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

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.

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8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers

typing fadeoutThere is a bounty of query letter writing advice on the web. I’ve written about it before too: The Biggest Query Letter Mistake, and How To Format Your Query.

However, here are some tips you might not have heard yet that will set your querying strategy apart from the rest.

Querying in 2015? Read 8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers:

1. There are no second chances. Send a query letter with an agent’s name misspelled and resend 5 minutes later? You might already be written off. We get so many queries that we’re always looking for reasons to say no (even though we’re looking for gems!). Sometimes there are easy no’s.

2. If you say you’ve been published we assume that means traditional. And if you don’t share the publisher, year, and maybe some sales information we’ll assume you’re pulling our leg.

3. Telling agents you’ve self published before doesn’t actually say anything. Anyone and their mother can self publish a book. Telling us you’ve self published a previous book doesn’t rub us the wrong way, it just doesn’t impact our decision at all. With the hundreds of queries we receive a week it’s something we see a lot and tend to brush off. Of course, if you’ve self published to much acclaim, that’s a different story. But a thousand copies isn’t a bestseller and doesn’t move the needle for us.

4. It’s okay to break the rules. There are guidelines for a reason. However, I’ll give you an example of when it’s okay to step out. Our agency doesn’t ask for sample material when you query. Just a query letter. So sometimes I’ll see writers paste in a couple pages into the bottom of the query email–even though we don’t ask for it–and it gives me a chance to read a bit before I decide to request more. I’m okay with that! The rules not to break are whether you can pitch more than one agent at the agency, follow up guidelines etc.

5. If we’re not confident you can pitch us your book, we’re not confident you can write a novel. I know, I know, writing a novel and writing a query are very different things. However, it’s expected of today’s writer to pitch themselves (to us, to publicists, to readers, to sales staff etc). If your query is long-winded and doesn’t pitch the plot but themes instead, we’re not convinced. Agents always want plot and stakes over themes.

6. For fiction writers, social media is not a deciding factor. Writers tend to freak out about the word platform. For good reason, it’s terrifying. “What do you mean I need to have a newsletter with a million subscribers?!”–is often the response I get. Relax fiction writers, you don’t need thousands of social media followers just to query. (Non fiction authors, the same does not apply to you. Get back to that blog.) Fiction always stands on its own, but a good following is never a bad thing! However, platform for fiction writers comes with time.

7. Referrals are under used. If you have a friend represented by an agent you think you might connect with ask for them to refer you. This type of network is often under used. Don’t be afraid to network with writers represented by agents and build up some trust. Get critique partners who have representation and work your way to agents. Having someone vouch for you is powerful and helps you avoid the slush.

8. Author bios can bring us in or push us away. Author bios that are abnormally long and reference experiences that don’t relate to the book you’re pitching can be a turn off. Author bios should include any affiliations that are relevant like SCBWI if you write kids books, or WFWA if you write women’s fiction. Author bios that reference books written over 15 years ago are not of use to the book you’re querying. If you don’t have much to say in your author bio it’s okay to say where you live, share your author website, and tell us that this is your debut novel. Don’t forget it’s okay to be a debut. And don’t forget to include a little something for us to relate to.