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Meet literary agents, editors in person at Taos Summer Writers’ Conference

Book Cover
Book CoverAndy Ross

(Current fiction & past quality fiction)

The Taos Summer Writers’ Conference July 12-20 features an opportunity for authors to hook up with a literary agent in person, but for a price of course.

Finding an agent has never been easy and in today’s discombobulated publishing industry agent representation has become nearly impossible.

For that reason, this rare opportunity arranged by conference founder Dr. Sharon Oard Warner can be considered an expeditious path to acquiring an agent. Do not expect, however, instant gratification. Agents turn down far more authors than they embrace.

As most folks know, the conference takes place in scenic Taos, N.M. at the Sagebrush Inn Conference Center where it’s been staged annually since 1999. Dr. Warner is a published novelist and the head of the University of New Mexico's creative writing program. The conference is independent of the university but many of its faculty also instruct at UNM.

Tons of information about the conference is available here.

Now, about those agent/editors; or maybe we should call them helpmates. The one we prefer as an agent is Andy Ross. Like most good agents, he’s snowed under with requests; hence Examiner recommends you sign up with him pronto. The website link above tells you how.

In case he’s already booked for Taos, you might try going direct: Andy Ross Agency, 767 Santa Ray Avenue, Oakland, CA. 94610, or if you really feel lucky try his email: andyrossagency@hotmail.com.

Ross started his literary agency in February 2008 after 30 years as owner of Cody's Books in Berkeley. You can expect a shirt-sleeve, down to earth chat. At Taos you’ve got 30 minutes to make a hit.

As if to counter balance Ross’ grassroots background, Dr. Warner has asked Jane von Mehren back who has viewed the publishing world from somewhere above the glass ceiling. She spoke at Taos last year just after Publishers Weekly reported “Jane von Mehren, senior v-p, publisher, trade paperbacks at Random House, who took over the trade paperback program in 2005, was leaving the company.” According to Publishers Weekly, “president and publisher Gina Centrello said trade paperbacks will now be managed by the individual publishers,” leaving von Mehren without a portfolio.

Jane von Mehren didn’t tell the packed house at Taos about her departure but did enlighten the assembled hopefuls with the news that some major publishers were scouring the gazillions of self-published books and had actually acquired the rights to a few. Examiner sat in the audience and figuratively felt hundreds of hearts flutter at the revelation.

She has since launched Jane von Mehren Associates LLC in Brooklyn where she purports to “provide editing, idea development, writing and publishing strategy services to authors, experts, thought leaders, and publishers.”

So you’ve got a choice.

Ross has published a book entitled “Ask the Agent” available on Kindle. In her review for Amazon, Hollye Dexter wrote: “If you've ever banged your head against a wall after a rejection, wondering what this strange breed of ‘agent-people’ wants, this book is for you.” For $2.99 to Kindle, it may be worth it.

The Taos Summer Writers’ Conference provides a 900-word guide to approaching its agent/editors. Below are the instructions of how to write your query letter. Taos participants registered for a workshop(s) at the conference may register for one publishing consultation with an editor or an agent for a $150 fee at the time of registration.

Agent and editor consultations are 30 minutes and will take place Monday-Saturday, July 14-19, depending on consultant schedules. Scheduling of consultations will be done via email in June.

Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Space is limited and acceptance will be determined by lottery if necessary.

Here are the verbatim suggestions for approaching the agent/editor:

Most query letters are limited to one page of three to five paragraphs.

The opening paragraph provides a one-sentence overview of the book you’ve written, its title, and its length (in # of words). Here, you can also choose to contextualize the book for the agent or editor by describing it in terms of other familiar titles.

The second paragraph often offers a rationale for the book—why you wrote it and why others might or will be interested in reading it. (This paragraph is less important for novelists than it is for nonfiction writers.)

The third paragraph typically contains a short synopsis of the book. What’s the story? Who tells it? What’s the time span? Where’s it set? No doubt about it, such summaries are difficult to write effectively, but they are absolutely essential. (Try tackling the summary first and you’ll find the rest of the query letter will fall into place much more easily.)

The fourth paragraph may be dedicated to describing the structure of the book. How many chapters? How many points of view? Here, too, it’s useful to draw comparisons and put the book into a larger context. On the other hand, the fourth paragraph can also be put to work introducing yourself as the author: Why did you decide to write the book? What can you say about your background that is relevant and useful? In other words, why are you the ideal author?

The last paragraph provides a polite, professional closing that includes information on how best to contact you.

Examiner notes that a less personal way to land an agent is through the data base at the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. where more than 400 legitimate agents are listed. Examiner has tested about two thirds of them and generally found those to be responsive if not necessarily receptive.