The Odious Manuscript Marketing Chore

With school over and two weeks of painting the inside of the house behind me, I can turn to what we writers consider the most odious of tasks – marketing manuscripts. While waiting on my primary manuscript to make the most recent rounds of agents, I managed to write three novellas. So they’re on my marketing list as well. Which means devising a “can’t lose” strategy for dangling a hook and worm in front of the right agents this time. How to go about it? Well, there are many ways, depending on a writer’s credentials, what’s worked for others, and what may or may not work in the brave new world of digital publishing and Internet soliciting. (If you’re reading Miss Snark, he/she is only one agent with one perspective.) Here’s what my plan entails:
For the short novels, which are rather literary in nature, I will only contact small publishers, without benefit of an agent. My reason for this is two-fold. Agents aren’t interested in novellas (or short story collections), because they’re not money-makers. Even if I do land an agent for one of these, their 15-20% of the take on a small first edition will diminish your meager returns severely. The ability of small publishers to market their books is limited, thus their ability to conjure sales is, too. I have a small but growing following – enough to interest small publishers (should I find the right one).
For the keystone manuscript – a finished novel of about 105,000 words, I’ll go to the east and west coast agencies. Here again, it’s crucial to ferret out the right marriage of writer-agent-editor-publisher connections. Mine is going to be a problem, though – it’s not quite a thriller, not quite a typical literary read, not quite what’s generally reckoned to be mainstream fiction. The manuscript is complete and I’ve had it edited, and I believe it to be market-worthy, but I’m under no illusions that it won’t be a difficult sell.
My current choice for research is a web site AgentQuery. There, one can search for agencies handling a specific type of manuscript, and the web site spins out of its database a listing of them, and the agents working for them.
But it’s not enough to pick out agents interested in your genre. You should do what you can (admittedly intuition plays a part here) to select agents that are compatible with you personally as well as professionally. AgentQuery gives enough information to do that, for the most part. And it’s always a smooth move to go for agents who are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), as they are your best shot not to be scam-infested. Pick a list of at least a dozen agencies or agents from AQ, ones seeming to be most compatible with you and your work.
Next, you should try to ferret out scams. Keep in mind that even well meaning sites such as AQ can be tricked by smooth, unscrupulous people passing themselves off as agents. You list of possbiles in hand, return to the Internet and Google Preditors and Editors – a site dedicated to informing writers of unscrupulous agents, lawyers, editors, and publishers. If any on your list is panned by P&E, scratch ‘em off your list. If you’ve selected possibles poorly, you may need to do more research. Once you have a list of agencies, prioritize (I hate that word) them. Select the top five or six and query them.
Postal rates have just gone up again, reinforcing my resolve to deal only with agencies willing to receive e-mail queries. I recommend that. It’s no-cost, response time is generally quicker, and these agents are probably more hip to the modern market than those doing business in the more traditional manner. Be sure to give them what they want to see, and no more. Make your queries business-like and writer-professional.
Query all five or six agencies at one blast. While they’re in movement, research enough to provide you with six more, giving you a best-scenario list of some twenty agencies. As soon as you begin getting rejections, query then next six, then the last six.
From this process, you’ll stand the best chance in the new millennium of finding the right literary marriage. If not, you’re likely at least to get advice or comments on what they read from you, which may mean re-writing or editing your manuscript.
After that? Hang in there. Believe in your work. Take advice only as it resonates as being helpful to both your manuscript and your career as a writer. Good luck.

Good Samaritan Time

I received a reply to my last post – something having nothing at all to do with books or writing – a Maria Papoila from Portugal wanted to report a missing child:
Madeleine McCann, 4 years old,disappeared from The Ocean Club resort, Praia da Luz, Lagos, Portugal, in the evening of May 3, 2007. Police says that she was kidnapped by an english man.
Assuming that this is a sincere call for help, I'm posting the message for readers of this blog. Hopefully the Internet can be used for something altruistic this time, and I sincerely hope Madeleine is located soon, and unharmed. Check Maria's blog at: http://muitateoria.blogspot.com.

Stayin’ Alive

Wife Becca is in New Zealand and Australia for three+ weeks, and school is over for yours truly. The poetry class I was less-than-enraptured with four months ago turned out nicely. It was a challenge writing poetry on the fly – some sixteen pieces in as many weeks – and with Prof. Rick Chess yapping at us like a sheepdog, a class of nine decent poets turned out some pretty fair work.
While the wife is away, I'm getting out of my brain and onto the walls – painting 'em – all of 'em – before she returns from that southern hemisphere Odyssey. What will keep me from despair through this is recreational reading. I'll let you know if anything of note turns up on these read pages.

Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski

It’s perhaps an appropriate irony that I found the novel, Fieldwork, at the same time as The Lying Tongue (which I recently reviewed). Like Lying Tongue, Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski, is a novel set in an exotic locale (Thailand, this time), the protagonist (eponymously named, this time) also in search of clues to the life of a mysterious person – this time an anthropologist, Martiya van der Leun – who has died mysteriously in a Thai prison for killing a Christian missionary.
Unlike the tawdriness of Lying Tongue, Fieldwork is a masterfully written work. It seems slow in developing by American fiction standards, because it’s told primarily in narrative, with little resort to dialogue and very little of the usual intense action. For a first-time novelist, Berlinski handles his prose very well, slowly drawing the reader into the suspense with both story and “fact” about a remote Thai tribe, the Dyalo. What makes this story ultimately compelling is the surrounding “facts” about the Thai countryside, the tribal people, the missionaries’ attempts at conversion, their concern over the very palpable sense of otherworldly beings, or spirits, associated with virtually every aspect of Dyalo life.
The unwinding story of Martiya has her living with the Dyalo people for two years, then returning to the U.S. to finish her doctorate, then unhappy with that life, returning to the Dyalo. On this trip, she slowly comes under the sway of certain spirits, who lead her astray. All this leaves the reader to ponder the power of both the Christian God and of the Dyalo spirits.
It’s become cliché to expect novels about people in faraway places, but this one is hard to imagine a writer conjuring. Berlinski is to be commended for his unique story, but I wonder what can possibly follow. Of course, I’ll be looking forward to whatever does come.