Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why Having a Rock Star Agent Matters

The Benefits of Having a Great Agent

I'm sure you've all heard the warning that a bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I've read horror stories (and even heard in person from a best-selling author) about what happens when an agent goes bad and they have to start over and find a new agent. I've also read a lot online saying you don't even need an agent these days, especially if you plan to self-publish. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I went to a talk by a best-selling self-published author, and guess what she had? A top agent from a great literary agency. Another top-earning self-publisher just blogged about recently obtaining an agent for her books. Why? I'll discuss that in a minute. Overall, I agree that having no agent is better than having a bad agent...but having a rock star agent is golden. I know a little bit about this because I have a rock star agent *waves at Jessica* from a great literary agency. So here is how a fabulous agent can benefit both traditional and self-published authors:

1) Editorial relationships. A great agent has a wealth of publishing knowledge and solid relationships with editors, so they know who is be looking for a specific project. For instance, they know if an editor has been dying for a book about killer space monkeys, or conversely, if an editor will stab themselves if they see one more monkey story. Though I try to stay abreast of publishing industry news, I don't have the years of relationships with publishers that my agent does, and I'm so glad she knew exactly where to send my book (which sadly, does not involve killer space monkeys). Some self-publishers are pursuing the hybrid model, which involves having some books published traditionally while they self-publish others, and for any author who wants a traditional publishing deal, a reputable agent has access to publishing houses that don't allow non-agented submissions. 

2) They know books.  This might sound obvious, but it's true. Agents read a ton of queries (after doing my "query critiques for all" giveaway earlier this year, I have even more respect for the massive amount of work they do). They also read a lot of manuscripts and you know, actual books. The bottom line is that agents know books. They know what makes for a great story and can easily spot what works and what doesn't. Every suggestion my agent made for revising my book was spot-on. Her knowledge made my book better, and I'm not saying that just because the book sold to a great publisher...I'm truly satisfied that I created the best book I could.

3) Contract negotiations. Can you say "reversion of rights?" Yes, technically you don't "need" an agent to sign a publishing contract, but have you read one lately? I got a headache after seeing one paragraph. An agent knows their way around the technical language of the contract, and knows where to push for change (e.g. more money, reversion clauses, etc.) They will also likely be more successful in having those changes accepted than if the author negotiated themselves, because part of being a good agent involves killer negotiating skills. Could someone do this themselves if they spent enough time on it? Yes, but personally, I'd rather focus on writing. I have enough trouble negotiating bed time with my kiddos, and am happy to leave legal negotiations in my agent's capable hands.

I'm also including foreign rights in this category, and it's a big reason why some self-published authors either already have or desire an agent, even if they don't want a traditional publishing deal. I can't imagine the time and energy involved in navigating foreign rights contracts, nor do I want to. The agented self-published author I heard speak said that the foreign rights sales alone was the impetus for her to get an agent.

4) Trust. This one is more intangible but just as important (to me, anyway). The author-agent relationship is a business partnership, and if you don't have trust in your business partner, then you're screwed (and yes, that trust goes both ways). For the writer, it's important to feel like you have someone watching out for your best interests. Yes, an agent only makes money if your book sells, but I believe that most agents go into the business for the same reason that writers do--we are all passionate about books. Most agents only take on a book because they love it. They wouldn't devote hours of their time to something they didn't believe in. When you trust that your agent is competent and skilled, it frees you to focus on other things--you know, like writing (well, and marketing, but that's a whole other post).

What have I missed? Any other opinions out there from the agented or unagented?  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Need an Agent?

If so, then get your loglines and manuscripts polished for Miss Snark's First Victim 3rd Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction. Agents will bid against each other to compete on your manuscript. Check out all the details over on Authoress' blog, but you need to have a completed manuscript to enter. She is accepting submissions for both young adult/middle grade and adult fiction (all genres except erotica). Best of luck to all who enter!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Shiny New Book Deal plus Mega-Giveaway

In case you missed my squeals of joy yesterday, this is the official news about my debut YA book deal from Publisher's Marketplace:

September 25, 2012
Young Adult

Kristi Helvig's sci-fi series BURN OUT, after the sun has burned away the atmosphere, Tora Reynolds
survives, protected by lethal bio-energy guns that bounty hunters and governments are desperate
for, to Greg Ferguson at Egmont, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2014, by Jessica Regel at Jean
V. Naggar Literary Agency (world).

I am beyond to excited to be joining Egmont, and am super grateful to my rock star agent for believing in this book! The deluge of awesome emails, tweets, and FB messages yesterday was amazing, and I feel lucky to know so many wonderful people. Wow, I use a lot of adjectives when I'm excited.

Also, don't forget to enter the 1000 Twitter Follower Giveaway to win books and all kinds of critiques (including the Wednesday Query Critique)!  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Perils of Being a Full-Time Writer

For the first time, my kiddos are both in school and I have oodles of time during the day to write. I'm not even a full-time writer yet as I work two days a week in my private practice, but that leaves THREE whole days of interrupted free time. Therein lies the problem. I wrote three novels in the past two years, and did it in the one to two hours of time I had in the evening after the kids went to bed. Those one to two hours involved nothing but fast, hard writing--because it was all the time I had to do it. I envisioned that once the kids were in school, I'd be able to multiply that output by ten, and could crank out a book every two months. The kids have been in school a grand total of 5 weeks now, which means I should have another book almost finished, right? 

Not quite. First, I discovered the joy of grocery shopping without little ones underfoot. If you haven't tried it, it's an amazing experience. Next, I thought I'd conquer my possessed laundry basket which never empties no matter how many loads I do. I've seen the bottom of my laundry basket several times in the past few weeks, a sight I haven't seen in years. My to-do list has been tackled, my dogs have have enjoyed walks with me in the morning after I take the kids to school, and I've caught up with friends for lunches and brunches and other food-related outings. The most productive writing time for me in the past few weeks...has been in the one to two hours after the kids go to bed at night.

What the hell? I mean, I'm still writing but not nearly the amount I thought I'd be. Part of it is probably the habit of night writing, and part of it is probably the fact that I have quiet time in the house by myself for the first time in over eight years. Part of me worries that even if I were a full-time writer, I wouldn't be writing more than I am right now--Stephen King would mock my current habits (if you haven't read On Writing, you should). I'm hoping the novelty of being home wears off quickly, and I just ordered a day planner and am going to set myself up on a much stricter writing schedule (NOTE: the day planner itself looks so fun and amazing that I'm sure I'll do an entire post on it once it arrives.)

Anyone else struggle with this issue? Any additional tips you'd like to share? Pretty please. Or just let me know if you're in the area and want to go to brunch. ;)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with NERVE author Jeanne Ryan and Giveaway

Today, I am so excited to have author Jeanne Ryan on the blog (full confession: she’s also my critique partner). Her YA thriller, NERVE (Dial), releases tomorrow, 9/13/2012. When I read the first draft of this high-tech truth-or-dare game gone very, very wrong, I told her this was going to be her first published book. After getting my very own copy in the mail last week, I can tell you that the finished book is even scarier. Please check out Jeanne’s new website and make sure to follow her on Twitter.

I’m also giving a copy of NERVE to one lucky person. Enter by Tues. Sept 18th for your chance to win-- either tell us a dare you did (for the brave), or you can enter by less scary means.

Here is the cover for NERVE:

Hi Jeanne—thanks so much for joining us today, and huge congrats on NERVE! As I’ve told you before, I think the concept of a high-tech truth-or-dare game is awesome! Where did you get the idea for this book?

From watching my teenage niece and her phone. Seeing how fluidly she moved between her “real” life and her online life with her friends, with a lot of overlap between the two, got me to thinking about a story where a lot of the excitement and danger would be delivered via phones. I wondered how far a game of Truth or Dare could go if strangers could be brought together to perform and record the dares.

Yeah, this book was a far cry from the dares of my youth, like ringing someone’s doorbell and running. How long did it take you to go from writing it to publication?

I started writing it in May, 2010. It sold in April, 2011 and is being published September, 2012.  So two and a half years from start to finish.

Less than a year between starting the book and selling the book is pretty darn impressive. Was this your first book?

Nerve was my fifth manuscript. Although I decided to become a writer at age eleven, many other dreams got in the way between then and the time I started writing a manuscript that I’d actually finish. I got serious about writing in 2004, finished my first manuscript in 2006, signed with an agent in 2009 and got my first deal in 2011. That doesn’t count the years beforehand when I wrote many tortured poems, awful short stories and an unfinished novel (also awful).

It goes to show that persistence pays off, and you always need to be working on the next book. Speaking of which, can you tell us what you’re you working on now?

Two things. One is another YA thriller which is scheduled to come out with Dial in early 2014. It’s called CHARISMA and is about a terribly shy girl who turns to an experimental therapy that's supposed to make people more sociable. It does, but comes with some scary side effects.
The other thing I'm working on between revisions is an MG historical set in 1974 South Korea. It may never see the light of day in the publishing world but it’s a great way to cleanse my mental palate after working on the darker stuff.

Yay for another book deal! I love your MG historical, and definitely hope it sees the light of day…and what I’ve seen of Charisma is fantastic.  Writing several things at once seems daunting. Do you have a set writing routine or schedule?

During the school year, I try to get in about four hours a day, Mon-Fri, in the morning. During school breaks and summer vacation, I grab time whenever I can.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers out there?

Keep working on the craft. The writers I’ve seen who eventually landed agents and book deals are the ones who kept producing manuscript after manuscript until they wrote the story that everyone who reviewed it knew was “the one.” (Sometimes, the author is the last to know. J) Sure, there are those lucky few who sell their first attempt, but viewing that as the norm is a good way to set yourself up for misery. I speak from experience.

That’s great advice. So why don’t you finish by sharing something weird or random with us. (It doesn't have to be writing related)

Weird or random. Hmmmm. When I was a little girl living in Honolulu, our house was rumored to have a ghost, which everyone in the neighborhood called a Kahuna. My parents had a difficult time finding babysitters, because everyone was scared. (Their reluctance could also have been due to the fact that the number of kids in my family was already at six and growing.) Anyway, my parents finally solved the babysitter problem by hiring two at a time. And they approached the Kahuna problem the way a lot of things were solved in the hippie days--by throwing a large party that involved lots of chanting and alcohol. Whatever the grown-ups did worked, because we never had any weird bumps in the night after that. And the babysitters were eventually willing to work solo.

That’s a great story. Thanks so much for joining us today and Happy Release Day (a day early!)

Don’t forget to enter below for a chance to win NERVE by Jeanne Ryan. The entry form is over at my blog: www.kristihelvig.blogspot.com.
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