Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A day in the life of Peter Rubie

Just to give you an idea of what an agent's day is like here is

A day in the life of Peter Rubie

Peter Rubie Peter Rubie specializes in a broad range of high-quality fiction and non-fiction.

In non-fiction he specializes in narrative non-fiction, popular science, spirituality, history, biography, pop culture, business and technology, parenting, health, self help, music, and food. He is a "sucker" for outstanding writing. In fiction he represents literate thrillers, crime fiction, science fiction and fantasy, military fiction and literary fiction.

Well the joke has it as: make phone call, open check. Actually, one of the things I love about my job is that no day is exactly the same. It is a job that involves constant reinvention in order to stay abreast of the needs and demands of the times which are ever changing. Currently we're dealing with editors who take longer than ever to respond, companies who take longer than ever to pay, and faint rumblings from various quarters that the publishing industry is in its latter days -- something I don't believe. However, the approaching shadow of the electronic revolution is looming. and the role of an agent and the industry itself is undergoing -- or soon will undergo -- a profound change.

I start my day about 9:30 am by going over telephone and email messages from overnight. A lot of publishing, perhaps as much as 50% now is conducted electronically. I do some book-keeping, go over contracts, transact foreign business because of the time difference (the end of their day is usually the beginning of mine), attend a weekly staff meeting and chat with my assistants about ongoing projects, like developing sub rights leads for likely agency titles and so forth. Often there is a lunch date with an editor that lasts from 12:30 to 2:30pm where we get a feel for how and whether our tastes match. A good lunch can be defined by the editor wanting to see some of our current projects, and a sense that maybe a client will find a good home with this person. Agenting, more than anything, is about matchmaking and deal-making material that you care strongly about.

In the afternoon I catch up with lunchtime messages, make submissions and get them ready to be mailed. (Most submissions are still made on hard copy.) Make calls to editors to boost them along in their reading tardiness, and then I call Hollywood agents, and clients towards the end of the day.

Sometimes there are drinks meetings after work, though in my case I have a wife working in the theatre and a 3 1/2 year old, so I don't do a lot of after work events these days. Once my kid and I have had supper together and read some stories it's time for him to go to sleep. I unwind for an hour or so and at about 11 pm I start reading manuscripts and proposals for a while.

One day soon I hope to start work on a new novel. Wouldn't that be a kick . . .

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The agent said yes to the query letter!

Literary Agents Everything You Need to Know (well almost)

The agent will let you know what they want to see. Even with an affirmative response, they don’t always ask for a full manuscript. A nonfiction book hasn’t been written yet in most cases, so there isn’t a manuscript to send. What publishers and agents will ask for is a proposal for your nonfiction book.

Terry Whalin, the author of Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success, talked with me yesterday about nonfiction book proposals make sure you read his interview, http://brianhillanddeepower.blogspot.com/2006/09/conversation-with-w.html

A Nonfiction Book Proposal.


A brief, no more than one page description about why your book is unique.


Who will buy your book and why. Include the demographics of your potential readers and how many of them there are. If you can, quote statistics, such as baseball is the most often viewed sport on TV with x million people watching. Or x number of people attend arts and crafts shows a year. Or $xxx dollars of revenues are generated by customers buying garden tools. Whatever is relevant to your book’s topic.


Similar books that have been published in the last year or that will be coming out soon. You can get an idea of soon-to-be published books by going to amazon.com, and searching under key words. When you get a listing of books that you think are similar to yours, then rank by publication date.

Include the title, author, ISBN, and a brief description. Then state why your book is better or what your book addresses that the competition doesn’t.

Go to the library and read currently available books you feel are competitive to yours. Again include the title, author, ISBN, and a brief description. Then state why your book is better or what your book addresses that the competition doesn’t.

All books have competitors.


What you will do for promotion. How will you market your book? Be specific. If you are willing to give seminars or speak at events, try to line up a few. Publishers want authors that actively market their own books. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend money, but it does mean you have to expend effort.

About The Author:

Pretty self explanatory. What makes you the best author to write this book. This is not a resume; include what is relevant to the topic of the book. If you have previous books published list them, with a short description.

Media Placement:

Any newspaper or magazine articles you’ve been featured in. Include articles that you’ve written and have published. Offline, hard copy publications are better than online. Online is better than nothing. Plan ahead and in the months while you’re working on your book proposal see if you can get a few articles placed. If you have just a few, include clippings. If you have more than a few, list the publication, date, title of the article. Writing a book makes you an expert in the eyes of the media, but you have to let them know you’re available.


If you can get a well known authority figure, expert, celebrity or author to give you an endorsement, or to commit to an endorsement, it puts you ahead in the game.

Chapter Outline or Synopsis:

Two to four pages. Each chapter is listed and the subheadings with a brief description, a paragraph or two explaining what will be included in the chapter.

Sample Chapter:

It doesn’t have to be the first chapter. Pick the chapter you’re most excited to write, or that you are the most knowledgeable about. The editor will judge the quality of your writing by this chapter.

The proposal not including the sample chapter can run from 10 to 20 pages.


Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why, 2nd Edition, Jeff Herman, Deborah Levine Herman.

Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance Before Writing Your Book, Elizabeth Lyon, Natasha Kern

Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction--and Get It Published, Susan Rabiner, Alfred Fortunato

And of course Terry Whalin's
Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success


Dee Power is the author of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors, and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them, Attracting Capital From Angels, Inside Secrets To Venture Capital and the novel, Over Time. You can reach her through her website, http://www.BrianHillAndDeePower.com

Friday, September 15, 2006

A conversation with W. Terry Whalin

W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as an editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest, The Writer and Christianity Today. He is the creator and webmaster for Right-Writing.com.

Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and his latest is Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). Another recent book is Running On Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers (New Hope Publishers). See more about his writing at: www.terrywhalin.com. For more than 12 years Terry was an ECPA Gold Medallion judge in the fiction category. He has written extensively about Christian fiction and reviewed numerous fiction books in publications such as Faithful Reader.com and BookPage. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Books. On a regular basis, he writes about the Writing Life. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Terry, thank you so much for taking time to share with us today. Getting published can be a challenge.

How important is an author’s platform?

To the editor, an author’s platform or visibility in the market can be the critical deciding factor whether they will publish your book or reject it. It’s not the only factor because the editor will also consider your writing (nonfiction or fiction) but it can be the critical element in the consideration process—whether you get a rejection letter or a book contract. Another essential step for the author is to understand how publishing executives make these decisions. In Book Proposals That Sell, I give authors a window of insight into how these discussions take place and how editors consider book ideas.

While writing is a creative endeavor, publishing is a business and the executives at a traditional publishing house are looking at your submission and judging what will make your book sell to readers. What level of expertise do you have about the topic of your book (fiction or nonfiction)? Have you written magazine articles? Do you speak on the topic? Do you have a following? Do you have a newsletter list? An author’s platform is the sum total of these types of elements and the estimation whether there is a big enough market for your book.

Now if you don’t have these elements, don’t be discouraged. Instead, figure out how you can build them. I suggest you Google the words “author’s platform” and begin reading different articles about how to build your presence in the marketplace. It will help you in the process of submitting to publishing houses. Beyond proving with your prose that your book should be published, you have to prove to the publisher that you will be a partner with them in selling the book and getting it into the marketplace. Your answer to these concerns should be your platform. One of the best articles that I’ve read recently about this matter was in The New York Observer from June 2006: http://tinyurl.com/fbvu4 and as a second resource, study this article from Annie Jennings PR with a Powerful Platform Checklist: http://tinyurl.com/j3wgl and finally, Annie Jennings PR will send you a free CD on the topic called Create A Powerful Platform. You have to fill out a request form at: http://tinyurl.com/zqgfg.

Your Secret #10 Get High Profile Endorsements, how can an author do that when the book hasn’t been written yet?

I know it sounds backward from your expected path. You would expect to write the book then get the endorsements. As an acquisitions editor, I’ve presented book ideas to a room full of skeptical publishing executives and sometimes what turns the discussion from a no to a yes are the endorsements for the author. Who is in your personal network of friends and business relationships? Is there anyone who is well-known or high profile? If so, can you get a few words from this person about you? Or can you draft some “possible words” for this high profile person to change or OK?

Every single one of these high profile authors or celebrities or business people are regularly asked for these words of endorsement. Your task as the author is to do everything possible to make it easy for them to say “yes.” Often the author will “draft” something for the person. You’ve made it easy for the other person to handle and say yes. One of the best examples in this area comes from self-published author Jacqueline Marcell. If you google her name, you will learn this author has been on the Today Show, CNN and many other venues to promote her book, Elder Rage. Read this article but don’t just read it—study it: http://snipurl.com/Elder and here are some of her endorsements for the self-published book: http://www.elderrage.com/Review.asp Marcell’s persistence and hard work paid off and you can do it too. If you get such lines of endorsement, it may tip the balance so your book gets published and someone else’s idea gets rejected. If you gather such endorsements, it will distinguish your proposal from the others in the editor’s consideration stack.

Should authors query literary agents first or just send the entire proposal?

I’ve heard this question many times—and it implies something that I’d like to answer first. Writers are always looking for a single answer or one way to approach agents or editors. There isn’t one single path. The business is a mixture between of creative and craft. Now if you want to get rejected, the most certain way to accomplish a pile of rejections is to fire the same material to each agent. Instead you want to target the preferences (likes and dislikes) of an agent. Do your homework and study the agent’s website and know what kinds of clients they prefer. A little research will go a long way to assuring your connection with the right agent for your work. Also make sure you are working with a legitimate agent—anyone can hang out an agent shingle and there are plenty of crooks who represent themselves as literary agents. Follow the advice in this article about the Safest Way to Search for an Agent: http://snipurl.com/safest

One of the best ways to get an agent is to make a great first impression—whether you query or send your proposal or meet with them in person at a writers’ conference. Your opening paragraph or first few minutes of a face to face meeting are your best shot so make sure you take it. Too many authors don’t spend enough time on their query or their book proposal. To learn more about crafting a great query, here’s an article from literary agent Noah Lukeman loaded with wise advice: http://snipurl.com/greatquery One of the best ways to get a top agent’s attention is with a well-crafted book proposal: http://snipurl.com/bkprosell

What is the most critical mistake authors make in nonfiction book proposals?

After reading hundreds of proposals, my answer may sound a bit simplistic yet true. In their eagerness and enthusiasm to get published, writers fire off to the editor a half-baked, incomplete book proposal which is missing a critical element and incomplete. For every element of publishing, whether it’s a magazine article or a press release or book proposal or you fill in the blank __________, one of the most difficult things to find is the missing element. How do you proofread something which isn’t there? It’s hard to think about the complete package and make sure it is really complete.

There is a high volume of submissions in every publishing house. To the receiving editor, your submission is the equivalent of drinking out of a fire hose. It’s an image that writers should never forget. Yes, editors “supposedly” develop proposals and work with authors (aren’t they called developmental editors?) but in reality the demands on their time and energy are limited. As an acquisitions editor, I quickly learned that unless the author’s proposal is 80-90% complete, then I don’t have the time to develop it. If you forget something critical like your marketing plan (every proposal should include a realistic marketing plan http://snipurl.com/marketingplan ) or the competition for your book (every book competes with something) or even your manuscript word count, then you are asking for the editor to give you their quickest answer that you don’t want to hear—no.

As an editor, some times I’ve called authors when they are missing some element—for example their word count. Excited to talk with a real editor, the author will answer my question with a question, “How long do you want the book? I’ll write whatever you need.” That’s the wrong answer because you are “the expert” in your subject. How long do you need for this book and what’s your vision for it? If you don’t have a big picture vision, then you do the necessary work to get one—before submitting your proposal. Use a checklist to make sure you’ve covered all of the expected elements. I include a checklist in Appendix A of Book Proposals That Sell.

If you need an extra day or two or week to complete your proposal, take it and send a complete package. You will not regret that extra polish and the editor will take your submission with increased interest.

By the time a book is published, it has been in the works for 12 to 18 months, how can an author know what trends are hot when there is such a long lead time?

What type of book are you writing and what is your goal for the book? Do you want to be “trendy” and a flash in the pan or do you want to write a book which stands the test of time? My goal as an author is not to catch the latest wave or trend but to write a book which will steadily sell for years to come and be a bright star on my publisher’s backlist. As an editor, I also look at books in the same way. I’m eager for the book to be relevant for the reader in five years as well as during the months the book is first released.

If you are trying to catch a hot trend with your book, then you will be frustrated. Yes, you need a hook for your book with the media and when the book releases. This hook can be tied to the trend for your release. Also understand your book marketing plans aren’t cemented in stone but can be reworked and shifted as needed. The publisher has plans but those plans change and are fluid. As the author, you should have the same flexibility.

Nothing in publishing is guaranteed. I have a simple philosophy: All You Can Do Is All You Can Do. Yes, you have to use wisdom to work smart and not hard but your task as the author is to write the best possible book for your reader. Then as the book releases into the market—and long beyond that release—work with your publisher to reach your audience for the book. It’s not a one-time effort but an on-going effort. Some books take several years of effort before they show up on any bestseller list. Yes, they appear to be an overnight success—which was years in the making.

Thanks Terry.

Tomorrow More about agents.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Resources For Finding An Agent
Part Three of Literary AGents Everything You Need To Know
(well, almost) :

Publishers Weekly, www.publishersweekly.com. is both a hard copy weekly publication and an online site. It includes articles on the state of the publishing industry, interviews with authors, the bestseller lists, and lots and lots of book reviews. PW is directed toward booksellers. The books are reviewed three to four months prior to publication so you can recognize upcoming trends. PW also includes two very informative columns, “Behind the Bestsellers” and “Hot Deals.”

Publishers Marketplace, www.publishersmarketplace.com is one of the most useful sites to find out what’s going on in the world of publishing. It’s not free but the cost is minimal ($20.00 per month) and well worth it. There is a searchable database of book deals, including the author, agent, advance amount, and contact information for both the agency and the editor of the acquiring publishing house.

The Writer, writermag.com hard copy monthly magazine and online website, focused on writing, selling and publishing your writing. Often has small press publishers directories, niche publishers, and regional publishers.

Writers Market
, and the online searchable database at www.writersmarket.com provides contact information for agents and publishers as well as what they’re looking for.

www.agentquery.com searchable online database

Jeff Herman's Guide To Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 2006: Who they are! What they want! How to win them over! Jeff Herman lists thousands of agents and publishers, what they’re looking for, what they’ve represented or published.

Agents, Editors and You, Edited by Michelle Howry

Making the Perfect Pitch by New York Literary Agent, Katharine Sands.

Next: What do Agents want from you.

Dee Power and Brian Hill are the authors of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors, and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them, Attracting Capital From Angels, Inside Secrets To Venture Capital and the novel, Over Time. You can reach her through her website, http://www.BrianHillAndDeePower.com

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Find an Agent Part Two of
Literary Agents Everything You Need to Know (well almost)

Most aspiring authors begin their careers with little or no understanding of how to go about finding an agent to represent their work. They quickly learn that most major publishing houses only accept submissions through literary agents. So, with great anticipation, they begin sending query letters to agents and usually get a cool reception, or even hit an impenetrable brick wall.

To understand how authors can improve their odds of attracting an agent, and to learn the outlook for rookies trying to crack into the brutally competitive publishing industry, we surveyed more than 60 literary agents. Their backgrounds range from large, well-known agencies to smaller “boutique” agencies.

Among the questions we asked were these: Where do agents find clients? What is the most critical mistake writers make when approaching agents? What is the most common reason you decline to represent a writer? And, do you see the publishing industry becoming more or less favorable for new (unpublished) authors?

We think our survey results and agent comments offer some good insights for all types of writers.

Where do agents find clients?

39% Referral from one of their other clients
33% Direct contact by the writer
9% Referral from editors and publishers
8% Referral from other authors not their clients
5% Referrals from other agents
3% Attendance at writers conferences
3% Other

It is no surprise that referrals from the agents’ current clients were the top method cited. Publishing is a relationship-based industry, and contacts are extremely important. A recommendation from someone whose opinion an agent trusts is always valued and receives prompt attention. Several top-selling authors’ careers were launched when another bestselling author took them under their wing and introduced them to agents or publishers.

What might be surprising is that as many as a third of the agents said direct contact from the writer was the most common way they found new clients. So, most definitely, there’s hope for all the authors sweating blood over the last draft of that perfect query.

What is the most critical mistake writers make when
approaching literary agents for representation?

Most of the answers were clustered in the following four areas:

Poor writing or poorly prepared contact letter

It’s curious that agents report getting so many weak query letters, since a number of books deal with the subject, including Making the Perfect Pitch by agent Katharine Sands, and many writers conferences cover the topic in depth. Once you see some examples of successful queries, it isn’t really that complicated to compose your own—particularly compared to the task of writing a long novel.

Here are some representative comments from the agents:

“Declining to divulge the contents of their manuscripts in their queries—they just don’t get that it’s the writing, not the ideas.”

“Writing a clumsy, uninformative, grandiose, marketing-heavy, casual or just poorly composed query letter.”

“Not being professional, succinct or specific, and for inexperienced novelists they most often have what I call the ‘first 50-page ho-hum.’ The story really begins somewhere between pages 56 and 100. This is a downfall which crosses my path more often than it should.”

“They don’t know the components and priorities for writing a good pitch letter, especially about listing their professional credits up front.”

Inappropriate subject or genre for that agent

The second most popular response to our question about critical mistakes indicates many writers don’t do their homework when selecting agents to contact. Sending a wonderful query about your amazing revolutionary cookbook to an editor who specializes in placing mystery fiction is simply a waste of everyone’s time. Reference books such as Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents clearly point out what individual agents are looking for. (Some of the agents’ preferences and prejudices can seem odd. In one guide, for example, an agent warned, “Don’t send me any right-wing Tom Clancy stuff.” Did this agent really mean to say he’d turn down the chance to earn 15 percent of the mega-royalties Clancy has earned? This poor fellow should be seeking career advice, not dispensing it.)

Author hype, ego, arrogance

Agents report that creative people often have big egos. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Part of the problem stems from the authors’ awareness of how many other writers they are competing with for the agent’s attention. The temptation to use hyperbole to differentiate oneself can be overwhelming.

A significant number of the agents warned against overselling and arrogance—”Trying to act more like a sales person, and not like a writer,” as one agent put it. “Hyping the agent. A straightforward recitation is much more effective.”

Yet, others said the worst mistake was “Not writing an engaging query,” or “Writing dreary query letters describing the plot of the book.” Now we’re starting to get confused. Do the agents want an exciting query or that “straightforward recitation”? Most likely they want both.

Uneducated about the publishing process

The author who is truly talented and dedicated to the craft of writing has a clear advantage right from the start, since the overwhelming response from agents was that the quality of many submissions they receive is poor. But the author who can articulate the market for his or her book is also way ahead. The author needs to think of himself as a small businessperson entering a new industry, not as a “literary artist.” Prospective authors must be able to address the question: Who is going to buy my book and why? Writers should not assume that an agent or an editor will automatically recognize the target audience for a book, or how large that audience might be.

Authors who can show they’ll be helpful and energetic in selling the book once it is published are particularly sought after in today’s market.

Some representative comments from the agents:

“They fail to think about who the audience is for their book, and how best to reach that audience in real (as opposed to airy-fairy) ways. Lack of original thinking . . . lack of professionalism in that they have no real clue how the industry works or what an editor or agent does for a living.”

“Less a mistake in approach, more a mistake in knowing what makes a publishable book. Most writers really don’t know.”


The process of finding a publisher or an agent is similar. Research, research, and more research. Develop a list of 10 to 20 agencies/publishers who are a good fit with your book. Don’t bother contacting an agent who doesn’t represent fiction for your novel. If a publisher only publishes romances don’t send your mystery.

Your list can be developed by searching through the online databases listed below or the hard copy.

Many agents insist that you query them on an exclusive basis, meaning you contact them one and a time and wait for that one agent to decline before approaching another agent. That can waste a tremendous amount of time; the agent can take months to get back to you. Even the quickest agents take at least 30 days.

Publishing houses don’t seem to mind that more than one is considering the same manuscript, and interestingly agents contact a group of publishers at a time.

Next: Resources For Finding An Agents

Dee Power and Brian Hill are the authors of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors, and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them, Attracting Capital From Angels, Inside Secrets To Venture Capital and the novel, Over Time. You can reach her through her website, http://www.BrianHillAndDeePower.com