Well, I hope all who attended the San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) 2015 last week, Feb 12-16, enjoyed it and got a lot out of the event. I know I did. As a book editor, I met many writers who I had the unique privilege of speaking with in depth about their various projects. And it looks like I will be working with at least a few of you, though my turnaround is becoming longer as I take on more clients.
At the conference—my 4th year in a row at the SFWC—writers were able to participate in the Agent Speed Dating sessions, where for 51 minutes a group of writers were unleashed upon tired yet mostly friendly literary agents in 3-minute increments to pitch their novel or nonfiction book. Through the doors of “The Room of the Dons” we walked, prepared to scratch and fight our way to the agent of choice, sitting in a chair across from the agent at a small round table, mostly terrified and wanting it to just be over as quickly as possible.
In 2013, I did the agent pitch and walked away with 7 requests for the ms, mostly the full. All those became rejections, and that book was filed away in a drawer under “Not going to happen.” It’s still, unfortunately, in that drawer, which John Lescroart, famous best-selling author and SFWC keynote speaker, said was a big mistake for him, referring to a novel he had in his drawer for 14 years before it saw the literary light of day and became a bestseller.
But in 2013 I fared well with the pitch, not so well with the submission itself, which is not an uncommon thing. This time—2015—I came to the conference (and the pitch session) more as a freelance book editor and less as a writer. I handed out my editing cards by the dozen. I chatted with aspiring writers of all ages, races, genders, and careers. I even pitched my client Christian Picciolini’s brilliant, touching, powerful memoir, “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead,” which comes out April 28, 2015. Please check him out. With a foreword by the famous rock star Joan Jett, this is going to be a phenomenal book. Pre-order your copy here. Andy Ross—literary agent who lives in Oakland, near me, and is the former owner of Cody’s Books in Berkeley, an infamous bookstore around since the 60s—wants to see my work, as does Gordon Warnock, literary agent with Fuse Literary, another Bay Area agency.
So the point of me telling you all this is: Writers’ conferences are a fantastic way to make connections, meet other local writers (and non-local ones who you can keep in contact with through email and Skype), introduce yourself and your project/book to agents, and mainly be around publishing and editing professionals and successful writers who have already been making their mark on the industry. You can learn and inhale and absorb the writing discipline and drive and focus that these people have, and learn more about how things work in this scene, especially from the point of view of New York City, where things still center, though obviously agents and publishers are all over the country at this point, and they all fly yearly to NYC to meet with agents, editors, and publishers so they can stay in the know and keep those connections with pub house acquisitions editors fresh.
A few suggestions for you writers who received Agent Speed Dating requests for your ms (whether a partial or full ms request): In the email subject-line, make sure you write “Requested materials SFWC 2015, Agent Speed Dating, first 50 pp.” Make sure you stay out of the slush pile death list by labeling properly. Also, more importantly, really, hold off for a few days or even weeks or, sometimes, months, if you are not fully ready. If that ms is not as tight as it can possibly be…hold off. You have a magic opportunity here: The agent has specifically told you that you can send material to them directly. That’s gold. But…don’t mess it up! Seriously.
• Read Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents 2015” (just the part about writing the query and how to write a killer first chapter and the “what not to do when submitting to an agent” part). Trust me; you won’t regret this.
• Hire a book editor if you have any lingering doubts about the strength of your ms. Seriously. If you are feeling not confident about the book, hire a professional. It could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. If you need to wait to send for 3 or 6 months, it’s worth every penny and every hour. Get it right the first time. Typos, starting your chapter one the wrong way, clichés, bad/lazy writing, and any other number of things could earn you a stiff rejection. Be smart.
• Make sure those first 3 chapters are freaking TIGHT. Don’t over-edit, but make sure the first 3 chaps demonstrate your voice, tone, setting, stakes, plot-direction, and have conflict, tension, and that we cannot, simply CANNOT put that bastard down. We must keep reading; we must move to page 2, chapter 3, whatever.
• Don’t use any gimmicks in your query. Google how to write a query letter, follow Chuck’s example, and keep it short and to-the-point. We’re talking 250-300 words tops; 3 paragraphs: 1) The book (genre, word-count, title, and a first sentence “hook”); 2) the mini synopsis of the book’s plot, told in the tone/voice of the narrator; 3) The author bio (publications, awards, writing grad school, etc). Again: Keep this one-page tops. Even in email, agents can tell.
• Follow the agents’ guidelines PRECISELY. When I was an agent’s assistant, I cannot tell you how many times we were forced to reject a manuscript simply because they didn’t follow the protocol. Follow the rules, and you are more likely to succeed.
That’s all for this week. I had a great time connecting with you all at the conference, and those who didn’t attend, I hope to see you at the SFWC 2016! It’ll be here before we know it! Please find me on Twitter at @Michael_Editor, on Facebook at “Author Michael Mohr” and buy my stories at Alfie Dog Press (for 66 cents each): click on the Alfie Dog logo on the home page of this website.
If you are seeking professional book editing I may be your man. I am booking up quick so if you need a full ms edited please contact me right away. My turnaround right now is looking more like June/July, 2015. Possibly I can return the ms a little earlier, if things happen to fall into place. Hey, what can I say: I’m a sought-after book editor :)
Take care. Write on. “You said it, let’s edit.”
My client (ex neo-Nazi skinhead who changed his life and founded “Life After Hate”): www.christianpicciolini.com