As is clear from the title, this is part 2 of Robert E. Dunn’s writing series. He has some really excellent tips here so do read on. I promise you, there is no fluff here, just a ton of great advice.
How to be a (Published) Horror Writer 2 — Taking the Agent Road
So I’m continuing on the ramble I started last time about how to be a horror writer. I say horror writer mostly because Shotgun Logic is a blog about horror and dark fiction. I anticipate that most of you out there have an interest in the dark scribblings. The truth is that my experiences, and advice (such as it is) are pretty generic for writing of any type. Today I thought I would gnaw your ear about the literary pachyderm in the room.
When you’re a new writer the subject will come up. Someone will tell you that you have to have a literary agent to make the big sales. Another someone will inevitably tell you that agents are not necessary at all. Of course you will also end up running into the fringe dwellers who hate and disparage agents, while often in the same breath telling you how they are always turned down.
If you read my last guest post on professionalism and courtesy you might recall what I said about writing being a small community. Bad mouth at your own risk. Literary agents have a role to play but not in every transaction or even every career. It is your task, as a professional writer, to recognize your own needs. Ask yourself two questions, where do you want to be, and realistically, is that where you fit?
Everyone wants to be the big name writer and making huge advances. Not everyone can or will. The great news is that there are other options. We all define success differently. I want you to think about the writing career, not as a straight path from idea to book to millions. It isn’t that. It is a tangle of yarn. You know what I mean. It is a ball wrapped up of different bits, wadded and twisted and played with by that cute cat and shamed for unraveling on the internet.
You know—it is okay to just nudge me when I drift like that. Keep that in mind.
Back to the string ball. It’s easy to imagine it, right? A thousand bits of string all going their own way and still circling the center. That is the writer’s career path. There is no right or wrong way. And your path won’t be shared by anyone else. It’s all your own. That’s both scary and kind of cool. Your own adventure is completely your own responsibility.
Take charge and forge your own path. The small presses are going strong and doing amazing work. New writers are often surprised to find they can place a book with many of the same presses an agent will work with. On top of that you might be surprised to find that the small presses offer better percentages. So you may not sell as many books but you make more on each one. There are so many pluses to small presses I can’t go into them all now. That’s another post entirely. But you need to be aware as a writer responsible for your own career that small is another way to success. Some of us make a living there. And earning a living writing is success on so many levels.
But that’s not what you want to hear about today, is it?
So, finding an agent for your horror novel. Become part of the community. Talk to others through social media. That does not mean follow a favorite author and send them a private message asking for a recommendation. It means follow and listen to the things they say and the people they talk with. Engage in a positive way. Go back to your favorite books or those you think are most like yours. Open them to the acknowledgements page. Many writers will express their appreciation to agents there. You learn two things from this. One, they represent your kind of book. Two, you get a glimpse at the kind of relationship they maintain with authors.
Social media has made the search so much easier in the last several years. Get yourself on Twitter and Facebook if nothing else. I like Twitter because it is quick and easy but offers a lot of engagement punch. Don’t stalk. Don’t push. Don’t use social media to query. Use your social media presence to engage and learn a little bit about the people.
On Twitter you can follow certain hashtags that bring the information right to you. Here is a tiny sample that will get you started—
#MSWL — Manuscript Wish List Agents will post about their dream subs.
#AskAgent — Agents will host pop up or scheduled Q&A sessions using this hashtag.
#BookMarket — Shares about markets looking for subs.
#Publishing — General industry tag.
#TenQueries — Participating agents critique ten queries currently on their desk.
#QueryTip — Tips from agents, editors, and writers.
#SlushWorks — Slush pile success stories from agents, editors, and authors.
Another great Twitter resource are the pitch contests. Anyone can participate by condensing their book pitch to fit and adding the proper hashtag. It immediately gets your book in front of dozens of agents who are actively looking. It also forces you to get your pitch down to the real core of the idea. A good skill to have. I know of three but there may be more.
#AdPit — This one is specifically for adult or new adult pitches.
The idea here is that you tweet your book with appropriate hashtags. You might post something like this for my book, The Harrowing— The first thing you learn in hell- Never trust an angel. The Harrowing #horror #fantasy #pitmad
This is a good place to wrap this post up. I’ll come back and talk soon about the next step. Writing the query. After that we’ll head on over to talk a bit more about the small presses and then self-pub path. This is a discussion. Well, this is me going on and maybe you reading. But I’m not telling you want to do. Only that there are ways that work better than others.
The truth is, agents are great. They help get deals, probably bigger deals than you would on your own. The best of them help guide your career and polish your work. They watch out for your financial interests and sometimes bring opportunities you never dreamed of.
But the agent path is not the only one. Remember that ball of yarn? If you want to get the big publishing deal with the monster advance, a rarity that is almost extinct these days, you probably do need the agent. It is possible to get your book picked from slush at a big house but very unlikely. I hope you can do it. But I hope also that if you don’t, you keep at it until you find the string that works for you.
Robert E. Dunn