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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Q&A with Literary Agent Katharine Sands, by Belinda Anderson

(The following article featuring a q&a with Katharine Sands was conducted by writer Belinda Anderson exclusively for the 2011 WV Writers Summer Conference. Katharine Sands and Belinda Anderson will be featured presenters at the conference this year.)

The workshop description for “The Reinvented Writer” sounds promising to writers seeking publication: “ … what to do – and what not to do – when you set out to win a literary agent.” Even better, the presenter, literary agent Katharine Sands, will accept pitches from the attendees of this year’s West Virginia Writers’ conference.

Sands, from the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency in New York, also will participate in a panel discussion, “Secrets of the Trade,” about attracting agents and publishers.

She learned of the conference through a familiar WVW conference figure, agent Christine Witthohn, whom she met at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. “Christine recently sold five debut novels in as many months,” Sands says. “This underscores my core belief that there is talent everywhere, and I am happy to scour the country looking for it!”

Why you? Why now? Those are the questions writers should be ready to answer in a pitch, which Sands compares to speed dating. “The best pitches give off sparks, create a moment, or pose a provocative question, just to give a taste of the project,” Sands wrote in a recent blog.

In her book Making the Perfect Pitch, Sands expands upon the concept: “Writing is solitary, publishing is collaborative. The key point is to understand is that you want to get others excited about what is exciting to you.”

Sands offered in Writer’s Digest etiquette advice for in-person meetings: “At a conference, many writers react badly to being critiqued. If you are ready for an agent meeting, steady yourself for the hot seat. Best use of the time is to understand where and why the agent suggests next steps about what to do before readying for publishers, and to listen to feedback that is valuable (whether or not it's agreeable).”

Writers also need to be prepared with a platform. Sands, in an article for The Writer, explains the term platform as a promotional plan that sets the stage for a book to reach as many readers as possible. “It’s comparable to running for office; you must ask for their votes,” she says. Here’s a portion of a checklist she prepared for The Writer:

  • Do you write regularly for magazines, newspapers or journals in which you can promote your book?
  • Do you have access to academic of other venues where you can give a lecture related to your topic?
  • Do you have a Web site where you can promote the book and answer questions related to the book’s topic?
  • Do you have avocations, hobbies or other interests related to your book? If so, can you write an article for its magazine or newsletter?

In her WVW workshop, “The Reinvented Writer,” Sands will go into more detail on how writers can succeed in the new media and literary marketplace, focusing on both craft and career. She promises seven surefire techniques to get a manuscript out of the slushpile.

Various web sites cite particular categories of interest to Sands, but she says, “When it comes to working with writers I do not like to limit my thinking. When writers ask me what I might be looking for in a client, I always say 'fire in the belly' because as a writer you must always be an impassioned ambassador for your book.”

Sands offers reassurance to writers who worry about the turmoil in the publishing industry and wonder what the consolidation of publishing houses and the growing electronic alternatives mean to authors’ futures: “My advice to writers is not to become too focused on industry trends, and how conglomerates (The Big Six) are operating....I think this is less useful for writers than many agents might suggest.

“Deal points and new editor hires are the agent's job to follow, not the writer's. It will not make your writing more interesting to understand the complex structure of a publishing behemoth (which is nearly impossible anyway), and this tends to steer newcomers in all the wrong directions. Why? Because an agent/editor is evaluating your ability, not your knowledge of the industry. And each author's how-I-got-published story is specific to that author's project and circumstances of the sale/publication.

“The fast-changing landscape of publishing affects authors, of course, but writers will always need to approach the literary marketplace with an entrepreneurial spirit and boundless optimism, tempered with an eye on what is relevant to what they uniquely offer.”