Category Archives: Writers’ Caffeine

Finding Your Dream Agent

You’ve spent months, maybe years on a manuscript. Finally it’s finished and you’re ready to look for your dream agent. How do you wade through the bewildering maze of literary agents out there to find the one who is your perfect match? For twenty years, I’ve worked with wonderful agents in both the general and inspirational markets. Here are a few FAQ’s to help you  as you go about finding just the right match.

Dorothy and her dream agent Natasha Kern

How do I find a reputable agent? Is the agent you’re considering a member of the Association of Artists Representatives (AAR)? This professional organization for agents handling literary and dramatic works sets standards for membership and requires their member agents to abide by a code of ethics. The organization maintains a database of members available to authors seeking representation.  Their official website provides a list of questions to ask of potential agents. Find it here:

Among the questions listed on this site, pay particular attention to these: How long has the agent been in business? How many clients does he/she have? How many verifiable sales has this agent made within the past year?

An agent has expressed an interest in my book but requests a reading fee up front. Should I pay it?  Because the potential for abuse is so great in this situation, the AAR prohibits its member agents from charging reading fees. Generally speaking you should look for an agent who does not charge such fees. A reputable agent does not get paid until he or she sells your work and collects the advance from the publisher.

What is an Author-Agent Agreement? Most agents require a written agreement that sets out the terms of representation. The agreement should indicate whether the agent intends to represent all your future work, or whether he or she will determine this on a book by book basis. The agreement should specify a time frame for selling the work and should include the terms and requirements for terminating the agreement. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of both agent and author, the  relationship just doesn’t work. It’s important for both you and the agent to understand how to sever the partnership in a professional manner.

Aside from these important legal considerations, you should consider the personal side of the partnership. It’s ideal if you can sit down with an interested agent and talk face to face. If that isn’t possible, schedule time for a telephone chat. A few questions to ask :

What form of communication do you prefer, and how often can I expect to have contact with you?  This very important question can forestall misunderstandings on down the road. Most good agents are very busy and don’t have time to give clients a day by day report. Since agents don’t get paid until a sale is made, they are happy to call clients the minute an offer comes in. Because editors are busy, too, this can take weeks. Understand, too, that the initial offer is just that–a beginning point. Your agent will then look over a short document from the publisher called a deal  points memo which sets out the basics of the offer. Many times these points are negotiated and changed. Your agent will keep you informed as the deal moves forward but don’t expect a daily report.

Some agents prefer to be contacted by email, others prefer the telephone. Try to accommodate their preferences.

What level of involvement with the creative process should I expect? Some agents are very hands on, and read their clients’ manuscripts before they are submitted. Others offer guidance and encouragement but expect clients to write and submit the contracted work with a minimum of direction.  In  my view, an author should write the book, the agent should sell it. Authors who need a detailed critique before submission should consider hiring a free-lance editor.

Do our personalities “click”? This is completely subjective but it’s very important to the success of a long- term relationship and it’s why a face to face meeting before you sign the agency agreement is so desirable.

Finding an agent with whom you can build a long-term, mutually advantageous partnership requires time and effort.  But the rewards of finding that dream agent can last throughout your career. New authors: Do you have other questions about finding an agent? Agented authors:  what questions would you add to this list? Agents: Describe your dream client.

Writing Through Grief

February 24, 2012 began like any other Friday: Up at 5 am to walk and feed the dogs, make breakfast, see my husband off to work. Then to my second floor office to work on the novel I’d begun  writing two weeks earlier. At around two that  afternoon, the phone rang and the call changed everything. My mother, her voice thick with tears, told me my younger brother–computer whiz,, scuba diver, husband, father, and grandfather— had cancer. My first words were “How bad is it?”

Dean at age 3 in his favorite cowboy hat

Mom handed the phone to my sister. “It’s terminal,” Kate said. “Lungs,  kidneys, and liver all in stage four. He has two  months, maybe three.”

She went on talking but I was too numb to hear much else before I went to pieces. That weekend, my family, scattered over Texas and Tennessee went into survival mode. Every day brought tearful phone calls, anxious progress reports, tentative discussions about where Dean should be laid to rest.  In March, he told his wife he wanted to make one last trip home to see Mom. When he got there he was too weak to talk much, but  he called me and we had a brief chat before he lapsed into confusion. That was to be our last conversation. I got so sick I required medical care and several tests to rule out serious problems of my own.  And my work ground to a halt. I couldn’t think, couldn’t force myself to the computer every morning. Mostly I cried and slept and railed at God. Why take my brother now, just weeks after he had sold his business and retired to a home near his grandchildren? Why take such a gentle man who loved his family and  music and wacky comedies? It wasn’t fair.

April 10, 2012:  5:30 am: I was literally on my way out the door headed for the airport, scheduled to have dinner with my publisher’s publicity director,  speak and sign books at a five day convention in Chicago when Mom called. Dean had slipped away just an hour earlier. For him, the grief and pain were over. For us, it was just beginning. The long sad drive home to east Texas where he would be laid to rest next to Daddy, the visitation at the funeral home, the service itself all passed in a blur. On the way home, I kept thinking Now. Now I must get back to writing.

It didn’t happen. By the end of April, I panicked. An 85,000 word novel demanded to be written and I could think of nothing but what we had lost. At about that time, my editor sent a copy of a new book. Grieving God’s Way by my friend Margaret Brownley gave me permission to grieve. To be gentle with myself. To be angry at God. All of those behaviors that I thought were a sign of weakness and self indulgence in fact were the beginnings of healing. Another book that helped me: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye by Brook Noel and Pamela Blair.  The authors reminded me that grief can’t be denied, nor can it be hurried.

One of the things that helped me resume writing was doing things to honor my brother. I have a bracelet filled with charms that commemorate important milestones in my life. So I bought my brother’s birthstone and added it to the bracelet.  I posted photos of him on Facebook. And when this new novel  is published next year, it will be dedicated to him–my first friend, my first playmate.

Writing through grief has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I know that I’m not unique.Many others have faced this same situation. Here are strategies that got me through it:

I wrote something every day, often only a few sentences. I gave myself permission to stop when I needed to.

On days when even the thought of opening the file seemed too difficult, I focused on my research. Reading about  yellow fever epidemics or rice milling in the 19th century allowed me a momentary escape from grief.

I kept a journal.

I tried to do small acts of kindness for others. Thinking about others kept me from focusing so intently on  my own loss.

In another week or two the majority of the writing on the novel tentatively titled ALL THAT IS GOLD will be finished. I know my brother would be proud of me.



Writers Conferences 2013

Lately I’ve seen a number of e-mails from people who would love to attend the ACFW conference this year, or  Mt Hermon or the Blue Ridge Conference, but can’t because of distance, schedules or finances.  I have some encouraging news. Even if those events are not possible for you, there are a number of smaller conferences and workshops focused on writing inspirational fiction that are shorter, more affordable and may be  closer to home.

By planning now for next year, you may be able to get away for one day, two days, or three days, to connect with other writers and improve your craft. Here are a few to check out from around the country, gleaned from the most up to date info I could find. Be sure to double check anything that interests you, as some conferences may meet every other year, or may have ceased altogether.

Alive in Words: One day conference, Vienna VA

Antelope Valley CWC: Two day conference Lancaster, CA

Christian Writers Advance Boot Camp: Three day conference Asheville, NC

East Texas CWC: One day conference Marshall, TX

Florida CWC: Four day conference Bradenton, FL

HACWN: Two and a half days, Kansas City, MO  60 workshops, keynote

Kentucky CWC: Two days, Ellizabethtown, KY

North Texas CWC: Two days, Keller, TX  66 sessions, 2 keynotes

Northwest CW Renewal: Two days, Seattle, WA. Two general sessions, 22 workshops, agent and editor appointments.

St David’s CWC:  Three day and 1 day sessions. Grove City and Stoneboro, PA

Here’s one coming up August 13-16 of this year: The Oregon CWC in Portland, OR.

Have you attended any of these workshops in the past? What were the positives? Any negatives? Do you know of other small conferences you’d recommend to others? Let me know.




Three Destructive Cliches About Publishing

We’ve heard them so often they’ve begun to sound like a broken record and they are decidedly unhelpful. Here are three cliches I wish would go away.

Write a wonderful book . Well, we all intend to write a wonderful book every time out, don’t we? I’ve never heard a single author say, “I think I’ll write a mediocre book.”  But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In our case in the eyes of  readers, including reviewers. What one reader lauds as fabulous, another criticizes as hackneyed and boring. What one reader praises as a book she could not put  down, another confesses she could not finish. And so on. In bookstores  and libraries, mediocre books that became huge hits by virtue of luck, timing, or brilliant marketing  sit side by side with  well- written and well- reviewed books that sank like stones.  A “wonderful book” is highly subjective and  impossible to define. If we all agreed on what a wonderful book was, then editors would buy and publish only those books that fit the definition. Nobody knows which books will somehow break out of the pack and become “wonderful” . It really  does not help struggling authors to tell them to “just write a wonderful book.”

You are the best marketer for your book. It’s true that authors know the content of their novels better than anyone else. And it’s vital that authors work alongside the professional marketing team at the publishing house to take advantage of every possible marketing opportunity. My publisher does a fabulous job of this and I am eternally grateful, because   like most authors I’m not a  marketing professional. Most of us don’t  have the training, the contacts or the financial resources to develop and execute an effective marketing plan. Many are not proficient in managing  social media  venues which seem to multiply faster than rabbits at a carrot growers’ convention. Putting the responsibility for marketing a book on the author’s shoulders only adds to the pressure generated by the admonition to write a wonderful book.

Recently a publishing executive wrote ” If your book does not do well, the marketing director will go on to another project, but your career is on the line.”  (Emphasis mine) This seems to imply that an author–with little or no background in marketing–must somehow find success in the marketplace if he or she is to continue writing and publishing. If authors are truly superior to formally-trained marketing professionals and if successful marketing efforts are the author’s responsibility, one has to wonder why publishing  houses simply don’t do away with their marketing departments.  What do those folks do all day if it’s the authors who are out there desperately trying to gain traction in a crowded and increasingly noisy marketplace?

Build your tribe. A few years ago everybody jumped onto Seth Godin’s bandwagon. Authors were asked to read his book Tribes as a blueprint for developing a readership. I read it. I underlined passages. I understand the idea of becoming a “leader”–someone readers will want to follow. But as a practical matter this little book, so disorganized and random, is not very helpful to fiction writers. It might be of benefit to small business owners who need to learn how to motivate and inspire their workers, but for an author? Not so much. Just look at the changes that have taken place on Facebook–a major venue for so-called “tribe building” — in the past several months. First everyone was forced to the new Timeline ,whether they wanted it or not. Then all users received new email addresses. Then the “promote” icon began appearing on posts, offering to distribute the post to more of one’s followers…..for a price.

Did you know that a Facebook user may have thousands of “friends” on a profile page or thousands of “likes” on an author page  but because of the way Facebook manipulates the posts, something called EdgeRank, only a fraction of those will actually see any given post? For example, I have around 2200 “likes” on my author page, but only a few hundred of them see any given post unless I pay Facebook to “promote” that post and even then, it does not go to all 2200 people.

Of course it’s important to grow a readership. No one wants to write books that nobody reads. But readers are fickle, and increasingly less discriminating in what they read. Unwilling to pay for books, they prefer to  read whatever they can download for free or nearly free. I’m not sure what the answer to growing a fan base is. All I know is that when I am told to build my tribe through social media I want to run screaming from the room.

What about you? Have you heard these cliches? How do you feel about them? Helpful? Or Harmful?