Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: how to get an agent

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

The BIG FIVE Publishers sing a siren’s song irresistible to most writers. Granted, in the New Publishing World we now have multiple publishing options, numerous paths to take us to our goal (whatever that goal may be).

Self-publishing, indie, small press, blog-to-book, and legacy press. I’ve worked hard for my slice of success, but I’m not so “evolved” I’ve eschewed all desire to earn my own spot as a Random-Penguin ūüėČ .

Big Five Fever

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

All publishing paths hold advantages and disadvantages, yet nothing can beguile us like the Simon & Schuster sparkle, hypnotize us as much as the Macmillan mystique.

Big Five Publishers are the sun that burns through our ennui, revealing a mere glimpse of the literary summit. Gives us a fever burning so hot, we forget all about those manuscripts that tried and died. Ignore the frozen, forgotten dead we’ll have to climb over on the way up.

A delirious insanity propels us toward the top, no matter how much we bleed. Big Five Publishers are the K-2 for the high-achieving (okay Type A) author.

Author does start with A. It’s a sign ūüėČ .

Why Big Five Publishers Hold Such Appeal

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Why do so many of us crave a spot among The Five? Even though we’re well aware we might only summit once, if ever? Despite the odds, we boldly take on this mountain. We accept that, while we might lose some toes, we’ll gain bragging rights and authentic respect.

Once “in the club” we won’t have to prove ourselves by something as gauche as comparing royalties. We won’t feel the urge to reveal how much money we made on that last box set (common practice in indie and self-pub).

Added bonus? The power to instantly humble that asshat stranger who laughed when we said what we did for a living. You know him, that guy who always follows his condescending laugh with, “Sorry, I meant what is your¬†real¬†job?”

*growls*

Big Five Publishers give us that name brand “stamp of approval” that separates the¬†bourgeoisie poseurs from the authentic elites. Even that clod who mocked our profession can understand the sentence, “I‘m with Harper Collins. Ever heard of them?”

Before anyone starts hating on me, I’m well aware that this “belief” that Big Five Publishers only take on works of literary genius is bunk. But, human emotions are not known for making logical sense. Intellectually we writers¬†know¬†Big Five Publishers are a business. As a business they represent books that will make a lot of money, plain and simple. They’re always on the hunt for A Shore Thing.

Even though Snooki’s memoir was/is hardly literary genius, it was a fairly safe bet it would sell a lot of copies and bring in the Benjamins.

Brands Have Power

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

With so much algorithm gaming and the fact the slush pile has been handed off to readers (only now with glossy covers), publishing has become hell on Earth.

It’s like living in a world of Publishing Participation Trophies. In all the electroplated garbage, how does the real gold outshine the faux? A question posited by writers and¬†now by readers.

Five years ago no reader would have thought to look to the publisher. But times have changed and names have power. The author name (brand) sells more books than any full-page ad. An author repped by Big Five? Automatic advantage in terms of public perception.

Sort of like how designers can sell ugly shoes we wouldn’t be caught dead in…but they’re Prada. Thus instantly worth the $800 and they’re no longer hideous. They’re haute couture.

So I get it and don’t blame anyone for longing to be embraced by Big Five Publishers. Thus I am going to offer some tips.

Write a Good Book

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Yes, this falls under the “Um, duh” category but self-publishing has given a lot of emerging writers a shortcut to claim the title of “author” while avoiding mastering the craft. Remember the last post by Cait about dismemberment? There are countless red flags that light up a rookie brighter than LED. It’s why agents and editors often don’t need more than three pages to pass.

I know all a writer’s strengths and weaknesses in less than twenty pages—really five, but being generous.

Have a Platform and Brand

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember my Snooki example? NY didn’t represent this memoir because it would add to the body of early 21st century literature. No, she had a brand and a platform with eager fans willing to pay retail for her book regardless of “quality.”

Sort of like people lined up to own Jaguars in the 80s even though the Jags spent more time in the shop than on the road. Coveted brands are the only ones able to evoke that kind of blind love and loyalty.

Most agencies now will google our name when we submit. The platform/brand is now as, if not more, important than the book. We could have a novel so incredible angels weep, but if search engines don’t even know our name, then potential buyers don’t either. This makes us a risky investment and in these slim times, Big Five is not interested in Russian Roulette.

Do YOUR Work

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

These are publishers not daycare centers. It’s our job to know our craft and understand the business of our business. No one is going to hold our hand and do our work for us. There is no Publishing Sugar Daddy. If we suck at grammar, improve or hire someone to fix the mistakes. If we don’t know how to plot? Learn. Practice.

No agent/editor is going to baby us along from a typo-infested plotless nightmare “with promise” to a gleaming gem mega-seller like in the movies.

Being able to spell, punctuate and um, write is sort of expected with the profession. I appreciate that some people have dyslexia, or are terrible spellers. I’m severely ADD and often my sentences go off the rails…which is why even I hire pros for the polish. We need our work at its best before even thinking about an agent.

Speaking of agents, we need to do our homework. Research who represents what genre. Pay attention to what they’re in the market for. Agents are open about their “wish lists.”

Good writers are always avid readers. If you love a book and yours is similar, who’s the agent?

Another angle is to research an agent you believe would be a good fit, then read what they’ve represented and sold. This a) solidifies if it really WOULD be a good fit and b) is professional and flattering to the agent that we took time to do some work. You know, like a professional ūüėõ .

Follow %$#@*$ Instructions

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

This is a bugaboo that makes my left eye twitch. FYI, Big Five Publishers (actually all traditional publishers) have submission guidelines. Remember they are¬†actively looking for a reason to NOT read our work. Sometimes the hoops are ludicrous, but they are there to weed out those who can’t follow directions.

If they ask for a 5000 word sample (20 pages) and instruct a Word doc double-spaced, one-inch margins, and 12 point Times New Roman font, then just do it. Because when they open a single-spaced, 10 point Courier font with three-quarter-inch margins, it doesn’t fool them.

It ticks them off.

Maybe by fudging the “rules” we squeezed in thirty-three pages instead of twenty but it won’t matter, because that agent won’t even read ONE page let alone thirty-three. An agent will take a single glance, then send the appropriate form letter about how our work not right for their agency.

Which is code for: We don’t have time for amateurs who can’t follow instructions.

Sell A LOT of Books

How to Impress Big Five Publishers, Big Five Publishing, how to get an agent, editors, publishing business, how to become a professional author, Kristen Lamb

Remember in the beginning I mentioned the numerous ways to attain our goal? If our goal is Big Five, nothing sweeter than fat sales figures to get our foot in the door.

Money is a universal language.

Impressive sales numbers take out all the guess work of what readers want to buy and offer evidentiary support our books are a solid investment. This dovetails into two earlier points about writing a good book and creating a strong platform/brand.

“Good” is subjective, the reader voting with purchases. No it isn’t fair, but fair is a weather condition. There are more than fifty shades of why it’s important to write books audiences want to read.

Write What Consumers Want to Buy/Read

Maybe you possess a burning desire to tell the story of a luchador who is mocked for his passion to write haiku. Instead of teaming up with his brothers in the ring, he longs to travel to Japan and unravel his inner demons. Go for it. But who would be the audience? A clue is in the reason for writing THIS story.

Perhaps, your reason for writing this is you lived in Mexico and found the luchadores fascinating and witnessed many others did as well. You yearned to tell this story, crafting it for an ignored audience with no voice.

Maybe upon submission you’re rejected. Self-publish and if it sells a gazillion copies, then Big Five will come knocking.

Yet, if you chose to tell the story of a luchador shunned for his love of haiku and the ONLY reason was to be “different” or “clever”…then have fun storming the castle. Cherry-flavored lutefisk is different, too, yet don’t foresee any long lines forming to consume it.

We can write for ourselves, sure. But if we fail to also consider our audience, then we are writing for ONE. Publishers have no interest in audiences that small.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Hard truth, I know. But in reality? Pretty simple stuff here. We CAN do this.

What are your thoughts? Do you long to be a Random-Penguin, too? Do you think it is harder and harder for writers to find ways to demonstrate authentic “success” with all the Amazon gaming, algorithmic alchemy, and the deluge of books not ready for public consumption?

Do you resent having to part with sales numbers or rankings to garner a smidge of respect? I know writers and creatives have always had a tough time being taken seriously, but these days it seems far worse.

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU!

And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of NOVEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For subscribers, click to my site to view gallery of upcoming classes (gallery doesn’t show up for you). But here are the two biggies coming up from ME (Kristen LAMB)…

BRAND BOSS! When Your NAME ALONE Can SELL! November 14th (TONIGHT!!!), 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $45 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

PLOT BOSS! Writing Novels Readers WANT TO BUY! November 16th, 7-9 EST and comes with FREE RECORDING. $40 for General Admission, GOLD Option Available!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

We can blog, tweet, promo, purchase ads and wave pom poms over our book and that is all lovely. Attention is grand. An on-line platform is essential. But, if none of these efforts translate into an actual sale? A lot of time and money wasted. What is the best way to sell books?

We’ll get there in a sec‚Ķ *suspenseful music cues*

In my latest book,¬†Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World¬†I actually spend a lot of time explaining why advertising and marketing doesn’t sell books in the new paradigm (or any other, for that matter) and what changes to make for any advertising or marketing to be more effective. Yet, ads, banners, book trailers aside,¬†people want to read a great book.

This means our best way of selling books is…

You ready for this? *drum roll*

Writing great books.

Our sample pages, which are the beginning of the book, are our most priceless selling tool. This is why I’ve dedicated just as many (if not more) blog posts to teaching craft than I have teaching social media. Social media is not magic and it will work far better with a great product (book). Whouda thunk?

I know most of you’ve heard agents and editors usually give a book one to three pages, before continuing or chunking into the circular file. You might be thinking¬†one to three pages? But, my story really gets going on page 21.

No.

I’ve run the first-twenty-pages-contest on this blog for about four years. Most of the samples I get? I don’t need 20 pages. I need one. Maybe five. At the outset? TEN (but that’s rare). I already know all the writer’s good and bad habits as well as the writer’s level of education and skill (or lack thereof). It’s simply shocking how many of the same problems plague the beginning of most first-time novels.

And it’s easy to think this is all very unfair, but think of your own experiences browsing a bookstore. Aside from cover and interesting title and story description, what do we do? We open the book and scan the first couple of pages. If those first pages stink or are lackluster, we don’t give the writer twenty of fifty or a hundred pages to sell us.

Unless you wrote Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but he was dead.

So when you are dead, I suppose people give more gratis, because I cannot count the number of times people have said, “Well, yes GWTDT bored the paint off the walls, but after the first hundred pages, it’s awesome!”

I…am not that motivated. I gave the book more than it’s due (because the writer was dead) and gave it 20. Next! I’m aging here.

So if you are reading this blog and you’re dead? You get more leeway. Also, what’s it like on the Other Side? Feel free to leave a description in the comments :D.

For the rest of us who remain among the living? One to five pages.

I can tell 99% of what’s wrong in a book by page five, and so can agents and editors (and readers, though they might not know what¬†is wrong, only they aren’t hooked).

It’s sort of like going to a doctor. He/She can tell from the sphygmomanometer (been DYING to use that word) which is a blood-pressure cuff, a look at skin pallor and basic symptoms to tell if a patient has a bum ticker. No need to crack open the patient’s chest and stare right at the sickly beating heart.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Most new writers (especially) have what Candy Haven’s calls a fish-head. What do we do with fish-heads? We cut them off and throw them away, unless you are my family, who are¬†scavengers Scandinavians and then they make soup *shivers*. This actually explains the¬†Girl with the Dragon Tattoo¬†mystery.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Pursehouse
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of David Pursehouse

The writer was dead and Swedish. Apparently Swedish readers¬†looove¬†fish-head-story-soup and somehow convinced others to give it a try. Not saying these are bad books, btw. Clearly, they have a huge fan base and rave reviews. I’m just I am not patient enough to get to the good stuff (and neither are a lot of other people).

Most new novels need to lose the first hundred pages. But that’s just something I’ve gleaned from experience. Yet, who cares about the first hundred if we can’t care about the first¬†five? Often, the problems in the next 95 pages can be fixed by knowing what went sideways with the first five. Seriously.

Sample pages are…samples. If we go to Sam’s or Costco, how many will stop for a sample of egg rolls, pizza, or Acai juice? If the sample Green Juice Gut-Blaster tastes like steel wool mixed with moldy spinach, will you BUY the mega-bottle of Green Juice Gut-Blaster hoping it tastes better by mid-bottle?

My point, exactly.

For a fantastic resource about this, I¬†highly¬†recommend (AGAIN) Les Edgerton’s Hooked.¬†Also, tonight is my First Five Pages Class to help you out (deets down the page), because we all know that the TOUGHEST part of writing a book is the BEGINNING‚Ķ.then the middle and WHOA—crap—the end. But, this class is for the first FIVE because if we can’t nab a reader there? The rest is moot.

What makes you stop reading a book? How long do you give books? Are you patient enough to wait a hundred pages for it to get interesting? What do you find the hardest about writing the beginning of the book? Have you lopped off your own fish heads?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have TWO classes coming up to help you!

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. TONIGHT!!! I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different¬†types¬†of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ūüėČ . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.

Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.