Professional Development for Aspiring Authors

A while back, I came across a random link to the Brenda Novak On-line Auction to raise money for diabetes research. The thing that drew my eye was the number of auction items where you got to spend one on one time with agents or editors.

Brenda Novak Online Auction

Holy cow!

For an aspiring author, is there a better opportunity out there? I think not.

I sat on my couch for a good two hours bidding for my desired auction item, time with an agent that I greatly admire. Word to the wise – because it’s for charity, they want to raise as much money as possible, and every time there is a new highest bid, they give the bidders an additional ten minutes to up the bid. This is what led to two hours and countless moments of frustration on my couch. That said, I was successful! Not only did I win time with an agent, but I’d contributed to a great cause that I believe in.

So, you all want to know what happened, right? Well, recently I had my conference call with the agent. In advance I sent her five synopses of the projects that I have in mind, and we talked through each one. If you ever get an opportunity like this, here’s what I advise and what I learned:

  • Be respectful of the agent/editor’s time. Most of them will have hundreds of queries sitting in their inbox or manuscripts to read. Make every minute worth the time – yours and theirs.
  • Be prepared and ask for clear guidance. I was definitely as prepared as I thought I could be for the session. I’d sent my synopses a week in advance, but what I learned from the experience is that I should have asked for more information up front. We were discussing story ideas, so perhaps instead of synopses of 5 stories, I could have sent longer outlines of 2 or 3. The agent had done her homework and gone through my work, but she had a lot of questions that would have been answered had I prepared outlines vs. synopses.
  • Learn about your genre. I’ll admit it – I spend much more time writing and thinking about my stories than I do reading and researching the industry. It’s just the way my brain ticks. I think of myself as a chick lit author (a dirty word to some – completely fine with others), and had always assumed that after the chick lit boom, that it had been absorbed by romance. I mean, the girl always gets the guy, right? The most powerful thing that I learned from my time with the agent is that my work is better described as women’s fiction. Would the story be unsatisfactory if the couple didn’t get together? Sure. But it would be MORE unsatisfactory if the girl didn’t get the dream job, prove herself, or overcome whatever her personal obstacle is. It’s about the girl, the heroine’s journey, and the guy is icing on the cake. Now that I know this, it’s power in my pocket. I can now refocus my search for an agent and have better luck of finding the right fit.
  • Give yourself a pep talk. While I had only just written a post on how to take feedback or criticism of your work, it’s a whole different thing to have an hour and a half with an agent. I’ll be completely honest, in the moment the experience was brutal. I had many a moment during the call where I asked myself what I was doing, who did I think I was calling myself a writer, and that I should just give it all up. So many times I wanted to say, “but if you just read the book, it would all make sense!” But at the end of the call, I knew that no matter how bad I felt, I would feel better for it the next day. And do you know what? I did. The next day I felt, and still feel, extremely positive about the experience. I learned so much! I realized that I’m not a romance writer. I write women’s fiction. I realized that my novel has a better chance with a British agent, as it’s set in the U.K. and has U.K. sensibilities. I can now move forward with more chance of success than I ever could before, and for all the doubt I had on the call, I thought long and hard about the feedback I have received from those who have actually read and loved my work. That said, give yourself a pep talk before you meet with an agent or an editor (even if you’re pitching to them) and remind yourself the it’s not personal (even though it will feel that way), and remind yourself that this is a learning experience above all else.
  • Say thank you. Well before I had my actual call with the agent, I did a bit of digging online (mainly on her Twitter account) and found something small that I could send to her as a thank you afterwards. I knew that no matter what would happen, it would be a valuable experience, and wanted to make sure she knew that I appreciated it. I also know that I’m going to be running into this agent again at a conference, so I wanted to leave a positive impression with her.

So, why have I called this post professional development? Because it has given me tremendous insight into the industry and my work in a way that online courses or writers’ associations couldn’t. Is it a lot of money? Potentially. That’s another point, have a maximum bid in mind and DON’T exceed it. But what I learned from that one call was more valuable than a year of reading online articles on the publishing industry. Would I recommend you try it? Absolutely.

Just make sure to wear your big girl panties.


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