As my regular followers know, I attend the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference in Seattle every year. As I attend classes, I take notes on my laptop, so I can later share what I’ve learned with the masses. This class was a little question-and-answer forum for authors and their literary agents. Here’s the cast of characters who attended this forum:
- Liz Kracht (my lovely and talented agent) from Kimberley Cameron and Associates
- Jim Satterfield, author of The River’s Song and Saving Laura (also represented by Liz Kracht)
- Katie Reed, a literary agent at Andrea Hurst Literary Management
- Halie Fewkes, author of Secrets of the Tally
- Dan Gemeinhart, winner of the 2013 PNWA Literary Contest, and author of middle grade book, The Honest Truth
Question: What advice do you have for authors seeking agents?
- Katie Reed: “You shouldn’t submit to an agent you have doubts about. If you don’t trust her to do everything she can to get your book sold, she’s not the right agent to query.”
- Dan Gemeinhart: “Some writers like an agent who gives lots of editorial advice; other writers like an agent who does very little editorial work on a manuscript. So it’s important to find an agent who suits your style and your vision.”
- Jim Satterfield: “If you get an offer from an agent you don’t think you’ll enjoy working with, you need to have the willpower to walk away from that agent’s offer.”
Question: How should writers make a positive impression on an agent?
- Katie Reed: “One of the things I like about working with Halie is that she’s responsive to revision ideas.”
- Liz Kracht: “[Attending] conference[s] and entering contests is one way to make an impression on an agent. By coming to a conference, it says a lot about an author’s willingness to edit, revise, and hone their craft.”
- Dan Gemeinhart shared a brief story about how he connected with his agent at a conference like this one: He was a helper at a Winachee conference, and he walked agents and editors in and out of the conference meetings. He didn’t feel it was polite to pitch to his agent, but while she was packing up after the conference, she asked, “Do you write?” He said, “Yes,” and she said, “Well, what do you write?” So he pitched, she signed him, and in a very short amount of time she sold his material.
Question: When meeting prospective clients, what’s a red flag that leaves a negative impression on an agent?
- Katie Reed: “I don’t mind authors who pitch multiple books in a conference pitch session, but in a written query letter, I’m usually unimpressed by that.”
- Liz Kracht: “I won’t work with authors who won’t create a website and promote their work online. In an earlier conference class, I heard someone say, ‘Platform isn’t that important for a fiction writer,’ but I disagree with that. Platform and online presence is profoundly important in the changing landscape of the online world.”
- Jim Satterfield: “I was visiting with Gordon Warnock at Flathead River Writer’s Conference, and Warnock was talking about the writers he signed. I noticed that Warnock’s discussion was more about the personalities of the writers than it was about the material they wrote.”
Question: Will agents represent self-published authors?
- Liz Kracht: “There’s a risk involved in that situation, because publishers can see your book sales online. So if the author has a very low sales count, it will likely be a turn-off to the publisher. So there’s a gamble involved in repping a self-published author. If you aren’t good at self-promotion and self-marketing, it’s likely that your book won’t sell. My best suggestion is that if you plan to self-publish, market that book until your numbers are high. Otherwise it will hurt your chances of getting a publishing deal for your next book.”
- Katie Reed: “It’s hard to convince a publisher that they should take a chance on the indie author who hasn’t done well with their self-published material. It’s a plus to take a manuscript to a publisher with the words, ‘…and this writer has personally done this or that to get her noticed…'”
Question: What’s a good number for sales?
- Liz Kracht: “If you can sell 5000 copies of a memoir or 10000 copies of a fiction book, that’s pretty good. I know an agent who felt like 1800 was a good number for a writer she repped, but I like to see a little bigger sales than that.”
- Jim Satterfield: “It depends on whether you’re publishing with the ‘Big 5’ or a little indie publisher that doesn’t put books in the bookstore. It’s harder to sell 15000 copies of a book that’s not even in the bookstores.”
- Katie Reed: “Our agency’s goal number is 10000 books.”
Question: Do you have any other advice for writers?
- Halie Fewkes: “Winning a literary contest is how I connected with Katie. I started writing at age 12 on the book I’m now getting published, so sometimes it takes a while. You’ve got to be patient. Winning the PNWA writing competition got me a lot of attention from editors and agents, so it’s a good idea to submit to contests along the way.”
- Liz Kracht: “A publisher once said to me that there’s an obvious connection between online presence and writers who sell lots of books. So get yourself out there.”