Monthly Archives: October 2016

5 Big Reasons Literary Agents are Important Beyond the Book Deal

If you’re working on a book and aiming at the traditional publication route, acquiring a literary agent feels like the key to make all your dreams come true. An agent can submit the Big 5 Publishers, after all, and from there your book can be made available anywhere and everywhere around the world.

The thing is, real life isn’t like a book. After you sign the book deal and work to make your novel all shiny, your life is not emblazoned with a bold THE END. (At least, I sure hope not!) Life goes on. As you write more books and develop more of a relationship with your publisher–or publishers–it means a lot to have a staunch advocate working to better your career. Here’s what an agent might do beyond reading the fine print on your contract.

Clockwork Dagger– Know the trends.
The publishing world is small. As readers and authors, we hear some news about deals and see the new releases, but agents follow the pulse of the industry and know about the books that will be out in a year, two, three years. That’s why an agent might love a manuscript that lands in their slush pile, but they might not pick it up–there might be a glut of similar books that are already signed and in the publication process.

– Edit.
Not all agents edit. Not all authors want an agent who edits. My agent edits and I love her for it, even though her feedback is brutal at times. Not only is she great at critiquing, but–to return to the first point–she knows the industry and what makes a book strong or weak in this particular market. That’s insight beyond what I can get from my fellow authors.

– Act as mediator.
When you establish a relationship with a publisher, agents become this wonderful buffer between author and editor. They get to nag on your behalf. They get to email/phone and pester about late manuscript edits or financial statements or book cover progress. That doesn’t mean agents handle ALL interactions with your editor. A lot of day-to-day interactions are directly between editor and author, but agents are there to call on when things get awkward.

– Career guidance.
Some agents work with authors on a book by book basis. Others make a pact for the full career of the author, and that’s the kind of relationship I have. Here’s the thing: the book industry is weird. Your book might not sell. Editors come and go. Imprints fail. Publishers are bought-out. A supportive agent looks beyond the book you’re working on now, and on to the next series, or a new series. Again, they see the trends. They see what is selling–or not. I rely on my agent’s business savvy to guide me along.

– Cheerleader/superhero.
Writing is my happiness, my joy. Sometimes, it is also a particular kind of hell. My agent is there to talk me off the ledge. She’s not just a cheerleader, she’s a superhero, cape and all. Agents are there for the good times (book deal, whoo hoo!) and also the bad times: when rough drafts stay particularly rough, when deadlines are zooming by, when the publisher is supporting about as well as a ten-year-old bra.

So sure, an agent will help you get a book deal and make sure the contract is fair, but they do so much more. They are there to help you along, book after book, and during those lulls in between books, too. A supportive agent is there to do whatever they possibly can to ensure that your writing career consists of more “TO BE CONTINUEDS” than “THE ENDS.”

Breath of EarthBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

Mid-Week Rant About Connecting With Readers & Fans

Legends tell of a time when authors did one thing and one thing only. They wrote. Yes, they had to do it longhand, with paper and pencil or pen. I know what you’re thinking, it was barbaric, and even when technology blossomed and offered writers the opportunity to embrace typewriters and eventually computer keyboards and printers, it remained a simpler time, because authors still did one thing only. They wrote.

But the same technology that went on to give us global-find-and-replace and online submissions stole from us too. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough just to write.

Today’s authors are being told they need to connect with their readers beyond simply writing novels for them. Once upon a time this meant showing up at a convention and getting yourself on a panel or three, holding up your latest book during the introductions and bloviating to an audience for a fifty-minute hour. For the less extroverted among you this was never a good option, and in any case it’s too limiting. Here in the 21st century we need greater audience penetration across both time and space. In other words, you need an “online presence.”

What form this takes and how much time you put into it are critical questions and perhaps the best way to answer them is to talk to those who have gone before, but in the end you’re going to have jump into the deep end and see what works (and doesn’t) for you. Let’s look at some of your options:

  • Message Boards – whether the classic F/SF bulletin boards or alt.groups of yesteryear or their modern day equivalents, messages boards and listservs allow you to read through scores of posts at your own pace, responding to some, starting your own threads, getting caught up in flame wars, and never really knowing who is on the other side of some screen-name or user-handle. What’s not to love (other than the time suck)?
  • Author Webpages – some versions of popular wisdom believes authors need to have their own webpages. Nevermind whether your artistic taste is limited to words, you probably know a friend, or friend of a friend, who can throw something up for a couple hundred bucks. Imagine, a digital platform dedicated to you, replete with color images of your book covers and links (with affiliation codes) to take the hungry viewer directly to an online store to buy your titles. Updated at whatever frequency you decide, the trick question here is how are you going to lure readers to your page?
  • Author Blogs – static content doesn’t keep people coming back, I don’t care how gorgeous those book covers are. But if you’ve got something to say (or think you do), a blog gives you a soapbox all your own. As with author pages though, the challenge is reaching the people you want to hear you.
  • Social Networking Sites – these continue to evolve, some endure and some fade quickly. Who remembers Friendster? MySpace? LiveJournal (okay, I still have a LJ account, don’t judge me). The current king is Facebook. The threads aren’t quite as endless as message boardsd, but thanks to near realtime responses (not everyone is on deadline, so they’re free to hang out and patrol social networking sites and pounce!) with supporting links and NSFW images at everyone’s fingertips the vitriol can be even more vicious and escalate quickly. This to me is the irony behind Facebook’s use of the term “Friend,” but I digress. Still, a compelling post could be “shared” and circle the world in seconds, garnering the attention of readers who had never before heard of you or your work. Surely that’s worth it, right?
  • Twitter – if Facebook is the free verse of social media, Twitter is the imposition of structure associated with writing sonnets. The joy of 140 characters is that even the longest post is short (although nothing’s stopping people from rapidly posting a long string of 140-character tweets to express more involved ideas or points). Personally, I’m finding it refreshing after the ugliness growing in so many threads of older networking sites. Your experiences may be completely different (but don’t say I didn’t warn you).
  • Newsletters – If you already have a fanbase, holding on to them between books can be critical; newsletters can be key. Subscription-based, your readers opt in or out at will. Part of the allure is the more intimate tone you can achieve with a self-selected group (compare a convention kaffee klatsch to a large panel-style Q&A). More, you can keep your followers happy by doling out bonus materials not otherwise available. These can be deleted scenes, ARCs, contests for Tuckerizations, advance viewing of chapters from a work-in-progress and so on. Yes, you could offer these on a website or social network site, but a newsletter puts you in control of who’s going to see them and when. Instead of relying on your reader finding your posts, once they’ve subscribed you’ll be sending the newsletter directly to their inboxes!

There are plenty of other options I’ve skipped over but the above grouping should get you started. You may want to do only one or you may decide to dive in and try a bit of each. Your largest constraint is going to be the time you can devote to the medium. And remember, whether it’s the witty twitter bon mot, or a semi-regular blog post with entertaining content, or a themed podcast, when authors show something of their personality, readers have the opportunity to connect at a deeper level. It’s that same illusion that makes us feel like we really know that actor whose role we’ve followed on television for years. Your goal is to create a feeling of intimacy, to let the reader into your life (or at least what you’re presenting as your life). Done well, you transform from just a name on the spine of a book to a real person, someone your readers might even come to care about more than their favorite characters from your books.

Lawrence M. SchoenLawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology; has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula, and WSFS awards; recently won the Cóyotl award for Best Novel of 2015; is a world authority on the Klingon language; operates the small press Paper Golem; and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.

You can follow him at his website at and on Twitter at @klingonguy, or you can even subscribe to his quarterly Newsletter.

5 Things Writers can Learn from the Presidential Campaign

A campaign postcard for McKinley and Roosevelt for the election of 1900

A campaign postcard for McKinley and Roosevelt for the election of 1900

1. Dialog is key.  A scene is so much more engaging when two people are in it. Especially if those two people each have their own agenda, and each is trying hard to advance it.  Pay attention to body language, setting, their reactions to each other and reactions from those around them.  Also, dialog is a great way to build tension on a variety of levels.  A debate is a heck-of-a-lot more entertaining than a stump speech.

2.  Focus on your tribe.  It’s been said that all you need to be a successful author is a small, dedicated audience who want everything you write.  These are the folks who are going to share your work around, who will be eager to read the next thing, to cheer you on, even when things look rough.

3.  Nail the details.  Maybe you’re writing fantasy or science fiction or something nobody’s ever seen before.  Doesn’t matter. If you get down the details of place, time, character, they will create the image you need to build in the reader’s mind.  If you are working from any factual basis, like historical fiction or contemporary, getting the details wrong will blow the reader’s trust.  Make a few mistakes about the wrong things, and they’ll never let you forget it.

4.  Engage with your big ideas.  What is it you really want to say?  Are you saying it?  Are you working to your fullest to make the strongest work you can?

5.  Polls are important–but polls don’t know everything.  Yep, you’ve got to submit. You’ve got to get the work out there to be read, and sometimes it won’t stick.  The editor rejects it, the readers give it low reviews (or worse, no reviews), it comes out the same day as something else that distracts the world from your great work.  Take what you can from these experiences, but maintain faith that your work is worthy and that, even if you didn’t win today, if you keep working, you’ll get a chance to rise again.