My con notes are a mix of direct quotes and paraphrasing of key ideas the panelists and/or audience discussed, particularly regarding writing advice and recommended reading lists. This is not meant to be a verbatim transcription of the panel, but rather a summary of key points and takeaways that are attributed where possible.

The following notes are from a panel on literary agents at Balticon in 2014, in Hunt Valley, MD.

Panelists: Michael Underwood, Joshua Bilmes, Eddie Schneider, Jordy Albert, & and others for whom I only jotted down partial names

Advice for Authors

  • If you have an offer, be sure to get a literary agent ASAP.
  • Look at acknowledgements in books you read for agents; authors tend to say which book agent helped them.
  • Networking and asking authors about their agents at cons = a way to find agents.
  • Look up agents’ websites, find their lists of clients and sales.
    • Ask other clients what they think of the agent.
    • Follow query rules and personalize your queries to the agents you contact
  • Bad agents don’t communicate well, tend to work part time.
    • Good agents should have someone who will provide submission lists
    • Talking to other authors = a way to learn about bad agents, but authors won’t usually directly name a bad agent by name.
  • Finding an agent – look for new agents on a literary agency’s site, they will most likely have openings for clients.
  • Contract w/ agent – 12-18 months to start is typical. 24 months or more is possibly too long, especially if the agent turns out not to be good.
  • Good agents help w/ manuscript revisions, pitch writing and refinement, and your submission list.
  • Good agents are focused on a deal for the book, not taking your money up front – they are the agent for this deal for as long as the deal exists and will earn money via book sale commissions.
    • Be careful with contract language, you may get stuck on a book with the original agent and may still have to pay them commission forever.
    • IMPORTANT: Commission should only be on deals the agent *actually* makes for you.
    • Agent contracts should include reasonable separation agreement – you can’t drop an agent right away, and they can’t drop you right away; you have to give each other chances.

Writing Query Letter for Agents

  • Always find the name of the person you want to send it to and address it to them.
  • No more than 1 page. You can do 10pt or 12pt font, up to you.
  • Part 1 of Query:
    • “I’m writing to you because I thought you’d be a good fit based on…”
  • Part 2 of Query:
    • Pitch for the book: What would the book you’re pitching have on its back cover as the blurb?
  • Part 3 of Query:
    • Genre & word count of book.
    • In some cases, you include 3 chapters + synopsis (depends on submission guidelines). Have a folder prepped of this stuff.
  • Part 4 of Query:
    • Your contact info.
    • Biographical details – do you have any writing experience? What do you do in life and how does it relate to the manuscript you’re submitting? If you think it will help create personal relationship, talk about where you grew up, went to school.
    • If you have self published this book before, make clear why you are looking for an agent now.

Becoming a Literary Agent 

  • You need a mentorship, and you can’t do it part time if you want to be good.
  • Frequently, there is the mentality of collecting writing prizes. If you are an agent, focus on helping your clients get awards is not beneficial for either of you; you are trying to sell books that don’t have publishers yet. Even if a book gets an award, it has been published already and is not available for a publisher to take on.

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