Finding an Agent & Approaching Artist Residencies

Writer and public relations expert Lora Hyler shares her personal journey in querying, searching for an agent, and the importance of attending writer residencies to connect with other writers.
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I’m determined. The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes will soon rest on the shelves of bookstores, libraries, and retail stores everywhere. Middle-grade fiction readers will delight in reading about a 12-year-old African-American superhero and his multi-cultural band of friends, along with their love of spy gadgets and science.

But first, I need an agent.

This guest post is by Lora Hyler . Hyler has completed the manuscript of her middle grade novel, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes, and has begun the second in the series while actively seeking an agent. She founded her Wisconsin-based public relations and marketing company in 2001. She will join the faculty for fall 2017 conferences of both SCBWI Wisconsin and Wisconsin Writer’s Association. She holds a 2016 Jade Ring award from the Wisconsin Writers Association for an adult short story, several screenwriting and news awards, and has published hundreds of corporate articles. She was the recipient of a 2017 artist residency at Marnay sur Seine, France and two previous residencies at Noepe Center for the Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

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My writing journey began a couple of decades ago with a career in radio news, public relations, and marketing. I started my own public relations firm in 2001 (www.hylercommunications.com), have represented a handful of authors, and look forward to marketing my own books. Short stories and screenplays were my first forays into the world of fiction. Encouraged by a few screenwriting awards, I began to exercise my fiction writing muscle through a middle grade manuscript.

After joining the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in 2015, I learned much about the business of children books. Many times, the wealth of information on the path to publication appears daunting. Yet, there are plenty of authors willing to share their stories about how they landed an agent, sometimes after 100 or more rejections. I’ve chosen to view each “no” as a step closer toward “YES!” After all, that’s how I’ve run my career.

My tally sheet reveals I’ve sent queries to nearly 30 agents. To date, I’ve received 17 no-thanks, a couple requests for full manuscripts, and several encouraging words. My advice to any budding author: Face these rejections with the view of a glass half-full. If you’re like me, your eyes race across the email the minute it pops into your in box. Yep, there it is … the dreaded, all too familiar sentence. You know the one. It’s always some version of: “Thank you for sending your manuscript. It’s not a good fit for my current list.”

I had a recent chat with my critique partner and shared my story of a lovely rejection email from an industry leader. I successfully queried her and was told to send the full manuscript. During the discussion, I had a revelation. This industry leader wrote, “Thanks for sending me your manuscript which I have so enjoyed looking at. It is such a great fun concept and the ideas you have for further titles makes it a more commercial project than we (pursue).”

Great news! I was worried my concept wasn’t commercial enough. This individual has successfully shepherded through a fantasy series that set global sales records, captured the imaginations of youth and adults, and gained fans from reluctant and avid readers alike.

Infographic. Vision board. Visualize your way to success.

On my journey toward publication, I’ve decided to harness all the positivity the Universe sends my way. I’ve created an infographic of written quotes from agents and editors who have reviewed my work. With this lovely visual encouragement greeting me each day, I expect to keep my spirits up and forge ahead until the day an agent says the ultimate, “I’d love to represent you.”

Do go back and carefully read any rejection notes you’ve received. Wait! You want me to revisit the source of so much pain? Yes, I do! Occasionally, amidst the gray clouds, the skies part and a beam of light peeks out. Mine these rejection notes for bits of wisdom and any encouraging words.

Find an agent who’s best for you.

Where do you go to meet these agents? In person at workshops and conferences, or on websites and webinars. I’ve found agents that I’ve met face-to-face to be accessible. It also pays to listen closely when authors are speaking at conferences. I attended my local SCBWI conference where an author choked up while thanking his agent, saying she believed in him when he had stopped believing in himself. High praise! Due to his accolades, I queried this agent noting how impressed I was with her. She replied within an hour asking me to send my manuscript.

Try Twitter and the laundry list of pitch sessions available to budding authors. Brenda Drake leads Pitch Wars.

Another interesting concept allows you to get a handle on select agents and what they are currently seeking for their list. It’s called the Manuscript Wish List. I’ve found that tracking this provides insights into the whims of a particular agent.

While I seek an agent, I also keep an eye out for nonfiction work for hire opportunities to capitalize on my journalism background. I also like to blog. A sure way to keep writing muscles in good order.

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

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Discover your tribe through residencies.

Now, I’d like to share an exciting part of my journey that I like to think of as a blindingly bright light directing me to the finish line. Artist residencies. They are available worldwide; some are for artists of all kinds, others are specifically for writers.

The joy of being selected for a residency provides a high to keep any writer powering through rejections, and revising. In our harried daily lives, where we struggle sometimes to find quiet time, residencies provide space and time to create. Often in beautiful, one-of-a-kind settings. My last residency set me up in a writing studio with windows opening up to the Seine river running through a small French village. Cool breezes, swooping birds, and the occasional family swimming downstream accompanied my writing days.

It’s fantastic to begin a residency living among strangers, and as the days progress, to become supporters of each other’s work and lives. Critique groups form and friendships blossom. Many residencies encourage public readings, providing writers an opportunity to reveal their work in progress, or completed work, to an eager audience. I’ve received adrenaline highs when an audience member laughs at the right spots. The cherry on top is one-on-one feedback offered post-reading.

My residencies to date:

  • May 2017: Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre, (CAMAC), Marnay sur Seine, France. Month-long residency at a 17th century complex in a village of 240 residents. I was one of eight selected artists from around the globe.
  • Fall 2016 and Fall 2015: Noepe Center for the Literary Arts, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Noepe has since closed its doors.

As you read this, I am applying for additional residencies. Spain, Italy, Mexico, Washington state, and Illinois residencies are just a few that have caught my eye. I encourage you to pursue the thrill of a blinking cursor before you in a fresh space, in a new state or country. You’ll be surrounded by like-minded souls who, a door or two over, work on their own creations. And they’ll be happy to join you in a laugh and sips of wine when you need a break.

However, wherever you decide to write, just keep writing. Publication is just a few no’s away. Until then, mine your rejections. In the midst of it all, there may be gold.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.

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