Finding My Way To Agent Jenny Bent (and Klout)

It’s a wonder I ever find my way anywhere on the ‘net. I just spent 20 minutes trying to find a way to make a post here on (the apparently new and improved) WordPress. Pffft.

Anyway, back to work. Which happens to be the name of the post I came upon over at Jenny Bent’s blog. Jenny Bent is an agent at The Bent Agency, and as I’ve jumped back into swimming around the agent pool, looking for the perfect agent, her name came round in the B’s.

Before I send out a query, I head out for a reconnaissance mission, zipping around to various internet spots, gathering info on the agent. I check agency websites, the authors the agent has represented, stats at Query Tracker, the 4-1-1 at Literary Rambles, and agent blogs and their social media. You would be surprised what you can learn about an agent when you’re thorough. But that’s a post for another day (and kinda creepy), so let’s move on.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Cathy. That seems like an awful lot of work for a form rejection.” But here’s the thing: I learn a lot about the industry as I’m reconnaissancing investigating. That’s how I came upon Klout.

First, you might want to read Jenny Bent’s entire post as she makes some fine points about social media and what you can do to get yourself out there, published or unpublished author. But when she mentioned Klout, I thought I should check that out. I’ve seen it pop up a few times and wondered what it was all about.

Now I know. It’s all about your networking and your influence out there on the ‘net.  I’ve got a long way to go to build up my Klout score. But I was happy to see that I’m an influencer in writing and children’s literature. I was a little surprised to see that I was an influencer re: Colorado, especially since I’ve never been there, or written a word about it.

I think I see some Colorado reconnaissance in my future. Right after I finish with the “C” agents.



Finding a Few Writing Conference Gems

Oh, how I love that sparkly feeling when the writing conference winds up and you can’t wait to get out the door and back to your own little writing cubbyhole to write, write, write!

But there were so many gems that I have to share a few. And when I say gems, I mean shiny nuggets of advice and wisdom, plucked from the presentations. But I could use the word “gems” for the presenters themselves. They were quite brilliant, too!

In fact, I’ll start with agent Sarah Davies from The Greenhouse Literary Agency, because she has this delightful British accent, which makes everything she says brilliant. I know that’s terribly biased and rather embarrassing to have such a blatant prejudice. If I’m being perfectly honest,  a Brit could snatch my favorite handbag from my arm and I’d probably throw the matching shoes after him(or her). That’s how charming I think the British are. (Even now, I’m totally writing this in a British accent. And eating a Girl Scout biscuit.)

Anyway, back to shiny Sarah Davies and her gems from her talk entitled “From Ordinary to Extraordinary.” I loved this part of the subtitle of her talk: The Art of Creating a Great, Saleable Story. Yes, I love to write. But I absolutely want to sell what I write. So, here’s a few questions and the tips I gleaned from her talk. And P.S.  You should be asking yourself these questions before you write your story.

Who are you writing this story for? Know your target audience. What age, what gender will find your story appealing? Picture the kid that’s going to pull your book off the shelf and not be able to put it down. Write for that kid.

Is your concept unique?  You already know how important it is to write something original. So, step away from your vampire story. Unless there’s something so ridiculously unique about your vampire that your target kid reader will stay up all night to finish the book. But just to be on the safe side, do a search on vampire books before you write 20,000 words and realize that you’ve just basically updated Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Do you know your pitch? You should have an idea of your pitch, what you are trying to say, before you write a word. Not what’s going to happen, but your great THEME, or a focused intention, or an inspired concept.

That should be enough for now. I’ll bet you’re already thinking about something you might want to tweak, or re-write, or double-check. I know I had a moment, sitting in my seat, when I thought, “Oh, dear. Is my story extraordinary enough?” I was thinking it in a British accent. Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel quite so panicky.

But if you are panicking a bit, you might want to dash over to the Greenhouse Literary Agency website. You’ll find tons of great tips. Oh!  And read Sarah Davies’ blog, too, for insight into the business of selling your stories. And check out a few of the books she recommends:

BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver (Brilliant concept!)

THE REPLACEMENT by Brenna Yovanoff (Brilliant voice!)

WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET by Tricia Springstubb (Big story from small lives!)

Now, I’m off to polish my own manuscript and make it sparkle like a gem-encrusted bumbershoot! I don’t know what that means, actually, but imagine me saying it with a British accent and it’ll sound brilliant! (And P.S. Yes, that’s the very proper Sarah Davies, holding Cathy-on-a-Stick. She was a jolly good sport about it, even if she didn’t know quite why she was asked to hold a pic-on-a-stick.)

Finding An Agent (And What’s Joshua Bell Got to do With it?)

Have you seen that email circulating about Joshua Bell and the subway experiment? The one conducted a few years back by the Washington Post?

It’s a true story, that in a nutshell, goes something like this: Joshua Bell, acclaimed violinist, played six intricate Bach pieces, lasting about 45 minutes, in the subway. He wasn’t dressed in tails; in fact, he wore street clothes and a stocking cap on his head. About 7 or 8 people stopped for a moment to listen; he earned about 40 bucks from the approximate 2,000 people rushing by. The night before, Joshua Bell had played in a sold out venue where tickets went for $100.

The social experiment asked if people would recognize talent in an unexpected context, and I suppose the answer to that was pretty obvious. The Washington Post piece won a Pulitzer award for its in-depth look at the arts and perspective. Fascinating reporting, but the whole story made me think of writing.

It’s a fact that more than the occasional big-name author hasn’t exactly found the direct route to publication. Sometimes, the big-name author masterpeice lingered in the slushpile, unrecognized for its worth, because an editor overlooked it. Perhaps because editors don’t really expect to find a lot of talent in that context.

Of course, happily, writers sometimes get lucky, and talent wins out, even in a slushpile. Sometimes, talent gets plucked out of a conference meet-up, or shines through in a mega-contest.  But it seems to me that the odds of finding talent in the occasional, happenstance hook-up, are diminishing.  I’ve reached the conclusion that context is integral in getting published. Mostly, I’ve concluded that an agent is necessary. An agent provides a better context to get your talent out there.

I could keep going the slushpile subway route, or hoping for serendipity to give me a shout-out,  but I’d like to earn more than 40 bucks for all my hard work and hard-earned talent.  So I’m leaving the station (and taking Joshua Bell and lots of agent research with me).