Posts Tagged ‘publishing’


January 21, 2008

Okay…now we’re onto the next phase of finding a literary agent. 

When you have your manuscript nice and clean, then the next stage is to build that list of agents.  First, a quick recap of one important bit: I recommend using to search for recent deals in your genre/subgenre.  Look for deals by the significant authors in your genre.  The deal listings will name the agent who represented the book and the editor who purchased it.  Here’s an example of a one of my own deal listings from Publishers Marketplace.

Bram Stoker Award-winner Jonathan Maberry’s PATIENT ZERO, in which a Baltimore police detective is recruited by a secret government organization to help stop a group of terrorists from launching a weaponized plague against America that turns its citizens into zombies, to Jason Pinter at St. Martin’s, in a three-book deal (including PATIENT ZERO), by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger.

When you see “to” before a name, that’s the editor;  “by” indicates the agent.

You can then do searches on the editor to see the other books they’ve bought (and the agents who repped them), and you can search the agents by name.  You can also search the categories (fiction debut, thriller, young adult, etc.) and that’ll pull up a couple of years’ worth of listings.

Make sure you double-check to see if the agent and/or editor is still at that firm before you pitch.  These folks move like nomads.  For example, the editor who bought my books at St. Martin’s Press, Jason Pinter, is no longer there.  He scored his own book deal and has left editing to writer crime novels for Mira.

Also, when compiling your list of agents you have to remember that the better ones typically have very few spots left on their lists, and that means that they’ll be very picky when agreeing to look at works from new authors.  You have to pitch the hell out of it.

In one of my earlier blogs I posted a sample of a book pitch letter to an agent.  Go take a look at that.  I landed an agent with that letter; students of mine have used variations on it to sell their works.

Okay, so now you have your list and your query letter.  The next step is to get that letter out to everyone on your agent list.  Never do the one-at-a-time method.  Years pass, you get old, stars burn out to carbon cinders before you get through the whole list.  This is your career, be pro-active.

The way I did it, I sent ten copies of that letter out to agents.  I got six go-aheads to submit material (four partials and two complete manuscripts). 

Normally agents take anywhere from 3 months to an entire age of the world to get back to you.  They’re busy, yeah I get that.  I suggest following up with a note or an email after a few weeks, just to see if they’re aware that it’s in their office.  Some may snap back at you for pestering them.  Too bad, this is business and follow-up is a part of any business.  The trick is to be very brief, business formal, and business casual.  Something like:

“Dear Kira,

Just following up to see if you received the partial on BIG FAT NOVEL, which you requested last month. 

Joe Schmoe”

When approaching an agent, here’s what you should have ready:

QUERY LETTER:  Use good quality stationary and matching envelopes; do not hand write anything except your signature; include either a self-addressed and stamped envelope, or SASE, or request a reply via email.  Or both.
COMPLETE MANUSCRIPT:  Have it clean, edited, and in final draft.  Never query with an unfinished manuscript –not unless you already have an agent and books in print.  NOTE: Your manuscript should be in Times New Roman (or Courier), 12 point type, double-spaced, with the default margins of Microsoft Word.  Paragraphs should be indented and there should be no spaces between paragraphs.  Print only in black on paper that is 94 or 96 brightness (or better).  Don’t bother with expensive watermarked paper; just make sure it’s as bright and opaque as possible.  I also BOLD the entire manuscript as it creates better contrast between paper and ink, which makes it easier on the eyes of the editor or agent.  This courtesy costs a little extra, but courtesy is always appreciated.  Also, when mailing the manuscript, mark the envelope with REQUESTED MATERIALS; otherwise it’ll vanish into a slush pile somewhere.

MARKETPLACE ANALYSIS:  This is a list of books that would in your same genre/subgenre.  List about a dozen and include the title, author, publisher (including imprint), date of original publication, page count and format (paperback, trade paperback, or hardcover).  I usually offer this in my query and include it, asked or unasked, with the manuscript.  You want the agent (or editor) to know where you think your book belongs; you want to make it clear that it’s part of an established genre; and you want to send a message that the genre is active.  This marketplace analysis is your argument that your book can and will sell because there is a ready market out there made up of readers of these other authors.

SYNOPSIS: Have a short 3-5 page synopsis of the entire story, written in present tense (weird, yeah, but that’s how they do it).  Be lively and have fun with the writing.  Run this by a few friends to see how it reads, and try reading it aloud to look for clunky sentences.

Now you’re ready to roll.

There’s more to say on finding an agent (particularly in regards to networking), so we’ll come back to this topic later this week.

Good luck!
Jonathan Maberry 



January 18, 2008



After you’ve made the “Hey, I need an agent!” decision, the next step is to identify the right one for you.  And the first step in that is to make sure you don’t fall prey to some of the many, many unscrupulous agents in the business.


Literary agents get 15% of your gross and that fee is taken out of the checks sent from a publisher.  They also get percentages of foreign sales, film rights, etc., but the bottom line is that agents make their living off of fees based on actual sales.  And, take note, you’ll know the exact amount of your advance from the contract you sign with the publisher and you’ll get an end of year accounting from the agent that clearly shows what monies were received by the publisher, the amount of their fee-based deduction, and the monies disbursed to you.  With royalties you’ll be given a copy of the royalties breakdown, which is sent by the publisher to the agent along with the royalties check.  The agent will deduct the agency fee and send a check along with a copy of the royalties breakdown to you. 


Since I posted the first part of this thread the other day I’ve received a lot of email from writers who have been gouged by agents who charge all sorts of fees: submission fees, reading fees, evaluation fees, marketing fees, and even editing fees.  Even though these practices are technically legal (though prohibited by agent trade organizations), I always advise my students and friends to avoid those agents like the plague.  An agent living off of incremental pre-sale fees is in business to make those fees.  There’s no incentive for them to ever sell anything. 


Some agents will offer to sell additional services, such as website design, PR kits, catalog placement for book events and fairs, print and Internet ads, book cover designs (publishers always use their own designs, so these would be a pointless waste of cash), business cards, writing class enrollments, etc.  These are all money-gouging scams.


There are exceptions, sure.  Some good agents do charge fees for copying and postage.  Of all the fees discussed those are the ones a writer might agree to.  Making copies of a hefty manuscript and mailing copies around is expensive.  Okay, that one’s a maybe.  But if they ask for submission or reading fees then look elsewhere.


I know a lot of agents, and every legitimate agent I know holds most kinds of fee-charging agents in contempt.  Yes, I understand it’s a way for a start-up agency to get operating capital.  Sorry, I have no sympathy for that.  Take out a business loan or mortgage your house –don’t fleece the author.


Agents that charge to edit your book are also suspicious.  More often a good agent who likes your book but believes it to need work will suggest that you go out and find a book editor (not a book doctor –a topic for another time) and then come back with the revised version.  They will seldom if ever even suggest an editor.   It’s an ethical point, a conflict of interest.


Freelance editors abound (but check them out, too).  Get references if you can and follow up with those references.  A rare few agents may work with you to edit your book, but this is less common and it chews up an agent’s time.


I’ve heard of a few agents who routinely steer their clients toward self-publishing, POD (print on demand), vanity press, e-publishing, or other services where the author has to pay some or all of the expense of having their book published, distributed, or placed.  Don’t go there.  Legitimate agents SELL your book, they don’t pimp it for vanity press ‘publishers’.


There’s a great resource for writers who want to check to see if an agent has a shady track record. is great.  It’s not complete, of course, but it’s pretty damn far-reaching.


Also, there’s a pretty scathing expose of these fee-based agents, TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell by former FBI agent Jim Fisher (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004; hardback).  And check out THE STREET SMART WRITER: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven (Nomad Press, 2006; trade paperback). 


In my next blog we’ll talking about how to build a target list of reputable agents who are positioned to sell your kind of book and have the track-record and connections to do so.


Please feel free to use this blog thread to share your experiences (good and bad) with finding agents.  The more everyone knows, the better everyone’s chances are in getting sold without getting fleeced.


If you have a question you don’t want to post on the blog thread, drop me an email at


Tune in tomorrow and until then…write like you mean it!


Jonathan Maberry        



January 16, 2008

For the first twenty-five years of my writing career I didn’t have a literary agent.  Most of my early sales were magazine features and columns for which you don’t use an agent; and then a few textbook sales which tend to yield money so small an agent would like set himself on fire rather than bother with making that kind of deal.


When I decided to try and break into fiction  –something totally new for me—I figured I needed an agent.  Now I needed to find one.  Any writer who hits that moment realizes how daunting it is.  Unsigned writers fear agents because they know that to a very great degree there’s no way to get sold without one.


First thing I did was to ask everyone I know who had an agent for suggestions on how to go about finding one.  They all said the same thing, and the advice they gave SOUNDED right at first, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it.  What they said was: “Find a low-level or mid-level agent, someone who is just getting in the business, and sign with them.  They’re the only ones looking to take on new clients and you can rise with them.”


Sounds good, right?  Sounds reasonable.  Think again.


Business is all about messaging.  There’s always a subtext to anything said in business.   That said, think of the message that you send out if you only try for agents who are either bottom-rung or brand new to the business.  It says: “My work isn’t good enough to be represented by a top agent.” Sadly that message comes across loud and clear.


That didn’t work for me.  I have more faith in my writing than that (as subjective as that might be) and I wanted a really good agent.


So I sat back and thought about who and what an agent is and made some reasonable deductions: 

  Agents are human.  Not Olympian gods.  I’d met some at writers conferences.  None of them had horns, none of them threw lightning bolts. 

Agents are working stiffs, too.  There have to be good and bad agents.  There have to be lucky or unlucky agents.  There have to be rising stars and has-beens.  There have to well-connected agents and those to whom most doors are still closed.  That’s the way every business is, no matter what business we’re talking about.


Some of today’s top writers are still repped by the agents that handled their first works.  The biggest deals are made by agents on the inside track of the business.  Read the market news, this bears out most of the time.  If so, then big agents must be taking on new clients (who then go on to make big money).


One of the common pieces of good advice for writers trying to find an agent is to look in the dedication and acknowledgments pages of books by writers of the same genre.  Writers often thank their agents (and editors) and that’s a great way of beginning to build a target list.


Other resources include using (which costs $20/month) and (free) to search for agents whose recent track record shows that they have the chops and connections to make decent deals for authors.  It’s worth checking those resources to see who is representing debut authors as well.


Tomorrow we’ll talk about the next steps to take. 

  Keep Writing!Jonathan  Jonathan Maberry (my author website) Career Doctor for Writers  (my consulting business) Writers Corner USA (the writers center I co-founded) 



December 13, 2007

I love switching genres.  I started out writing nonfiction books on martial arts, then shifted that to write textbooks on women’s self-defense and safety awareness.  That may sound like a similar type of book to the martial arts books, but it’s not.  Different audience, different info, different style.


Then in 2001 I started writing about the things that go bump in the night and have since written four books on the folklore/legends of vampires, werewolves and other critters that get all bitey when the sun goes down.  First it was THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (released under my one-time-only pen name of Shane MacDougall); then VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006); THE CRYPTOPEDIA (co-authored with David Kramer; released in 2007); and ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (due out from Citadel in September 07)


In 2006 my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, was published by Pinnacle Books.  It was the lead-off to a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in a fictional small Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep.  It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel.  The sequel, DEAD MAN’S SONG came out in July; and next May the series wraps with BAD MOON RISING.


This past weekend I just finished writing PATIENT ZERO, a totally new kind of book for me.  It’s a bio-terrorism thriller in which a Baltimore detective (Joe Ledger) is recruited by a government agency (the DMS: Department of Military Sciences) to combat a terrorist group bent on releasing a plague.  It’s scheduled for release from St. Martin’s Press in winter 2009.


Now, you may ask, isn’t switching genre supposed to be a risky move for an author?  I don’t see it that way.  After all, Stephen King has published books that are technically horror (SALEM’S LOT, THE SHINING), Young Adult fantasy (THE TALISMAN), adult fantasy (THE DARK TOWER series); science fiction (CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, THE CELL), urban fantasy (LISEY’S STORY), post-apocalyptic science fantasy (THE STAND), young adult dram (THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON), and even suspense (MISERY).  And a whole bunch of other stuff that would fit on a dozen different bookstore shelves.


For me, the shift to thrillers is a comfortable and necessary step.  It’s where my muse is pointing me (or, perhaps, pushing me).


At the same time I’m experimenting with a young adult horror/comedy novel.


I love the freedom of movement, and I really dig the challenge of finding new voices for the characters living in my head.


Who knows what I’ll be writing in ten years.  Maybe books on cooking or novels about fuzzy bunnies.


Hell…anything’s possible.


Jonathan Maberry





Character Point Of View

December 11, 2007

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at a library to a group of folks who are working on breaking into the writing biz (and a few folks who just loitered in the back while I spoke).  The Q&A part of the talk wandered onto the subject of character points of view.

One of the folks in the audience  –a person who had read my first two novels, Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song—asked how I get inside the heads of the villainous characters.  My novels (they’re books 1 and 2 of a trilogy that will wrap with Bad Moon Rising in May ’08) include a number of bad guys.  One is a psychotic serial killer and gangster named Karl Ruger, known for savagely murdered a group of senior citizens.  Another one, Vic Wingate, is an abusive stepfather who savagely beats his fourteen-year old stepson. Then there is a nutso religious fanatic named Tow-Truck Eddie who believes that the voice in his head is God telling him to murder the local paperboy. And the last is an immortal monster. Each of them is a total creep in his own way, and each of them do some very, very bad things.

I, on the other hand, am not a creep and I don’t do very bad things.    So, how do I crawl inside the heads of bad guys?  That was the topic of conversation.

The answer is both simple and complex.  The simple answer is: that’s what writers do.  After all a writer doesn’t have to share lifestyle paths, political views, gender, or any other qualities with their characters.  J. K. Rowling isn’t an English schoolboy any more than Stephen King wasn’t a religiously oppressed teenage high school girl.

The more complex answer is based on what a writer deliberately does to improve his craft.  Shifting points of view is a great exercise for writers (just as it is for actors, artists, etc.).  It forces us to take a different psychological or emotional stance.  It helps us see through other eyes.

I have a writing exercise based on point of view (POV) that I use with my writing students.  Here’s an example of how it works:

I’ll describe something (since ‘tis the season, let’s pick a Christmas tree).  Then I’ll ask my students to describe that tree in 1-3 paragraphs.  Generally their descriptions will be based on their own takes on Christmas, and there’s a lot of variety there (a class with Christians, agnostics, Jews, etc. will yield substantially different results).

Then, every few minutes I tell them to start with a fresh sheet of paper and describe the Christmas tree as seen by:

·        A burglar breaking into the house on Christmas Eve.

·        A broken-hearted old woman sitting alone

·        A cop at a crime scene

·        A blind man who has just had successful surgery to restore his eyesight

·        A serial killer

·        A young man arriving at a house to pick up his date

·        A Hindu visiting a co-worker’s house for dinner

·        And so on…

With each new personality model the Christmas tree becomes a different thing because each of these characters could not possibly have the same reference points.  The writer then has to imagine their thoughts/reactions/opinions, either based on pure imagination or on information and/or experiences with persons who might fight (to some degree) the models provided.

If you’re a writer give it a try.  Feel free to post your version here in the comments section.  It’ll definitely be interesting.

-Jonathan Maberry

Write, Dammit!

December 7, 2007

I’m a very disciplined writer.  It’s my day job, so slouching around the house, watching zombie flicks, or playing Snood pretty much doesn’t get the job done…though I have palyed hookey a few times and done each of those things (sometimes all at once).  But for the most part I believe in establishing and maintaing good work habits.  I write every day, and I did that long before writing became my 9-5 job. I’m a believer in that saying: “If you write every day you get better every day.”  I roll out of bed around 7:30 and by 8-ish I’m at my desk. I set goals for myself –usually 4000 words per day. If I write more, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean I can write less tomorrow. On weekends I scale it back to about 1000 words.   I’m also pretty structured in my approach to storytelling.  I’m a list maker and a devoted believer in the power of the Outline.  Mind you, I do allow for a lot of flexibility. I write my outline first and then knock out some character profiles. Then I sit down and draft out a very rough ‘preliminary synopsis’ of what the finished book might be like. I like complicated storylines and deep-reaching character development, and that has to be planned to some degree.  However I have never finished a project that bears much resemblance to the original outline. Books are organic and they’ll change in the telling. The outline allows me to remember the underlying logic of the story, but I often let the characters drive the car.
Also, as you develop a scene there is an internal logic that often necessitates story changes you did not initially predict. This is cause and effect as applied to writing, and that allows the story to take on a pattern closer to reality.
 When I started writing novels it took about a year and a half to finish one; now it takes 4 to 6 months, and the process has become a lot more fun, too.


Networking Mojo for Writers

November 22, 2007

I run a writers center called The Writers Corner USA (, is located in a set of tiny offices in Doylestown, PA.  Once a month we have this free event called The Coffeehouse, which is a no rules, no agenda networking session for writers of any kind and of any level of success (from absolute I-just-picked-up-a-pen-for-the-first-time newbies to seasoned pros with multiple books on the market.)

What we do is brew a pot of alarmingly strong coffee, dig into some doughnuts (gotta have fried and sugared carbs) and just chat about the writing life.  Sometimes the mix has more beginners and then those of us who have publishing history field questions and share advice, leads, etc.  Sometimes its a more even mix of newbies and pros and in those sessions everyone’s talking about some news, gossip, insight, accomplishment or opinion related to the writing life.

This whole thing came about when a bunch of my writer friends and I were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about writing.  I said that it would be cool if there was a regular event called Writers Sitting Around Talking About Writing…With Coffee.  That title kind of morphed into “The Writers Coffeehouse”.

Cool thing is…people have been getting real career boosts from this little java shindig.  As a result of networking we’ve seen book deals, people signing with agents, collaborations forming, and a lot of traction and forward career momentum for the folks who trek to Doylestown to join us.

Won’t cost you a dime.  The parking’s even free.  So, if you’re in the area on the last Sunday of every month, from 12 to 2:30, then drop on by and share in the networking mojo.  Oh, and if you don’t like my coffee, there’s a Starbucks one short block away.

If you can’t make it…a comment for the crew (or a question) and I’ll read them at this month’s Coffeehouse.

See you there!


Big Scary Blog #1

November 20, 2007

In a recent interview I was asked: Where do you find your inspirations to write? 

There are two ways to answer that.  Like most writers I have more ideas in my head than I’ll ever have time to write.  It’s funny, but one of the most common questions writers are asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ and another is ‘Aren’t you afraid you’ll ever run out of ideas?’.  A writer would never even think to ask those questions because there is always a process of creation going on in the writers’ mind.  Always…it never stops.  My characters begin conversations in my head.  Scenes take place.  For most people this would be a psychological cry for help and Thorazine might be called-for; but to a writer this is another happy day on the job. 

On the other hand, specific bursts of inspiration generally come from observing life as one passes through it.  Writers observe all the time, and we think about what we observe –sometimes consciously and deliberately, and sometimes subconsciously.  We listen in on conversations –not to be rude, but to hear how people speak, how they relate to one another, and how they edit themselves depending on whom they’re talking with.  More than once folks have seen me just standing and being quiet at a party and have mistaken that for shyness or ‘being lost in my thoughts’, but in reality I’m very present and am trying to absorb as much of what’s going on as possible.  Life, when closely observed, teaches us nearly everything we need to know about making good stories and real characters. 

You can read the full interview here:

Swing by to say hello: and on MySpace:

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