How do you know if you’re ready for an agent?

Recently I received an email from a long lost acquaintance who decided it was time to write a book. He asked me if I could give him contacts in the publishing industry, including my agent. In his letter, he proved he didn’t know anything about this crazy publishing industry, so I sent him my standard “Dear New Writer” letter and haven’t heard back.

The truth is, this writing gig is not easy. It’s not as simple as asking a friend in the industry to put in a good word for you. It’s tedious and time consuming.

My friend’s words got me thinking. How would someone know if they were ready for the bigtime? Is there a magical way of discovering when one is ready to find an agent? Curious? Read the checklist below to see if you’re ready.

Here’s a checklist for those of you who are wondering if you’re ready for an agent:

  • I have attended a conference (local is fine) and received feedback from someone in the industry. (And if that feedback is negative, I’ve learned to thicken my skin and change what needs to be changed.)
  • I have found a critique group (online or in my city). I’ve submitted several things to be critiqued and have learned to take criticism in a constructive, productive way.
  • I have learned (trained myself) to make deadlines. (If you haven’t done this, give yourself a deadline today. Say, “I will write three query letters” or something like that “by January 25th.” Then meet that deadline. Make another. Meet it.)
  • I have mastered the art of query letter writing.
  • I have published several magazine articles on the local level, and perhaps a few on the national level.
  • If I write fiction, I will have completely finished my novel and had it critiqued (or even paid for a critique).
  • If I write nonfiction, I will have finished my proposal and three chapters until they shine like a new copper penny.
  • I have learned the industry well. I am well-versed in Sally Stuart’s Market Guide. Purchase it on the right hand side of this blog.
  • I have a body of work that’s been recognized (either by being published, or garnering awards).
  • If I write nonfiction, I have a good, solid platform. (If you don’t know what this means, you’re not ready for an agent.)
  • I’ve established a readership online through a blog or website. I have a significant online presence.
  • I have read over five books on the craft of writing.
  • I am not naïve about the fiscal workings of the business. (I have a cursory understanding about advances, royalties, rights, copyrights, and how authors get paid.)
  • I am not delusional, thinking my first book will hit it big and land me on Oprah.
  • I am teachable.
  • I am not a one-book wonder. I have a good listing of book ideas.
  • I understand the concept of branding.
  • I have started to develop friendships within the writing community.
  • Someone in the industry has said that my writing is ready for publication (and he/she’s not related to me).
  • I write every day.
  • I have not despised writing in obscurity.
  • I value BOC time (bottom on chair).
  • I set word count or page goals and meet them.
  • I sense God pushing me in this direction.
  • I have integrity.
  • I am low maintenance.
  • I value professionalism. I am willing to make strategic investments in my career. (Professional photo and business card, website that doesn’t look slapped together, etc.)

If you can say yes to most of the things on this list, chances are you’re ready to start thinking about an agent. The best way to meet an agent is in person at a conference. But if that won’t work, do your research and start submitting. A word of caution: DO NOT SUBMIT unless you are completely sure what you’ve written is fresh, stellar and breathtaking. Agents are longing for excellent writers who have surprising, world-altering ideas. Work-work-work until your book is that. Study the market to make sure your idea is different.

Success in Four Steps

Like the nerd I am, today I read through my latest issue of The Costco Connection. On page eleven, I found this quote from Brian Tracy, the chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a training and personal development company:”All successful people do four things. They set clear goals, take risks beyond their comfort zones and accept feedback and self-correct. Above all, successful people never give up.”

How about if I unpack this a bit for all your writerly types?

  1. Set clear goals. What are your goals this year? What would you like to see happen in your writing career in the next five years? Ten? Over a lifetime? If you haven’t yet written them down, stop reading this post and do it. Of course, that means going to Jesus and asking Him to enlighten you to the best goals. Of course it means that He will supply the strength to accomplish those goals. I’ll share one of mine for the next five years: Learn to write a screenplay. Someday I want to see Watching the Tree Limbs on the silver screen.
  2. Take risks beyond your comfort zones. I think all writers intrinsically know this. We reach beyond our comfort zones every time we query or send a proposal or write in a genre we’re not familiar with. I certainly felt out of my element writing a memoir in the present tense, but I’m so glad I did it. I’m a better writer because of the risk, I believe. But let’s take it further to marketing. For some of you it means you’ll need to get past timidity to do a radio interview or book signing. It may mean you have to practice speaking in case you land on TV someday.
  3. Accept feedback and self-correct. Oh how true this is! All along the writing, marketing and publicity journey, we receive tons of feedback. It’s not easy on our egos to take it all, but it’s necessary. Self-correcting means we heed the well-seasoned advice of professionals and make alterations to our writing, speaking, and marketing campaigns. Every day we have the potential to get helpful feedback. And every day we have a choice to become bitter about it or better. Which will you choose?
  4. Never give up. I truly believe that the difference between those who get published and those who don’t is the never-giving-up factor. Keep at it. Slam into those brick walls if you must; then bandage your head, wait until your vision stops blurring, and keep writing. Write the next word, then the next. Write, write, write. Trust, trust, trust.

And through it all, write for God’s fame, not yours.,,

Can you realistically make a living as a writer?

Mary Demuth cropped lisbon smaller I spent a good deal of time talking with a friend of mine who’s in an ancillary business alongside Christian writers at the recent Christian Book Expo. He said he’s diversifying in this economy, stressing it’s the only way to stay solvent and successful. That got me thinking about my last year of writing, and how I’ve tried to beef up my monthly income. Has my own experiment with diversification worked? Read on.

First thing I did was revamp my website and create a store. Selling books from my site hasn’t generated bucket loads of moolah, but it’s always fun to make a few bucks here and there. I use Click and Ship at with the post office’s free flat rate envelopes to ship. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

I also created products on my site: 150 downloadable conversation starters to use around the dinner table and a nonfiction proposal tutorial. Those both took up front time, but since they’re e-products, they’re essentially “free” income to me. Author Randy Ingermanson calls this passive income–you can make money as you sleep. Plus, both those products are beneficial, to families and to writers. I’m currently working on another major product with some writing friends.

In addition, I spent time learning how to become a better speaker. I’m thankful for the mentoring I received at Wildfire Marketing. (They also helped me with branding, my website, the products, and so much more.) Because of their feedback, I was able to greatly improve my ability to communicate, streamline my speaking process (in terms of getting gigs), and charge higher fees.

In the spirit of diversificaiton, I also write articles. This month, I have an article in Focus on the Family magazine entitled “Under Ghana’s Sky” about my now-13-year-old son’s quest to provide water for a village in Ghana. I’ve finally broken into Writer’s Digest and The Writer, which took several years. My next goal is to write for one of the biggies like Family Circle or O. (One can dream!)

I do write books, and those advances help the bottom line. But my goal is to earn out those advances, so I’m working on new marketing ideas, and experimenting with social networking. I have seen great response so far with Twitter and Facebook, though it’s hard to measure actual sales. That’s the kind of work that you can’t quantify, and it’s frustrating not to be paid for doing it, but that’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.

And last, I mentor writers at The Writing Spa. This has been a great avenue of steadier income, plus I have the privilege of teaching others. I’m toying around with doing seminars/workshops where I live, where four or five writers come in for a weekend intensive, but haven’t fleshed that out yet.

So there you have my own experiment at diversification. I’m getting closer at making a living, but not quite there yet. It’s taken me a good eight years to get to this place. How about you? Would you mind answering the following questions in the comment section?

  • What are you doing to create income as you write?
  • What has helped?
  • What has bombed?
  • Do you feel it’s possible to make a living wage as a writer?
  • Is there anything I’ve missed? (I know writing for corporations is a viable, lucrative option, for instance.)

25 Ways to Promote and Stay Sane

Traveling, promotion and marketing always take far more time than you think it will. When I had three books release in one year (which made for a hectic year before in terms of writing), I got very, very tired doing all that promotion (and I did it from France for the most part). But in some ways it was beneficial to be in another country because when I did travel, I got a lot done at one time.

My family is a priority for me, so I try to stagger my time away.

But the best thing you can do now is strategize. Believe me, the marketing/publicity machine will take you by surprise. Having a plan in place beforehand will greatly benefit you. Here are 25 tips:

  1. Decide how many out of state visits you’ll do in a year, then stick to it.
  2. Winnow out non-paying jobs (speaking-wise) to maximize time.
  3. Try to cluster your speaking all at once.
  4. If you’re going somewhere anyway, query local churches and radio stations and bookstores to book several venues.
  5. Consider using part of your advance to hire a publicity person. A good publicist is worth his/her weight in gold (or these days, gas!). They do all the hard work for you—finding media outlets, scheduling appearances and interviews, and garnering reviews and articles. Although I know I COULD do these things, I simply don’t have the time to do them. I do have time for interviews of course, but all the behind the scenes stuff overwhelms me.
  6. Consider hiring a personal assistant part time (5-10 hours a week) to help you with marketing and publicity.
  7. Have an accountability prayer team who keeps you honest about the time you’re spending away from your family.
  8. Each publicity/media opportunity that comes your way, pray that the Lord would use your words to touch many. Don’t think of it as a time to perform or do shameless promotion of your book, but as a chance to further the Kingdom of God.
  9. Enlist the help of your spouse and kids to do promotion (sending out books, database entry, etc.) so they feel ownership in what you do.
  10. Ask your family for permission if you take a far-away opportunity to speak.
  11. In the initial stages of your speaking career (if you have one), you’ll usually say yes a lot to low-paying, far-away venues. But as you improve and charge higher fees, really consider the cost benefit analysis of your time. I can write a sellable article or two in the time it would take me to speak. So I’m more careful of my time, and speak less (more strategically).
  12. Consider paying for a housecleaner (same rationale as above…I can write enough to pay a housekeeper several times over in the time it would take to clean my house). This frees me up to do more writing or promotion.
  13. Try to create a window of time when your book releases where you can solely concentrate on its promotion. It’s hard to do, but will be rewarding. That one-month launch window closes quickly.
  14. Organize your calendar well. Be sure you place family obligations, bills to pay, medical appointments, EVERYTHING, on one master calendar. Otherwise you may book yourself on a day your child is in a school play.
  15. Pray. Ask the Lord to order your days.
  16. Take Sabbath. If you go-go-go, you’ll quickly burn out. Take a day out of the week to rejuvenate.
  17. Remember the tyranny of the urgent. Instead, create goals for your career, including marketing and publicity, and stick to those when the urgent things come up.
  18. And yet, be interruptible.
  19. Consider giving some of your time away as a sacrifice. I write and speak for free on occasion, when I sense the Lord leading me to do so.
  20. Keep a marketing idea file on your desktop. When you find a great idea, copy and paste it there. When your next book comes out, you’ll have a whole arsenal of ideas to promote it.
  21. Remember the power of the web. Right now is the best time if you don’t have a book out to concentrate on creating a strong web presence. Write a monthly newsletter and begin to amass subscribers. Create a blog that gets read.
  22. Keep a list of all your media contacts in a database. When a book comes out, you can send an e-blast to those entities, letting them know you’ve got a new title out.
  23. Network now. Make friends with media professionals, publishers, people in the industry.
  24. Consider introducing yourself whenever you’re in a bookstore as an author or potential author.
  25. If you are building a speaking career, let your circle of friends and family know. Sometimes the coolest speaking opportunities come through relational connections like this. Your network can also help you connect with pertinent media and marketing people.

A surefire way to improve your writing today: read your work aloud.

DSC_0093 This last weekend I flew to Nashville to record the Thin Places’ audio book. This is my first time reading for a book, and the whole process proved to be enlightening. Afterward, I realized that if every author read their work aloud, they’d improve dramatically? How? Four ways.

  1. Reading the book aloud, I found four errors. Remember that a traditionally published book goes through several phases of editing. The substantive edit is the biggie where the editor tells you your macro problems (leaps of logic, if a novel: story issues, lack of clarity, poor research, etc.) Then the book goes through a line edit where grammar issues arise. After that, you read through it again, then you receive the galleys to also proofread. So you’re typically looking at the manuscript four times, not to mention all the editorial eyes on the piece. Thin Places had been through all four of these stages, and yet as I read aloud, I caught blaring errors. I’ve emailed them to the publisher. Thankfully, the book is not yet in print, so it’s easily fixable.
  2. You find your pet words. Who knew I used the word “penchant” way too much? Or “mess”? Editors do catch these things, but sometimes they don’t. At this point in the game, I can’t replace my extra words, but I do wish I’d have read it out loud first so I knew.
  3. You catch awkward sentence structure. Nothing is better than articulating your sentences out loud to catch clunky wording. I stumbled a few times, having to re-read the sentence or paragraph to make it work. Had I read the entire manuscript out loud, I’d have caught these.
  4. You catch repetitive themes. I realized how much I wrote about how hard it is for me to justify my existence on this earth, how very broken and needy I was/am. How my insecurity bleeds into my life. (Of course, this is dependent on the type of book you’ve written. Since mine is a memoir, these are the kinds of things I find.)

If you truly want to grow, change and become an excellent writer, I highly recommend reading your work out loud. Sure, you risk your family thinking you’re bonkers, but at least you’ll be a better writer (crazy, yes, but better!)

Slow Burn is Available!

Slow Burn is the second book in the Defiance, Texas Trilogy was released October 1, 2009.

This suspenseful novel is about courageous love, the burden of regret, and bonds that never break. It is about the beauty and the pain of telling the truth. Most of all, it is about the power of forgiveness and what remains when shame no longer holds us captive.

What is a book mentor?

Someone asked me today what a book mentor does. I answered, “A book mentor is someone who shepherds you through the book writing and publishing process.” Basically, I help new writers polish their writing, understand the publishing business, mentor them through the process of submitting proposals and manuscripts, and applaud their successes. I am passionate about helping writers realize their publishing dreams.

One way I do this is give away my services every day on Wannabepublished. I also mentor clients for pay through the Writing Spa.

I’m the author of seven traditionally published books (parenting, novels and one memoir upcoming). You can find out more about my books here.

Click on this page to upload Queries Now–a free tutorial that’s been really helpful to those seeking publication. Enjoy!


Mary DeMuth