So you can read my books

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


How to get an agent to say "Yes."

Not that I have gotten one to say "Yes," mind you.

But like you, I have wondered at the answer to that question

My best friend, Sandra, jokingly suggests at gunpoint.

I remind her gently that I want to be published not imprisoned.

How do you get an agent to say "Yes?"

You do it by asking yourself a similar question I ask myself with these posts :

"What would I like to read"

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

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

Accept that the publishing world 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.


{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.
I am currently editing my YA urban fantasy, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH. And my theme song for him (in my mind) is this melody :


  1. "What would I like to read?" Wow, when put so simply like that it all starts to kind of come into focus. Another excellent post!

  2. "I have made the Emily Dickinson decision. I will probably never be published. My decision."

    Say again?

    You will be published, Roland. If it means, your growing 'fan club' collectively banging down agents doors - or donating to the 'Roland D. Yeoman's Worthy Publication Appeal', it will be done. Alternatively, we could always give them a swift kick in the shins - or use Sandra's gun. Personally I prefer the first method :)

    You are a wordsmith.

    PS. There will be no giving up from 'you' thank you very much ...

  3. Wendy : (Hat in hand) I hear you. Thanks for having my back, as they say here in the states. Do they say that in New Zealand? Your support and good humor means a lot me. Thanks, again.

    Heather : And thank you, too. Yes, when writing posts, I think what I would like to read on a blog and then, go write it as best I can. I believe is same for agents. Think from their side of the computer screen, considering their situation and demands, then write according to that. Thanks again thinking I hit close to the mark with this post.

  4. Now Roland, what's this? YOU never get published? Well, we may as well put away our quills if that's a fact of life.

    This was one of the crackliest versions of what is becoming an overworked blog topic. I like it as it goes back to basics and many a truer word has never been spoken. Cliches aside, I want to see you get an agent, then a publisher, then see your book in glossy black and red on the bookshelves - or Amazon will do.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Roland..:)

  5. L'Aussie : Thanks for the encouragement. I can well believe this topic is getting overworked. I mean, isn't getting published the #1 goal in our writing lives? And it seems that cannot be done without an agent.

    Yes, we can self-publish over at Amazon. But we will have to go after each and every reader on our own. Whew! I don't have the money for that kind or road-trip or ad in the New York Times!

    We all hope for the bestseller list slot. We won't get it as an eBook. And I am a dreamer. I know you are. All writers in a sense are.

    Have a great and Happy Thanksgiving, L'Aussie. Me, being me, of course, I am working Thanksgiving! Roland

  6. Those are some smart tips. Thanks!

  7. Roland,

    I just "crawled back to my hotel room after a VERY LONG day at Wizarding World. As always I checked your blog first. The tips are true and honest.... YOU WILL GET PUBLISHED! We will all protest if you don't!

    Your writing has it all .... wit, charm, honesty, marvelous description, and most of all heart! NEVER GIVE UP!


  8. Roland—

    Just playing catch up on your last three posts. Some great advice and inspiration in them.

    I especially like this post and, like you, I would rather take Emily Dickenson’s path and be seen as profound after death than a sell out during life.

    Is it such a bad thing to be published more after death than in life? I don’t think so; it’s quite the opposite, really. Those authors who are recognized after death for what they produced—and were ignored for—during life become mini martyrs for their cause.

    Our cause.

    These are the authors that should every aspiring author’s idol.


    Because they flipped the industry off and wrote what they loved. They created because a fire burned in them so hot that nothing, not even rejection from society, publishers, agents or even their families could snuff out.

    Writing for me is like cake, being published the vanilla frosting. I love cake, the frostings usually overrated. Offer me that can of vanilla frosting and ask me to put it on salmon flavored cake and I’ll tell you to screw off every time. Even if everyone other person on the planet wanted vanilla iced, salmon flavored cake I wouldn’t—It’s not my flavor and frankly it just sounds gross.

    I would never write what I didn’t love first, but that doesn't mean I still won't try to convert those vanilla frosting salmon flavored cake eaters we call 'industry people' ;) And neither should you!!!

    Thanks for the insights.

    Happy Thanksgiving, try to get some rest from work.


  9. Jodi : Thanks. Your words helped. Andrea Somberg rejected my 5 pages of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE tonight. Ouch. You and I will keep on struggling. Only the valiant see Valhalla, right?

    Michael : And you rest after a day in the wizarding world. Thanks for believing in me. I wish I did. But I am too stubborn to quit. Impossible just gives birth to legends, right?

    Kaylie : I'm glad my tips helped in some small way. Success in your writing dreams.

  10. One of my heroes died tonight : Ingrid Pitt. If you watched the old Hammer horror films like I and the rest of the League of Five did, then you know her.

    Or you think you do :

    Underrated as both an actress and a writer, Pitt was a warm but stubbornly enigmatic figure.

    Pitt was also a writer, producing two novels set during the Peron era in Argentina and several horror-related works of fiction.

    She was born in Poland in 1937 to a mother of Jewish descent, and was interned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two at the age of five -- an experience she recounted in her autobiography "Life's a Scream."

    She appeared in the 1968 classic "Where Eagles Dare" alongside Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, and five years later in the mystery drama "The Wicker Man."

    She told an interviewer in 2006 that she did not particularly enjoy watching horror movies.

    "I was in a concentration camp as a child and I don't want to see horror," Pitt said. "I think it's very amazing that I do horror films when I had this awful childhood. But maybe that's why I'm good at it."

    Her autobiography also describes Pitt's search for her father throughout the European Red Cross refugee camps and her escape from East Berlin, one step ahead of the police.

    Pitt collapsed recently and died in London on Tuesday, shortly after her 73rd birthday.

    In that land that knows no shadows, my four friends of the League of Five who are already there are probably standing in line, hoping for a kiss on the cheek.

  11. Somberg rejected me too, a couple of days ago. So did all the agents I queried last month with what I know is my best book yet (I've written seven, & published three with small presses.) And it's very high-concept (it proposes a solution to a 40 year old unsolved Hollywood mystery.) They all say the writing is great, but they can't sell anything like that. Where are the zombies? Angels? Merpersons?

    It's a nasty jungle out there right now. We may all have to be Emily Dickinsons. (Although some self-pubbed ebook writers ARE making it into print and even the top of the bestseller lists. Karen McQuestion and Elisa Lorello have this year.) I think it's because they write romantic comedies, which the Industry has declared dead, and readers are starved for good ones.

    The problem isn't the agents, or even the acquisition editors, says Nathan B over on Rachelle's blog--it's the marketing Nazis who put the kibosh on anything that isn't children's or zombie or fang related (preferably all of the above.) They only want what sold last year to a certain demographic (which is more likely to be playing videogames, anyway.) They have no sense that ignoring 80% of their customer base (grown-ups) is going to drive customers to small presses. A lot of established, name writers are leaving the big 6 because their books are getting rejected, too. It's an industry on self-destruct.

  12. Anne : Thanks for the support and being brave enough to share your rejection with Andrea. Sigh.

    Nathan B. would know, wouldn't he? An industry on self-destruct? In history, when one age faces evolution of dissolution, it is sad to see how many ages, industries, cultures choose extinction.

    One thing that has occurred to me is that those children who fell in love with Harry Potter have grown up, and they want the same kind of writing that speaks to their current age as Harry did their child's stage of development.

    There is a huge, unaddressed market of grown-up Potter readers that are starved for the magic to sing to them in adult voices. Publishers are greed-motivated. Hate that.

    I truly appreciate your words. Thanks.

  13. I'm writing commercial fiction, but it doesn't have werewolves or vampires or zombies... now the hot new trend is Urban Fantasy and Steampunk. I can write ghosts if necessary, maybe even take my current MS and transform it from a light, sexy romp with a bit of suspense to make it a scary, intense romantic suspense with bits of sex. I could. Or maybe I'll strike a different balance because the decision I make could impact what I will have to write for a long time.

    Not quite ready to make that decision and get stuck. Side path out? Write another book and see how it flies.

  14. Great post, Roland. As always you point out what is so true. It is very hard to get an agent to say yes, but as you said I doubt gunpoint will work. (Loved that you put Clint Eastwood in this post lol.)
    Since agents do want to make a profit we have to work that much harder. We have to make our manuscript stand out from all of the others. And no matter what we have to keep trying because before a yes we're going to get many more rejections.

    Keep on trying, Roland! I believe both you and I will eventually hear a yes.