A call for submissions — and a nifty talk

I am indeed working on my next post on agent-searching, but I realized today that I had fallen a bit behind on my announcement-making. So here are a couple of opportunities that I wanted to pass along to you.

Today’s first announcement is for all of you genre writers out there. I don’t normally post calls for submissions here, but this one represents a chance to not only to see excerpts of your writing in print — hooray! — but also a query letter-enhancing publication credit. How? By sending in your novel’s best passage to serve as a positive example in a writing how-to book by an award-winning author and editor.

Your work need not be previously published to be eligible. But let me allow the call for submissions to speak for itself:

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CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Dynamic dialogue, fresh body language, description that doesn’t stop the action, intriguing hooks that keep going . . . and going . . . These are but a few of the fiction-writing techniques that spell the difference between a manuscript’s rejection and acceptance.

Excerpts that demonstrate the effective use of these and other techniques are being sought from writers at all levels for the next edition of a much-acclaimed guidebook for writers. Up to 145 of the best examples from unpublished as well as published novels, short stories, and screenplays will be featured in DON’T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSIONS: An Editor Tells Writers How to Save a Manuscript from Turning Up D.O.A.

This 2008 release is the expanded, all-genre edition of the original DON’T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, the small press book that won this year’s Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction Book, was acquired by Writer’s Digest Book Club, and became a finalist for the Macavity Award, Anthony Award, and ForeWord Magazine Reference Book of the Year.

Its author is Chris Roerden, an editor for 43 years and a former instructor of writing at the University of Maine and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Authors she’s edited have been published by St. Martin’s Press, Berkley Prime Crime, Viking, Walker & Co., Midnight Ink, Rodale, and many small presses.

Deadline for submissions: December 1, 2007. Contributors identify which examples in the first edition theirs can replace for the second. Only positive examples will be considered.

Though this means consulting the original 2006 edition, no purchase is required; Don’t Murder Your Mystery can be requested through libraries, which are acquiring the book as they learn of it. No fees or payments are involved.

Writers quoted receive full credit and retain all rights to their work, as in any review. Details and a submission form may be downloaded here or received for a 58¢ SASE sent to Don’t Sabotage Your Submissions, P.O.Box 16024, High Point, NC 27261.

Anne again here. While the last announcement was for genre writers everywhere, this next is for Seattle-area writers, another in the Washington Lawyers for the Arts series designed to demystify the laws that govern our work. This series truly is a boon to local artists of every stripe: the talks are inexpensive; they’re informative, and believe me, you’ll be much, much happier if you learn how copyright law works BEFORE anybody challenges your rights.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the more a writer knows about how publishing works BEFORE signing with either an agent or a publishing house, the better off the writer will be at every step of the process.

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Attorney Gary Swearingen will discuss steps you can take on your own to help protect your intellectual property rights. Gary plans for this session to be interactive, based on the situations and questions of those attending. He’ll offer an overview of what (if anything) you need to do to secure your rights to your intellectual property.

He’ll also discuss copyright and trademark registration. For example, do you need to register? Is there an advantage to registering? How do you go about it? And with trademarks, when and how do you register—both with the state and with the federal government?

This discussion will be designed to help you distinguish what you can easily do yourself, and at what point you might want to call in the professionals. Time permitting, he’ll also discuss getting your business license, incorporating your business, and finding form contracts.

Gary Swearingen is an in-house attorney with Washington Mutual Bank. Before joining WaMu, he was an intellectual property attorney at Garvey Schubert Barer, where he represented artists and other creative types as well as companies who buy creative works. He is a past president of WLA and a frequent speaker on arts-related legal issues.

DATE: Thursday, November 15, 2007

TIME: 11:45 am – 2:00 pm (program begins at noon, lunches welcome)

LOCATION:
911 Media Arts Center
402 9th Avenue N
Seattle, Washington 98109

FEE: In advance: $35 Attorneys and Paralegals; $10 Artists and Students. At the door: $40 Attorneys and Paralegals; $15 Artists and Students

REGISTRATION:
To register, visit Brown Paper Tickets or phone 24/7 at 800.838.3006. To pay at the door, RSVP to Washington Lawyers for the Arts at 206.328.7053. Please note that the event is subject to cancellation; visit www.wa-artlaw.org or call 206.328.7053 for more information.

Book marketing 101: but what if I just walk up and ask?

While I was on the subject of tracking down who represents whom, so that you may query agents who represent books similar to yours, I thought I would make a slight detour to an agent-finding strategy favored by the bold: walking up to a published writer (or a pre-published but agented one) and simply saying, “Do you mind if I ask who represents you?”

Writers tend to be nice people; they’re often very happy to give a spot of advice and encouragement to someone new to the game.

Given how VERY useful responses to this question can be for aspiring writers, it’s kind of astonishing how infrequently one hears it at author readings. But really, “Who represents you, and how did you land your agent?” almost always elicits a response that’s interesting enough to entertain the non-writers in the audience, too.

Kinda changes the way you think of author readings, doesn’t it?

If you live in or near a big city with some good bookstores, chances are very good that there are readings going on somewhere in town practically every day of the week. And trust me, if you walk into the best bookstore in town, saunter up to the register or information desk, and ask for a calendar of readings, the staff will be OVERJOYED to direct you to one. Or put you on a mailing list.

Here in Seattle, we’re pretty lucky: not only do we have several very good independent bookstores that regularly host readings and signings, but we also have the Stranger, a free newspaper that routinely lists all of the author readings for any given week, along with brief summaries of their books. (Possibly because the editor won the PEN West award for a memoir a few years back.)

When you’re agent-hunting, it’s usually more worth you while to go to readings by first-time authors than people whose names have graced the bestseller lists for quite some time. Often, new authors are downright grateful to anyone who shows up, and doubly so to anyone who asks an interesting question. They’re usually pretty grateful to their agents, too, and thus like to talk about them.

As a fringe benefit, they will often blandish their local writer friends — publishers’ publicity departments generally ask authors for lists of cities where they have lots of friends, and set up readings accordingly — into attending their readings, just so someone shows up. Sometimes, these helpful friends are willing to tell you who their agents are, and what they represent.

Seriously, it’s worth a try. To be blunt about it, you’re far more likely to garner an actual recommendation to query a new author’s agent than from an established author, especially if you listen politely, laugh at the jokes in the reading, and hang out to talk afterward.

Why do the established tend to be more stand-offish about it, you ask? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not usually because they’re mean. Just experienced.

Let’s revisit some of the characters from my long-ago Industry Faux Pas series who gamely walked up to published authors and asked for their help. The etiquette in this situation can be a little murky — after all, these authors need to regard anyone who approaches them at a reading as a potential book buyer, and thus may come across as friendlier than they intend — but these examples should help you steer around potential road blocks.

Enjoy!

Because the road to recognition is usually so very long and winding, many savvy writers seek to speed things up a trifle by enlisting the help of already established – or already agented – writers on their behalf. This is not a bad idea – but, like everything else, there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way.

Come with me now to the land of hypotheticals, to explore the latter.

Writer-approaching scenario 1: Isabelle notices in her local paper that Ignatz, a writer whose work is similar to hers and is aimed at the same target market will be giving a reading at a local bookstore. She makes a point of attending the reading, and during question time, stands up and asks point-blank who represents him – couching the question within a request for permission to use him as a query reference. Ignatz laughs uncomfortably, tells an agent-related anecdote, and when she presses for a name, tells her to see him afterward.

Isabelle waits patiently until all those who have bought books have presented them to Ignatz for signing, then repeats her question. “I haven’t read your book,” she tells him, “but from the reviews, our work has a lot in common.”

Ignatz, professional to the toes of his well-polished boots, casts only a fleeting glance at her empty hands before replying. “I’m sorry,” he says, “my agent has asked me not to refer any new writers to him.”

What did Isabelle do wrong? (And, for extra credit, what about Ignatz’s response marks it as a brush-off, rather than a simple statement of his agent’s feelings on the subject?)

Isabelle committed two cardinal sins of author approach. First, she did not evince ANY interest in Ignatz’s work before asking him for a favor – and a fairly hefty favor, at that. She did not even bother to buy his book, which is, after all, how Ignatz pays his rent. But since he is quite aware, as any successful writer must be, that being rude to potential readers may mean lost business down the line, he can hardly tell her so directly.

So he did the next best thing: he lied about his agent’s openness to new clients.

How do I know he lied? Experience, my dears, experience: had his agent actually not been accepting new clients, his easiest way out would have been simply to say so, but he did not. What he said is that his agent asked HIM not to recommend any new writers; a subtle difference.

Most agents rather like it when their clients recommend new writers; it saves the agent trouble, to use the client as a screener. So, generally speaking, if an agented writer says, “Oh, my agent doesn’t like me to recommend,” he really means, “I don’t like being placed in this position, and I wish you would go away.”

How has Isabelle placed Ignatz in a tough position? Because she has committed another approach faux pas: she asked for a reference from someone who has never read her work — and indeed, didn’t know she existed prior to that evening.

From Ignatz’s point of view, this is a no-win situation. He has absolutely no idea if Isabelle can write – and to ask to see her work would be to donate his time gratis to someone who has just been quite rude to him. Yet if he says yes without reading her work, and Isabelle turns out to be a terrible writer (or still worse, a terrible pest), his agent is going to be annoyed with him. And if he just says, “No, I don’t read the work of every yahoo who accosts me at a reading,” he will alienate a potential book buyer.

So lying about his agent’s availability is Ignatz’s least self-destructive way out. Who can blame him for taking it?

Let’s say that Isabelle has learned something from this encounter. Manuscript in hand, she goes to another reading.

Writer-approaching scenario 2: Isabelle spots another reading announcement in her local newspaper. This time, it’s an author whose work she’s read, Juanita; wisely, she digs up her dog-eared copy of Juanita’s first novel and brings it along to be signed, to demonstrate her ongoing willingness to support Juanita’s career. She also brings along a copy of her own manuscript.

After the reading, Isabelle stands in line to have her book signed. While Juanita is graciously chatting with her about the inscription, Isabelle slaps her 500-page manuscript onto the signing table. “Would you read this?” she asks. “And then recommend me to your agent?”

Juanita casts a panicked glance around the room, seeking an escape route. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to read anything new right now,” she says, shrinking away from the pile of papers.

This, believe it or not, happens even more that the first scenario – and with even greater frequency at writers’ conferences. Just as some writers have a hard time remembering that agents have ongoing projects, lives, other clients, etc. whose interests may preclude dropping everything to pay attention to a new writer, so too do established writers – many, if not most, of whom teach writing classes and give lectures in order to supplement their incomes.

So basically, Isabelle has just asked a writing teacher she has never met before to give a private critique of her manuscript for free. Not the best means of winning friends and influencing people, generally speaking.

Yes, the process of finding an agent is frustrating, but do try to bear in mind what you are asking when you request help from another writer. Just as querying and pitching necessarily cuts into your precious writing time, so do requests of this nature cut into established writers’ writing time. Other than your admiration and gratitude, tell me, what does the author who helps you get out of it?

This not to say that some established writers don’t like to offer this kind of help; many do. But even the most generous person tends to be nonplused when total strangers demand immense favors. Establishing some sort of a relationship first – even if that relationship consists of nothing more than the five-minute conversation about the author’s work that precedes the question, “So, what do you write?” – is considered a polite first step.

In other words: whatever happened to foreplay?

This particular set of problems is not discussed much on the conference circuit – or, to be precise, they are not discussed much in front of contest attendees; they are discussed by agents, editors, and authors backstage at conferences all the time, I assure you, and in outraged tones.

Why? Because, alas, for every hundred perfectly polite aspiring writers, there are a handful of overeager souls who routinely overstep the bounds of common courtesy – and, as I can tell you from direct personal experience, it’s not always easy being the first personal contact a writer has with the industry: one tends to be treated less as a person than as a door or a ladder.

And no one, however famous or powerful, likes that. Case in point:

Writer-approaching scenario 3: at a writers’ conference, Karl meets Krishnan, a writer who has recently acquired an agent. The two men genuinely have a great deal in common: they live in the same greater metropolitan area, write for the same target market, and they share a love of the plays of Edward Albee. (Don’t ask me why; they just do.) So after hanging out together in the bar that is never more than 100 yards from any writers’ conference venue, it seems perfectly natural for Karl to e-mail Krishnan and ask him to have coffee the following week.

Within minutes of Krishnan’s arrival at the coffee shop, however, he is dismayed when Karl pulls a hefty manuscript box out of his backpack. “Here,” Karl says. “I want to know what you think before I send it to the agents who requested it at the conference. And after you read it, you can send it on to your agent.”

Krishnan just sits there, open-mouthed. As soon as his cell phone rings, he feigns a forgotten appointment and flees.

Okay, what did Karl do wrong here?

Partially, he echoed Isabelle’s mistake: he just assumed that by being friendly, Krishnan was volunteering to help him land an agent. However, there are a LOT of reasons that industry professionals are nice to aspiring writers at conferences, including the following, listed in descending order of probability:

*Krishnan might have just been being polite.

*Krishnan might have regarded Karl as a potential buyer of his books, and as such, did not want to alienate a future fan.

*Krishnan might have been teaching a class at the conference, or hoping to do so in future, and wanted to make a good impression.

*Krishnan is lonely – writing is a lonely craft, by definition, right? — and is looking for other writers with whom to commune.

*Krishnan is looking for local writers with whom to form a critique group.

*Krishnan’s agent might have asked him to be on the lookout for new writers at the conference (rare, but it does happen occasionally).

Of these possibilities, only the last two would dictate ANY willingness on Krishnan’s part to read Karl’s work – and the next to last one definitely implies that reading would be exchanged, not one-way. However, if either of the last two had been Krishnan’s intent, it would have been polite for Karl to wait to be ASKED.

Ditto with Karl’s request that Krishnan pass the manuscript on to his agent. Even with a super-open agent, an agented author cannot recommend others indiscriminately. At minimum, it could be embarrassing. If Krishnan recommends Karl, and Karl turns out to be a bad writer, a constant nuisance, or just plain nuts, that recommendation will seriously compromise his ability to recommend writers in future.

That’s right: writers like Karl, while usually well-meaning in and of themselves, collectively make it harder for everyone else to get this kind of recommendation.

There’s another reason Krishnan would be inclined to run from such an approach: resentment. Not of Karl’s rather inconsiderate assumptions that he would automatically be willing to help someone he’s just met, but of Karl’s attempt to cut into a line in which Krishnan stood for quite some time.

That’s right: just as it is relatively safe to presume that the more recently a writer landed an agent, the more difficult and time-consuming the agent-finding process was – because, by everyone’s admission, it’s harder than it was ten or even five years ago to wow an agent – it is a fair bet that an agent who has been signed but has not yet sold a book will be lugging around quite a bit of residual resentment about the process, or even about his agent.

If an agented writer’s hauling a monumental chip on his shoulder about his agent seems a little strange to you, I can only conclude that your experience listening to those whose first or second books are currently being marketed by their agents is not vast. {and thus that you have probably not been hanging out after very many new authors’ readings}. Almost universally, a writer’s life gets harder, not easier, in the initial months after of being signed: practically any agent on earth will ask for manuscript revisions of even a manuscript she loves, in order to make it more marketable, and no one, but no one, on the writer’s end of the game is ever happy about the agent’s turn-around time.

{Truth compels me to add: except for me, actually. Among my agent’s many sterling qualities as a human being, he’s also an unusually fast reader, bless him.}

The point is, every second Krishnan’s agent spends reading new work is one second less devoted to reading Krishnan’s latest revision — or marketing it. Some authors are a might touchy about that, so tread carefully.

Even if Krishnan’s agent is a saint and habitually works at a speed that would make John Henry gasp, Karl was unwise to assume that Krishnan would be eager to speed up the agent-finding process for anyone else. For all Karl knows, Krishnan struggled for YEARS to land his agent – and, unhappily, human nature does not always wish to shorten the road for those who come after.

Just ask anyone who has been through a medical residency. Or a Ph.D. program.

Note, please, that all of the above applies EVEN IF Krishnan has time to read the manuscript in question. Which, as the vast majority of agented-but-not-published writers hold full-time jobs and have to struggle to carve out writing time – as, actually, do many of the published writers I know; not a lot of people make a living solely from writing novels – is NOT a foregone conclusion.

The best rule of thumb: establish an honest friendship before you ask for big favors.

Until you know an author well, keep your requests non-intrusive. Krishnan probably would not have minded at all if if Karl had simply asked for his agent’s name after half an hour of pleasant chat — heck, Krishnan would probably have offered the information unsolicited in that time — or even for permission to use his name in the first line of a query letter. As in: Since you so ably represent Krishnan Jones, I hope you will be interested in my novel…

It may well have turned out that Karl had a skill – computer repair, eagle-eyed proofreading, compassionate dog-walking – that Krishnan would be pleased to receive in exchange for feedback on Karl’s book. Krishnan might even have asked Karl to join his critique group, where such feedback would have been routine. But Karl will never know, because he jumped the gun, assuming that because Krishnan had an agent, the normal rules of favor-asking did not apply to him.

The same rule applies, by the way, to any acquaintance whose professional acumen you would like to tap unofficially. If I want to get medical information from my doctor about a condition that is plaguing a character in my novel, I expect to pay for her time. Nor, outside of a formal conference context, would I expect a professional editor to read my work, an agent to give me feedback on my pitch, or an editor to explain the current behind-the-scenes at Random House to me unless we either already had a close friendship or I was paying for their time, either monetarily or by exchange.

Tread lightly, and be very aware that you ARE asking a favor, and a big one, when you ask an author to help you reach his agent. Not only are you asking the author to invest time and energy in helping a relative stranger – you are also expecting him or her to put credibility on the line. And that, dear readers, is something that most authors – and most human beings – do not do very often for relative strangers.

Keep up the good work!

Book Marketing 101: revisiting those thank-yous

Welcome back to my series of revisited posts, complete with present-day commentary. I was hoping to be up to writing new posts from scratch again by now, but alas, the mono gods have decreed otherwise.

I’m excited about today’s post, which is a composite of a couple of posts I wrote last year. It addresses a couple of perplexing problems commonly encountered by aspiring writers who comb acknowledgment pages, looking for agents to query. It may seem a bit odd that I would spend this many posts on how to deal with those pesky thank-yous, but so much of the advice given about how to do this is vague, predicated on the (false) assumption that every book will HAVE an acknowledgements page — and that a good writer should only need a short list of querying prospects.

As anyone who has queried within the last five years knows, these assumptions are somewhat outdated. It’s harder now than it used to be for even a great book to find its best agent. For the next couple of days, I’m going to talk about how and why.

I gather from my agent’s perpetual astonishment at my enthusiasm for other writers’ work (I’m notorious for pitching my friends’ books at conferences — particularly at conferences where the friend in question is a couple of time zones away), not everyone regards publication as a team sport. But hey, we writers can use all the mutual support we can get, right?

To paraphrase everyone’s favorite writing auntie, Jane Austen (I grew up surrounded by writers and artists, but not everyone did. I say, if you don’t have literary relatives, adopt ‘em), we writers are an oppressed class: we need to stick together.

Heck, I’ll just go ahead and quote that wonderful passage from her NORTHANGER ABBEY — the novel, if you’ll recall, that her publisher bought and sat upon for years and years without publishing, just like a certain memoir of my authorship I could mention — so it’s safe to say that she knew a little something about writerly frustration. The quaint punctuation, for those of you new to Aunt Jane’s style, is hers:

“Yes, novels; — for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens — there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.”

Amazing how modern Aunt Jane remains, isn’t it? If you substituted “the 900th interpreter of the Middle East conflict” for the bit about the History of England, and changed the anthologizer mentioned into a reference to CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL (or indeed, to most of the textbooks currently used in English and American literature classes), the critique is still valid now.

Heck, throw in a hostile word or two about James Frey’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES (because it’s not as though Random House originally saw it as a novel or anything) or Kaavya Viswanathan’s HOW OPAL MEHTA GOT KISSED, GOT WILD, AND GOT A LIFE (because the average 17-year-old is more than capable of dictating ethics to her publishers), this passage could have appeared in a trade journal within the last couple of years.

So I say let’s commit to being mutually supportive. Send in your triumphs, everybody, big and small, so we can celebrate them together.

I bring this up advisedly, as today, I am going to talk about ways in which published writers are NOT always very nice to their less-recognized brethren and sistren: helping them get agents. And not just by saying know when a fellow writer asks, very nicely, for an introduction to one’s agent.

As I mentioned earlier in this series, writers-conference wisdom dictates that the best means of finding out who represents an author is to check the book itself for acknowledgments. Often, authors will thank their agents — and if not, the common cant goes, maybe you should think twice about that agent, anyway. (The notion that perhaps the author might merely be rude does not come up much in conference discussions, I notice.)

In fact, I cannot even count the number of times that I’ve heard conference speakers advise aspiring writers to walk into a major bookstore, plop down in front of the genre-appropriate shelves, and start making a list of every agent thanked in every well-packaged book. That way, these speakers assure us, you know that you will be dealing with agents who have made sales recently, and thus must have fairly up-to-date connections amongst editors, who are notorious for moving from one publishing house to another at the drop of the proverbial chapeau.

Remember how I was ranting earlier in this series about how a lot of the standard marketing advice writers get is quite out of date? Well…

It’s definitely worth checking a few books, but don’t be surprised if a couple of hours at Borders yields only a few names of queriable agents. The fact is, acknowledgements are simply a lot less common than they used to be — and as nearly as I can tell, it’s not because writers have become less grateful as a group.

With the rise of trade paper as a first-printing medium for novels (as opposed to hardback, paperback, and pulp), fewer and fewer first-time authors are being allowed to include acknowledgments at all. For one very simple reason: one less page per book saves publishers money.

As the fine folks who work on the business end of the business are so fond of saying, paper and ink are expensive.

And that, in case you’ve been wondering, is why so few books have dedications anymore — or have stuck them someplace the average reader would not know to look for them, such as the copyright page.

Obviously, this means that it’s harder now than in days of yore to pick up agent recommendations from acknowledgment pages: it’s pretty difficult to search what isn’t there. Even more unfortunately for searching purposes, first book authors, whose agents have demonstrated, and recently, their openness to new talent, are the least likely to be granted the ability to thank the people we would like for them to thank.

And for some reason, few authors include acknowledgment pages on their websites — although it’s definitely worth doing a quick web search to check. Occasionally, a well-disposed author, kindly thinking of the aspiring, will just say who represents her. Heck, sometimes they will even include a link.

Like the one in the upper right-hand corner of this page, say.

Changes in paper usage and website problems aside, though, I think that most advisors of acknowledgment-trawling overlook one salient fact: just because an author thanks an agent does not necessarily mean that the agent has been overwhelmingly helpful — or, more to the point from an aspiring writer’s POV, especially open to new ideas.

That tepid mention in the back of the book, then, may not actually constitute a recommendation, per se. It’s simply expected.

Think about it: while the author is thanking everyone else, it would look a little funny not to thank even the least helpful agent, wouldn’t it? Most of the professional acknowledgements you do see are fairly compulsory — this is not a business where it pays to burn bridges, after all.

Nor is this expectation of blanket thanks limited to mainstream publishing, by the way. Back in my bad old university days, I was STUNNED to discover that in academic work, acknowledgments are mandatory. I actually could not have gotten my dissertation accepted without the requisite page of thanks to the professors in my department who kept telling me throughout the writing process that they thought I should concentrate on a different topic entirely. Go figure.

So why do we occasionally see acknowledgments that apparently bear no mention of the author’s agent? Request, often. Some agents who aren’t particularly interested in attracting new clients will actually ask their authors NOT to mention their names on acknowledgement pages. Or to mention only their first names. Or at least not to identify them as agents.

This species of request is why, in case you were wondering, you so often see a list of a dozen names loosely identified as helpers in the publishing process, rather than that standby of former days, “I’d like to thank my wonderful agent, Jan White…”

This practice, naturally, makes it significantly harder to track down who represented what. Wondering why they would want to do this to nice people like us?

You know how I keep telling you that the vast majority of hurtful things agents do in the course of rejecting writers aren’t actually aimed at hurting writers or making our lives more difficult? Usually, our annoyance is merely a side effect, not the explicit goal: sending out form rejection letter, for instance, saves agencies boatloads of time; the fact that such rejections convey no actual feedback to writers is, from their point of view, incidental.

Well, as nearly as I can tell, this one IS specifically intended to make our lives more difficult. But don’t blame the agents (or at any rate, don’t blame ONLY the agents); blame the unscrupulous aspiring writers I was telling you about a couple of days ago, because such actions are generally adopted in self-defense.

Seriously. Stop laughing.

Agents do it, my friends, because they have heard the same advice at conferences as we all have. Agents are increasingly hip to the fact that people who are neither buying nor reading their clients’ work (i.e., those lingerers in front of shelves at B&N) are still sending them letters beginning, “Since you so ably represented Author X, I am sure you will be interested in my book…”

See why it’s so helpful to be able to drop in a specific compliment about Author X’s book?

There’s another reason to be a bit wary of relying too exclusively upon acknowledgment-searching — or to query an agent found that way without also checking out the agency’s website (if it has one; even in this day and age, surprisingly many don’t) AND one of the standard agency guides to make sure that the agent in question is, indeed, open to work similar to the one you found in a bookstore. A very simple reason: many published writers are represented by agents who do not accept queries from previously unpublished writers.

And that’s not something the acknowledgments page is at all likely to tell you.

I hear this one from agent-hunters all the time, actually, although from their POVs, it tends to be a lost-and-found problem.” “My favorite writer thanks her agent profusely,” they tell me, “but I can’t find which agency it is!”

I hate to be the one to break it to these eager souls, but if an agent is not listed in one of the standard agency guides or on Preditors and Editors, it’s usually because

(a) she has stopped being an agent, due to retirement, promotion, death, becoming an editor, or intraoffice politics (the turnover at some agencies is pretty rapid),

(b) she’s between agencies (see a),

(c) she’s not back from maternity leave, and other agents within the agency are handling her client list, or

(c) she’s no longer looking for new clients, and thus did not bother to send the questionnaire back to the guidebook.

In other words, an aspiring writer may not be able to find her because she is not looking to be found by aspiring writers. Check one of the standard guides, ask around at the Absolute Write water cooler, or check with the Association of Authors’ Representatives, but if you hit a blank wall, assume that the agent is not looking for new clients and move on.

(A) is particularly likely, by the way, if the author who thanked the agent so profusely was originally published more than ten years ago or works at a boutique agency, the kind that caters to a very few, very successful group of clients, often in a particular niche market. While such agents do occasionally have openings on their client lists, it is rare, rendering the probability of getting past their screeners rather low.

Call me wacky, but if you’re going to be expending time that you could be devoting writing on expanding your query list, I would rather see you concentrate first on agents who are actively looking for new writers.

All of which is to say: the acknowledgments route is not a bad way to come up with a few names, but like so much else in the agent-attracting process, it’s considerably harder to do successfully than it was even five or ten years ago. So, realistically, since you will probably only be able to glean enough for one round of simultaneous queries, you should try to minimize how much time you invest in this method.

Fortunately for us all, there are other sources for finding out who represents whom, and rest assured, I shall move on to them in future posts. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

And while I’m at it…

After yesterday’s outburst of eloquence on the subject of backing up your writing files — a subject that would inspire any writer, I think, who has been watching the news this week — I am couch-bound today, so I shall avoid a long lead-in. Suffice to say that after I posted yesterday, I recalled having written on this subject before — and in a way that dealt with the basics of backing up much more explicitly.

I know how much you like it when I’m explicit about technicalities.

While I am re-running old posts, it seemed to make more sense to post this today, rather than waiting until after I have finished my series about tracking down agents to query — of which, more follows soon. Enjoy!

I spent much of last evening chatting with my computer guru friend (who shall remain nameless, as he works for a large, fruit-associated computer company) while he was running diagnostic programs on my poor, injured baby {i.e., my computer, which had gone into the shop a few days before I first posted this}, and he told me the type of horror story that would make any writer’s blood run cold:  recently, a lovely young woman had brought her computer to him, its hard drive utterly fried.  All she cared about retrieving, she told him, was her novel.

My friend’s heart went out to her:  it was fairly obvious that her computer was burnt as bacon.  “Do you have any back-ups?” he asked.

She didn’t. 

“Everyone thinks,” my friend opined, sighing, “‘It can’t happen to me.’  I see it every day.”

After I had stopped hyperventillating in the face of this lurid tale of woe and trauma, I inquired tenderly after the fate of the writer.  Was she in a mental health facility someplace, receiving the best in bereavement care?  Or at least in a nice, white-sheeted convelescent hospital on 24-hour suicide watch?  Or had she returned to her studio space to try to reconstruct her novel, painfully, from her most recent hard copy?

I don’t want to depress you, but put yourself in that writer’s shoes for a moment:  if your hard drive suddenly gave up the ghost right now, would you have ANY version of your book on hand to aid in reconstruction of the wreckage? How recent a draft would it be?

Don’t be ashamed if the answers were any stripe of no, oh, my God, and/or what do you mean, more than one draft?; there are apparently millions of you out there.

Not to induce raging paranoia in anyone, but computer malfuctions CAN happen to you.  It can happen to anyone.  (Yes, even those of us who work on Macs, who are inclined to get a trifle smug because our computers don’t get viruses.)  Computer files are not among the permanent things of this earth, and yet most of us treat the contents of our computers as if we were dealing with something as solid as the Pyramids. 

It’s just not a good idea.

I asked my computer-fixing friend why so few people make back-ups, and he told me something jaw-dropping:  most computer users, he said, don’t understand how easy it is to make a copy of a file on a computer.  They don’t understand the difference between saving a document (which makes the newest version REPLACE the one before it) and copying it (which makes a DUPLICATE of the already-existing file.  Many people, he informed me, have never been told that making a copy for back-up actually doesn’t change the original file at all.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important:  making a copy of the computer files that contain your book does NOT change the original files, any more than making a photocopy of a page of manuscript changes the original page. 

Duplicating a file means just that:  making a clone, and just as one twin does not start hopping down in anguish when the other twin stubs his toe, NOTHING you subsequently do to the copy will affect the original.

It’s true.  You can copy it onto a disk, take that disk to the zoo, and feed it to a crocodile, and all that would happen is that the poor croc might get indigestion.  Your original file will be at home on your computer, safe and sound.

So if you are nervous about making back-ups directly from your documents, why not make a duplicate of your book’s file (from the desktop, just highlight the file and then select COPY or DUPLICATE, depending upon your operating system), and then move the copy onto a back-up disk? 

That way, the original never goes near anything that might conceivably eat it.

The other way to make a duplicate copy in Word is to go to the FILE menu, select SAVE AS…, and follow the directions to make a new file.  (Hint:  it’s a good idea to give it a different name, so the two don’t get mixed up.)  If you save it to the Desktop, it will be apparent where you can find it later. 

Then quit Word, so you don’t inadvertently start working on the wrong one (a rather common mistake).  Then, you can copy the new file onto a disk or e-mail it to yourself as an attachment without fear of losing your original.

Once your back-up file is on a disk or in storage, all you have to do in case of disaster is go back to it, open it up, and copy it onto your newly-wiped computer.

See?  Easy as the proverbial pie. 

Brace yourself, however:  not having a back-up is not the only way writers have been known to lose days, weeks, or months of work on their computers.  A very common cause of loss is transferring files by overwriting. 

This, for those you who have never done it (and be grateful if you haven’t) is when you have worked on a document on one computer, and then move it to another, either on a disk or by electronic transfer.  Once it is on the second computer, many writers then replace the older version on computer #2 with the transferred one from computer #1.  When this is done correctly, the older version vanishes, never to be seen again, only to be replaced by the newer one.

The problems come, typically, when writers try to REPLACE the older version with the newer one:  sometimes, they get mixed up and delete the wrong one.  The result is that all of the changes the writer made on the older version in order to create the newer one.  (In other words, the file on computer #1 was an updated version of the one on computer #2, but the writer accidentally deleted the transferred one from #2, thus losing all the updates.)

There is a rather simple way to prevent this hair-raising problem:  when you import the updated file, DON’T replace the older one with it; just save the newer version onto your hard disk under a different name, something easy to identify, such as “New Chapter 2.”  Then re-name the older file “Old Chapter 2,” or something similarly descriptive.  Move New Chapter 2 into your book’s folder, and move Old Chapter 2 elsewhere — say, into a folder entitled, “Former versions.”

The last step is the crucial one:  don’t delete ANYTHING until you are POSITIVE that the version in your work-in-progress file is the one you DEFINITELY want to keep. 

Or, heck, don’t delete either version; save each subsequent one to gladden the hearts of your biographers and graduate students who will be writing their master’s theses on your writing.

Because, you see, there really isn’t any reason you need to have only one copy of any given Word file on your computer.   If you name your files descriptively (and as a writer, you have no excuse for doing otherwise), you’re not going to mix them up, and you radically reduce the probability of deleting a week’s worth of revisions by mistake.

Why?  Because computer memories are really, really big now. It’s the programs that take up loads of space, usually, not the documents, so most of us can afford to have a dozen different versions of our chapters lingering on our hard disks. 

Heck, if you really got desperate for document storage space, you could copy versions of your novel to your teenage daughter’s iPod.  (It’s true:  nifty, eh?  If you’re interested in doing this, go ask the fine folks at an Apple store how.)

My point is, a very, very small investment of your time can make a world of difference in the event of a computer meltdown.  Don’t make me visit you in that nice, soothing convalescent hospital where writers who have lost entire manuscripts softly moan into their pillowcases.

You can do this.  Just don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If all that I’ve just said sounded to you like the, “Wah-wah wah-wah” speech of the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons — as I know discussions of computers does to some people — I implore you, find someone computer-savvy to walk you through how to do it ON YOUR OWN COMPUTER.  (Learning on a different system can be very confusing.)  Have someone else show you, and then observe you while you make copies and back-ups by yourself.  Repeat until you feel comfortable.

Trust me, your skateboarding nephew will probably be THRILLED to be giving advice for a change, rather than taking it.  (Especially if you ask for a couple of hours of his time as a holiday present — do you think he LIKES buying you socks?)  And if you feel a little dopey for making him watch you make back-ups 42 times in a row, just to make sure that you’ve got it down cold — well, he probably won’t come away with any dimmer a view of adults than he already has, and you will have given him an ego boost.

If you don’t have anyone answering this description in your immediate circle, consider giving your local junior college a call and asking if you can pay a senior 20 bucks to spend an hour walking you through how to do back-ups.  (Hey, if you file a Schedule C as a writer — and you don’t need to get paid for your writing in any given year in order to do so, usually — it would even potentially be tax-deductable, as a professional service.)

Or call up your local computer store and ask if they would be willing to give you a crash (no pun intended) course in how to make sure you don’t lose your files.  The Apple stores, for instance, have people on staff whose job it is to help people like you (at least the ones who own Macs and/or iPods) use their computers better.  Believe me, they would much rather help you BEFORE there’s a crisis than after.

Even if you feel a trifle silly asking for help at your age (and many people do feel like that, regardless of what their ages actually are), remember:  the momentary twinge will be nothing compared to the AAARGH of losing a chapter of your book permanently.  In the long run, this will decrease the stress in your life, not add to it.

There’s no harm in asking.  Think of it as a way your community can help support your writing career.  And keep up the good work!

Doing my darnedest to prevent your having to learn from experience

Yes, yes, I know: I’m not supposed to be writing new posts for the foreseeable future; my plan for convalescence very clearly includes directives merely to re-post some earlier writings with the addition of a scant few bon mots, and certainly, after my spotty posting schedule earlier in the month, it would behoove me to stay on-topic for the nonce.

But I’ve been thinking about all of those smoldering houses in Southern California, and obsessing about how many computers have been lost in the blazes. Not to minimize any of the terrible damage on every level, but I can’t help but picture the additional pain of the displaced aspiring writers. How many of those bereft writers, I wonder, either had an easily portable back-up ready to snatch up at a moment’s notice or stored a back-up off-site?

Those poor, poor people. As anyone who has ever lost an entire document can tell you, trying to recreate even a few pages from memory can be a nightmare. Imagine losing an entire novel.

I don’t want to depress you, but put yourself in one of those writers’ shoes for a moment: if something happened to your primary computer AND your filing system right now, would you have a copy of your book? One that incorporated your most recent changes?

If not, how long would it take you to reproduce it from scratch?

Or, to take a less drastic example, if your hard drive suddenly gave up the ghost right now, how recent a version of your book-in-progress would you have with which to replace your current version? A week old? A month old? That hard copy of the first three chapters that agent sent back in your SASE?

Hands up, everyone who felt the chill realization that you would not have ANY version of your novel or NF book. Please, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that computer failure, theft, or — heaven forefend — a larger disaster could not happen to you.

I was fortunate enough to learn the value of compulsive back-up generation young. When I was in college, my thesis advisor had been working on his dissertation for years. Every time we met, he used to present me with a disk containing his latest draft, requesting that I keep it in my dorm room. If he kept his only copy of his back-up in his house, he explained, and something awful happened to his home, he did not want to be left without a copy of the latest version.

Truth compels me to admit that my initial response to the notion was disrespectfully flippant. But in light of this week’s events, was he really being over-cautious? Or merely far-sighted?

To be on the ultra-safe side, he asked me to keep each week’s version in my dorm refrigerator, just in case my dorm AND his entire suburb were somehow simultaneously engulfed in flames that miraculously spared both of our lives. “The insides of refrigerators seldom burn,” he explained, “unless someone opens them during the conflagration.”

Looking over the footage of San Diego today, I wondered if he was right about that. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much left of some of those buildings.

Even though I did, in fact, keep his work in my tiny fridge, I used to smile secretly at the intensity of his fear that his work would disappear. Until I was in graduate school myself, and I was approached by a knife-wielding mugger on my way home from the library. “Give me your backpack,” he advised, none too gently.

“No,” I said, astonishing myself. I then explained at great length that I had a draft of my master’s thesis in my bag, and that it was positively covered with hand-written notes and footnotes-to-be that I had not yet entered into my soft copy. It would take me weeks to recreate all of that material. Would he accept the contents of my wallet instead? What if I made the cash my gift to him, a little token of my thanks for leaving my thesis intact, and didn’t file a police report?

The mugger, who apparently had never attempted a major writing project, was quite astonished by my vehemence; I gather he thought I simply did not understand the situation. He reminded me several times throughout that he could, in fact, kill me with the knife clutched in his hand, and that only a crazy person would risk her life for a bunch of paper.

But tell me: if you were holding the only extant copy of your book, would you have been similarly crazed?

The story ended happily, I’m glad to report: I ended up with both a whole skin and my draft. And to tell you the truth, I no longer remember if he got my money or not. (I do, however, remember him begging me to stop telling him about the argument in my thesis — I had become embroiled in an especially juicy part of Chapter Two — and admitting that he would, in fact, just be dumping the manuscript into the nearest trash can rather than turning it in for credit.)

The dual moral of these stories: it’s ALWAYS a good idea to have more than one copy of your manuscript, just in case the unthinkable happens. And the best place to keep a back-up is NOT immediately adjacent to your computer, or in your laptop case along with the laptop.

My thesis advisor’s strategy is sounding less and less zany to you, isn’t it?

I back up onto CDs these days, having become disillusioned with the stability of Zip disks, and carry the current version with me — unless I’m taking my laptop with me, in which case I leave the back-up at home. Yes, it’s a bit time-consuming, but at least I don’t have to worry about running into a literary-minded mugger, right?

Your method does not need to be complicated — in fact, it’s better if it isn’t, since simple procedures are easier to work into your daily life. Playing it safe can be as simple as burning a CD once a week and popping it into your purse (crude, but effective), copying your files onto your iPod (hey, that thing is essentially a hard drive, right?), or just e-mailing your chapter files to yourself on a regular basis (effectively turning your ISP into a remote storage facility).

Many writers prefer an off-site back-up method, such as saving to storage space online. Check with your Internet provider.

Don’t panic if you’re not very computer-savvy: this really does not need to be difficult. For an easy-to-follow, well-explained run-down of back-up and security options for the PC, I would highly recommend checking out longtime reader and computer whiz Chris Park’s blog post on the subject.

However you decide to make your back-ups, I would recommend getting into a regular schedule as soon as possible. The best way to protect your writing is to save it often, after all, and any security system works best if it is applied consistently.

How often is often enough to save your work? Well, think back to the scenarios above: how much are you willing to try to recreate from memory?

It’s a good idea, too, to save more often while you are in the throes of revising a manuscript — and to save both before and after copies of each major revision. Yes, it takes up space, but as most of us who have lived through serious revisions can tell you, it’s not all that uncommon to decide a week, month, or year down the line that a cut scene is indispensably necessary to the work. (Or for the editor, agent, or writing group that advised a particular cut in the first place to change his, her, or its mind.)

And please, don’t put off getting into the habit of making frequent back-ups. Large-scale disasters are not very frequent, thank goodness, but computer meltdowns are. A few minutes of preparation every week or so can save you a tremendous amount of pain down the line.

Here’s devoutly hoping that my fevered imagination is radically overestimating the number of manuscripts currently being lost in Southern California. Be safe, everyone, and keep up the good work.

Book marketing 101: tracking the wily agent in the wild

Yes, I am sticking my toe back into the blogging pool again today, but don’t worry: I’m dictating this immediately after an afternoon-long nap, whilst wrapped up to my nose in blankets, reclining on a couch, clutching a mug of herbal tea AND using a long-ago post as a crib. No low-tech effort has been spared, you see, to render this post as minimally energy-sapping as possible.

I’m anxious, you see, to get you out querying before the industry’s long winter’s snooze. This week marks the Frankfurt Book Fair, an annual literary extravaganza that leaves many high-powered agencies and publishing houses down a few bodies each fall, but from next week through Thanksgiving is prime querying time.

It’s a good time to send out a few additional queries even if you are already on the query-a-week plan — and especially if the best agent in the known universe has the full manuscript of your novel sitting on her desk even as I write this.

As my long-time readers are well aware, I’m of the keep-querying-until-the ink-is-actually-dry-on-the-contract school of thought. Think of keeping the query flow going as insurance: if, heaven forefend, something goes wrong with your top prospect, you will have possible alternates waiting in the wings. Or at the very least will be spared the effort of having to come up with a new prospect from scratch.

I’ve said it before, and I shall no doubt say it again: contrary to pervasive belief amongst aspiring writers, being sought-after by more than one agent is a GOOD thing — after all, nothing speeds up reading turn-around like the news that another agent has already made an offer.

I know it’s tempting to rest on your laurels while waiting to hear back on a partial or a full, but believe me, if — heaven forefend — the answer is no, you will be far, far, FAR happier if you have already begun to seek out pastures anew. The law of inertia tells us that a process already in motion tends to remain in motion; as anyone who has done serious time in the querying trenches can tell you, it takes quite a bit more energy to restart your querying engines again after they have gone cold than to keep plowing forward.

I know you’re tired of querying; it’s a whole lot of work. You have my sympathy, really. Now go out and send a couple of fresh queries this week. And next. Repeat until you’re picked up.

But to keep that flow going, you’re going to need to generate a hefty list of prospects. Today, as promised, I am going to talk about how to find agents to query — not just any agents, but the kind of agents who represent writing like yours.

And by writing like yours, I don’t mean books along vaguely similar lines — I’m talking about books in the same marketing category.

Didn’t I tell you that those exercises earlier in the Book Marketing 101 series would come in handy later on? Those of you who have been reading all the way through should already have a fairly clear idea of which categories come closest to your work — and if you do not, please see the BOOK CATEGORIES category at right.

Why is nailing down your marketing category so important? Because it is the language agents and editors use to describe books. Until you know in which category (or categories; many overlap) your baby falls, you will have great difficulty not only understanding agents express their professional preferences at conferences, but also deciphering their wants as stated in agency guides and on their websites.

I cannot overstress the importance of targeting only agents appropriate to your work, rather than taking a scattershot approach. I’ve written about why at some length in this series, so I shall not repeat myself, except to say that if you’ve ever heard a successful agent talk about the business for five consecutive minutes, chances are you’ve already heard four times that one of the biggest mistakes the average aspiring writer makes is to regard all agents as equally desirable, and thus equally smart to approach.

As a rule, they don’t like being treated as generic representatives of their line of work, rather than highly-focused professionals who deal in particular types of books. This is true, incidentally, even of those agents who list every type of book known to man in the agency guides. Go figure.

As I mentioned earlier in this Book Marketing 101 series, the single best thing you can do to increase your chances of acceptance is to write to a specific person — and for a specific reason, which you should state in the letter. Agents all have specialties; they expect writers to be aware of them.

Later in this series, I will go into why this isn’t a particularly fair expectation, but for now, suffice it to say that it’s expected. Within the industry, respecting the agents’ preferences in this respect marks the difference between the kind of writer that they take seriously and the vast majority that they don’t.

This is probably old news to most of you, right? If you’re taking the time to do research on the industry online, you have probably encountered this advice before, right? Although perhaps not its corollary: don’t approach agents — at conferences, via e-mail, or through queries — unless they have a PROVEN track record of representing your type of writing successfully.

This is for your protection, as much as to increase your probability of querying success. Think about it: do you really want to be your new agent’s FIRST client in a particular genre?

Of course not; it will be twice as hard to sell your book. You want an agent who already has connections with editors who buy your type of work on a daily basis.

Which brings me to the most logical first step for seeking out agents to query. If you attended a conference this year, now is the time to send letters to the agents to whom you were NOT able to pitch.

However, be smart about it: don’t bother to query those who client lists do not include books like yours.

I’m dead serious about this. No matter how much you may have liked the agent personally at the conference: the second easiest ground of rejection, after a “Dear Agent” salutation, is when the query is for a kind of book that the agent does not represent; like “Dear Agent,” an agency screener does not need to read more than a couple of lines of this type of query in order to plop it into the rejection pile.

Allow me to repeat: this is true, no matter how much you may have liked the agent when you met her, or how well you thought the two of you clicked, or that the second agent from the left on the panel bears a startling resemblance to your beloved long-ago junior high school French teacher. Deciding whom to represent is a business decision, not a sentimental one — and it will save you a tremendous amount of time and chagrin if you approach selecting your querying list on the same basis.

So do a little homework first. If you didn’t take good notes at the conference about who was looking for what kind of book (and didn’t keep in touch with the person sitting next to you, scribbling like a fiend), check out the standard agents’ guides, where such information abounds.

Then, when you find the right fits, go ahead and write the name of the conference on the outside of your query envelopes, and mention having heard the agent speak at the conference in the first line of your letter; at most agencies, this will automatically put your query into a different pile, because conference attendees are generally assumed to be more industry-savvy, and thus more likely to be querying with market-ready work, than other writers.

If you went to a big conference, this strategy might yield half a dozen more agents to query. Where do you go after that?

This is a serious question, one that I have argued long and hard should be addressed explicitly in seminars at writing conferences. Far too many aspiring writers abandon their querying quests too soon after their first conferences, assuming — wrongly — that once they have exhausted the array of attending agents, they have plumbed the depth and breadth of the industry.

This is simply not true. The agents who show up at any given conference are just that — the agents who happened to show up for that particular conference, people with individual tastes and professional preferences. If you didn’t strike lucky with that group, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would have the same luck with another.

But obviously, conferences are expensive; few writers can afford to attend an unlimited number of them. So how else can you find out who is eager to represent what?

The common wisdom on the subject, according to most writing guides and classes, is that you should start with the agents of writers whose work you like, advice predicated on the often untrue assumption that all of us are so myopic that we will only read writers whose work resembles ours.

Me, I’m not so egocentric: I read books by a whole lot of living writers, most of whose styles are nothing at all like mine; if I want a style like my own, I read my own work.

However, especially if you write in a genre or NF, querying your favorite authors’ agents is not a bad idea. Certainly, the books already on your shelves are the easiest to check the acknowledgments page for thank-yous.

Actually, you should get into the habit of checking these pages anyway, if you are planning on a career in this business: one of the best conversation-starters you can possibly whip out is, “Oh, you worked on Author X’s work, didn’t you? I remember that she said wonderful things about you.”

Trust me, there is not an agent or editor in the business who will not be flattered by such a statement. You would be amazed at how few of the writers who approach them are even remotely familiar with the average agent’s track record. But who doesn’t like to be recognized and complimented on his work?

So, knowing this about human nature, make an educated guess: would an agent would be more or less likely to ask to see pages from a writer whose well-targeted query began, “Since you so ably represented Author X’s GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, I believe you will be interested in my work…”

You bet your boots, baby.

So I hear some disgruntled murmuring out there? “But Anne,” I hear some of you call out, “I already knew about querying agents I saw at conferences and checking acknowledgement pages. Aren’t there more creative ways to expand my query list?”

As a matter of fact, there are — but even as a dictator (dictatrix?), I have run out of steam for today. Hang in there, folks, and keep up the good work!