What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For?

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For?

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For? 

 

One of our Writing Gym Podcast guests, Jeff Kleinmann from Folio Literary Management, recently shared with us what it’s like to be an agent and some of the things that happen behind those closed doors.

Before that, we asked Jeff how and why he became a literary agent. 

“Oh, it’s a huge mistake,” Jeff joked. “My career is not normal. I’m actually practicing intellectual property law and I happened to share offices with a literary agency. I would read manuscripts for the agency, and the first one I read ended up being sold for $100,000, and then I did a seven-figure deal with the author soon after. I worked with them back and forth but received no credit, and I thought that maybe I should seriously consider pursuing this path. And that’s where I am today. ” 

Jeff doesn’t believe that there are any low moments in his work. Recently, a book he worked on was on the best-seller list for a while, a memoir he worked on received a deal to make a series with Netflix, and so on. With such great accomplishments, it’s no wonder literary agents are as respected as the authors. 

However, there’s this myth out there that agents are these stuffy people who seem to enjoy rejecting authors and their manuscripts. I know that’s not true.

 

So, what’s it really like to be an agent?

 “It’s totally true,” Jeff stated.

“We own the Herald Ober Associates, which is one of the longest and oldest agencies in the country. It was established in 1929 and they represented William Faulkner, Agatha Christie, Langston Hughes and so on. Back then, anytime the phone rang, agents would say the standard: Thank you for calling. We are not accepting any new submissions. There is some sort of feeling that all this agency wants to do it to stay away from writers–which was kind of cool. But I think most agents aren’t at all in that world,” Jeff explained.  

One of the problems that Jeff finds in many writers is they submit manuscripts that aren’t ready.

“We see a lot of unsolicited stuff that isn’t ready to go. And because of that, we get to be protective of our time. To prevent us from slogging through 20 manuscripts that aren’t ready yet, a lot of us put up barriers. We want to make sure the writer is ready to go–and the only way to make sure of that is if they have gone through the right channels to get their manuscript ready.” 

I asked Jeff what he is seeing in the publishing industry, and he shared an important distinction between traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

“The split between those two really is the voice,” Jeff stated. “It’s the ability of the writer to be distinctive in the way they write. If you have distinctiveness, then it seems like you’re going down the trade route–the traditional publishing route. If you are maybe less distinctive, your book might be more commercial. It’s going to be more focused on plot rather than the writing itself. These books tend to be self-published, or non-traditionally published.” 

Indeed, not everyone has to go through the traditional route. Some people may realize that self-publishing makes more sense to them than going to a big traditional publishing house. 

As a literary agent, Jeff certainly receives a lot of manuscripts and other submission materials.

 

What kind of elements in a submission makes him feel excited?

There are three elements that I look for. The first, and most important, is the writing. Every word in the query should sound mastered, should feel smooth and distinctive. Authentic. The second is premise. What is it about the book that would make me want to pick it up and read it? The third is credentials. Is the author speaking regularly? Are they a part of a literary community? Do they have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from a prestigious program? These are things that make me think they are serious writers.” 

 

What about things that don’t impress agents like him? 

“I used to read query letters with my daughter,” Jeff started. “When she was just four years old, I would read these letters to her like a bedtime story. When the letter is boring, she’d ask me to go to the next one. And, you know, having a four-year old judge a query letter is really useful. If I’m not interested or enthusiastic about it, then I just go to the next one.”

It’s definitely important for a writer to catch the attention of an agent with their query letter. If they don’t feel interested, they will go through them quickly and find other things to do. I always tell my writers that they have 30 seconds maximum to impress an agent. 

“Things like misplaced apostrophes,” Jeff continued, “passive voice, try-hard language, clumsiness of language–all these sorts of things end it for me. Before submitting query materials, authors should proofread their submissions.” 

It may seem unfair, a misused comma having the final say in the agent’s interest on your manuscript, but it “says to me that the author didn’t proofread their submission well enough,” Jeff finished. 

 

It’s one of these things that make agents seem very unapproachable, but I asked Jeff what it was he wished that writers knew about agents. 

“We almost see ourselves as the front-liners. Before your book gets to the publishing house, we really try to get the book in its strongest shape. But sometimes, we deal with authors who want to do their own thing. In reality, we want an author who would listen to us. And so, the question is: do you actually really want to hear somebody else’s opinion and are you actually going to make the changes?” 

Jeff was working with a writer whose book he loved so much, he read it twice. But he noticed that the writer seemed to be writing two completely different books. 

“I told him that he has to change the last part to fit the first part, or the other way around. The first part was just wonderful, but it didn’t fit the second part. He didn’t want to change anything. Maybe the second half of the book is the book he really wanted to write. But in order for the whole book to make sense, both parts have to make sense first.” 

 

What about for unpublished writers–what kind of thing should they know before sending anything to an agent?

In my line of work I see many aspiring writers send in materials that are half-cooked, not yet ready. And thank goodness they come to me for help, because I help them cook it. Jeff agreed. 

I would encourage aspiring writers to have other people read their book. I would really make sure, from page one, that everything is clear–that there is something at stake and that the action is absolutely driving the story on the character’s desires.” 

Finally, I asked Jeff one tip he would give to aspiring authors.

“Ask somebody you trust, someone who reads a lot, to read your book. If your mom is a very gifted reader, ask her. Have them cut any words from the page they feel is unnecessary and pay them money. Real money. It is scary, but if you don’t want to pay up you have to make sure that your book is really tight, that it has narrative movement, before you have a different pair of eyes look at it.”

Thank you for your time Jeff. 

How to Optimize Neuroscience to Get Helpful Writing Feedback

How to Optimize Neuroscience to Get Helpful Writing Feedback

How to Optimize Neuroscience to Get Helpful Writing Feedback

 

If you know me at all, you know that neuroscience plays a big role in how I work with writers over in the Writing Gym.

 

If you don’t know me, you might be wondering, “What does neuroscience have to do with writing?”

 

The way that we give feedback during our writing sessions together is based on neuroscientific principles of how we learn and create in optimal ways. We use neuroscience to break down the various phases in the brain of creation and critique.

Creation and critique. They are two separate processes.

Many programs inadvertently mix up those two processes, and the result is writers end up really frustrated. When that happens, writers stop writing, sometimes for months, years, or forever.

 

The work I do optimizes how we learn and create best so that writers can get into creative flow, not just in a gut-feeling way, but literally in the synaptic movement between the two hemispheres of the brain.

And we get results.

 

I’d love to chat with you to see if you’re the right fit for our community, talk about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there. You can book yourself directly into my calendar, and we can chat about your writing dream.

Until next time, Happy Writing

The Curtain Pulled Back: What Publishing House Editors Say about Your Next Book

The Curtain Pulled Back: What Publishing House Editors Say about Your Next Book

The Curtain Pulled Back: What Publishing House Editors Say about Your Next Book

 

Every November is National Novel Writing Month. Tens of thousands of writers bang out a novel in a month and think, “Great! I’m done! Now, I can get it published!”

 

But even if you’ve managed to crank out a great story in just thirty days, getting published is far from a done deal.

 

Publishers are looking for work that meets a certain standard. They are looking at books on multiple levels, with an eye toward how it can be successful and how they can move a book out into the marketplace. There are lots of quality issues to deal with, so publishers and editors can get a little persnickety.

Here’s what New York Times bestselling author Mike Bender has to say about the subject:

“They’re seeing the bigger picture,” Mike says. “They know exactly what’s out there, and they know what the trends are. They know the books in their own library that are being published.”

When Mike finished his second manuscript, his editor thought it was a great story, but she also remembered what made Mike’s first book so successful.

“She took me back to the first book and said, ‘Well, what I really loved in that book is that there was an educational aspect to it. Like, you were teaching the kids about this concept’,” Mike says.

“I had to rethink the way I was writing the book,” he says, “and the manuscript we ended up writing was (geared more toward) teaching it to the kids. There had to be an educational aspect to this book for libraries to want to pick it up in schools. And that’s not something, as a writer, I was thinking about. I was just thinking about story.”

That’s the kind of thing we’re doing over in the Writing Gym.

We take good writing and not only help you make it better, but we work with you to make sure your novel meets industry standards.

If you’re serious about getting your work published, I’d love to chat with you. You can book yourself into my calendar, and we can talk about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there.

Until next time, Happy Writing!

What Books Can I Read to Break Out of Loneliness

What Books Can I Read to Break Out of Loneliness

What Books Can I Read to Break Out of Loneliness

I have been taking this time during lockdown, our mandatory at-homeness during COVID-19, to do what I can by sharing with you some of my favorite books. These are books that have impacted me over the years.

So, here I am again to share with you my love of books.

I was listening recently to a podcast called “On Being.” If you haven’t heard it, it’s worth listening to.

They were interviewing someone who frequently mentioned the French philosopher, Montaigne. The podcast referenced that in English, we have a distinction between loneliness and solitude built into our language. 

Not all languages have this. It’s the same word for the act of being alone and the act of being lonely, and I think that that’s a really important distinction for a lot of us.

Just because you’re alone, just because you’re isolated, just because you’re away from others doesn’t mean that you are lonely, or that you are alone without support.

We’re all here for each other, and videos like the one below hopefully can help you feel that.

So, as he mentioned Montaigne—and he’s a huge fan of that philosopher—I thought, I’ve read a book by Montaigne, so I went and I dug it out.

However, I read it in French. You don’t have to be a geek like me and read it in French, but he’s got some really important and poignant things to say, and one of the quotes that was mentioned on the podcast was talking about our minds and how in our society our minds can also almost gallop away from us.

Our minds can be out of control and bogged down in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives.

Maybe your brain feels like that. Mine certainly does from time to time, and one of the things that I do recall about Montaigne, who was French nobility and was really on a search for what we would call today, in a postmodern world, “self-realization.”

He shares his thoughts. And this particular book in English is just called Essays, so you can look it up. It’s in the public domain, because it’s hundreds of years old at this point.

So, if you’re feeling like maybe you’d like to get some connection around solitude, this might be a way for you to read somebody else’s thoughts on what it is to be alone, how to deal with solitude, how we can really find ourselves in the quiet, and the kind of questions that we can ask ourselves.

So, that’s my book recommendation for today. French philosopher Montaigne and his book called Essays–in English.

What are you reading these days? I’d love to know.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

How We Support Writers to Confidence in the Writing Gym: “The Writing Gym has made believe that I am a writer.” 

How We Support Writers to Confidence in the Writing Gym: “The Writing Gym has made believe that I am a writer.” 

andHow We Support Writers to Confidence in the Writing Gym: “The Writing Gym has made believe that I am a writer.”

 

Due to COVID-19, all our lives have been disrupted in some meaningful way over the past weeks and months.

The Writing Gym community has been very important to us for a long time, and it has become even more so.

When people talk about the community that we have over in the Writing Gym, they talk about it being life-changing, the positivity, the support that they get, and how it’s different from anything they’ve experienced before–now, more than ever.

In times of uncertainty, in times of crisis, community becomes even more important. The Writing Gym is an even bigger deal to its members.

If you know me, you know my mission: to build a supportive writing community where people are getting real results and having a dang good time doing it.

I’m happy to see the vision I had years ago come to fruition–a beautiful place where writers can be nourished, have a good time, and enjoy each other’s company.

That’s what the Writing Gym is.

 

And writers are getting great result

So, what have we been doing since COVID came around and disrupted all our lives?

Well, we’ve been doing some special sessions over in the Writing Gym to bring us together on a more regular basis. I think it’s important now more than ever to have those points of contact, to laugh with each other, and to get into the writing craft together.

Last month, we did a ton of bonus sessions. We had an online Writing Retreat that turned out to be spectacular!

We continued that trend this month with a bonus session on Spec Fiction. We’re seeing a lot of requests for that when we look at agent descriptions. They’re looking for Spec Fiction.

A lot of folks have been wondering, “What is Spec Fiction? What does that mean?” Stephen Oliver broke it down for us in a terrific session.

We had one of our ever-popular sprints. We have those on a regular basis. Our Gym rats enjoy them, and a lot of work gets done.

We also did a special bonus session on how to create tension in your writing.

This is something we talk about a whole lot during the Revision period. So we did a deep dive into the craft and into creating tension — not just on the scene level, but also on a global level–in your novel.

 

So, those are just some of the things that I’ve been working on to make things happen for writers over the Writing Gym.

It’s a really special place, full of special people–people like our Mary Murry. Mary has been a big part of our community for a while now, and we’re glad to have her with us.

The Gym has meant a lot to Mary. She says, “The Writing Gym has made me believe that I’m a writer.”

Mary, you are a writer — an incredible writer – and I’m so glad to have you in our community. Thank you for sharing that with us.

 

I can’t stress enough that it truly is a special place, and that’s why membership is by invitation only.

Not because we’re snobs – we are absolutely not snobs! It’s invitation-only because we want to be sure we have the right folks with us, people who take the writing craft seriously without taking themselves too seriously. Because, like I said, we have a good time over there, and we get things done.

If you’re a writer, this is what you want for your life. You want a great place to hang out with great people, like Mary, who want to come to believe that they are writers, and to build their confidence and to get that book written–which she did.

I’d love to chat with you to see if you’re the right fit for our community, talk about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there. You can book yourself directly into my calendar, and we can chat about your writing dream.

Until next time, Happy Writing

The Ultimate Writer’s Dream: Your Book Made into a Movie

The Ultimate Writer’s Dream: Your Book Made into a Movie

The Ultimate Writer’s Dream: Your Book Made into a Movie

 

Many of you know I have the opportunity to speak with writers all over the world about every day of the week, and I’ve noticed some of the universal desires writers express.

They used to say, “I want to be on Oprah.”

Today, they say things like, “I want to be on Ellen,’“ or “I want to be a New York Times bestseller,” or “I want to be on so-and-so’s reading list.”

But what many of them say to me is, “I really want to have my book made into a movie.”

These are dreams that are pretty universal to writers. We’d all like to get the amazing publishing contract with a the multi-book deal, and we’d all love to have our book made into a movie. 

Over in the Writing Gym, we are all about having big dreams, and dreaming big dreams — and we’re all about getting results.

I’m excited to share today that over in the Writing Gym, we’ve got a new module on how to get your book made into a movie!

We have Jeanne Covert, who is a professional screenwriter and a member of the Writing Gym.

She’s the real deal. Jeanne has several credits on IMDb, been on the Red Carpet and on set, along with other Hollywood experience. 

Anyway, she came in and taught the members of the Writing Gym how books actually get made into movies. What is the lens that producers are looking at movies through in order to get books actually made into movies? How do we go from the dream–it’s a great place to start–to reality, actually living that dream? What are the steps that are going to get you there?

As you’ve heard me say, time and time again over at the Writing Gym, we’re about real results. Real results.

We want to get your book made into a movie, and we want to show you how.

This is the kind of thing we’re delivering over in the Writing Gym: Real professionals, talking about real results.

So, for those of you already in the Writing Gym – congratulations! You’re on the inside track to living the author lifestyle. And if you haven’t talked with me or someone on my team about the Writing Gym and the results that we get over there, I or someone on my team would be happy to get on the phone with you to talk about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there and whether or not the Writing Gym is the right solution for you and if you’re the right fit for us.

Until next time, Happy Writing!

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