Why Authors Still Need Agents

Recently, I was lucky enough to witness a keynote speech by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. He talked about a day when writers supersede agents and publishers. He even made a joke of it:

One day, an author will tell some friends, “I just got a book deal.”
And they reply, “I’m sorry.”

This elicited groans from the audience (mostly writers with a handful of agents and editors). I agree in principle with Mr. Coker. Publishers have dropped the ball. They need to cut their own costs to become competitive and offer authors a greater piece of the revenue stream. Amazon’s 70% is far better than the 12% you get from publishers.

I still see a place for agents. Next time you’re on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, troll through the lists of available ebooks. You’ll see plenty of indie authors. That’s a good thing. The ebook has become the great equalizer. Yet, try purchasing one of these indie books.

I did.

I tried quite a few. None were worth the $0.99. Typos were rife. Even when they weren’t the story sagged or had horrific info dumps, or just bad writing. What all these books had in common was a lack of agents and proper editing.

Agents serve as gatekeepers. They champion good books and turn the rest to the door. It’s true, that agents take less and less clients these days, but this is an issue based on the poor state of the publishers. If those corporate guys can get things turned around, I think you’d see many more author’s picked up.

The truth is, as a reader, I want someone to vouch my books. I don’t have a lot of time to read, and wasting it on poor prose is infuriating. That’s not to say that lousy books can’t make it through the agent and publisher system. They can and do. But usually I sour on these as a matter of style. Agents, at the very least, make sure the writing is free of errors and has a decent story.

Tim Kane

SDSU Writer’s Conference: Agentpalooza

Okay, it really needs to be agent and editorpalooza. This conference is crazy cool. If you’ve never attended, you can sign up for a speed dating session where you get ten-minutes to meet agents and editors to pitch your manuscript. The first time I did this, in 2008, I was nervous as all get out. I felt that if they said no, then I would be crushed and they didn’t like me.

Well, I’ve grown a bit as a writer. After plenty of critiques and hundreds of thrown out pages, I’m coming from a different place. My goal was still to pitch my manuscript, but I also wanted information and to feel the vibe of each agent and editor. I’ve known too many writers who got hooked up with the wrong agent.

Fortunately, all of the professionals I met today were stupendous. Here’s the breakdown (with links in case you want to check them out).

Kat Brzozowski Assistant Editor at St. Martin’s Press
She was my very first conference (as in run from the keynote to the Catalina room). She was great and gave me very specific feedback.

Michelle Wolfson from Wolfson Literary Agency
I’ve followed her on Twitter for a while now. She always offers excellent advice. I sat with her today at lunch and she broke down the simultaneous versus exclusive submission (I’ll blog about it next week).

Dawn Michelle Frederick from Red Sofa Literary
Dawn and I clicked early on our love of all things Goth and Darren Shan books. We met up later at the wine and cheese where the conversation at the table quickly disintegrated to throwbacks to the 80s and antique typewriters.

Melissa Frain Associate Editor at Tor Books
It was awesome to meet with Melissa. I was under the impression (probably with others) that Tor was only about SciFi. So wrong. They have a thriving YA section. We chatted about how some YA books can be bogged down in the dreary and depressing.

Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary
Taylor was impressive with the level of her critique, quoting specific pages and offering great advice at line tightening. Bonus, I also found her on Literary Rambles (my go to site for agents).

My most favorite workshop of the day had to be Genius Plotting by Louella Nelson. In the fifty minutes I was there, I was able to plot out my recent novel. Amazing workshop.

I’ll meet another agent tomorrow as well as attend more workshops.

Tim Kane

SDSU Writer’s Conference: The Secret of Writing

It has been four years since I last visited this conference. Despite being a San Diego native, I had plenty of growth as a writer to accomplish before revisiting this event. In 2008, I had written several novels, but had no support group. Immediately after my first conference, I knew that it would be a learning experience. Afterward, I joined two excellent critique groups, rewrote my novel, and then finished another. In short, I went from wannabe writer to accomplished writer.

Even though I have a book published, along with several short stories, I still haven’t hit it big with the novel. That is my goal, along with the many other attendees this weekend. The golden prize. Yet, four years ago, this was my one and only goal. Since then, I heed some great advice I read from Harlan Ellison interview.

There is only one secret, and the secret is this: Anybody can become a writer. The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer. Day after month after year after story after book. That’s the secret. And if you can do that and produce a body of work, no matter how large or small it is, that is true and can pull the plow, then you’re a writer. If you are not prepared to spend your life doing that, then, for christsake, don’t do it.

So what do I intend to take from the SDSU Writer’s Conference? Information, mostly. I intend to listen closely to the agents, editors, publishers, and writers there. There are several workshops on eBooks and self publishing, which I can see will play an important part to the future of writing and publishing. I’m also at the crucial first stages of a new novel, and that means my brain is perched on a precipice. A push in the right direction can lead to a awesome slide through 70,000 words of prose.

Here are the courses I see as the most intriguing. Obviously I can’t be several places at once. I plan to tweet on what I see and hear. I was surprised that there was no official hashtag for the conference. I created #sdsuwc to fill the void. Also, I was shocked at how few people were tweeting. Writers as a whole are attached to twitter the way most artists cling to alcohol. My only guess is that most of the attendees haven’t realized that tweeting is an effective marketing tool. (These are the workshops I feel I don’t need, but I’m sure they’re quite good).

Saturday

9:30 – 10:20

Establish A Pattern, Then Twist It by Yvonne Nelson Perry
I’m always interested in plot structure and how to twist it. Should make a good workshop.

10:30 – 11:20

Genius Plotting I by Louella Nelson
Again, you can see I’m drawn to structure.

Self Publishing–A New Gateway to Success by M. Louisa Locke
Curious about the options and taboos of the new eBook process.

1:00 – 1:50

No Sag Structure by Q Lindsey Barrett
Yes, I’m obsessed with structure.

Evoking Emotion by Angela Hunt
This is a weak spot for me, so I’d like to learn how to polish it up.

2:00 – 2:50

Fiction is Written in Scenes by Yvonne Nelson Perry
I’m a big fan of Goal, Conflict, Disaster, which breaks writing into scenes. Curious about Perry’s take.

X-Ray Your Plot—Make Sure Your Structure is Sound by Angela Hunt
Okay, maybe I picked too many of these types of workshops. I know I can’t go to all of them.

3:00 – 3:50

Genius Plotting II by Louella Nelson
In case I miss the first one.

Self Publishing–Eight Tips on Selling eBooks on Amazon by M. Louisa Locke
Could be a rehash of the previous workshop, but I’ll need to attend at least one of the self publishing sessions.

4:00 – 4:50

ePublishing, POD, and the Future of Publishing for the Writer  by Bob Mayer
This looks like it’s chock full of good information.

Sunday

10:00 – 10:50

Short Cuts to Deep Characterization by Angela Hunt
I want to focus on building deeper and more well rounded characters. Every little bit helps.

11:00 – 11:50

Beyond the eBook Uploaded — How Do You Sell It by Bob Mayer
Marketing is the key. Looking forward to this one.

1:00 – 1:50

Layered, Nuanced, Original: Crafting Characters by Q Lindsey Barrett
This sounds like it’s right up my alley.

Those are my picks. If I see you there, don’t be afraid to say hi.

Tim Kane