July 15, 2012

WRITING ADVICE -- SL Viehl #6: Secret Agent No More!

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for a the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kinds of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. S.L. Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2009/07/vw-7-agents-and-writers.html

I’ve been working to find an agent for a long, long time. I usually felt like there was someone out there who’d be interested in my writing, but as far as I could tell neither me nor the agent knew who the other was. It was a big secret.

Those of you who know me are aware that I write a lot of different kinds of things. My publications run the gamut from using science experiments to illustrate Biblical truths to hard science fiction about aliens invading Earth through genetic engineering and nanotechnology.

I have written thirteen novels, four easy readers, four picture books and forty-something published short stories, articles and curriculum lessons as well as having one collection of science experiment children’s sermons (which is still available!  http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Science-Sermons-Little-Kids/dp/0788012940) out since 1998.

I’ve been searching for an agent for decades.

But that’s not all I was doing. I’ve been writing and sending things for just as long. One of the things that SL Viehl mentions in the essay above is this: “There's one more point I'd like to touch on, and it's the frequent accusations writers make of agents as the root of all their career woes. It usually goes something like this: ‘My agent isn't selling me to the right publishers’ or ‘My agent doesn't care if I'm successful’ or even ‘I'd be a big name now if my agent hadn't sat on books and did nothing for them.’ Agents are people, and granted, people make mistakes...[but] to hold the agent solely responsible for your career woes is completely passing the buck…Your agent is not the chief navigator of your success in the biz; you're supposed to be in charge of that.” (emphasis mine).

About a year ago, one of the members of an online writers group I’ve been with since 2005 posted an agent call for clients he’d seen in Publisher’s Weekly. I didn’t have any SF or F finished at that time, but I did have a YA novel I’d written because another agent had said my previous novel wasn’t “edgey” enough. Muttering, “I’ll show YOU edgey!” I wrote VICTORY OF FISTS – adequately described as FIGHT CLUB meets Ellen Hopkins and started sending it around.

No one was interested.

I entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest in January of 2011 and by April, it was in the top 50 out of 5000 initial entries. It didn’t win, but I got a review from a Publisher’s Weekly that said: “A fascinating and endearing protagonist powers this poignant urban coming-of-age story…the exceptional characterization, intelligent storyline and inclusion of numerous thought-provoking references and quotes make this a page-turner that is not only entertaining but enlightening.”

But I still didn’t find an agent and so I kept sending it out. When the CODEX writer posted that Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary was looking for books, I sent a query with a few pages. She liked it and asked to see the next fifty pages. Then she wanted to see the whole book.

I was thrilled – but I still kept shopping it around as well as writing my next projects. And the next and the next. I didn’t stop working because an agent was interested in one of my books.

The denouement came almost as a surprise when, after two complete rewrites with no commitment to “represent you” on Karen’s part or an agreement to “accept representation” on my part, Karen said that we’d gone as far as she wanted to go without editorial input and that it was ready to submit.

I had to email her and ask if that meant she would be my agent. When she said, “Yes!”, I was stunned…but I haven’t stopped working on other projects. I still have manuscripts in the mail and while she and I will be working together on VICTORY OF FISTS and now EMERALD OF EARTH, I still have to sell my short stories, submit various and sundry manuscripts and keep track of all that kind of stuff myself! Getting an agent is certainly no reason to kick my feet up, push off the tennis shoes and socks, lace my fingers over my (ample) belly and take a nap!

It’s been a long trek and it’s nowhere near over yet – but the sense that I’m on it with another professional has just made it seem a bit easier.

I’m sorry to unmask here in my blog, but Karen Grencik is no longer a SECRET agent!

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