My Agent Answers: Why Do You Need a Literary Agent?

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Due to the overwhelming number of writers seeking a contract with a major publisher, editors cannot possibly keep up with the hundreds of unsolicited submissions that come in every week. This is why most major publishers do not accept submissions directly from authors who are seeking publication.

Instead, they rely on a network of literary agents who understand the publishing business, have relationships with editors and know the subject areas and types of books that specific editors are most likely to be interested in.

Within each of the major publishing houses, there are dozens of editors, each with their own interests and “wish lists” for books.

A literary agent is usually the most efficient way to find the right editor, and the right publisher, for your book. An agent can help you improve your book proposal, resulting in stronger offers from publishers, and consider publishers you may not have even thought of approaching.

Publishing is a very specialized field, and book contracts can be especially complicated. Just like you should never sign a business contract without a lawyer, I don’t recommend you sign a book contract without a literary agent.

A literary agent can help you secure a better deal by helping you to select the right publisher and negotiating improved contract terms that will protect your financial and intellectual property interests.

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Writing Routines: Scott Turow

Turow - Portrait
Scott Turow.

Scott Turow, the bestselling author of Presumed Innocent and other legal thrillers, has a new book out entitled Identical. At TheDailyBeast.com, Noah Charney asked Turow about his life as an author and attorney.

Here’s a peek into Turow’s writing time:

Describe your morning routine.

It’s not really a routine, because the pace is so likely to vary, but the greater portion of days finds me up by 7 and looking through three newspapers over coffee. By no later than 8:30, I’m at my desk, writing. I think the truth, to be brutal with myself, is that I spend no more than 45 minute out of every hour actually getting things down on paper. The rest of the hour goes to email or phone calls. But this does not prove that technology has intruded on my life, since years ago I’d just spend that 15 minutes wandering around the house, often ending up at the refrigerator.

Apparently, Turow is adept at handling distractions, also saying, “I can take a call from a client in the midst of writing a sentence and complete it as soon as I put down the phone.”

How does Turow determine if he has had a productive writing day?

No page or word counts, but I have to keep my ass in the chair, which is hard at the very start of the process. If I allow myself to become distracted, as I’m inclined to do at that point, then I’m disappointed in myself.

A Chicago native and Cubs fan, Turow still enjoys practicing law and has been a member of a famous authors rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Other band members have included Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Mitch Albom.

Rick Bragg: How to Grovel

RickBragg
Rick Bragg.

This afternoon I saw my wife reading Southern Living. “Hey, can I see that when you’re done?” I asked. Not because I wanted to read about porches and gardens, easy bedroom upgrades, or the South’s hottest food towns. (Actually, I might take a peek at the food towns.) No, I wanted to read Rick Bragg’s Southern Journal, on the last page.

I love Rick Bragg. The former New York Times reporter wrote a series of memoirs about his family and growing up poor in Alabama and Georgia. Bragg is a wonderful storyteller. Read his books, if you haven’t already.

In his May 2013 Southern Living essay, Bragg tackled groveling. He got help.

“A few months ago, I asked readers for advice on how to grovel,” he began. “The alternative–to do right in the first place–I rejected from self-awareness.”

Bragg shared some of the advice in the column. It was good. A woman named Susan told Bragg not to worry about groveling. As Bragg noted, Susan seemed to imply that he shouldn’t expect too much of himself, “being a man.”

There was plenty more, including a funny anecdote about Bragg’s dog (Woody Bo) eating his favorite shirt. He spilled crab soup on the shirt during a trip to Louisiana and dropped it on the bedroom floor when he returned home.

I was impressed by the groveling advice offered by David of North Carolina. He gave Bragg a a three-point plan:

1. Grovel often. It’s expected. 2. Admit you’re wrong. It’s quicker. 3. Don’t worry about being sincere. They know.

By the way, asking for reader input is a shrewd strategy for generating essays, columns and blogs. So be like Rick. And, if you’re a man, grovel often, and unashamedly.

Stolen in My Youth: Willie Mays, “The Say Hey Kid”

WillieMaysThey called him “The Say Hey Kid” when he broke into major league baseball with the New York Giants in 1951. Willie Mays, 20, was perhaps the most complete player baseball had ever seen. Mays was a “five-tool player.” He could hit, hit for power, run, throw and field.

My goodness, could Willie field. His official position was center field, but he roamed much of the outfield in the vast Polo Grounds. When a teammate was once asked what position he played, he replied: “Me and Willie Mays play left field.”

In the 1954 World Series, Mays made what is arguably the greatest catch in baseball history. The catch robbed Vic Wertz and the Cleveland Indians, which went on to lose the series to the underdog Giants.

People said it wasn’t Mays’s greatest catch, but it came in the Fall Classic and was televised at a time when the nation was becoming mesmerized by the small screen. Other people said the throw Mays made after chasing down Wertz’s rocket was even greater than the catch.

As a boy growing up in Evansville, Indiana, in the 1960s, I was a proud owner of a Willie Mays baseball card. This was no small feat. Mays cards were a rare find. I was the only one of my neigborhood friends who possessed Mays, then of the San Francisco Giants. (The Giants franchise, along with the Dodgers, moved to the West Coast in the late 1950s.)

Each of us bought a box of 500 baseball cards. The top players such as Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente were gold. You dug through your massive box of cards and hoped to get lucky.

My friends wanted to trade for my Willie Mays card. I wouldn’t do it. It was the one baseball card that was off limits. Then one day Willie was gone. I looked everywhere but couldn’t find him.

Not long after one of my buddies returned my Willie Mays card. He was sorry. It was wrong.

Such was the popularity of Mays. Kids and grownups loved him. I might have stolen Willie, too, if I had thought I could get away with it.

(I’m currently reading Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, an authorized biography by James S. Hirsch. It’s a good one.)

Writer’s Digest: “5 Things Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters”

Whether or not you’re a novelist (I am not), consider the following tips. Maybe they’re useful for a current project or will help you in the future. Both fiction and nonfiction, in the end, rely on storytelling. Screenwriters work in a tight format. No fluff. We can learn from them.

These five tips are from a Writer’s Digest article. (Read the full article here.) The parenthetical comments are mine.

1. Your novel is probably too long. (That’s OK. Write it long. Then cut it. I’ve read that bestselling author Stephen King cuts a lot out of his first draft, something like 20 percent. The first draft of my next book was 105,000 words. I cut it to about 90,000.)

2. A story can be built in scenes. (And tight, well-linked scenes move the story forward. In novels or narrative nonfiction, these might be chapters.)

3. Tension must drive every scene. (In a larger sense, there’s conflict in your story–or should be–and it should seep into each scene or chapter.)

4. Plot and characters are not enemies. (Screenwriter David Magee calls them “two sides of the same coin. A character behaves the way they behave, and their behavior makes the plot.”)

5. You must bring dialogue to life. (Dialogue, or quotations in nonfiction, give voice and life to your story. It must ring true.)

Would you like more tips? Read “The 5s” found in the sidebar. (Scroll to bottom.)

Alice Munro: “It Just Seems Impossible”

Alice Munro became the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her daughter woke her in the middle of the night to deliver the startling news.

“I had forgotten about it all, of course,” Munro told CBC News early on Thursday morning. “It just seems impossible. A splendid thing to happen … More than I can say.”

Munro, 82, is known as Canada’s Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was a Russian author who excelled at writing short stories, a literary legend of the form.

“My stories have gotten around quite remarkably for short stories,” Munro told the Canadian news service. “I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not something you play around with until you got a novel written.”

The new Nobel Prize winner will soon have more books in circulation, according to Publishers Weekly.

“Vintage will be reprinting 100,000 copies of Munro backlist,” the industry publication tweeted, “which includes 14 story collections. All reprints will have a Nobel seal.”

Tom Clancy: “Just Tell the Damned Story”

TomClancy
Tom Clancy at Boston College. (Burns Library)

Bestselling author Tom Clancy died on Tuesday night. He was 66. Seventeen of his novels were No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.

Here’s Clancy’s advice to writers from a 2001 Writer’s Digest interview:

Keep at it! The one talent that’s indispensable to a writer is persistence. You must write the book, else there is no book. It will not finish itself. Do not try to commit art. Just tell the damned story. If it is entertaining, people will read it, and the objective of writing is to be read, in case the critics never told you that.

Clancy fans can look forward to one more novel. Command Authority will be out in December.