Sunday, November 27, 2011

How to Get an Agent

By Belise Butler

As I retired from my second career and entered a third, I also re-entered the field of writing. I had success in most things I pursued and had experienced life from many points of view; I assumed writing fiction would be a breeze. (Not)

I had written non-fiction manuals for law enforcement, taught classes on bullying in the workplace. A few years back I was voted one of the top speakers for my workshop entitled “Who do You Think You Are.”

I lived and taught in three countries. Surely I could write a novel. Yeah, RIGHT! What an eye-opener.

As a professional speaker I could ‘tell’ stories that would inspire so I started writing. I wrote short stories putting each one in a ‘maybe’ file. Then I threw them all out and wrote a 400-page novel. The novel sold.

However, I must confess my writing did not sell the MS. The content did. I hired a highly recommended editor who read my material and then charged me for an additional two days where she bruised my ego many times over, changed my focus and reduced my bank account greatly.

I want to share her words; maybe they will help someone else.
Most writers believe they have a story that only they can tell and the world will love it. It’s not true. It’s never true. Even an excellent story in the hands of an unprepared and/or unequipped writer will almost never be picked up by an agent; furthermore, few people can write and publish without the help of an excellent editor who KNOWS THE ROPES.

Learn the skill of showing not telling and remove this thought from your brain. ‘If I write it, agents will fight over it.’ Forget the ego, millions of people write, few sell their work. Learn the ABC’s of writing or your MS will never get you an agent.

A. Always understand that what you write about might not have an audience. You may like it …but no one else may. Family and friends won’t tell you the truth.
B. Before you write … learn HOW to write.
C. Cut the crap out and write the REAL story.

Accepting my check, she boldly said: “Your content is unusual and exciting. Your writing needs an overhaul.”

Now I realize that just because I could ‘say things’ which could change lives, I knew nothing about writing fiction. I also realize that a writer doesn’t ‘get an agent.’ New and exciting material that is well presented creates a reason for an ‘agent to get you.’

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Fred was raised in Morgantown WV, but attended and graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA.

After college at West Virginia University, he moved to Phoenix AZ, where he learned the construction business. He started as a carpenter, and worked his way up to become a licensed general contractor. Working in the family construction and apartment management business, he was sitting in his office one day in 1960, when he was told of a town of “...100,000 people that doesn’t have a single apartment that you or I would live in.” Columbia, SC.

The next day, his father was on a plane to Columbia. Two weeks later, he returned to Phoenix, having bought an eleven story office building on the corner of Main and Gervais Streets, across the street from the Capitol building.

His father and mother immediately moved to Columbia, while Fred stayed with his cousin, managing the business in Arizona.

In 1966, Fred, his wife Irene, and their two young daughters moved to Columbia. In 1975, Fred’s father died. From then until 1998, when he sold out, Fred managed the family business. Over the years, they had managed over 2,000 apartments in the Greater Columbia Area.

Fred’s main hobbies are reading, poker, and golf. He has written and published a “How To” book on golf titled, How Short Hitting Bad Golfers Break 90 All the Time.

Fred's first post follows.

My Conference Experience

By Fred Fields

Over the weekend of October 21-23, I attended the SC Writers’ Workshop Convention in Myrtle Beach. The convention is considered by some to be the best of its kind in the United States. This being my first ever convention of the type, I can not compare it with any other. However, I can certainly attest to the exceptional quality of this meeting.

The location at the Hilton Hotel left nothing to be desired. The rooms, the views of the beach and the ocean are glorious.

The faculty was more helpful than I had expected. They were knowledgeable and willing to spend extra time giving counsel and advice. At other conventions I have attended in other industries, the speakers often fly in, deliver their paper or seminar, and fly out on the next plane. These advisors stayed the entire convention, participating in not only their own seminars, but visiting others and offering assistance when requested.

They were visible at meals and social events, too, and mingled with the conventioneers easily.

I was quite impressed with the information they were happily dispensing, and writers of any genre could profit from their help.

The site, the information were all wonderful. My wife and I had only one complaint. The food left something to be desired. One meal, for example had three choices of meat, all pork. That wasn’t kosher.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Conference Experience – The “Different” Dilemma

By John May

The education sessions at the SCWW Conference were interesting and helpful but, for me, the conference was mostly about the critiques. For those who did not attend or look at the website, let me explain the process. Writers could purchase critiques from the faculty (agents and editors). You submitted either 10 or 30 pages (for different prices) a few weeks in advance. On the first day of the conference, you met with the faculty person who presented a marked-up submission and then discussed it with you for twenty minutes.

I’m trying to finish my novel soon and I felt having some professional feedback would help in writing the last few scenes and in the final edits, so I purchased four critiques from four different faculty members. The other thing I wanted was at least one invitation to submit additional material to the reviewer for representation consideration. So, my conference goals were feedback and a bit of validation.

In her recent blog, Laura said she thought the agents knew just what they wanted in a story. In my critique meetings with agents, I got the same impression—laser focus on whatever they thought could sell in quantity, and absolutely no interest in anything else.

Then, at the Friday night dinner, I sat at a table with two agents. The novel The Hunger Games was discussed. They both agreed that, had Suzanne Collins not been a bestselling author already, she never would have gotten anyone to represent nor publish what became a mega bestseller and one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. They thought it was just too “different” for an agent to understand the potential market. They also agreed agents have become extremely selective about which manuscripts they choose to read, much less represent.
This hyper-selectivity was certainly born out in my meetings. One agent who had a large pile of critiques had decided to request only one manuscript submission. Another reviewing agent indicated only a tiny percentage of critique submitters were going to be asked for manuscripts.

I did get some very useful edits and encouraging feedback from the agents. Also, I was fortunate enough to get four requests for manuscript submissions (I’d like to thank the group for the many improvement suggestions over the last few months which I’m sure helped).

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Two of the agents said their interest was partially because my premise was marketable and also different enough to be interesting. They’re tired of seeing the same old plots and character types rehashed for the umpteenth time. So there’s the dilemma—if you want an agent, you need to be different, but not too different.

P.S. Some of you won’t be surprised to hear the most common edit request I got from the agents was to, earlier in the novel, round-out the villain character Francine (now where have I heard that before?). So, I’ll be reading some new “round-out” passages at future meetings.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

SCWW Conference, October 21-23, 2011

By Laura P. Valtorta

Every year the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference has been rewarding, but this year it was particularly friendly and fun. The writers and the agents seemed more relaxed and more willing to talk than usual. The highlights of this conference were the dinners -- Friday and Saturday night -- because Bonnie and I sat with agents who were wiling to talk: Jessica Regel from the Jean V. Naggar agency) and Mollie Glick (Foundry Literary + Media).

Jessica lives in Florida and works on-line for her New York agency; as a teenager, she worked as a fashion model. Mollie’s husband works for an ad agency and they travel a lot. These insights into the agents’ lives showed whether or not we might like to work with them, and what sorts of things interest them. Bonnie enjoyed quizzing everyone about the new, tough world of publishing where e-books are only this year becoming less horrifying. Last year, every agent grew pop-eyed at the mention of electronic publishing. Not so much this year, because the prices have gone up.

When I described my water-rights fight, each agent responded “Erin Brokovich.” It was like a word-association exercise. Agents need catch phrases and quick ideas that spell “money.” What amazes me, always, is that these young people, who haven’t worked in the industry for very long, can, in about 30 seconds, describe what they want from a story: what they believe will sell.

Thanks to Carrie McCullough, Ginny Padgett, and their team, the setting was marvelous, and the food was conference-quality. I can’t imagine a prettier setting than a South Carolina beach in October. On Saturday at noon I walked to the pier and back. It was a perfect beach day. Forget the writing; I wanted to become a photographer.