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The Crowd:

All it takes to become a published writer

August 05, 2009|By B.W. Cook

Capron said, “If you are here tonight at this meeting, let me know in your query letter that you heard me speak. Perhaps we had a chat sometime after the conference, so remind me of that fact in your letter to me inasmuch as a personal connection makes the agent feel like the writer has a specific reason for wanting to be represented by the particular agent or agency.”

All three agents agreed that the investment in a writer’s career is a commitment not to be taken lightly and may indeed be the beginning of a lifelong relationship. Therefore, the agent must be very cautious when making a commitment of representation.

“Who is the book-buying audience these days?” asked a participant.

Answers varied, because the fields of expertise between the three differ. Sonnack represents children’s and young adult fiction and nonfiction, which at this time is an extremely lucrative market for booksellers. Some of her recent titles include “Down Sand Mountain” by Steve Watkins and Marrily Kutner’s “Alphabet Magic.” Overall, however, all three agents agreed that the majority demographic of the book buyer is female in an age range of 35 and older.

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Another question on the mind of the crowd was, “With the enormous book advances being paid to celebrity writers, especially for major tell-alls and exposés, is there any money left to support unknown writers?”

The answer was the opposite of what might be expected.

“The books that bring in the big dollars have helped to boost the financial health of publishing houses, enabling them to offer book deals to both lesser and unknown writers,” Sonnack said.

Also taking in the agents’ advice were Mark Axelrod, a faculty member at Chapman University in the writing program, former editor of “Essence Magazine” Pamela Johnson, and former Los Angeles Times writer Larry Christon.

Perhaps the most important opinion shared at this literary meeting in Corona del Mar concerned the role of self-publishing in today’s market.

“If your plan is to be taken seriously as a writer and to eventually be published by a major house, do not self-publish a book,” Sonnack said.

Both Van Haitsma and Capron joined the chorus, adding caution and telling the writers in attendance that the reason self-publishing can be hazardous to a writing career is that Internet sites that sell and distribute books report and save the number of sales made.

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