesday information session on Twitter called #PubLaw where you can follow along with the hashtag. (Do it!) I’ve been following, and retweeting, her #PubLaw advice for a couple years now and I think you’ll find this edition of “Things I Wish I Knew” extremely helpful on the contracts side of things. I’ve asked her a number of questions about contracts as well as what happens when a writer gets a contract and doesn’t have an agent: what should they do? Read on…

What is the one thing you wish debut authors knew about their publishing contract? 

That they have the ability to walk away if a publisher won’t agree to industry-standard terms, and that both the author and his or her work deserves the respect of a contract that doesn’t abuse or overreach the industry standards. 

Far too often, I hear from authors who signed non-standard contracts—either from ignorance or from a mistaken belief that as new authors they “didn’t deserve” the same protection as more seasoned authors. Not surprisingly, they come to regret that decision, but once the contract is signed it’s often too late to help them. 

Take the time to get professional review of every contract, and have the courage to walk away from any publisher or deal that tries to take unfair advantage—having no contract is infinitely better than finding yourself in the publishing version of an abusive relationship down the line. 

 

If writers don’t have an agent who should look at their contract? 

An agent! (Kidding…) Real answer: an agent or an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts. Publishing deals differ from standard contracts, and not all contract attorneys understand the details of publishing well enough to review a contract for an author. 

I know many authors who secured an agent after receiving a contract offer, and many more who reach out to me or to other publishing lawyers for contract review when the deal comes in. Find an experienced lawyer or agent, and get a professional opinion on the contract before you sign. 

 

What has been the best part of starting your #publaw hashtag on Twitter? What’s the reception been like?

I started the #PubLaw hashtag in the hope that it would be come a resource for authors seeking to learn about publishing industry standards and how to protect their legal rights. In many cases, authors can be their own first line of defense against scams and unscrupulous publishers, but you have to know your rights in order to defend them!

I’m thrilled to see how much #PubLaw has grown since I started the hashtag back in 2010. The response from authors and other industry professionals has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s wonderful to hear how many authors have been able to protect themselves after seeing something posted on the #PubLaw feed. The work is definitely ongoing—but it’s great to see the hashtag and the people who interact on it with me helping to spread the word about publishing industry standards and authors’ rights.

 

What’s the best online resource for publishing contracts? 

That’s a rough question – there’s a lot of good information out there, but also a lot that isn’t reliable. 

I’m trying to build a solid resource on my blog (at SusanSpann.com/blog, in the #PubLaw for Writers and Contracts categories), and SFWA’s Writer Beware (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) and the Writer Beware Blog (http://accrispin.blogspot.com) also have excellent posts about contract issues and regular warnings about scams and dangerous publishers. 

Generally speaking, I recommend that authors depend on online resources and industry watchdogs who have experience negotiating contracts (agents and publishing attorneys) and who offer information that isn’t filled with inflammatory or self-serving rhetoric. Read widely, and use good judgment when deciding who to trust.

 

What are you reading for fun right now?

I just finished Jennifer Kincheloe’s fantastic debut mystery, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (Seventh Street Books), Kerry Schafer’s fast-paced paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying (Diversion Books), and a delightful anthology of World War I short stories called Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War (HarperCollins).

 The book currently on my nightstand is James Rollins’s The Bone Labyrinth (HarperCollins), and Michael Koryta’s So Cold the River is queued on my Kindle. 

I’ve also got A Brief History of Seppuku and a history of medieval Japanese ninjas on my desk, as research for my fifth Hiro Hattori novel (working title Betrayal at Iga), which I’m currently editing. Research is fun too! 

Thank you so much for asking, and for letting me answer these questions for your blog!

Susan Spann is a California attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur, 2013), was Library Journal’s Mystery Debut of the Month and a Silver Falchion finalist for Best First Novel. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, releases August 2, 2016 from Seventh Street Books. Susan is the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and shares publishing legal and business information on the Twitter #PubLaw hashtag.

15 Things I’ve Learned in 5 Years: Celebrating my 5 Year ‘Agent-versary’

pages-freestockphotosLast year I wrote a post about my “four year agent-versary.” And focused on what I was grateful for.

Last week my friend, and super agent, Katie Shea Boutiller wrote about her 4 years as an agent. Including some great tips about why agents have to be strong editors.

This year I’m celebrating 5 years as an agent! So I’m going to share 15 things I’ve learned over the last 5 years and what I think makes a good agent. It’s a long list. Enjoy!

1. You can’t teach taste. It’s inherent within an agent to know their taste. It’s also our job to know what we’re good at selling and that requires constant reflection and adaptation to the market. Good agents read all the trade news, bestseller lists, and talk to editors about what they’re buying an what’s working. But we know what we think we can sell, that’s our taste.

2. You can learn how to edit. I’m not a trained editor. But I edit my clients’ books. I know you’ve all read about how competitive it is out there for debuts and it’s absolutely true. I am an editorial agent, but I edit from the reader’s perspective. What do they need to know to make it an enjoyable and entertaining experience? Agents put more of their touch on a manuscript than ever before.

3. Sometimes the market will surprise you. Sometimes we think something will sell and it doesn’t. And sometimes we’re not sure if something will sell and it does. It’s a big learning curve that no one will ever figure out. But a good agent is right a few times (or more) a year.

4. Doing right by your client is about more than just the manuscript. Being a good agent is more than executing a sale. It’s being there for the failed drafts, marketing dilemmas, cover design consultations, foreign rights and film agent pitches. Support and a successful book depend on all those other factors. We’re there for all those conversations too.

5. Like parenting, your time is the most valuable thing an agent can give. Clients need attention. They need our dedication. As an agent time is the only thing we can give. Good agents can balance their clients in a way that means all needs are met. There is a limit to the therapy sessions (and reading of draft 7+) that we can do. But we’re present when it counts. (However, make sure you have conversations with your agent about what your needs are!)

6. Professional development (a.k.a. reading published books) will keep you connected to the industry. Reading published books is what keeps our taste in check and reminds us of the quality needed to make it all the way.

7. A successful author is more than the words on the page. Attitude, sense of marketing/publicity, perseverance, willingness to grow–these are the things that need to come with a talented writer. There are many talented writers out there; the ones that set themselves apart are the ones that learn the big picture of this business, adapt, and never give up.

8. An agent goes where they’re needed…and sometimes that’s not at all. We learn when to step back and let an author write, or let them work directly with their editor. We are the scaffolding that’s there to lean on or come back to when it’s time to rebuild.

9. A success story isn’t selling a book, it’s career building and helping our writers find their core audiences for books to come. A long career as an agent (and a writer) is about more than just one book. It’s about the career plan and building a readership, one book at a time. That readership starts with the publishing house and grows from there. It’s an agent’s job to convey that excitement from day 1.

10. Lunches are work. Agents try to be available to our clients all the time, but when we’re out to lunch with an author or editor–that’s work too. Creativity doesn’t happen in a box. Creation happens over interesting conversations and willingness to explore, ask questions and bounce ideas around. I’ve originated a deal for a client based on a conversation with an editor about a gap in their non fiction list.

11. There is not “one way” or a “right way” to do this job. Everyone has different taste, strategy and success stories. There are no guidelines for what “a literary agent” is, really. We all abide by a general code of conduct that was built by what we’ve been doing in this role since the 70s. It’s a relatively new career in the grand scheme of publishing as a business. The AAR has guidelines that most agents follow, but many agents don’t subscribe to them all and that’s okay. But we all need to have our clients’ best interests in mind with each decision.

12. This business is small. (Not surprising!) Yes, authors leave agents and we’ve all heard stories about clients being poached or courting a new agent while they still have their former agent. Reputations get around fast, good or bad. Agents who are respected are known for submitting top quality work to editors they’ve connected with, and negotiating tough but fair.

13. It’s not our job to be friends with editors, but it is our job to be friendly. Remaining professional with editors is an important part of the job. Sometimes we’re in really tough auction situations or an editor loses out on a book. You don’t want the personal to interfere with the professional because there are always more books to come.

14. We care about our client’s books almost as much as they do. We didn’t write them, but we sure get invested in them. We field the rejections and the offers. We see you go through emotional ups and downs. We go through emotional highs and lows too. It’s impossible to be passionate about something but also keep your distance–so what agents do is not keep distance but keep perspective. It gets a bit easier the longer I’m doing this. But the nerves about sending a new project on submission never go away.

15. To get quality projects writers have to know who we are as agents. The reason I started this blog was to give a voice to my taste and expertise. It’s why I go to conferences and teach webinars. I want to see everyone’s great books. I want to be on the top of writers’ submission lists. Here’s my current wishlist, pitch me! Follow me on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter to see what I’m reading.