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What to do during the summer months

Well, I see it’s time for my yearly blog update. Summer is a quiet time in traditional publishing. For the most part, editors and publishers go on vacation like other business people do, and proposals and manuscripts sit quietly waiting to be read and discovered.  So for the month of July I usually work on proposals, sourcing new clients and I take a few days off to enjoy the sunny weather at the beach  in Vancouver. If you have a manuscript or proposal that you want to send out to an agent for representation, July is the month to do it. That’s when we have the most time to review work and when we are looking for the next big deal.

On that note I would like to reiterate my submission requirements because for some reason I keep getting people submitting to me in the comments section of this blog. If you do that it’s a big fat NO.  It’s really clear on my page  who you need to send your work to, and HOW you need to send it. If I can’t trust you to read that small part on this website, then what makes you think I could sell your book? And if I get one more submission with my name misspelled I am going to have to shut this sucker down. My name is BRIAN- B-R-I-A-N  not BRAIN- B-R-A-I-N. Do everyone a favour- throw out spellcheck and read your work manually for mistakes. If you have an error in the first line of your manuscript – I toss it!

Yes, that sounds cruel, but remember. Agents don’t get paid until they sell a book. And then it’s only 15% . We do a lot more behind the scenes than most people think. It’s not just pitching, selling and doing contract negotiations. We act as a mediator when problems come up, distributors when you need help getting your book in the stores or online, and yes, in some cases a therapist when you need some support.

So this summer polish up your manuscripts and proposals (make sure they are typo free) and then follow my submission guidelines. And who knows maybe we might work together in the future.

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Catching up

As the smell of the fall leaves comes through my window, I thought I should catch you up on a few items. As you can tell I almost never get onto my blog because I am so busy making book deals! In the last few months I travelled to Toronto for my twice yearly visit, and met some great editors and publishers, as well as caught up with a few friends from Ottawa and Montreal. It’s always great to travel back east and take in the sites and sounds of Toronto, but I’m equally as happy to come home.

This year has been an interesting one for me and in general for the publishing world. In the media we are seeing more and more stories about authors going the self publishing route but then having issues when their books don’t sell, and then we see ones that breach their contracts without realizing it- and wondering why they just lost their 20,000 dollar advance.

That’s one of the reasons agents are valuable -for their knowledge and expertise in the industry. Too often I hear complaints after the fact about why an author lost out on a deal. My first question is always “Did they have an agent?” and if they didn’t then I tell them “That’s why your author is losing out.” Agents act in the interest of the author first, publisher second. Without an agent a writer has a higher chance of being cut out of profits and second book deals because they simply don’t know what they are signing- or they don’t think a point can be negotiated.

The next thing I hear is ” But Brian, it’s not that easy getting an agent. My work sits in a pile for months before they even respond- if they respond at all.”  My answer to that is
”  A) Did you read their submission requirements down to the letter? Did you follow them? B) Did you research the agent you are contacting? Do they even publish your type of book? C) Did you actually include the bottle of scotch and cigars or did you just say it was on the way? and D) Is your book any good? Not- friends and family good, but actually good- good grammar, good story, good subject. Is it interesting and exciting? Why would I want to sell this?

Remember- once you finish writing the book it moves into the business of selling. It’s not about how great you think your book is, and what ‘people’ say about it. It’s about how it’s going to do in the marketplace. How is your marketing, advertising, publicity going to be put together- what is your platform- does anyone know who you are? That’s what it’s about now, and that’s what you have to show to an agent. And if you do all that then who knows- you may end up with a great agent and a book deal.

And on that note, this Christmas please consider buying one of my newest releases Where There’s Smoke – Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man by William B Davis– he’s a great guy so go and buy his book!!

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We’d publish you…if you were someone

Just got back from Edmonton, from the Get Publishing conference held every two years. Met a lot of great new people.

The conference  organizers asked me to be part of “Pitch Camp,” where authors can come to see editors, agents, publicists, publishers, etc, etc, for some one-on-one contact.

Six people came to see me over the course of two hours. All of them had some great ideas–& I wish them well.

But my associate, Rachel Sentes, had a story to tell me afterwards that was kind of, well, sobering. One of the six people who came to see her described her adventures trying to get published. She had managed, without an agent, to get her stuff reviewed by some editors at Doubleday. (I can tell you that that is no day at the beach.) Anyway, they were quite close to making an offer…..but never did. The finally told her:

“If you were someone, we would have published this last week.”

Translation: “if you were someone famous, we would have made an offer. ”

In many respects, this is what book publishing has been reduced to: publishers are making less & less, so they are taking fewer & fewer chances. In April I had a publisher in Toronto, a good one, tell me he was uninterested in any book that would not sell at least 10k copies.

So where does this leave the first time author?

Good question. It’s one thing for a  new author with a national tv, print or radio forum. They can always find a publisher willing to take a chance with their stuff, esp. for non-fiction.

I tell new authors they should think about hiring a publicist. (Two great ones in western Canada are gal friday in Vancouver & the publicity mavens in Nanaimo.) There are no guarantees; but publicists can get you the media’s ear in ways no one else can; & this could lead to the kind of regular exposure that publishers are interested in.

The other thing to do is attend events like Get Publishing. I learned more talking to the G.M. of NeWest Publishing than I would have in months & months of reading the website. We can have all the fancy e-availability we want; but nothing will ever replace the face-to-face meeting; not texting; not teleconferencing; not skype.

To all the people who came to see me at Pitch Camp–thanks, & best of luck!

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On my way east- the glamorous life of a literary agent

Well, it’s that time of year again,  the pilgrimage to Toronto-the land of broken dreams and hard to reach publishers.   About twice a year I like to go and meet face to face with the publishers that I sell my books to, and set up meetings with prospective new clients. I also like to remind them all that there are amazing authors outside of the GTA.

It’s odd, but after all these years  there still seems to be an invisable force field around Toronto that some editors refuse to look past when it comes to buying manuscripts from Western Canadian writers. Some of the strongest writers in Canada are out here just waiting to be discovered, but don’t get a chance because Toronto doesn’t know who they are.

But that’s why I encourage so many writers to consider putting together a publicity platform before they start sending their work out to editors and agents. If Toronto knows who you are, there is a greater chance they will buy your book. Because in the end it’s really not the editors who are making decisions, it’s the sales people.

You have to convince the sales people that you can market and sell your book, because they are the ones that hold the purse strings. An editor can love your work, but if they can’t convince the sales people that they are going to make money, then forget it ( and a good scotch might not help).

Of course, some will just say “go to the U.S ,” there are plenty of publishers there who will take your book. Indeed, I know a few writers who have managed 3 book deals for fiction and can’t wait for their books to come out. Of course, most of those people have been writing for years and have an impressive writing resume. New novelists and writers, the ones that show up with blockbusters are one in a million. I’m not saying that you aren’t that one, but you also have to live in reality. That’s where I live. Actually I live in an apartment waiting for royalty checks to arrive.

But that’s another story. If you think you are going to make any money as a writer, think again. Think about publishing your book, doing a great amount of publicity, seeing some sales, and then getting paid maybe ( if you are lucky), a year later. And don’t forget, while you are waiting- so is your agent.

Your agent doesn’t get paid until you do. I sold two best sellers last year and I’m still waiting to see a dime from them. Yes, that’s right. Don’t expect anything for a really long time. So if you are into writing your book for money- do it online and focus your marketing that way, because retail sales are going to take a long time to show up.

Anyway, enough on the soapbox. I’m looking forward to visiting family, friends, and business partners in good old Toronto. And I hope to do some deals. I love that part of my job.That, and the fact that FOOTBALL is back on.

In the meantime, check out my submission guidelines ( Don’t submit through here- I hardly ever check my comments) and I look forward to discovering the next great best seller.
Oh and check out my associate Rachel Sentes and her site www.gal-fridaypublicity.com. She’s one of those people that can help you with your platform.

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An Agent at the Olympics

Wow, it’s been ages since I’ve written on here. I guess I’m not cut out to be with the blogging trends. A lot of people chastise me for not jumping on the bandwagon of twitter and flickr and all those other social media sites, but to be quite honest, I’d rather spend my time working with clients then talking about it online. Is it really necessary to know every little thing about everyone?

Everyone’s lives are now sound bites less than 140 characters or 30 seconds of visuals. No wonder it’s getting tough for agents to sell books. I’m proud of resisting the temptation to spend more time online. Not that I don’t waste a lot of it fooling around on Facebook. But then again, that’s how I have connected with several new clients. So I can’t knock all of social media…at the moment.

And for those of you who know me, I finally broke down and bought a cell phone. For emergencies only. And no, don’t ask me for the phone number. You won’t get it. Not even if you buy the best scotch on the market. Well maybe you’ll get it after I drink the scotch, but not before!

So, now onto my topic. Being a literary agent at the Vancouver Olympics. It’s been crazy here,but the best part of being here during this time, is that 3/4 of my clients and potential clients are here working. It’s been an amazing time.

I am a huge sports fan, and this last week I’ve been able to meet some of my hockey heroes and enjoy the stories and inside scoop about the games and events being held here. This really has been a turning point in my career, and I am looking forward to selling more books this year. The life of a literary agent can be  be extremely frustrating. There isn’t anyone to bill when people don’t show up for meetings or miss phone appointments. But I have to say that this past week has made up for all of those missed deadlines and phone calls.

It’s been pretty exciting.

If you read my blog and feel like submitting some cool sports book or cook book, then please send all queries to my associate Rachel at rachel@gal-fridaypublicity.com. She’s pretty cool.

So until I find the time to write again. Enjoy the rest of the Olympics!

Oh, PS- Click on this link to read a great column by Kevin Blackistone- with yours truly mentioned!!
http://olympics.fanhouse.com/2010/02/22/a-kick-to-canadas-collective-gut/

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