My First Full Year as a Literary Agent: Six Lessons I Learned

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So last year was my first full year working as a literary agent.

I had a lot of awesome victories that I shouted to the social media winds and posted about here. I signed a number of rockstar authors, from well-established authors to debuts. You can check out my team in this handy Twitter list. They are all wonderful. I went to a bundle of conferences all around the country, so many that I can’t remember all the places. I even sold some books I can’t quite announce just yet.

And the ones I did announce? I’m so proud of them.

And while all of that sounds awesome, there were some big hurdles in the mix, and some major lessons I took away. Because for every author I picked up, there was another I didn’t get to work with. There were conferences that were, sadly, not a good use of my time. And I’m going to try to get better at handling all of these things.

Here are some of the lessons I learned, that I hope you can learn from too. Read more

Author Platform and Social Media: Four Ways to Build Platform That Have Nothing to do with Your Twitter Following

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I’m not even sure what some of these are.

A few weeks ago, I was right outside Nashville for the Tennessee Writing Workshop, meeting with authors, agents, and editors from all over the place.

I love these kind of events. It’s a great opportunity to talk to writers about the industry, meet people in the industry, and just have a lovely time talking about what everyone there absolutely loves. Making books happen.

It’s also a chance to hear wrong things being said.

One talk that always comes up at these kind of events… is the ever popular “platform” discussion. I talked a bit about that in this post a few months ago, discussing how it’s important to build a platform for YOU, and not just for an individual title, and how the discussion of platform often gets confused there.

A few authors asked me about getting their social media following up in order to improve their platform, and were surprised when I told them that wasn’t the answer. This is another way the concept of platform gets confused. People thinking that platform means social media.

It doesn’t. Though, it is a nice part of it.

I can absolutely see how this happens. You see people that have those visible online numbers, whether they are behind-the-scenes industry folks or authors with a big following, and it seems like maybe that’s the answer. Or, maybe you’re getting bad advice, from people who think platform is just social media, and likely have some kind of #social #media #influencer hashtag nonsense in their profile and follow an insane number of people.

“I’m a social media expert! Look at these 47,425 people I follow and #engage with! #influencer #brands!”

Get the hell out of here.

If that’s the case, please delete that from your brain and maybe those people from your timeline. If you hear platform and think, “okay, I need to tweet, get followers, and figure out how to get a blue checkmark” I’m here to help you stop doing that.

It’s super important to think about platform outside of just how many Twitter followers you potentially have, how big your Facebook fan page is, or what your Instagram engagement looks like. Especially as these free services quickly become more pay-for-play and frequently shift their algorithms.

“So wait, WTF is platform if it isn’t my social media following?!”

Platform is about how many people you can potentially get your work out in front of, not how many people can potentially read your tweets. It’s about how big your potential audience is and how easy it is for you to reach them, not how big your Twitter following might be.

I’m stressing potential because remember, there are no guarantees in this game. 100% of your audience is never going to buy your book. Let’s just get that out there now.

Platform is about building that little bio in your potential future book, in the jacketflap copy, that says stuff like “[Author Name] has written for [Publication], [Publication], [Publication], and regularly appears on [Media Outlet] and [Podcast].”

It’s about what you’re doing off of social media. For those of you who think platform takes away from your writing… you couldn’t be more wrong. Here are some ways to increase your platform, that have nothing to do with your social media following, and have everything to do with writing.

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Takes work, it’s not that easy. Image via Hover.

1. Blogging For Yourself (But Also For Others)

One of the many ways you can build your platform outside of using social media, is to focus on blogging and creating a home base for those blogs. I ramble a bit about that here, but to summarize? Create a website where you aren’t just showcasing your work, but discussing the work of others. Yes, you can dish out advice (I’m doing that now!) and talk about your writing process (many authors do!), but the way to build traffic and a following? Talk. About. Others.

Absolutely perfect examples of this can be seen via Dahlia Adler, Ava Jae, and Chuck Wendig, who frequently use their personal sites to uplift others, and not just talk about their own books. This helps you develop an audience, which in turn, helps you develop a platform. There’s a reason you’ll see cover reveals on Dahlia’s blog or guest posts on Wendig’s site. Because they’ve developed a platform and an audience for more than their own writing.

And when it is time to promote their books, that audience is there, happy to about what they’re working on.

2. Blogging For Others (But Also Yourself)

So you have your website going, it’s doing well, but you want to extend your reach. One misconception when it comes to platform, specifically when it comes to people assuming platform is social media, is that you have to own your platform.

You don’t. In fact, some of the best examples of platform are outlets that aren’t owned by the writer.

Think about it. Do actors and musicians own the stages they perform on? Okay sure, a few probably do. But not all of them. And hundreds of thousands of people pass through these places week after week. Think of yourself as the musician, and other media outlets as your potential stage. You don’t own the place, but your voice is welcome, and has the potential to reach a much larger audience.

Me? I write for Book Riot, Barnes & Noble’s YA blog, Paste Magazine, and hell, anywhere else that will have me. That there, is an example of platform building. These are outlets that could potentially cover what I’m writing outside my blogging life, with a staff of writers who might consider it. There’s obviously no guarantee there, but it’s a possibility. Remember, platform is about potential. 100% of your audience is never going to buy your book.

Some more examples:

Michele Filgate: One of my favorite book people on the Internet, Michele writes for dozens of places. LitHub, BuzzFeed, The Millions, Salon. Check out her list of places here. And let me tell you. I will be one of the very first in line at my local bookstore when she has a book on the shelves. I don’t even need to know what it’s about.

Morgan Jerkins: A fellow Book Riot contributor, Morgan can be found on Catapult (along with Michele), BuzzFeed, LitHub, The Guardian, Electric Literature… the list goes on. She has a book hitting with Harper next year, and I can’t wait.

Fran Wilde: Fantasy author extraordinaire, just had a huge piece in The Washington Post. You can catch her writing for GeekMom, Tor.com, i09, and tons of other places that are hugely on brand (frand?) for her, in addition to all her short stories (which would fall into the fourth thing I’ll mention below) that get published everywhere.

Michael Waters: I’m waiting for this kid to become a bestselling author in the next few years. You can catch Michael writing for B&N Teens, The Guardian, MTV, The Establishment… the list goes on. He’s 18. Future rockstar, keep an eye on him please.

You can also spot a few of my clients blogging in other places, like Mike Chen (The Mary Sue) and Diana Urban (BookBub).

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Just don’t drop it after. Or maybe do. Depends how well it goes. Photo via LinkedIn.

3. Speaking Engagements

What are you an expert in? Are you writing non-fiction? Take every opportunity you can to get yourself in front of people. See if you can rope yourself into a TedX talk. Nerd Nites, Creative Mornings events… opportunities like these, which often come with a video of your talk, will elevate your platform. Because hey, maybe you can come back. Maybe they’ll dish out copies of your book at the next event.

One of my authors, Lindsey Smith, tours the country talking to people about health and wellness. When she presented that, and the incredible numbers in her audiences, I signed her immediately. It’s an audience that wants her work, and will be there when something new comes out.

One of my friends from back home, Marisa McClellan, is another great example of platform done, particularly with speaking engagements. She does a TON of classes and workshops centered around her blog and popular canning books.

4. Publishing (But Not Blogs or Books)

“But that’s what I’m trying to do!” You scream at me from across the Internet. I’m not talking about your book. “But I’m already blogging!” Nope. Not talking about your blogging either. I’m talking about short stories, bits of non-fiction, projects like that.

I get to rep someone as unbelievably prolific as Ilana Masad, and I’m extremely lucky. It feels like every other week, she’s got another piece published someplace, or she’s winning another honor from someone. I’m frankly intimidated by her, and it’s great. She’s published in an array of places. Split Lip Magazine, The Butter, Catapult, The New Yorker, Joyland, Marie Claire, Electric Literature, Broadly… from fiction to non-fiction. She works hard to be published often, and in outstanding places. Look at her bibliography here, which will likely update by the time I post this.

Having this fantastic roster of places you’ve built relationships is absolutely an example of platform.

By writing for outlets like this, getting published regularly, you have yet another place to potentially push your book when that time comes. Maybe they’ll cover your book when it gets released. Maybe they’ll give you an interview or a review. Potential, potential, potential. It’s there.

Some more great examples:

Celeste Ng: Author of one of my favorite literary novels in forever, Celeste has short stories and non-fiction essays published in Gulf Coast, One Story, The New York Times, and more. Check out her bibliography on her website, and PLEASE go buy Everything I Never Told You immediately.

Robin Black: My former graduate school professor and mentor, before her two amazing books hit she had short stories published in The New York Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Southern Review, One Story, and other places. You can check out her list here.

Emily St. John Mandell: She wrote Station Eleven. Need I say more? You can see some of her amazing pieces in The New Republic and over on The Millions, where she’s a staff writer.

And there you go. I’ve prattled enough. I’ll probably add to the “examples” list, and if you’ve got a few, add them in the comments!

TL;DR? Build your platform off of social media, by building yourself a website, blogging for yourself (but focusing on others), and working on other writing projects. It’s about more than Twitter, you guys.

Deals: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed Acquired by Soho Teen

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Update: Samira’s debut has been re-titled Love, Hate & Other Filters! You can add it on Goodreads here!

Oh man.

Here we go.

Back in February, during one of the many publishing pitch events on Twitter (#PitMatch, a team up between the crew of #PitMad and #MSWL), I came across Samira Ahmed’s query, which, and I’ve said it multiple times and in emails to editors, I favorited so fast I nearly broke my mouse.

Here’s that original tweet:

Four days later, I called and offered to represent her. She dishes about all that here.

Four days. That’s how fast I read this manuscript. Faster, really. I read it in a single weekend. It was beautiful, hilarious, and heartbreaking. It felt important and utterly needed. A story of a girl torn between worlds, the one of her family and the one she wants. Of her family’s dreams and her own. Of two boys. Of two futures. And it all comes falling down when a terrorist attack hits a nearby city, and the alleged bomber shares a last name with her and her family.

It asks a gripping question. What happens to the one Muslim girl, and the one Muslim family, in a town suddenly rocked by fear and peers driven by misguided hatred? 

It’s my belief that this book will give Muslim teenagers a powerful place to see themselves in literature, during a time when hatemongers are continued to be given a platform in our media. I hope they see this book and know they are wanted. That their voices matter.

In fact, while discussing the book on Twitter this weekend, one teenager sent out an excited tweet about the book, and it made me tear up:

This book tackles important themes with grace and breathtaking prose, and I’m so thrilled to announce it’ll be on shelves soon.

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LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed has been acquired by Daniel Ehrenhaft at Soho Teen, the YA imprint of Soho Press. Daniel worked on my favorite book of 2015, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, and is an incredibly talented editor who understands and believes in this book’s message. It’ll hit shelves everywhere in the Spring of 2018.

Epic thanks to Daniel at the team at Soho for taking this book on. Be sure to follow Samira on Twitter, and send her all the congrats.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more crying to do.

And remember, querying authors. Social media is a fantastic resource. Samira and I found each other there, and just a few months later… here we are.

Updated: Authors & Editors That Can Touch Up Your Manuscript & Query Letter

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Recently, I had my friend Katherine Locke touch up some manuscripts by authors I’ve signed. She offers editorial services when she has the time, and I really wanted her thoughts on these particular books. I won’t say much about those books, but she was the perfect person to have working on them, rockstar that she is.

If you haven’t picked up Katherine’s books in her District Ballet Company series, please do. One of them, Turning Pointe, is even free!

But wait. Why have someone else looking over the manuscripts by the authors I’ve been signing?

Well, here’s the thing, writerly types. I can still miss things that need work. Generally when I’m picking up an author, I’ll have read through their manuscript pretty quickly (if I’m in love with a manuscript, I read it like I read any book… by devouring it), and when it comes time for edits, I’ll read it again, slowly, making notes. Then usually another time. And then again.

By the time we’re ready for sub, I’ve likely read the book four, maybe five times. At that point, I’m probably missing stuff. If I didn’t catch it by the fourth or fifth read through, I’m not going to. This is when another set of eyes is SO key. This goes for my work process as an agent and as a writer, as well as any author working on a query letter or a rough manuscript. They’ll catch things you might have missed, and pick up on issues that are closer to them.

TL; DR: More eyes, means a better letter or a better book.

After getting such fantastic results from Katherine, I thought it might be a good idea to roundup other authors and editors that offer up freelance editorial work. Because who better to help you work on that query / manuscript, then someone who has been there before? Authors and editors know what solid queries and manuscripts should look like, having read and written so many.

So… here we go!

Last Updated: July 18th, 2016

Katherine Locke (@Bibliogato): As I mentioned above, Katherine Locke is the author of the District Ballet Company series, a digital exclusive New Adult series with Carina / Harlequin. She knows her genre well, and works on Young Adult, Romance, and middle grade books. She offers up help on query letters, full reads, and line edits of manuscripts. [Website]

Laura Lee Anderson (@LLAWrites): Laura, like me, is an author with Bloomsbury’s digital imprint Bloomsbury Spark. Her novel, Song of Summer… well, you’re going to have a lot of feelings after reading it. Have tissues ready. She looks at query letters and full manuscripts. [Website]

Helene Dunbar (@Helene_Dunbar): Helene is one of my favorite YA authors, and you’ll be able to read a short story of her’s in my adoption anthology in 2017. She writes heartbreaking reads, and is available to work on your manuscripts! Details can be found on her site. [Website]

Lauren Spieller (@laurenspieller): Lauren’s one of my favorite book people on Twitter. She’s interned in publishing and worked on a number of manuscripts for authors that have books due out soon. You can check out her testimonials here, and of course follow her on Twitter. [Website]

Rhonda Helms (@RHelmsBooks): Rhonda is a super prolific author, with books published by Simon Pulse, Kensington, and Spencer Hill Press. You can learn more about all her books on her website. She freelance edits, and you can learn more about her rates and past clients on her editorial site. [Website]

Nicole Frail (@nfrail17): Nicole’s an editor over at Sky Horse Press (they picked up one of my author’s books recently), and she’s also written a few non-fiction titles of her own. You can check out her rates here. [Website]

Cait Spivey (@CaitSpivey): Cait’s also an editor, working with Reuts Publications, and specializes in YA and New Adult. Here’s a bit about her interests from her site. “I specialize in YA and NA speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, etc.). I LOVE projects with strong women, diverse characters (including LGBTQ, race, ethnicity, disability, etc), and surprising plots.” [Website]

Nicole Tone (@nicoleatone): An author / editor who works at Panda Moon Press and has a novel coming out with REUTS at the end of 2016, Nicole’s available for freelance editing. Contact her for more information regarding her services. [Website]

Kisa Whipkey (@KisaWhipkey): Kisa’s author editor over at REUTS available for freelance editorial work. She likes working on fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, mystery, some horror, and short stories / novellas. [Website]

Amanda Foody (@AmandaFoody): A YA author repped by Folio Literary, Amanda does query critiques, for free! She specializes in YA and MG queries, so only send her those. Details on her blog. [Website]

Meredith Rich (@MeredithJHRich): Meredith is the superstar editor over at Bloomsbury Spark, and acquired my YA novel! If she made that readable, you better believe she can work on your book. She’s available occasionally, particularly for query edits and genres outside what she acquires. Contact her for availability.  [Website]

Liz Furl (@LizLazzara): With words on The Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Bustle, and more, Liz has an impressive publication history. And she runs a lit journal! Contact her regarding availability for edits. [Website]

Tessa Gratton (@tessagratton): According to Twitter, author Tessa Gratton (check out her novel Blood Magic, which came out with Random House in ’11) is available for select projects. Contact her for availability. [Website]

E.C. Myers (@ecmyers): The author of Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, and The Silence of Six, Eugene is an awesome YA author that I’m a big fan of. And guess what? He offers up some freelance editing services! Manuscript critiques and the like. Drop him a note regarding availability. [Website]

Jon McGoran (@jonmcgoran): An author with Tor, Jon’s DRIFT series is a favorite of mine. Drift, Dead Out… all killer thrillers, that you should be reading. He’s taught a number of writing courses and novel editing classes, and is available for select projects. Drop him a line, especially if you’re working on thrillers or mysteries. [Website]

Hanna M. Fogel (@hannamfogel): Fun Fact, Hanna used to be my intern back when I was at Quirk Books. She was a superstar, and has since taken the leap into the publishing world. She’s looking to freelance edit books in fantasy for any age, as well as MG and YA titles. You can check out her rates on her blog. [Website]

Caitlin R. O’Connell (@Caitlin_Renata): A freelance editor, Cait works on query letters and full manuscripts, and she’s got some super reasonable rates! Check out her site for more details. [Website]

Kat Howard (@KatWithSword): Kat’s an author with Saga and a published short story writer with over 30 shorts out there in the world. And she has a Ph.D in literature, you guys. Check her site out for more info regarding what she edits and her rates. [Website]

J.A. Weber (@jawlitagent): Julia’s not just an editor, but a rockstar literary agent. Who better to scope out your manuscript and give you notes? She does everything from full manuscript edits to working on query letters. Details on her site. [Website]

Anna Banks (@byannabanks): So Anna is one of my favorite YA authors. I adored her Of Poseidon trilogy, and her standalone, Joyride, is… well, a joy. She’s offering up critiques, from manuscripts to query letters. Check out her rates on her site. [Website]

Ilana Masad (@ilanaslightly): Ilana’s one of my authors! I represent her and her amazing stories, and guess what? She critiques and edits. She’s won scores of awards for her short stories, and you definitely want to work with her. Drop her a line regarding her rates via her website. [Website]

Lara Willard (@larathelark): Working on comics? Graphic novels? Picture books? Lara’s the gal for you, specializing in work with a visual angle, though she does other stuff too. You can learn more about her via her site. [Website]

Kate Heartfield (@kateheartfield): Kate and I are actually represented by the same agency! She’s a Red Sofa Client, and writes speculative fiction, and is available to work on non-fiction and fiction manuscripts. [Website]

Jocelyn Bailey (@thebookhooker): A former editor at Thomas Nelson and a freelance editor for places like Pegasus, Jocelyn’s a rockstar. You can see what she offers up on her website. [Website]

Lyla Lawless (@lylalawless): Lyla’s worked with P.S. Literary, Entangled, and a whole bunch of great folks doing edits. You should definitely check her out and her rates. [Website]

Have someone you’d like to add to the list? Are YOU that someone? Email me! ericsmithrocks at gmail dot com!

Deals: These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips Acquired by HarperTeen!

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Wow you guys. Wow.

A few months ago, I was sitting in one of my favorite cafes in South Philadelphia with my good friend Allie Ilagan, and she got to watch me cry in public over an email. And then she got to watch me get all teary on the phone when I told an author some very good news.

By “very emotional” she’s referring to the public crying and me muttering “oh my god oh my god” into my hands.

Those of you who read YA (which is likely a lot of you so hiiiii you are my people) definitely know Rebecca Phillips. She’s got two wonderful books with Kensington. Any Other Girl, which came out back in January, and Faking Perfect, which came out just last year.

I loved both of them, and was thrilled when I was given the chance to work with her, via my rockstar colleague at P.S. Literary, Carly Watters. Thanks for bringing us together, Carly!

So! About that good news.

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Rebecca Phillips’ next book, THESE THINGS I’VE DONE, has been acquired by Catherine Wallace at HarperTeen, in a two-book deal for an additional untitled novel. Readers can look for it in bookstores everywhere in the Summer of 2017, and the second book in the Summer of 2018.

It’s a non-linear, YA story told in shifting time-frames, that’s an emotional read along the lines of The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson and All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. The back-and-forth time shifting reads like Lauren Gibaldi’s The Night We Said Yes (one of my favorite YA contemporaries of last year), except… well, people die.

It’s a devastating read, really. One that made me sob in the best way possible. It’s about tragedy, trauma, family, and the power of love and friendship, and I can’t wait for you to get your hands on it.

A bit about the plot? Sure.

After accidentally causing the death of her best friend Aubrey, Dara must forgive herself before Ethan, Aubrey’s younger brother, ever will. As Dara and Ethan fall in love, their worlds fall into place—except when Dara’s parents and counselors think their relationship is a mistake. Just because they share special memories of Aubrey, doesn’t mean their love will help wash away their grief.

Yup.

I’m crying again. Because of the story, and because of my joy for Rebecca.

And of course, a huge thank you to Catherine and her team at HarperTeen. Be sure to follow Rebecca on Twitter and check out her website, and wish her all the congrats.