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Kim Tomsic

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fiction Writing Workshop with Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency

About the Publishing Industry from industry expert Sara Megibow:

Last year Sara Megibow received 36,000 query letters. Of the 36,000 queries, she requested 2,500 partial manuscripts. Out of the 2,500 she then requested 98 full manuscripts. Of the 98 hopefuls, she offered representation to nine clients and of the nine clients, Sara sold five manuscripts.  Math review--36,000 hopeful queriers and five scored a book deal.


When you query an agent, you can expect a response with in six to twelve weeks. If they request to read more (partial or full), you can expect your next response in six to nine months. If the agent offers representation, you and the agent may spend time editing your manuscript before submitting to a publishing house. Once submitted, it can take an editor an average of two to three months to read (Sara has experienced wait times from one month to eighteen months). If you are offered a book deal, you can expect to see your book on the shelves in two to three years after the offer. Another math review: if you are starting the query process with your completed manuscript today,  March 13, 2011,you can expect to see your masterpiece sold at your local bookstore in 2014.

Writers need to be aggressive marketers. What's your marketing plan? What Conferences do you attend? Do you know the people at your local bookstore? Do you have a positive web presence? When an agent is considering your work, they will probably Google to investigate your web presence. You should have a positive presence in the following medias:
Author Web Page

Sara says establishing an author web page is super-duper important. Okay, "super-duper" is my word, but she highly stressed the need for a web page or a blog site. If you have no web presence, she will probably skip your project. Remember, your competition includes 35,999 other queriers waiting for her attention.

WHAT A LITERARY AGENT LOOKS FOR (Other than snappy writing):

1. Do you know your genre (exactly where in the bookstore will your work be placed)?  In your query, you need to be professional and that means you show you know your genre. How? Your protagonist needs to be the right age for your genre; your word count needs to be spot-on and proper for genre; and you need to know precisely where your book would fit on a bookstore shelf.
"To increase your odds of landing an agent, you need to be able to nail your genre."
Genre examples:

Middle Grade- a protagonist who is nine to fourteen years-old (5th 6th 7th 8th grade); word count 30,000 - 50,000. Conflict is something light such as first fight with parents, lemonade stands, changing schools, first crushes, etc. Very rarely "issue-y".

Young Adult - has a teen protagonist, 50,000 to 90,000 words, can be dystopian, fantasy, romantic, etc. but must be a teen protagonist. Conflict can be anything as deep as issues seen in SCARS (a cutter novel) by Cheryl Rainfield or as fun and light as SCORE (coming out)  where conflict is about a young woman who plays quarterback on her high school football team , but may lose her scholarship because of a boy issue.

Science Fantasy 80,000-150,000 is preferable word count (but 200,000 okay)

Urban Fantasy-set on earth, looks like Earth, but some fantastical element 80,000 to 150,000 words.

Commercial Fiction Chic Lit - usually about first job, fashion, leaving the nest, etc.

2. DO YOU KNOW HOW TO PITCH YOUR BOOK? Can you tell what your book is about in one or two sentences? Your inciting incident should be in the pitch. For example, when you go to see a movie, you usually know, based on one or two sentences, what the movie is about. These one or two sentences are also known as the elevator pitch (being able to sell your storyline in the time it takes to complete an elevator ride).

**Inciting incedent is the magic key to your pitch.**

A query letter is a two paragraph description of your book. Yep, all 50,000 words condensed into two compelling paragraphs. Based on the statistics above, it's easy to understand why writing a great query letter is vital. Sara recommends http://www.agentquery.com/ for more information on this subject.

She also says Kristin Nelson does a fantastic query letter workshop. Remember that your query should read as if it were the back cover of your novel. Research agent and make sure they rep the type of book you wrote (i.e. don't query your cookbook to an agent who only reps dystopian YA). Query must be no longer than one page. For more help, see http://www.agentquery.com/ or http://www.nelsonagency.com/

4. BOOK MUST BE COMPLETE - don't query if your work of fiction is not 100% written and ready to go.

Side note and something to think about: The publisher needs to be able to sell at least 15,000 copies of your book in order to meet their PandL requirements. Figure out what your work is similar to and hope that author had sky high sales. Typical advances for a debute author in children's literature $5-10K.

Quick notes about Sara:  Yes, Sara is accepting new clients. Please visit her website to learn about the type of projects she represents. Her query information is available at http://www.nelsonagency.com/ Sara's favorite genre- Epic Fantasy. She says a prologues doesn't work if nothing is at stake. Says women's fiction can be more prose, but can often has too much angst. Sara likes STAY as a great piece of women's fiction. She also likes SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH. One of the most important tools in selling your book is nailing your pitch.

http://www.nelsonagency.com/ and their list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
AAR (association of authors' representatives)

Last minute words of wisdom:  Read books in your genre, avoid data dumps, work on POV, achieve great dialogue, and balance description, show don't tell, and remember, a reputable agent never gets paid for reading your work.
By the way, Sara donated her time for this workshop to raise money for a Colorado school.

Organizations you can join: 

http://www.scbwi.org/ for picture book, middle grade, and YA writers
http://www.rwa.org/ for romance writers
http://www.rmfw.org/ for fiction writers