First Writes to Last Rights
By Gail E. Wind
At the summer 2022 Writers Meet Agents event in Rochester, Vermont, Katharine Sands gave the presentation “First Writes to Last Rights.” Katharine hails from the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, a well-established agency that got its start in the 1970s. Among other things, she is the driving force and contributor to the indispensable book, Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye.
Katharine gave a comfortable, seminar-style talk. She sat with the group and shared her extensive experience of sifting through the slush pile of queries, being able to rapidly assess the “salability” of the project offered, and the delight of finding a “gem” in the pile
Katherine explained that the art of pitching is akin to what most of our English Lit teachers tried to drill into us: “Show; don’t tell.” She shared the journey of a book going through the myriad of processes before it is in a bookstore, ready for sale. She suggested trying to condense your description of your book to one sentence. Answer the questions: Would I buy this book? Would I gift it to a friend, co-worker or my boss? Why does the world need my book? Answering these questions can help you write a better, more concise query.
It is not the publishing world of yesteryear where a publisher shouldered the bulk of publicity for a writer. Authors these days must be ready to put themselves in the limelight with social media platforms and a willingness to work on the publicity end of things after their book-child is born.
After an agent agrees to take on your book, his or her work begins. They have to decide, first, if your book needs more editing before they shop it around. Editing can take a couple of weeks to a few months. Then they start calling or writing to publishers and bragging about how good your book will be.
Your agent must basically repeat the process you went through when you were querying agents. They have to pick and choose what publishers to submit your book to. Their expertise at this point can be the deciding factor in whether or not you get published. They have to know which publishers would be most likely to take on your book, just as you had to do the research on what agents to query, based on your genre and their wish list.
Sometimes, books sell in a week; sometimes, it takes months. Each book is different. Sometimes, it is rejected by one person at a publishing house; sometimes, another person at that same house will love the book and snatch it up. It is definitely a waiting game.
What should you do while you are waiting? Beef up your social media presence; answer all the questions to your blog postings or website. Start writing your next novel! Write short stories to the local papers and magazines. Re-read your book and get a head start on the edits. Most of all, try to be patient with your agent; they have a lot to do, and are, in a way, working for you for free up until the moment that a publisher says, “Yep, we can sell that one; let’s discuss terms.”
Gail is a young seventy-two-year-old. Her mother preserved the newspaper article that had her first by-line, written when she was sixteen! Her faith in Gail is what built Gail's faith in herself. She's self-published the first in a series of Girl Scout mysteries and she is still confident that her novel, "The Missing Mile," will get traditionally published. She “never says never!”