Tag Archives: literary agents

New Author Success Story: Geraldine DeRuiter

Geraldine DeRuiter is a Seattle-based writer and admittedly hapless traveler who founded the awesome travel blog, The EvGeraldine DeRuiter Picerywhereist. We were excited to learn she landed her first book deal—and to hear her tale of multiple rejections, confusing feedback, despair, perseverance, and finally, success! She’s a great reminder of the thick skin we all need to develop if we want to find the right home for our books. Read her story, pass it on, get inspired. You could be next!

What’s the title of the book and who’s publishing it?
The working title is ALL OVER THE PLACE—a humorous guide to life from a travel expert who finds out that if you are trying to find yourself, getting lost is a great place to start. It will be published by Public Affairs in summer 2017, because sometimes god gets drunk and dreams come true.

Tell us how this book came about. What inspired you?
I’ve been blogging for years on my site The Everywhereist, and the book felt like a natural counterpart to that. I realized I’d started withholding certain stories on the blog. At first, I was just stockpiling them for my therapist, but then I decided to compile them into a book, which I’m pretty sure is how the entire genre of memoirs originated.

Can you share some insights on the chain of events that lead to your book deal?
It has been a nonstop ride on an Emotional Roller Coaster followed by a spin on the Drama Ferris Wheel. And then a visit to the Funhouse of Rejection. (Metaphors, y’all.)

I started writing the book two years ago, and I sent a sample chapter out to various agents. The feedback on that one chapter was very positive (though there was one or two harsh rejections), and a few agents asked to read the entire manuscript. After that, the rejections just rolled in! It was like Christmas morning, and every gift was debilitating self-doubt! Most of them said that they felt my manuscript required too much work before they could pitch it to publishers.

The feedback was really inconsistent, which was pretty frustrating. I heard that it wasn’t unique enough, I heard that it was too esoteric. I heard that it tried to do too much (it was both a travel and a personal memoir) or that it did too little, and didn’t have a unique hook. No one could agree on what was wrong with the book and what needed to be fixed.

However, there were a few agents that were actually interested. The problem was, their visions for the book didn’t really match mine, or I didn’t really feel like they were someone I could work with. Weirdly, my eventual agent, Zoe Sandler, who is just wonderful, actually contacted me. She’d seen an article I’d written for Good Housekeeping, and from there she found my blog and saw that I was looking for representation. I really liked her. And she believed in my work.

I told Zoe I wanted to revise my draft before sending it to her, so I spent a few months polishing it up. She then read it and gave me some feedback and changes which I rolled into the manuscript, and she started pitching it to publishers early this year. The response, considering how many agents passed on the manuscript, was surprisingly good. And in the end, I had several interested parties, so the manuscript went to auction. So now there were different publishers bidding on a book that numerous agents had told me didn’t have a chance.

How did you handle the challenges along the way?
I cried and told my husband that I was never writing again and that I was a talentless hack who had wasted her life.

Seriously. (I take rejection really badly. I should have never become a writer.)

So I decided to throw myself back into blogging, which is what I had been doing for a while. One day, after getting a really brutal rejection, I decided to write a post and I told my husband it was going to go viral. And then it did. I got half a million visitors to my blog in less than a month. It was a good reminder that there were people out there—probably not normal people, but people nonetheless—who wanted to read what I had to say.

I also had an amazing support system and people to talk to. My husband, Rand, is my biggest fan, and he was so supportive to the point of being annoying (sometimes, you just want to wallow in self-doubt and misery, you know? And he did not let me.) And I swear I’m not saying this because it’s her website or because she bribed me with baked goods, but talking to Kerry Colburn (of Jen & Kerry fame) was super helpful and always picked me up. She reminded me that there were always ways to publish this book—I could even do it myself. Knowing that made the rejection easier to take.

What surprised you during the publishing process?
That in the end, the rejections are sort of irrelevant. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. It’s like falling in love. You just need to find the one right person—the one right agent and the one right publisher—who thinks that you are amazing. That there will be lots of people who don’t think that your book is that great, and there will be a few who will think that it’s wonderful and they’re the ones who can make amazing things happen.

What’s one thing you’d like to say to other burgeoning authors?
You suck way less than you think you do. Trust me.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently in the editing process for ALL OVER THE PLACE, which is fun and agonizing. My manuscript should be completely done by this summer, and after that I’d like to get back to blogging. I also have a few other ideas for my next book. I think it’s going to be a feminist memoir, and the concept I’m toying with has the potential to be really unique and fun. I’m excited about it. But I need to get this one done first.

Anything else you’d like to share?
My husband said something to me recently that I really, really liked. I was having trouble with a chapter of the book, and I told him I wasn’t a good writer. And his reply was, “Of course you are. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you are bad at it. Writing is hard even for good writers.”

That was sort of revelatory, because it reminded me that it’s the process itself that is difficult. So you just need to keep at it.

 

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New Services to Help YOU Get Published

publishSpring is in the air, new ideas are blooming, and business is booming here at Business of Books headquarters. Due to popular demand, we’re rolling out some exciting new individual offerings for our clients. As always, our mission is to help you put your best foot forward with agents and publishers—and get the book deal you deserve. We encourage you to check out our services to make sure your proposal, query/cover letter, and submission list are spot on and have the absolute best chance for representation and/or a publishing deal.

NEW! Comprehensive Proposal Development & Consult Package
This new service takes you step-by-step through the proposal process, including a personalized kickoff meeting to set a schedule and parameters for your project, regular check-ins to review progress and keep you on track, and guidance throughout your proposal’s development. It culminates with our 2-on-1 proposal review for a perfectly on-point proposal, as well as a review of your query letter, cover letter, and submission list. $2,000.

NEW! Query Letter, Cover Letter & Submission List Review
Even if your proposal is good to go, you still need a compelling and salable query and cover letter—not to mention the right people to pitch it to. This service entails a comprehensive electronic review and detailed feedback on your cover letter, query letter, and agent/publisher submission list. $499

2-on-1 Proposal Review
This popular service provides our professional advice and concrete revisions to ensure your proposal rises out of the slush pile. You send us your draft proposal electronically; we add our comments and suggestions right into the file. We also provide a detailed overall assessment that covers every section of the proposal. $599

Publishing Toolkit
Are you a DIY type? Do you wish you had Jen & Kerry around as a desktop reference? Then our Publishing Toolkit is for you. This invaluable resource, available as a binder or PDF, will walk you through the proposal process and beyond, including insider tips on submissions, contracts, publisher relations, and more. With 100-plus pages of publishing intel plus exercises, worksheets, and two sample nonfiction proposals, it’s a steal at $99.

Looking for something other than what you see here? We’re happy to discuss the unique needs of your project. Email us for rates and details.

(Photo: adirondackcenterforwriting.com)

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Got a book idea but short on time? Our publishing retreat is just the thing

Are you full of big ideas but have a busy schedule? We feel your pain and have the cure for what ails you. Join us for Get Published!, an intensive and results-oriented weekend workshop for aspiring authors on January 23 & 24, 2016. In just 36 hours, writers will leave with all the tools they need to craft a successful proposal and pitch their book to agents and publishers with confidence.

Writers of all genres and levels are welcome. Whether attendees have a glimmer of an idea or a polished draft, this immersive workshop will push you to move your book project forward in a significant way—and enlighten you on how the business of publishing really works.

Click here for more information, or contact Shaina Phillips at 425-424-2965 or Shaina.phillips@willowslodge.com to reserve your spot.

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How to Get an Agent: A Q&A with Author Curt Weiss

CurtWeissAfter wanting to know how to get published, the most common question we get is: “How do I find an agent?”

We feel your pain.

Securing an agent is just as hard as landing a publishing deal these days, and requires savvy, a thorough submission, and persistence. When we heard one of our former clients landed an agent, we asked him to share his journey, as well as any advice he picked up along the way.

After over thirty years of working in media and the arts, Curt Weiss knows a good story when he hears one. Now he’s ready to tell the oh-so-good story of one of the most influential and overlooked musicians of their time: Jerry Nolan of the infamous Punk Rock granddaddies, the New York Dolls.

Tell us about your path to seeking and securing an agent.
I had been writing and researching my book on and off since 2006. I hadn’t really given much thought to how I was going to sell the book, thinking I would figure it out after writing it. Little did I know…

In the summer of 2013 a writer friend of mine told me about the Willamette Writer’s Conference. When she explained to me that this was an event where you could meet literary agents, I figured that, after seven years, it was time to jump in feet first. My book was about 95-percent finished so I had no reason to wait anymore.

I researched the event and realized that I needed to learn how to pitch my book to agents. The whole gist of the event is setting up meetings (either one on one or in small groups) with literary agents where you’ll have a limited amount of time to convince them that you’ve got something that’s right up their alley. I needed to learn how to sell my book and myself in no more than two minutes (group pitch) and up to five minutes (one on one pitch).

Before I even learned how to pitch, I had to figure out which agents to pitch to. At conferences like Willamette, you pay for each agent you pitch to, so you need to be selective. Before reserving a spot with an agent, I read their bios (available on the conference website) and found agents who were looking for books like mine. As I was selling a non-fiction oral history on a junkie New York rock and roll musician from the Punk era, I looked for agents interested in the arts, urban grit, bios, etc. Conversely, if their interests were, for example, romance novels, science fiction or young adult genres, I didn’t waste my time and money booking time with them.

The week before the event I attended a pitch workshop given by Cynthia Whitcomb in Portland. I worked her system, practiced and practiced and then practiced some more. She reviewed and critiqued it by e-mail afterwards and my writer pal did the same. It was also important to time myself so I wouldn’t be rushed when the time came to pitch my book.

There was a pitch slam on the first night of the conference, where people lined up and one after another pitched to a panel of agents in front of hundreds of people. If you have trouble speaking in public, you need to get over it quickly. Besides getting in more practice of your pitch, I got to hear others. I noted what worked and what didn’t and kept refining my pitch as well as my delivery. I realized that you can’t read a script. It’s one-part conversation, one-part sermon, one-part advertisement, and another part political speech. You’re selling an idea (your book) but you’re also selling yourself, your abilities, and your credentials. No one can tell this story except you. And no matter how emotional your story is, DO NOT CRY. Practice selling emotion without crying.

The next day, I began two-and-a-half days of meeting agents and pitching. Here’s a tip: if you’re in a group pitch, sit in the center, opposite the agent. The agent will usually go in a circle and as you don’t know whether they’ll start on the right or left, you don’t want to be last and feel rushed if the pitch session is running long. Sitting in the center means you won’t go last and you can face them head on.

I had 13 agents to meet. I ended up getting 10 requests for proposals. Of course, I had no proposal and barely knew what it was. As I was doing 13 pitches, I started to see the same people at the agent’s tables and I started to talk to them between meeting agents. I noted who had already published a few books and asked them about their processes and any tips or suggestions. Like most conferences, there was a table of books for sale, including some related to writing non-fiction book proposals. I bought one that was suggested to me: Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon.

After working on the proposal for a few months I decided, as this was the first book proposal I’d ever written, I wanted some professional input. I chose to take Jen and Kerry’s proposal workshop and after that, used their individual review service. They helped me edit and hone it.

I was finally ready to submit a proposal. In spite of getting cards from each of the agents, I still needed to check their agency websites for particulars. Some require you to use a central mailbox as opposed to the individual agent’s e-mail address. Some want one sample chapter, some more. Always put the name of the conference and the agent’s name in the subject header.

I sent out six query letters. In addition to the one offer of representation, I received three rejections, one non-response and another acknowledgement of receipt that arrived after I signed my representation agreement. Before I sent out the next four, I got an offer, so I never pursued them. I took notes from the responses to my pitch and used them in each query. Here is the query I sent to John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich on May 14th:

Dear John Rudolph,

Thanks very much for requesting my book proposal and sample chapters at the Willamette Writers Conference last August. My book is titled Hit It! The Secret World and Public Life of Jerry Nolan: A Drummer’s Story, Before, During and After Punk Rock. In my notes from the conference, I wrote that you were interested in music and non-fiction. If that is still the case, my book should continue to be of interest to you.

Coming out of rough-and-tumble New York in the 1970s, Jerry Nolan played drums for two of the most influential and infamous bands of their time: The New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers. He was one of the driving forces and most memorable characters of both the American and British Punk Rock movement. Told as an oral history, HIT IT! features more than 100 new interviews, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame legends like the Sex Pistol’s Glen Matlock, Blondie’s Clem Burke and Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth. Unlike other books on Punk Rock, HIT IT! examines both the New York and London Punk scenes from their earliest days, and lays out Jerry’s important contributions, both musically and stylistically.

Those who knew Jerry say he had what it took to be a star, and his resume showed it, spending time in bands with Bette Midler, Suzi Quatro, and Punk icon Sid Vicious. Sadly, his battles with heroin stymied his career and caused him to contract HIV, ultimately ending his life at the age of 45. He is remembered as a cross between a Martin Scorsese film character and legendary Jazz drummer Gene Krupa: a stylish, wisecracking raconteur, with a streetwise charm and powerhouse drumming skills. But there was a destructive streak behind his attractive veneer that manifested in his prodigious drug use, ability to scam for “chump change,” lying to promoters and managers, or stealing from the women who loved him. Jerry was a walking contradiction: one part loyal, trusted friend and mama’s boy, another part duplicitous, junkie thief.

I knew many of the people involved in Jerry’s life and saw him play numerous times. During the 1980s, I drummed with major label artists including the Rockats and Beat Rodeo, with members of the Violent Femmes and B-52’s, and on recordings produced by Richard Gottherer (Go-Go’s, Blondie), Mike Thorne (Soft Cell, ‘Til Tuesday) and Scott Litt (REM, Nirvana). Transitioning to television in 1992, I joined the award-winning Seattle PBS affiliate KCTS, where, as Unit Manager, I worked on international productions as diverse as Perilous Fight: America’s Second World War in Color, The ACLU: A History, and Vaudeville: An American Masters Special. I have also written for Classic Drummer Magazine and guest DJ for original New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain’s “Rampage of Songs” web page.

I believe that HIT IT! would strongly appeal to male readers, aged 40-70, with an interest in the music of this era. At this time, I am also approaching other agents who have requested proposals.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Curt Weiss
Phone number
e-mail address
www.curtweiss.com

John responded on May 16th by asking for a different chapter, one with more “big names.” I sent it and he offered me representation on May 23rd. By May 27th, we had a signed agreement.

A proposal is not something you’re going to write in a weekend. It took me from August 2013 until May of 2014 to complete a proposal that I was happy enough with it to submit it to prospective agents. If you’re like most people you probably have a job, kids, aging parents, a lawn that needs mowing, etc. All of those things need to be attended to while you write and research your proposal. It’s hard work and it takes time. Not only do you need to convince someone that your book idea is great, but you have to present potential audience and market data, a promotion plan, a bio and, particularly if your book is non-fiction, establish yourself as a credible expert on your subject. You may also need to set up a website, blog and or Facebook page to establish your “platform:” how will you stand above the crowd? And of course, a sample chapter…or chapters. That’s many months of work. Just keep your eyes on the prize and keep at it.

What surprised you during the querying process?
Trying to settle on a format. There are so many to choose from and I kept finding conflicting info on the web: statements made about what the right format is, with examples contrary to the formula. Look for examples of a successful query in your genre and start there.

What’s the next step toward publication?
Working with my agent to get him the proposal that he’s happy with. Every agency has a format they like. It’ll probably be somewhat different from what your workshop suggested, which is different from what the book suggested. Your agent is your sales person. Give them the tools they need to make the sale. Grit your teeth and do what they say. I’m on version four. Still gritting my teeth!

For more on Curt, check out his website at curtweiss.com.

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A 4-Step Process to Finding the Right Publisher for Your Book

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“How do I find the right publisher?” We get this a lot. Publishing often can seem like a mystery, and one of the biggest sources of confusion for an aspiring author is figuring out to which publishing house to submit. Here, in our experience, are some tips to determining where your book might find a happy home.

1. Go to the bookstore. Yes, an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore. You could also hit up the library. Describe your book to the staff and ask for books that might be considered similar to yours, in topic, voice, concept, or physical format. Look at the shelves and find the best competing titles. Now, look at the spine, title page or copyright page and note the publisher. If there is more than one book by the same publishing house, asterisk that name.

2. Look at acknowledgments page. While you’re perusing the competition, look at the acknowledgments page (like the one at right, from Deepak Chopra’s The Soul of Leadership). This is our Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys tip. Unless the author had a falling out during the editing process, both the agent and editor will be named. Write those down, as this will further assist you in sending out targeted submissions.

3. Subscribe to industry newsletters. Publishers Lunch is a daily e-newsletter put out by Publisher’s Marketplace. For a small monthly fee, you can subscribe to it and search for recent book deals by key words, publisher, author or agent. We recommend signing up for a month and doing some targeted research to further refine your submission list. Shelf Awareness is a free e-newsletter that offers similar information but doesn’t have a robust search engine.

4. Look at submission guidelines. Now that you have your short list, finish up your research by going to each publisher’s website. Review their submission guidelines and see if they take unsolicited submissions. While you’re there, also look at their recently published books and mission statement. Does it jibe with your book? If a publisher does not take unagented submissions, all is not lost. Reviews agents (gathered during steps 2 & 3) in the same manner. Check out their submission guidelines and consider submitting your proposal to them.

Regardless of where you submit, however, you will need a solid proposal to secure a book deal or representation. For more information on the book proposal process, register for our Feb. 9 workshop in Seattle or purchase our Publishing Toolkit. Write on!

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Why You Should Submit to Literary Magazines

stack-of-magazinesWith all the recent changes in publishing, there’s been increased moaning about how hard it is to score a book deal—especially as a fiction writer without an author platform. We agree; it’s not easy. You need talent, a great book proposal (natch), perseverance, and also the luck to land on the right desk at the right time. But there’s something else that is often overlooked, something that can help your chances of being noticed and signed by an agent or publisher: publication in a literary magazine.

Sure, The New Yorker and Harpers publish short stories, mostly from established writers (though that shouldn’t stop you from trying). But what we’re talking about here are the many well-respected literary mags that pride themselves on showcasing short fiction from all sorts of writers, magazines like Glimmer TrainChicago ReviewPloughsharesZoetropeTinhouse, and Zyzzyva. McSweeney’s Quarterly trumpets the lovely philosophy that they’re “committed to publishing exciting fiction regardless of pedigree.” There are many more to choose from, including a wealth of regional options, from The Seattle Review to the South Dakota Review.

Yes, most literary magazines are small in circulation and have  little (if any) money to pay you. But publication in one ups your literary cred significantly. Remember, these mags are used as scouting grounds for young, hungry agents and editors looking to make their mark. Think about it: You’re new at an agency or publishing house, and you dream of discovering an unknown writer and signing him or her to a book contract before anyone else does. Where’s a good place to look? The pages of these magazines.

So even if you’re knee-deep in your novel, consider whether you have a short story that you can polish to a high shine and start shopping around. If you’re able to get it published, you just might get a call from an agent trying to pitch you, rather than the other way around.

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