Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Words of Wisdom From Julie The Intern

STATUS: It feels a little disconcerting to “get back to business” after the historic win last night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH by Depeche Mode

Over the years, Sara and I have received numerous requests from folks interesting in interning at the agency. Well, we considered ourselves a pretty well-oiled machine (cough)—okay maybe a creaky slow machine—but in other words, we felt like we had our processes down and we didn’t see a good role for an intern.

Until the superintendent of Denver Public Schools called us earlier this summer asking if we’d consider one of their high school students. Now how can we say no to DPS? Both Sara and I believe that it’s our civic duty to teach and mentor young people so for the first time in our history, Nelson Literary Agency took on an intern.

And we are so glad we did. Julie has been wonderful to have these past months and in even better news, she’s willing to share with you blog readers some of things she has learned.

So, in her own words (and not edited by us), here are a couple of blog entries from our intern.

My name is Julie. I’m a high school student doing an internship at the Nelson Literary Agency who hopes to one day be a writer. My time at the agency has been a great learning experience. While I knew I wanted to be a writer for awhile, I was completely clueless as far as the business aspect was concerned. In my naive mind I thought it was as simple as sending in your manuscript to a publishing company and hoping for the best. The literary world is far more complicated. Here are a few rules I have learned through my observations on query letters and sample pages:

Don’t go out of your comfort level. Don’t write about an Alaskan wilderness survivor if you know nothing about Alaska or wilderness survival. The readers interested in your work will be able to tell if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Focus. If your main character has an evil twin who is a time traveling wizard that only gains power by eating muffins baked by her long lost lover’s ghost, that is a lot to digest in one story.

You’re a writer, so write. Writing is the biggest part of the battle, so complete your work. That might seem like a stupid thing to say, but several people that we have asked to see sample pages and even full manuscripts have said they can’t because they haven’t finished. Don’t even worry about going on to the next step if you don’t have your manuscript finished and polished.

Decide what genre your work is, and search accordingly. There are several websites listing agents, but it’s not as simple as sending a query letter to the first one you find. It might take awhile to find an agent that fits what you write, but it’s better to send to five agents who represent your type of book then ten that don’t.

Submission guidelines, need I say more? I can’t count how many query letters we receive that have their own idea as to what should be sent. If the agent wants five sample pages right away, then send them. But never assume one agent wants the same information as another. That goes for sending method, too. If an agent only wants email, only send email. At the Nelson Agency we don’t even look at a query letter if it’s sent by snail mail.

Agents are really helpful, and I’m not just saying that because I work with one. October was big on royalty statements, and if anyone ever has a question to the usefulness of agents, this is the time to prove their worth. Not only are contracts a pain in themselves that an average writer would never know a thing about, royalty statements are the follow up kick in the rear. Agents have to study the statements to ensure their clients are getting what they should be based off of their contract. That means lots of pages with lots of complicated jargon.