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This blog is my diary of works in progress. The only way a writer can improve upon her skill is to practice, practice and practice some more. Here, in this place of quiet peace, I pen to paper my thoughts and creativity. Welcome to my world.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Guest Post: How Tameka Fryer Brown Landed an Agent

Tameka Fryer Brown, author of MY COLD PLUM, LEMON PIE, BLUESY MOOD (Viking Children's, 2013)

Landing an Agent 

Many have written about the best way to land an agent, with varying perspectives and offers of advice. I’ll add my voice to the fray with a personal testimony on how I landed my agent, what I did and did not do. 

CONNECTINGAs a newbie writer, I DID NOT pitch to agents (or editors) at conferences. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, and it may work very well for some. But since I suspect that most agents and editors don’t remember a tenth of the people they come in contact with at conferences, especially those whose only interaction with them is to try to pitch their manuscripts, I decided that wasn’t for me.
As a more seasoned writer, I now strike up conversations with editors and agents at conferences, but I DO NOT lead with my writing at all. I strike up normal conversations about every day topics. Why have I never initiated a conversation with a story pitch? For one thing, I still believe all those pitches tend to run together after a while. Unless you make a personal connection with someone, they likely won’t remember you or your story. Plus, that whole “elevator-pitch your story to all the publishing professionals at the conference” is just not my style. If I’m interested in submitting to someone, I do just that: submit my manuscript. My work should be able to speak for itself.  However, whenever I do make a personal connection with a publishing professional at a conference, they always ask me about what I write and the projects I’m working on.  I try to always be prepared with a 30-ish word synopsis of the projects I’m working on for such instances, but if it’s up to 50 words, I don’t sweat it. We’re just having a friendly conversation—not a nerve-racking pitch session.

SUBMITTINGBack when I was submitting my own manuscripts to agents, I DID research each of them as thoroughly as possible. It was while reviewing the Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s website that I noticed agent Jennifer RofĂ© had minored in Social and Ethnic Relations. Since my manuscript highlighted a close-knit, diverse neighborhood, I thought it might interest her. Today she is my agent because of that targeted approach. I’ve sold two books with her, including my latest, MY COLD PLUM LEMON PIE BLUESY MOOD (Viking Children’s/Penguin). So much information is available online these days, no one should ever skip the important step of research.
I DID follow submissions guidelines to a “T”. I DID NOT, however, over-obsess over query and cover letters as it relates to formatting and such. I DID proofread and make sure that my letters looked professional, but I did not worry about whether my bio info was in the third or fourth paragraph, or if I listed my word count in the upper right hand corner or below  my contact info on the left. I learned the most important thing was to craft a letter that hooked the reader from the beginning, described the plot early on, and made my story appear as dynamic as possible, without verbosity.  So long as the content is there (and the glitter/confetti/clipart is not), that’s what counts.

COMMUNICATINGWhen Jennifer initially expressed interest in my manuscript, she asked me several questions, among which were: “Do you have any other manuscripts?” and “Are you open to revising your work?” My answers were: “Yes I do.” and “Yes I am.” To those readers seeking to land an agent (or a publisher), these should be your answers, too. 
It’s important for agents to know that you are not a one-book-pony.  Picture book authors especially should have at least three completed manuscripts before seeking representation; novel writers for older age groups might be able to have only one, but it helps to be actively working on another. As for revising—revising is what writing (and publishing) is all about! One can’t get to literary excellence without it. Be one with the Backspace! Embrace the Delete key!
I’m not sure if my experience contradicts everything you’ve ever read about landing an agent. If it does, then that simply proves there is no one right way to do it. Tailor your approach to whatever works for you and make it happen!

Member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators