So you can read my books

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


How to get an agent to say "Yes."

No, Sandra. Not at gunpoint.

You do it by asking yourself a similar question I ask with these posts : "What would I like to read"

"What does an agent want to read in your query?"

I answered the superficial level of that question in this post :

But it's time, grasshopper, to go to a deeper level :

How do you get a "yes" from an agent?

Accept that it is what it is with its own facts of life :

The agent wants to make a good living.

If she was satisfied with minimum wage, she'd be flipping burgers. This current controversy over hourly rates and reading fees underscores this fact of life.

In retail, you make money by selling high to lots of customers.

To do that, you must have a hot product. Right now, supernatural romances are sizzling. Trends fade you say. True. But basic needs stay the same. Appeal to them, and you have the interest of your readers.

Customers (agents and readers) want the same thing ... only different.

How do you do that? Appeal to a basic need in a novel way. Think oxymoron. A comedy on death row. A drama in clown school. A ghost afraid of people forced to haunt a bustling Las Vegas casino.

Stephanie Meyers saw the basic need of teenage girls : romance with a bad boy (who usually wants sex not romance.) Her answer : a love-smitten vampire who can't get close lest he bite the love of his unlife.

Pavlov was right. Woof.

Think weary, jaded agent. If 499 out of every 500 queries she gets are garbage, guess what she'll smell when she opens yours?

It's the Pavlov effect.

Now if you get a great agent, you'll also get the blessing of the Halo effect. If every one of the agent's offerings to a particular editor has had solid sales, he'll see "winner" when he sees your name.

But back to the dreaded Pavlov effect which leads us to :

What you expect to see, you usually see.

Give an idiot a hammer, and everything begins to look like a nail. How do you fight it?

A right hook will get them every time. But how do you do that?

As with a right hook in a fist fight, it has to be fast and surprising. Which means for you : the title.

Think : SNAKES ON A PLANE. Admit it. You were tempted to see the movie just because of the title.

Think : WEREWOLF ON A PLANE. {A young werewolf girl is following the bad boy of her dreams on a plane in the dark of the moon. She's safe, right? Wrong. Unknown to her, for werewolves to be high in the sky no matter the moon phase is to turn at nightfall. Oops.}

Tagline : On this flight, first class is murder. The twist : up high in the sky, she can be killed by the one she loves and who loves her. Lump in the throat ending : mortally wounded boy kills girl-wolf, both becoming ghosts destined to fly the haunted skies forever.

Yes, this is an over-the-top example for laughs. But you see my point.

Follow through is everything in winning fights ... and in winning agents.

The tagline followed by a short O Henry flip of expectations in a paragraph summation will win or lose you the agent.

LEFT HAND OF GOD : The life of a jaded atheist depends upon him convincing a small church in war-torn China that he is a priest. {A classic Humphrey Bogart movie.}

Artists starve. Craftsmen order steak.

You have to decide if you want to be published or you want to write what you want to write. Emily Dickinson chose the later : she had three poems published in her lifetime. You know the sound of one hand clapping? That was the applause she got for them.

I have made the Emily Dickinson decision. I will probably never be published. My decision. I, however, would like to see you get your dreams fulfilled.

Write the way you know will sell. Patrick Stewart was a spear-carrier on the Shakespearian stage in his early career. After STAR TREK and the stellar (pun intended) name recognition, Mr. Stewart can play in any major Shakespearean theater company he wishes.

Robert B. Parker loved Westerns. He could't give any away. He became the new Raymond Chandler, and his Westerns were snapped up, becoming best sellers. One book was even made into a top-grossing movie. That is a miracle in today's Hollywood.

Earning your spurs isn't just for roosters.

Refer to the stories of Patrick Stewart and Robert B. Parker. You must prove your worth to the agent in getting her desired high commissions and to the publishers, wanting to garner a high return for their investment in you.

If you want to get "yes" from an agent, use these suggestions ... or Sandra's gun. My way is safer. Good luck.
Why do I choose the path of Emily Dickinson? Sandra always tells me I live life as if I were the Nature Boy of Nat King Cole's song. Perhaps so :


  1. Great post! I agree with the Pavlov effect, and that only makes it harder for everyone....

    Oh you got an ward at my blog, but I guess you'll find it very girly... But I guess the intention is what counts!


  2. Interesting post - I definitely believe that the path you choose is the one you'll find. Right now, I'm choosing the one that will find me an agent! :)

  3. Hi Roland, I left an award for you on my blog.

  4. Great post - thanks for the tips :)

  5. "Give an idiot a hammer, and everything begins to look like a nail" - *snicker* I love the way you think. Thanks for sharing these. And thanks for popping by my blog. I, too, am disappointed with THE PASSAGE. Right in the middle, Cronin blows the book wide open - and I mean WIDE open - and totally lost me. I hit that wall with a *thud* I'm inching my way through the end, and I hope (please, GOD) that it'll have been worth it.

  6. Good advice. Now I'll try and follow it.

  7. That was very helpful. I like you imagery with the one hand clapping...nice.

    I love your writing style and sure wish you'd get published so I can read the story about McCord in its entirety.

  8. You know, you could be charging your own reading fees...we're getting an education for free! Thanks for the advice and like Raquel (and many, many others) I do hope you get published...I need to know the whole story...

  9. I agree with everything you said. Especially deciding whether you want to be published or if you want to stay true to your art. Is your book your baby or is it a product? No on in their right mind would perform plastic surgery on their baby, but making over their product? No problem.

  10. i admire your positivity. i have decided to do the self publishing route. i can't write queries, don't have the patience to do them right. this way, i can do my work as i want it done. i had to let go of the dream of getting 'chosen' to be published, which was certainly a delicious dream. great post.