Finding an agent
- I’m so, so excited to introduce you all to the brilliant and beautiful Nicole Castroman. We’ve been friends and critique partners for almost three years, and her book BLACKHEARTS is a story I love so much that I wish I could claim it as my own. I’m thrilled Simon Pulse will be publishing it in Spring of 2016! Nicole has worked so hard and I think her story will be an inspiration to anyone trying to break into the publishing industry. Becky Wallace: So Nicole, tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
Nicole Castroman: A little known fact about me is that I love languages. I do. In high school and later at BYU, I studied German, Russian and Spanish. I’m still fluent in German, I can speak enough Spanish to get myself into trouble, but I can only say a few words in Russian. Very sad, but true. I think that’s why I love to write so much. It’s a way to communicate with people. Learning about other cultures is fascinating for me, which is why I love to travel. I’ve visited most countries in Europe, including Russia and the Republic of Georgia. Yes, there is a country named Georgia. Kind of appropriate that I live in the state of Georgia, no?
BW: Remember when I said she was brilliant? That wasn’t me just being nice. She really is a super smart. *Nicole blushes* And, how long have you been writing?
NC: I’ve been writing for approximately 5 1/2 years.
BW: How did you get your agent?
NC: I signed with my first agent in 2011. At that point, I’d written three (bad) manuscripts, but my fourth one did the trick. It didn’t sell, but I kept writing. Always be working on your next project. I cannot stress that enough. Not only does it improve your technique, but it keeps you from obsessing too much over the submissions process.
After about 18 months of working together, my agent and I decided to part ways. It happens. At the time, it was frustrating, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned so much from her and really, in the end, things worked out for the best. I know several writers who have switched agents, for a number of reasons. It’s a part of the business and that’s exactly what this is. A business.
So, in August 2012, I was agentless. That’s when I started writing BLACKHEARTS. The words literally flew from my fingertips. I loved the characters and the story so much, it really was a joy to write. I’m not sure exactly how many queries I sent out, but I had several requests for partials and fulls. I remember very well the Friday at the beginning of January when I received an email from Quinlan Lee at Adams Literary. She said she was enjoying my story, which at the time was called THE LEGEND OF EDWARD TEACH. She asked me a few questions and said she would read the rest over the weekend and get back to me on Monday. I could hardly sleep all weekend, wondering what part she was reading and whether she liked it or not. On Monday, she asked to set up a time to talk. As soon as I spoke with her on the phone, I knew she was the agent for me, because it felt so natural talking to her. She’s amazing! She’s a great communicator, advocate and is incredibly knowledgeable about the entire industry. It’s an honor to be part of the team at Adams Literary. Josh Adams came up with the amazing title, BLACKHEARTS. Seriously, I love that title! Tracey Adams is so supportive (and a riot on FB) and Samantha Bagood is so nice and gives feedback on my writing as well. I feel very blessed to work with them. And just a little shout out here to my editor, Sara Sargent. I’ve followed her on Twitter and have always thought how great it would to work with her and now I get to. DREAMS DO COME TRUE.
BW: Blackheart is the story about how Blackbeard became a pirate. How did you come up with this idea? What inspired you to write about pirates? What are you working on now?
NC: Why write about Blackbeard? Well, I love history and interestingly enough, there isn’t much information about Blackbeard. In fact, only the last two years of his life are documented. It was believed he came from a wealthy family, because he could read and write. Some accounts have his last name listed as Drummond, although like most pirates, he changed his name to avoid dishonoring his family. Contrary to popular belief, there are no reports of him ever harming or killing anyone he took hostage. Instead, he used psychological intimidation to get what he wanted. He secured burning hemp ropes in his beard and beneath his hat, giving him the appearance of some large, smoking specter. He captured a French slave ship, freeing those on board and renaming it Queen Anne’s Revenge. At one point in his career, he held the entire city of Charleston, SC hostage. His only demand–medicine.
All of those facts inspired me and I simply deconstructed his story, or at least my version of it. Or maybe I should say, I constructed his story.
Right now, I’m working on another historical story, set in New Orleans during the Reconstruction Era, after the Civil War.
BW: If you could give a piece of advice to someone who is trying to get published, what would it be?
NC: Can I give lots of advice? Like, a whole cake worth, not just a piece? I know this sounds cliché, but NEVER GIVE UP! Seriously, if you love to write, keep at it. And read a lot. And write a lot. And find an amazing CP like Becky who will tell you what works and what doesn’t. And then find beta readers who will be honest with you and tell you what works and what doesn’t. I have no filter, so when it comes to critiquing, I’ll pretty much say what I think. If you can handle it, THAT is the kind of person who will help your writing. Not me, per se, but someone who will be completely honest with you. It’s nice to have someone say they enjoy your story, but it’s even nicer to improve your craft. Oh, another piece of advice. Try to develop a thick skin. I could go on and on…
BW: Now tell everyone three reasons you think I’m wonderful. Just kidding. 🙂 If you have any questions for Nicole, you can ask them in the questions or tweet them to her @nicolecastroman. She’d love to hear from you!
- I just got off the phone with a cute girl who is starting this crazy publication journey. She wanted to know where to begin, but really there is too much information for one phone conversation. I wrote a giant email for her and decided to turn it into a blog post for all of you who are interested in the same process.Ten BASIC Steps to Getting Published1. Finish a manuscript. That’s the most important step! No agents or editors will look at an unfinished story.2. Revise with help. Get a beta reader (or three). A beta reader is someone who is willing to read your story and give you feedback, and you do the same in return.I found my first beta readers on Absolute Write.
They have a beta reader forum that’s a bit like a dating website. You look for someone with similar interests, ask them a couple of questions, see if you’re compatible and then you can swap manuscripts. Other places you can find beta readers (sometimes called Critique Partners or CPs) include:
3. Write a query letter. Condensing your novel into 180 to 250 words is not an easy task, but luckily there are a lot of really smart people out there who have made this process a little simpler.One of my favorites blog posts on this topic is from Nathan Bransford (again), How to Write a Query Letter. Once you’ve gotten the synopsis portion of the letter written, there are a several places where you can post your query and get feedback from others.
- Nathan Bransford’s (a former agent and current author) Critique Partner Forum
- Your local library
- And by following author/writer blogs. (I found one of my favorite CPs by following her comments on one author’s blog back to her blog. You may call it stalking if you wish, but I’m not the least bit scary).
4. Research agents (this step should be happening at the same time you’re working on No. 3). The best place I found to research agents is QueryTracker.com.You can search for agents that represent your genre, visit their websites, follow them on Twitter, get a sense of what they like and who they are before you send them a letter. Their website will also tell you their submission guidelines (how many pages they do/do not want to see), what type of stories they are currently looking for, and how to personalize your letter so it attracts their attention.Click here for a link to my agent’s submission guidelines so you can see exactly what I’m talking about.5. Send out your query. I wrote a blog post on my query process here. I used a sort of scientific approach and tested different queries on different agents. My actual query is at the bottom of the post.6. Pray really hard. Wait. Start a new story.7. Get an agent! (Celebrate!!) Unless your manuscript is perfect, and it probably won’t be, then your agent will send you revision notes and you’ll revise to their tastes.8. Create a sub list. I left this part up to my agent because she had a much better handle on the market, different publishers’ catalogues, and editors’ personalities and tastes. But you may want to check the acknowledgement sections of your favorite books. The editor is always mentioned and if your story is similar (but not TOO similar) then they may like your writing too.9. Pray really hard. Wait. Start a new story.10. Get the call from your agent that someone is interested in your story! Just because an editor likes your story doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make an offer. There are several stages beyond the editor (acquisitions, marketing, and maybe the publisher) before a deal is made. But if you’re talking to editors then you’re so close!! Here’s a great post on what happens to your manuscript once it goes on submission.If you have any other questions or want a specific step outlined in detail, let me know! I’d be happy to post on it for you.AND…have you entered my giveaway? Scroll down or click here!
- Absolute Write Water Cooler
- Nathan Bransford’s Query Forum
- Query Tracker
- A lot of authors (including Jenn Johansson) do a weekly query letter help section.
- If you want to look at a lot of queries and see how an agent chews them up, visit Query Shark. It’s awesome and slightly scary.
- Okay folks! I’m officially querying. For those of you who are old pros, how did you handle the stress? I want to check my email every five seconds!
Since I can’t back away from my computer, I’m doing two things to keep me busy:
1. Rewriting my synopsis. Hopefully someone will ask for it!
2. Working on my new WIP. It’s a good distraction…sort of.
If any of you have tips about how you dealt with Query Hell, please share! There are plenty of people who will be stepping up to the plate soon and would love to hear your thoughts.