Monday, July 21, 2008

Losing the Lottery (or: Publishing the Hard Way)

Author Michelle Gagnonby guest poster and author Michelle Gagnon

While I'm recovering from the weekend I have a wonderful post from Michelle Gagnon, author of The Tunnels and the upcoming thriller Boneyard. For all of you wondering where this blogging thing might be taking you, where to go with your writing or how to get to the next step of getting your manuscript published this is the post for you.

Ms. Gagnon has graciously offered to respond to any questions you might leave in the comments before Friday and a random commentator will receive a copy of
The Tunnels. Or if that's not rich enough for your blood go to MichelleGagnon.com and click on "win" for a chance to win a Kindle, ipod and other prizes.

Make her feel welcome!


***

A few years ago, when I had just begun my search for a literary agent, I attended one of Michael Chabon’s readings. During the Q & A session afterward, I asked how he had gone about getting published. He responded, “Gee, it was really easy. My grad school professor passed my manuscript along to an agent, there was a bidding war, then a year later it was on the shelves.”

And at that moment right there, I experienced my first murderous impulse. Michael is a very nice man and an amazing writer, but that’s the publishing equivalent of winning the lottery. And I found out the hard way that such experiences are very rare. So when Michelle and I chatted about my guest post, she recommended I write about some of the lessons I’ve learned while navigating the frequently choppy seas of the publishing world. I’ll detail the reality of what most of us experience, from start to finish. And just so that doesn’t become too depressing, I’ll follow up with inside tips and tricks on surviving relatively unscathed…

The Reality:

1. Rejection, and a lot of it. My first novel (which is now forever relegated to a storage box, never to see the light of day again) was rejected by over fifty agents. That’s right, fifty. It was even turned down by some fly by night operations that hung out a shingle and hoped for the best. (Although once I re-read that manuscript, I understood why. More on that later.) You need a thick skin to survive that level of rejection. Fortunately during my career as a modern dancer I’d already developed a carapace that nothing could penetrate. (Once during an audition, choreographer Paul Taylor told me that in tights my legs looked like sausages. No matter what an agent said about my manuscript, nothing could rival that.)

2. The Marginal Advance. There’s a reason that when someone gets a six- or seven-figure deal for their first novel, it makes the industry newspapers. It doesn’t happen all that often. On average, the money paid up front for a first novel ranges from $1000 to $25,000 (and I suspect the median amount is around $10,000). The vast majority of writers keep their day job through at least their first few books. In fact, it’s recommended that you pour as much of that advance as you can afford back into marketing the book. Which leads to the next sad truth…

3. Out of Pocket, or, “What do you mean, I’m not getting a book tour?” A few years ago comedian Will Farrell gave the commencement address at Harvard. In my favorite part of the speech he says:
You're about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, a world in which your limo to the airport is often a half-hour late. In addition to not even being a limo at all; often times it's a Lincoln Towncar.
Whenever I attend an event where the (generally bestselling) author spends most of the night complaining about the fact that their publisher has put them on a ten city tour with bookstore stops, radio and television shows, a driver, and (I suspect), a nice hotel room, I’m reminded of that speech. A publicist recently told me she’s even had authors cancel such tours at the last minute because they changed their mind about going. Now, I understand how hard traveling can be, and the difficulties of being separated from your family and thrown off your routine. But what I would give to have all of that handled by my publisher!

Most writers organize their own touring schedule (local, regional, or national, depending on what they can afford). They contact the bookstore to set up the event, pay the travel expenses, and promote it…and after all that, sometimes only end up selling a few books. Last summer I flew to San Diego for an event, rented a car, spent $150 on the sketchiest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in (a Days Inn conveniently located right behind a strip club). And three people showed up. I loved the bookstore and all the wonderful booksellers I met (who outnumbered the crowd), and I tried to maximize my time by visiting every other bookstore in San Diego to sign copies of my book. Still, it was a bit depressing.

So, the good news?

Despite all of this complaining, I can walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelves, and after years of struggling to get published, nothing compares to that. In the end, I won the lottery—but the truth is that I genuinely believe everyone could if they did this:

1. Finish the book. I regularly attend writing conferences, and can’t even count how many times someone has said to me, “I’ve been working on the first few chapters of my manuscript for a few years now…” Yes, I know it’s incredibly difficult to finish a book, but think of it this way: if you write just a page a day, at the end of a year you’ll have a book.

Along those lines here’s the best advice I can offer: don’t look back. I don’t edit a single page until the entire story has been written, I just do a quick check for glaring typos at the end of every day. Then I move on. Don’t get bogged down editing the first few chapters ad infinitum. Save the edits for later, when you have a finished product to go over. I know that my rough draft will be just that: rough. But I resolve that with drafts 2-5 once the bones of the story are in place.

2. Once you’ve finished the book, put in away. Don’t look at it for at least a month (I also don’t recommend showing it to anyone else, I usually save that fresh pair of eyes for the second draft). When you dig it out and dust it off, you’ll see things that you missed the first time around. It makes the entire editing process much, much easier. Remember that first manuscript I mentioned, the one rejected by fifty agents? I sent it out the day after writing “The End.” Huge mistake, and when the rejections started pouring in I looked at it again and cringed; but by then it was too late.

3. Get a literary agent. There are publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts, but it’s relatively rare. Agents are viewed as the first guards at the gate: if a manuscript is represented, in the eyes of editors it’s already been vetted. So make a list of agents who represent the kind of writing you do (that part is critical: if they specialize in Young Adult novels, don’t send them your erotic horror masterpiece. Doesn’t matter how good it is, chances are they won’t be interested). Start with a list of five agents and send them a carefully honed query letter. If they all turn it down, go for the next five. But do not petition everyone at once, like I did.

4. Finally, when you have your agent, they’ve sold your book to a publisher, and you have your publication date, open a bottle of champagne and celebrate!

Then sit down the next morning and start working on your marketing plan. There are so many wonderful resources out there that can help, start sniffing them out. Figure out how much of your advance you can commit to marketing, and consider partnering with another writer to share the burden of tour planning and expenses. Keep your publisher posted on everything you’re doing, and ask if they might be willing to help in some way. Showing that you’re a motivated partner in the process can go a long way toward getting the sales team excited about your book.

See? Easy. You’ll have that limo picking you up at the airport in no time.

Questions? Comments? Fire away, I would love to respond to them all . . . I’ll draw names from that pool, and the winner will receive a signed copy of my first book THE TUNNELS.

And if you don’t win, go to MichelleGagnon.com, click on “win,” and I’ll toss your name in the hat for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, digital picture frame, Starbucks gift certificates, and other fabulous prizes.

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, Boneyard, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she runs errands and indulges in endless games of online scrabble.

Sponsored by Pak Naks--Decorate your stuff with these cute rubber charms!

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76 comments:

I'm Toni said...

I've always believed in synchronicity, but this is pretty amazing. Just this morning, I ordered Boneyard from B&N. Then I check in on Scribbit, and here YOU are, her quest poster. Must say, I had to do a double-take!

Love your books!

My question for you is - how do you narrow your ideas down to one? I have a ideas swirling in my head all the time. I start writing bits and pieces - I get some great short stories, but how do I decide which is THE one to take further? Do you just know? If I Don't just know, does that mean I haven't found the BIG one yet???

toni

Chas said...

What resource did you use to locate literary agents and find out what type of writing they represent?

Robin said...

Great interview, thank you for being so frank.

Here's my question:

When you first come up with a story idea do you generally see the whole plot laid out from start to finish, or do you have a beginning with no ending or an ending with no idea how you got there?

michelle of bleeding espresso said...

Awesome post full of great tips and insider info, Michelle; thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us!

And also thanks to you Michelle (Scribbit) for providing the space :)

All this from yet another Michelle...sheesh what were our moms thinking ;)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hello, Michelle! I'm just dropping in to say hi.

Lis Garrett said...

Great interview and advice!

Since everyone else has the same questions as I do, I'll sit back and wait for the answers. :-)

Nature Nut said...

Great advice! Thank you!

My ideas are more of a collection of children's poems.

Do you happen to have a short list of resources that you would suggest for a beginner?

Blessed said...

This was a very interesting post to read - I've never had the desire to write a novel - children's stories or a collection of short stories/essays - maybe...

I am interested in seeing the answers to all the questions that have already been asked - do you plan to post the answers publicly?

I'm just getting back to writing (through my blog) after about a 10 year hiatus of doing nothing but copywriting and headlines - so maybe the bug will bite again soon!

allysha said...

Paul Taylor! Oh my! I am personally very impressed you got to audition for him in the first place!
I enjoyed your advice- thanks!

Blog O' Beth said...

Perhaps this is off topic and if it is I apologize. I always thought I wanted to be a writer. I even have a college degree in creative writing but now that I'm older (wiser?) I'm realizing that my talents lay elsewhere. Editing. I really think I would be a better editor than writer. How could I get hooked up with a writer to serve this function?

Elizabeth said...

How did you keep going after you realized the truth of that first novel? (How long did that realization take?). When did you start working on the second?
Thank you!

Алексей (rewritoff) said...

Fortunately during my career as a modern dancer I’d already developed a carapace that nothing could penetrate

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I'm not an aspiring writer, but even then, your advice is sound, and in some ways, seems like it would apply to other aspects of life. :)

Heather said...

Wow. This is great information. I'm one of the writers who has a few pages written and is struggling with getting more written. The story line is in my head, but I'm having trouble getting the rest of the story written.

Do you pay the agent up front or do they just get a cut if your book is published?

bestfamily said...

Excellent points...now I just have to learn to write! I'm not very good at being interestig! LOL

april said...

How do you find the motivation to keep writing, especially on those days where you just REALLY don't want to write (or you have writer's block, so you just CAN'T)?

Kate said...

Very interesting. Now, I just need to check out your book!

Barbara H. said...

Thank you, this was very helpful!

My next question arising from the post itself is, how does one go about finding an agent?

I'd also love to know if you have an outline or a general idea where the story is going when you start writing, or do you just write the ideas you have and then develop them as you go along?

Rosa said...

This is great, thank you! I understand your reaction to that author's easy publishing story -- I was similarly angered by Diana Gabaldon's ("I thought I'd try writing a novel, for practice. I didn't really mean to show it to anyone . . .") success story, but one day I read Jim Butcher's tale of woe on his web site and felt better. Now I can add your in-between story to my mental list of author experiences.

The most important thing you all three have in common is that you FINISHED your books! (You hit the mark there.) That's what I need to focus on, because until I get it together I have nothing to send out.

Thanks and good luck to you. I will check out your books.

chelle said...

a totally odd question, but as the author do you get to chose the cover art? or does the publishing house?

Michelle Gagnon said...

Hi everyone!
I have a 2 year old and live in California, so generally don't get online until late morning- and whew! I can't believe how many comments/questions there are! I'll tackle them in order...
Toni: That is synchronicity! The truth is, I don't really narrow the ideas to one, they all end up merging over the course of the novel. James Rollins actually has a box filled with news clippings that he's found interesting over the years, and as he shakes the box and dumps it out, he'll pick a few at random and weave them together. For me, with The Tunnels I knew the setting and characters from the outset, then had the idea to incorporate Norse mythology, and as I researched that stumbled across the story of a book which drove people insane, and on from there...and with Boneyard, my initial idea was to discuss the crazy jurisdictional issues raised by how decentralized our police system is. While researching that I came across linkage blindness, the "missing missing," and the Abu Ghraib incidents came to light- and I managed to incorporate that mix into the book. I always have four or five books going at a time, and when I get stuck on one I go to another. That's another option, so that you don't limit yourself.
That's the long-winded response, but I hope it helps!

Heather said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing the treasure trove of information!

My question:
When looking for an agent, do you include a manuscript or partial manuscript with your letter?

Michelle Gagnon said...

Chas: To locate literary agents, there are a slew of resources. Online, I like this one because sometimes the print options (like Jeff Herman's books) aren't completely up to date:
http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/
There are some great books about developing a query letter and guides to the various agents, it's definitely worth checking those out as well.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Robin: Whenever I go to a reading, I always ask the author about their process because I find it fascinating how different things work for different people. I'm currently touring with Simon Wood, whose background as an engineer means he storyboards out his entire story from start to finish, complete with color-coded spreadsheets. I'm the antithesis of that- I start with a vague idea, and research as the writing progresses. I usually write the last fifty pages in a rush because I can't wait to find out what happens! It works for me, in that sometimes I surprise myself- in one scene in Boneyard, a completely different character shows up at the door than the one I was expecting, and there's something thrilling about that for me since it usually takes the story in a totally different direction. But others do outline, and that works for them. The trick is to find what works best for you.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Nature nut: That's a tricky one, poetry collections are a tough sell in this market, sadly. But I'd try pitching agents who specialize in children's books and see what they recommend. Maybe they can partner you with an illustrator, or they'll know which publisher might be interested in acquiring it.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Blog o' beth: Writers are always looking for good editors. I'd recommend setting up a website advertising your editing services, going to writing conferences and passing out cards, and joining writing groups online (there are a lot of them- try a yahoo group search) and advertising there. If you're interested in a salaried position, check sites like mediabistro.com for positions opening up. Good luck!

Michelle Gagnon said...

Elizabeth: Giving up on that first novel was heartbreaking, I'd pour so much time and so much of myself into it. Still, I figured that over fifty agents probably couldn't be wrong, gritted my teeth, and started on book 2. I actually now try to start the next book as soon as I write "The End" on the previous one, so there's always something brewing. And it's important to view a writing career as a marathon, not a sprint- you might not succeed right away, but given time and perseverance it will happen, you just need to believe in yourself and your stories.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Heather: No reputable agent asks for money up front. When you're looking, make sure they belong to or follow the canon of ethics for the AAR (listed here: http://www.aar-online.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=10337)
Once they sell your manuscript, they get a cut, the standard rate is 15% for domestic rights (a bit more for foreign).

Michelle Gagnon said...

April: I don't actually believe in writer's block (or maybe I've just been lucky). It's a luxury I've never had, since for the past decade I've written both fiction and non-fiction on strict deadlines, and if I didn't meet those deadlines I didn't get paid, which makes it tough to feed myself (and I do so love to eat :) ). I aim for five pages a day, four or five days a week (every day isn't a reality with a young daughter at home). And sometimes I get three pages, sometimes eight; and some days those are great pages, and other times they're terrible. But I don't worry about it, since that can always be corrected during the editing process. The important thing to me is to finish the story, everything else I clean up later.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Barbara h: See my reply to Robin

Michelle Gagnon said...

Good luck, Rosa! Let me know how it goes...

Michelle Gagnon said...

Chelle: Great question. When cover art time rolls around, here's how it works (mind you, this is based entirely on my personal experience, can't speak for other people):
My editor asks if I have any ideas. I usually do, and send them to her. Then the art department completely disregards that idea and comes up with something else. I was really lucky with Boneyard, since what they came up with was IMHO 100 times better than what I had suggested. If I'd hated the cover, though, we would have engaged in some back and forth until we came up with something everyone could live with. Here's a funny aside: I toured last summer with author Hailey Lind, whose series is based around famous works of art. So she really wanted this painting by Raphael on her cover so the reader would have a reference point (I know I was wishing the Da Vinci Code had some of those paintings included, weren't you?) This particular painting was of a beautiful young woman b arely covered by a gauzy piece of fabric: basically topless. They sent her the cover art, and there was the painting: except suddenly the girl was wearing an orange toga. Hailey asked her editor what had happened, and she explained that many bookstores wouldn't stock a book with nudity on the cover. SO they compromised, and now on the cover is a bust shot of the girl, cut off above the breasts.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Heather: I started with email submissions of my query letter, and depending on what the agent specified sometimes attached my first three chapters. But most agents have very strict recommendations on their websites for what they will and will not accept, and if they have their email filter blocking attachments, they might never get your submission. So make sure to check first, call if you have any questions. Thankfully many more take email submissions now than did five years ago. Although I have to say, although conferences can be expensive, if an agent you like is going to one you can afford try to attend. A face to face pitch makes a world of difference.

tabitha said...

How do you balance motherhood, writing, regular household duties, and other interests?

I have a hard time balancing it all and usually devote too much time in one area when I should be focusing on another area.

Any time management tricks you'd be willing to share?

Michelle Gagnon said...

Okay folks, I'm off to get some writing done during naptime, will check back in later today...

Jenna Consolo said...

Really great. Thank you so much for this insight! Must run to Amazon and check out your books now!

Michelle Gagnon said...

Tabitha: Will answer this one quickly. Time management is a huge issue for me- partly I'm helped in that we do have a part time nanny, and that sets my schedule to some extent. But it is a constant struggle, especially since I work from home and there's always something that can be done whether for my writing or for the house and family. A friend of mine was a full time doctor with two children under the age of three, and he got up at 5AM to write every day before work, then helped his wife with the kids before leaving the house. Then at night he tried to get another hour in after tucking the kids into bed and spending time with his wife. It took some time to finish his first book, but when he did it quickly got an agent and sold at auction. His name is Khaled Hosseini and that book was The Kite Runner (perhaps you've heard of it ;) ). So it can be difficult, but with persistence and dedication it can happen for you. Remember, even writing just a page a day will produce a book in a year.

MommySecrets said...

Thank you for sharing such thoughtful wisdom - I really enjoyed reading your advice.

I just published my first book (Great Group Games: 175 Boredom Busting Zero Prep Team Builders for All Ages), and I have another book (Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand) coming out next month.

I got really lucky with easy partnerships with my publishers, but the work is definitely daunting. The constant promoting takes so much energy and time! It's fun and incredibly rewarding, but it's definitely a hard profession!

If you have tips on publicity & marketing, I'd love to hear them!

marigold said...

Excellent advice on all counts. I have the hardest time not nit-picking over everything I write, but I know that I am also my worst editor! Thank you for posting today!

Michelle Gagnon said...

mommy secrets: Congrats on your books! As far as pr and marketing go, what you do depends largely on what kind of books it is. You need to figure out your target audience: sounds like yours are geared toward corporations, youth groups, and charitable organizations (is that right?) So I'd seek out blogs and groups affiliated with those and try to either guest blog or join their network. There are a lot of different ways to go, if you want to contact me directly please feel free.

perilloparodies said...

thank you for the tips and taking time out to share. I would wonder how your family manages while you try to balance all of your activities and interests. Mine want to be involved in everything, so i can only imagine how crazy and interrupted even one hour of "alone and productive" time can be. :-)

nellbe said...

Wow, great post and what wonderful advice, both in the post and in the questions answered.

I don't really have a question for you, just a comment regarding 'one page a day'. Lightbulb moment for me as I am always looking for a whole chunk of time to sit and write. I have a 3 year old at home too and it just never happens.

So thank you :)

Michelle Gagnon said...

Nelbe: no problem, I'm happy to share that since it made such a big difference for me! I originally had a vision in my head of a writer locked away in a room for 10 hours a day, and felt that if you couldn't do that you weren't really a writer. And that's simply not true- even ten or fifteen minutes a day counts. And perillo parodies: yes, I think my family would definitely claim it's not always as well-balanced as they hope. But I do the best I can, and they do too, and by and large it seems to work.

misty said...

Book sounds great, would love to read it. My question is... Where do you get the patience to write? Everytime I try to doit, I have to go back and redo this and redo that. I think it sounds dumb so I totally nix this. Ahhh.. I do not have the patience for it. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

planetmisty at gmail dot com

Annie said...

I think my questions were answered, great post and lots of information!

Oh, I thought of one! Do you always write your chapters in order, or do you ever skip around then tie it all together later?

(I don't have a great attention span, so sometimes I think of something and will have to work on it before I forget it!)

april said...

Another question:

Have you ever started a writing project, book or otherwise, and dump it because it didn't keep your interest?

This has happened to me before. I figured if *I* was bored with it, my reader would be, too.

If you have done this, did you go back to it later and whip it into shape/a new story, or did you just move on and leave it to "die"?

If not, what would you do if this did happen?

Michelle Gagnon said...

Misty: As I said- no redoing! Otherwise it seems like you're facing an insurmountable task and will never get through it (and as it is writers always curse the "saggy middle, those pages from 100-300 that seem interminable while you're writing them). I don't edit AT ALL while I'm writing, I find it so much easier to deal with that when I at least have a full manuscript completed.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Annie: I write them all in order, mainly because the kind of books I write tend to be linear in their timeline. But I do insert scenes, chapters, and sometimes entire characters with the second draft.

Michelle Gagnon said...

April: I haven't given up on a project yet, but tend to devote the most time to the ones I know I'll get paid for. That being said, there's a standalone novel that my agent has shopped around, with no takers yet because of the subject matter, so we're putting it on the back burner for the moment. But I rarely give up on something until it's been written, edited, and still hasn't sold (and even then I have a secret dream of dusting it off someday and trying again with it). But I have been accused of being an incurable optimist...

tjhirst said...

Thanks for your guest post. From your post and your answers, I believe you are giving us all hope, but telling us we actually have to devote some energy to the whole process and that becoming a published author doesn't just land in our laps . . . AHH, so disappointed.

I'm nervous to write the things that appeal to me because I worry that I won't have an audience. How much do I need to concern myself with an audience in the writing process?

~TAMY 3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

Do you have any one particular source you'd recommend over all as a resource for a well honed inquiry letter?

Jane Hamilton said...

Hey Michelle,
Congrats on 'Boneyard'. My dream is to one day write a book. I'm not into fiction, but lately blogging has become my passion. Has anyone published all their posts as a book? Could it be done? If so, what kind of writing would be ideal?
Nice to have got all those tips from you.
c u around, tc.

Cuddle Cottage said...

This was an informative post, thanks for the neat titbits:)

Sue said...

Great advice. Thanks for taking the time to write the original post and answer the questions.

StaceyC4 said...

Thank you so much for your encouraging advice. I've queried about a dozen agents, got accepted by two. The first did absolutely nothing and after some research I realized that they were not legit, and the second wanted a lot of money from me up front. Five were rejections. My question is, out of the ones that I have not heard back from, do I write them again and sort of check in or do I let them go and move on to my next group to query?

Thanks!

Lisa said...

I have a teenager who started writing a book over a year ago. Her life is busy and the book has been moved to the back burner. I have read most of it and think it is a great idea. She had parts of it on a blog at one point and kids were reading it, but has since taken it down.

Any advice you would give to a mom encouraging her teen. Or to the teen herself?

The Random Muse said...

I'm not a writer but my best friend is. I'm sending this link to her.

Outnumbered2to1 said...

I just wanted to thank you for all the helpful advice and tips.

Once you've published your book, do you receive royalties?

And, did you notice a significant pay increase with your second book?

Michelle Gagnon said...

tjhirst: I'd love to say that you don't need to worry about having an audience, just write the best boom you can. But sadly, that's not entirely true. Publishing is a business first and foremost, and the sales and marketing people (who generally help editors decide which books to acquire) are very concerned with demographics. Who will this book appeal to? If it's aimed at a small audience, it can be much tougher to find a publisher willing to print it. It helps greatly if your book can be said to have universal appeal.

Michelle Gagnon said...

tamy 3 sides: There's an excellent book called, "The First Five Pages," written by agent Noah Lukeman. The same agent also has a free download on Amazon entitled, "How to write a great query letter," find it here:
http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Great-Query-Letter/dp/B00122GU86/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1216754967&sr=1-3

Michelle Gagnon said...

Jane: Check out "Julie and Julia," this was a book that evolved from a woman posting about her attempt to make all of the recipes from one of Jule Childs' cookbooks within the span of a year. I don't know of any others, but I'm sure they're out there.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Stacey: Where are you finding the names of agents you're querying? I would make sure they follow AAR guidelines (which requires no fee up front). Really narrow your focus to agents who represent what you're trying to sell, and start with four or five of them (steer clear of any you already contacted, they probably won't be interested if they already passed, regardless of whether or not the manuscript has been revised). Also, try targeting a newer agent at a larger agency rather than approaching the head, often the younger agents are actively trying to build their stable of writers.

Michelle Gagnon said...

Lisa: Publishers love a great hook, and a teen writing for other teens definitely qualifies. That being said, getting an agent requires following the same advice I've written in other comments, it's all the same process. The author of "Eragon" was a teen success story, read up on what they did for more info. And good luck to her!

AlaneM said...

I'm not a writer but I'm a big fan of them in general. My dad was a elemtary librarian so I've got the bookworm gene bigtime. I was the preverbial kid with the flashlight under the covers :)
Even though I don't plan on writing a book any time soon (or ever) this was a very interesting post. I love learning about how things work & this was a neat post to read.

And I had no idea that Khaled Hosseini went through that to get his book written. And I'm so glad he did, it's one of my favorites! How cool that he's your friend :)

Michelle Gagnon said...

Outnumbered: Always get your money up front in the form of an advance- publishers can hold onto royalties for a good long time since they usually only pay them out twice/year. It can occasionally be a few years before you see a dime! I did get a small bump with the second book, but tend to sign contracts that cover two-three books at a time. We'll see what happens with the next one!

The Shafers said...

I would love to pick Michelle's brain and find out what her creative process is like:
What inspires you? How long does it take you to write a novel/story? How do you start and when do you know that you have something that that might interest people? (You don't have to answer all of the questions in order or even at all)

Michelle A. said...

I loved Michelle's comment about not reading what you've written that day - wait until the end of your story. That is so my problem with writing stories - I get to critical of myself. This was such a special treat to have Michelle on your blog -Michelle. Thanks for this!

Genny said...

I've been writing that elusive book contract for years now, and could relate to so much of what you said. Thanks for the great information. As I write this, my middle grade manuscript is being considered by an agent, and am keeping my fingers crossed. I think it's great how you touched on rejection, because I think often, it's that very rejection that makes the manuscript better in the end. Thanks!

MileHighMommy said...

Thank you so much for such an informative post! This is exactly what I needed to read this morning - "syncronicity" strikes again! It's encouraging to hear that somehow from a non-literary background can become a successfully published author. I was beginning to believe that I'd need to go to grad school and win the "publishing lotto" that you referred to. I'm definitely going to take your advice to heart.

My question is a bit more personal, but I’m curious how do you schedule your writing time around being a mom to a toddler? Do you mostly write after bedtime or do you have nanny/daycare scheduled for you to carve out some writing time to yourself? I desperately need to figure out a schedule for my writing – and my two kids are the biggest obstacle. Any ideas/suggestions are greatly welcomed!

MileHighMommy said...

Sorry - I just realized that Tabitha posted a question almost identical to mine! Yeah, I better quit "speed reading" those comments! :)

Thanks again for all your insights!

MileHighMommy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daisy said...

Process question: Do you edit and revise as you go, write the entire rough draft and then revise, or something in between? I tend to work on revising at the expense of writing new content (or new chapters), and then it feels like my progress is so little.

All Rileyed Up said...

Great advice, thanks for posting this!

Christie O. said...

wow, michelle. thanks for sharing all of that! i hope it's not to late for a question -- i just found this wonderful post.

it's along similar lines of what other people have asked -- but a little different. i too have a million different storylines in my head. but they are such different genres. i have chick-lit, mystery, and suspense and they're all quite different. i know you answered someone in response to how you pick story lines to write (by combining a lot of them -- which was actually a lightbulb moment for me, thank you!), but how do you pick the genre of book?

sometimes a write a few pages, and instead of continuing, think maybe i am making a mistake in my choice, abort, and start fresh. you know what? typing that is actually making me realize my mistake.

anyway, i guess i know the short answer (keep going!), but i really am interested in how you pick the genre in the first place, if you still have time. :)

and once you pick the genre, do you write out all the characters, their names and their qualities in an outline before writing, or do you just let that all hash out by itself?

thanks for all of this wonderful information!

angie said...

Really, really appreciated this one!

Michelle Gagnon said...

Hi again, everyone!
Sorry, I went to a conference and missed some of the later posts, so I'll answer them here (as well as announcing who won the signed edition of The Tunnels!!!)
The Shafers: I draw inspiration from a lot of sources. Boneyard developed from both an autobiography of Ted Bundy that I read (cheerful, I know :) ) and from a chat with a FBI agent friend of mine who described a phenomenon known among law enforcement as the "missing missing," people whose disappearances are rarely reported. Then I build out from there, it's hard to say exactly how since each book in the result of dozens of smaller ideas.
Mile high mommy: I'm lucky to have a part time nanny, because i'm definitely not one of those people who can write at the crack of dawn or at midnight. But I have friends who do exactly that (like Allison Brannan, who has a ton of kids and still manages to produce at least a book a year!)

Christie o: I don't know that I chose a genre so much as a genre chose me. You really have to write whatever story seems to be flowing the most easily. There's a publishing adage that says if you try to follow the market you'll never catch up, because even if vampires are hot this year, even if your book about the undead sold today it'd take a year or so to get to market, at which point princesses might be the big thing and vampires passe. So you have to write the book you want to write and hope for the best (a good book is a good book, and will usually sell no matter the subject matter). That's doesn't mean you have to lock yourself into just one, though-maybe that means you work on a few books at a time, and they all advance piecemeal. But I can say that at the moment chick lit is not selling well, thrillers are.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Michelle! If there are any other questions, I can always be reached at michelle@michellegagnon.com.
And congrats to j @ www.jellyjules.com, you won!