Martin-McLean Literary Associates, LLC

Giving It To You Straight by Lisa Martin. Printed with permission from Writers News Weekly

Lisa Martin
By Lisa Martin

Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC

You can ask fifty people, ďWhat is the responsibility of a literary agent?Ē and you know what? You will get 50 different answers. There are no set rules or regulations that apply to literary agents, and Iím often amazed at what writers expect.

A literary agent is a professional business representative whose main objective is to find a publisher for her clientís work and negotiate the best possible contract. A skilled agent is open and straightforward, and tries to educate writers about the realities of the publishing industry.

Problems often arise when an author does not understand the extent of the agentís role. A literary agent is not a therapist, social worker, or a banker. Unless youíve worked with an agent for a period of time, and have gotten to know her personally, you are business partners and not friends. It is important to realize that while an agent needs to be in contact with her authors, it is unrealistic to count on her to stay in touch several times a month. Most agents are too busy to be constantly available and as accommodating as their clients would prefer.

A literary agent is not a publicity agent. This is probably the most common misconception of a literary agentís function. An agent gets paid a percentage of an authorís royalties because of the work she does before the manuscript is sold. She doesnít take responsibility for the publicity of the book after a publisher has acquired it.

The most valuable advice I can offer about dealing with a literary agent is to respect an agentís time and not expect services outside her capacity.

Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

Lisa Martin
By Lisa Martin

Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC

Every day, literary agents are bombarded with query letters from hopeful writers, many claiming to have the next New York Timeís bestseller. Even small agencies are inundated with requests for representation, often written by inexperienced individuals who have put little to no thought into what they are sending.

There are not enough hours in an agentís day, so nothing can be more annoying and a bigger waste of time than an inbox filled with poorly prepared e-mail queries.

A query letter must be professional, mature, polished, and well written. It should be carefully proofread and checked for typos and incorrect grammar and spelling. Sloppy, hit-or-miss work is not impressive, and submitting an electronic query with mistakes will land it in a literary agentís recycling bin faster than the writer can say ďdelete.Ē

It is important to use a personalized greeting, and get the agentís name correct. ďDear AgentĒ or ďTo Whom It May ConcernĒ probably will get the e-mail deleted without a second glance. Also, a potential author should send each e-query individually, and not to a list of agents. Multiple submissions are acceptable and expected, but this kind of communication is a turn-off and will not be read.

A writer should never forward an electronic query with a URL link, asking the agent to look at his work on the web site. Agents do not have the time or desire to peruse web sites, and it is the authorís responsibility to include the appropriate material in his query presentation.

It should go without saying that, when seeking literary representation, a writer must respect a literary agentís time, and always behave professionally. Remember, agents receive a never-ending stream of e-mail queries, and submitting a well-thought-out, well-crafted letter is the best chance a prospective author has at grabbing an agentís attention.

Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers. 

Giving It To You Straight: The Importance Of A Platform

Lisa Martin
By Lisa Martin

Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC

As mergers and downsizing continue to cause unexpected changes in New York publishing houses and independent publishers are becoming more prevalent, an authorís platform is essential for an individual looking to be published.

A platform describes who the author is in relation to the subject-matter. Related educational degrees, certifications, speaking experience, accomplishments and involvement are all part of the platform that proves the writer is a reliable source.

This list of credentials is not only a description of what the writer stands for and represents, it must state the authorís willingness to help the publisher promote his work. There is no other person who can market a book better than its author. Those who actively publicize their titles almost always sell more than those who donít, and for an independent publisher, that will most likely make or break the project.

Nowadays, it takes a lot more than the ability to write a good book. Too many authors mistakenly believe titles with positive reviews sell themselves. They donít realize that although a publisher can produce a first-rate book for them, it canít magically establish a market. If an author is not involved and visible, it is extremely difficult for a publisher to find a way for potential readers to understand why they should pick up that specific title.

Publishers are not marketing or public relation firms. They are not only more responsive to authors who understand the importance of contributing time and energy to marketing their book, they tend to be more enthusiastic in helping those writers who have the passion and capability to do what ever it takes to make the work a success.

A book written by an author with marketing savvy and a platform has a tremendous advantage over an equivalent book by an author without a platform.
Lack of credentials and experience is one of the main reasons well-written manuscripts are rejected by so many publishing houses. Given the limited marketing budgets of independent publishers, the shrinking acquisition of books, and heavy competition, writers need a lot more than a good story.

Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

 Giving It To You Straight: Persistence

Lisa Martin
By Lisa Martin

Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC

"Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go."
--William Feather

A week doesnít go by without another hopeful, yet frustrated writer asking me what it takes to be published by a commercial publisher. My answer is always the same: persistence and the capacity to learn.

Persistence, the strength and skill to move beyond adversity and thrive is an invaluable trait. For every yes, there is an accumulation of noís, and overcoming rejection is a principal part of persistence. Diligence and passion often motivate a writer to persist, and that determination and perseverance are indicators of success. Any endeavor, no matter how great, has its moments of apprehension and uncertainty, especially when editors continue to reject a writerís work. Because of this, itís imperative that an author keep trying to perfect his writing, always putting forth his best effort. The persevering writer doesnít give up. He keeps producing and submitting new, improved manuscripts. This is the crux of persistence.

Of course, itís true that the odds against placing a manuscript with a commercial publisher are great, and the competition is fierce. Editors receive hundreds of queries and submissions each month, but fortunately, manuscripts are not pulled out of the stacks at random. They are eventually reviewed, and rejecting the majority of submissions is simple. A considerable portion of the queries are written by individuals who are sending in their first attempt at professional writing. When they are rejected a couple of times, they quit. Writing, after all, requires an irrefutable combination of tenacity, constancy, foresight, and conviction to persevere. Few people can withstand the strain when facing rejection.

Editors also receive a significant number of poorly written query packages. The inferior writing exposes itself in the first couple of pages, and necessitates no more reading. Strong writing skills donít come effortlessly to most people, and even enormous progress wonít advance many writersí projects to the strict standards utilized by commercial publishers.

Composing publishable work involves considerable experience, in addition to the constant desire to learn and improve writing proficiency. Too many unpublished writers use the same old skills in new manuscripts, believing that their past rejections were due to uninteresting or off-base storylines. What should have been improved was not the subject, but the writerís capacity to make definite changes and enhancements in style and composition.

Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

ing manuscripts that are in dire need of professional editing. First-time writers should never send a first draft, either to an agent or directly to a publisher. It is important that the proposed manuscript is the writerís best effort, something that he has worked through a number of times. Spelling, punctuation and grammar must be checked meticulously. Having inexcusable typos and mistakes is the easiest way to get a manuscript thrown in the trash.

I often reject manuscripts, listing several obvious mistakes found in the first few pages of the writerís work. I explain that the manuscript is not marketable in its current condition, and advise the writer to have his work professionally edited. Some will argue with my request, stating it is the responsibility of the publisher to edit his manuscript. My response is, ďThink again.Ē

Editors are horribly overworked and under constant stress. They must be able to successfully negotiate author contracts, keeping financial exposure/risk to a minimum. They study sales records, estimate the manufacturing and editorial costs, and prepare budgets for the advertising and promotion of each book. The editor is responsible for presenting projects to the editorial board and tracking deadlines, ensuring that projects are on schedule and stay within budget. They must also have the ability to guide each author through the publishing process, and work closely with members of the marketing department to develop promotional strategies and materials.

Itís not an editorís job to be fair to writers. An editorís top priority is to make a profit for the publisher by acquiring saleable books. Writing professionally is a business, and the author is on the selling end in a buyerís market. A writer who foolishly believes it is acceptable to submit a manuscript with known grammatical errors to an editor because it is ďher jobĒ to fix it, is kidding himself. There is an abundance of good work out there, and if a writer doesnít show an editor respect and instead wastes her time with inferior work, the manuscript will end up where it belongsóin the recycle bin.

Lisa Martin
By Lisa Martin

Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC

Giving It To You Straight: Wikipedia

While reading over reports written by my daughterís classmates, I became aware of how many people take it for granted that Wikipedia is a dependable reference source. After all, the typical researcher is directed to Wikipedia by using a search engine, and immediately discovers it is an encyclopedia. So it must be filled with factual and reliable information that can be trusted, right?

Wrong. Wikipedia, an open content encyclopedia, contains articles that have been written anonymously by countless individuals from all over the world. The material can be written or edited by anyone with access to the Internet. Yes, I said anyone. Degrees or other credentials are not necessary when writing for Wikipedia, and no formal peer review process for checking facts is required. Articles are often submitted by self-proclaimed experts, so there is a good chance the contributors may not be truly knowledgeable or competent enough to discuss their chosen subject. In other words, any article could have been posted by a person who is actually uninformed and clueless.

There is no consistency in the quality of material found on Wikipedia. Some articles are outstanding, filled with helpful and pertinent information, written by professionals, knowledgeable in their fields. Other articles, however, lack experience or professional skill and are created by amateurs. The information is not only incomplete and inaccurate, but written with a lack of authority, making it almost impossible for a reader unacquainted with a certain subject to know what information to rely on.

In conclusion, when reading articles on Wikipedia, an individual should always consider the possibility that they might not be factual or completely truthful. Wikipedia may be a good beginning to see what information is out there, but it should never be used as a primary source for serious research.

Lisa Martin
By Lisa Martin

Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC

Giving It To You Straight: Save The World

When I was in my early twenties, I was determined to save the world. An idealist from the get-go, there was no doubt I could single-handedly make a real difference. I worked endlessly for worthwhile causes, fought with conviction for anything I believed in, and even joined a sit-in at Cal State Northridge to listen to the rants and raves of Jane Fonda. Everything made sense back then, and no undertaking was too great.

Of course, as I got older, reality reared its ugly head, and I was forced to grasp the inevitableóchanging the world might be a bit more difficult than anticipated. I reluctantly watched my headstrong ideals slip away, being taken over by practical necessities, like working to support myself. Before I knew it, life had gotten in the way, and my once powerful strides to bring about change were fading into memories.

I now know it doesnít have to be that way. As many years have passed, Iíve been forced to mature and maybe even gain a bit of wisdom. Although Iíve kicked and fought most of the way, Iíve learned that simple change, taken in baby steps, can be as important as ambitious, enormous deeds.

There are so many accomplishments we can carry out each day to continue our inner quest. We can stand up for what we believe in, use our strengths to work with and inspire children, support our troops and their families, vote and let our voices be heard, give unselfishly to one or more charities, recycle and conserve energy. In other wordsógive of ourselves.

And there is more. Act using compassion, love, and understanding with everyone, even when the alternative is easier. Smile at strangers, share a look of encouragement, remind someone of his uniqueness. Simply take the time. You never know how a gentle glance or genuine grin will make an impact on someoneís life, but it does. That unforgotten act of kindness is contagious and oh so powerful.

I canít say that I donít occasionally miss trying to change the world in one full swoop, but aging does have its benefits. I now recognize that small gestures can be as effective as the huge demonstrations I attended over 30 years ago. I havenít given up. Iíve merely come to the realization that there is more than one way to save the world.

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

Giving It To You Straight: BEA

Lisa Martin at Book Expo America
L.A. Convention Center has gone dark and BookExpo America (BEA) has come to a close, leaving in its wake 30,000 exhausted attendees, 60,000 weary feet, and countless tote bags stuffed with catalogs, business cards and readersí copies. Strong trade show floor traffic, provocative and informative programming, and a wealth of networking opportunities combined to make the 2008 BookExpo America a huge success.

With over 2,000 exhibits to visit, including 1,200 publishers, we were able to see the very best the book world had to offer. The exhibition halls showcased major publishers, independents, university presses and audio publishers, sharing books in all formats and of every genre. BEA is the only publishing industry event where itís possible to observe and be exposed to the full spectrum of book publishing under one roof.

Visiting the BookExpo America each year proves to be invaluable for our agency and the authors we represent. It is the ultimate exposure and a wonderful opportunity for one-on-one discussions with prospective publishers. This year, we met with editors from over 100 publishing houses, reestablishing old contacts and making several new ones. There were a number of new publishers that made their debut at the show. These houses were eager to talk with us and review our clientsí material.

We naturally visited the top publishing houses that were present, but also made it a point to introduce ourselves to several offbeat, smaller publishersóthose that would take a chance with first time authors. Several selected houses showed interest in the genres we were representing, and asked us to send submission packages for manuscripts written by our clients.

Working the floor for three days was invigorating, worthwhile, and exhausting. Personally meeting with publishers and introducing our clientsí work certainly gave those clients an invaluable advantage!

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

Giving It To You Straight: Information on the Internet

As we all know, the Internet is notoriously unpredictable and unreliable. However, millions of people rely with certainty upon information found on web sites and blogs. Should we trust everything we read on the Internet? Should we believe all statements written by so-called advocates or self-proclaimed experts, without considering the motivation behind the blog? How do we separate the credible and believable from the untrue? Is the information perhaps skewed toward what the bloggers want readers to believe? Well, those are the thousand-dollar questions, and I canít answer them any better than anyone else questioning the Internetís validity. My response vacillates between, ďKinda, maybe, sometimes,Ē to ďHell no!Ē

There are thousands of web sites that contain inaccurate, misleading, biased, highly prejudicial, and even libelous information. Just about anything can be written as "fact," and we can find negative, fabricated comments about anything or anyone. The Internet is no place to do research unless we are certain who is operating the site and that the information is well-researched and valid.

Blogs and web sites that offer free content on a continual basis generally have some sort of motivation for doing so. Whether that incentive is to draw an audience to offered services or products, benefit through the sale of advertising on their site, or to influence readers with a self-serving agenda, thereís usually some underlying reason for what might at first appear to be virtuous and altruistic actions.

One thing I can guarantee is that there are two sides to every story. Blogs are conversations, therefore requiring more responsibility on the readerís part to think twice before accepting the material at face value. It is extremely important to validate the information found on a web site by using multiple sources, although that isnít always easy. Professional bloggers, often with ulterior motives, will request that their loyal readers link relevant statements from their blog to the readersí web sites. The readers are happy to help out. After all, they believe they are passing on truthful and valuable input, when in reality they may be adding to the distribution of false and deceptive statements. It is not unusual to find distorted and unfounded information, written by a handful of people, on hundreds of sites, all originating from one web site.

We can never be too careful when looking for unbiased and straightforward information on the Internet. It is worth repeating: There are two sides to every story.

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

 Giving It To You Straight: The Power of Words

"Words are potent weapons for all causes, good or bad."
--Manly Hall

As communicators and creative wordsmiths, we sometimes take for granted the actual intensity and forcefulness of the spoken or written word.

Words formulate perceptions, awareness, and expectations. They develop emotional bonds and guide how we rationalize our thoughts. Since what we think affects behavior, thereís a strong relationship between the words we use and the end results.

Poorly selected words can destroy passion and spirit, crush self-respect, and lower expectations. Well-chosen words can encourage, inspire hope, create insight, influence thinking, and reshape the outcome.

Generally, when people get their way, they accomplish it with words. Their logic and reasoning are so compelling and powerful, listeners change their opinions and impressions, even abandoning their principles, to conform to whatís being communicated. Written words can be even more effective, since there is often a false presumption that when words are put in writing, they must be true.

Using words in a way that elicit impassioned or zealous responses generate power, often influencing other individualsí judgment and behavior. Because this kind of authority is invisible and limiting, people can easily be coaxed, manipulated and dominated without their knowledge. We see such persuasive language all the time in advertising. For example, a powerful written description in a brochure detailing an expensive car might cajole a person into buying a luxury item he canít afford and doesnít need.

Decisions based on this type of word maneuvering are not built on facts, reasoning, logic, or oneís best interests, but on gut reactions to the individual communicating with the strongest words. When a reader or listener is capable of separating his emotional responses and recognizing these false or exaggerated assertions, they will become ineffective.

As writers, it is important to remember the persuasive craft we engage in and how our words impress and touch others. We never will be fully aware of how deeply our comments affect each other, but we do have a choice to use the power of communication in positive or negative ways. Letís not forget, itís a lot more than words.

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

Giving It To You Straight: What Defines a Writer?

There seems to be an ongoing discussion of what qualifies an individual to be considered a writer. Any person that pounds out words on a computer is writing, but does that actually constitute a writer?

Websterís Dictionary defines a writer as ďone who performs the act of writing, a professional scribe, an author.Ē Random House Unabridged Dictionary describes a writer as ďa person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.Ē These definitions are vague at best, suggesting that just about anyone can call himself a writer.

I havenít written a book, but my articles have frequently appeared in newspaper columns and several magazines for over 30 years. Iíve developed brochures and marketing material, written many speeches, taught writing classes to both adults and children and edited countless manuscripts. I am a professional writer.

What exactly defines a writer? In my opinion, individuals with an unrelenting passion and aspiration to see their words in print, who continually strive to improve and sharpen their writing skills, are writers. Writing is an art that needs to be honed. It is an attitude that must be cultivated and developed, as well as an existence that must continue to expand.

The expressive craft of building meaning through words, writing requires expertise and command of the use of language. Mastering this skill is a never-ending process of change and transformation.

For many people, becoming a writer begins as an ambition and far-reaching desire, or as a flicker of inspiration. Some writers are gifted with natural talent from the start, having the knack for composing words that flow beautifully and naturally. Others must persevere and work very hard to advance and polish their skills on a daily basis.

So, I ask again, what qualifies an individual to be a writer? If a person truly desires to write and takes the necessary steps toward fulfilling that reality, if she never stops being tenacious, enthusiastic, and passionate about her work, if she never gives up, then that individual is most certainly a writer.

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

Giving It To You Straight: Maui Vacation

Time Travel

Photo courtesy: Jim Munnelly

While relaxing on a secluded beach in Maui with my daughters, Jade and Lily, I recognized just how important it was for me to take time off on a regular basis.

For weeks leading up to the vacation, I had mixed feelings about spending the money in such unstable economic times when everything seemed to be at a standstill. After shortening the vacation, I continued to question whether taking time to relax was an extravagance I should postpone. Looking forward to the time away, I still felt uneasy as the plane took off.

It didn't take me long to appreciate just how important the break in routine was. Not only was it a great opportunity for us to spend time together as a family, it helped me see things in a different light and gain a new perspective on all I had been doing and thinking. The restful holiday allowed me to unwind and reconnect with myself, easing the way back to feeling my best.

I think it is undeniable that we often lose sight of the big picture. We're inclined to change our priorities, but in the daily grind, it is difficult to identify the transition.

For the most part, I've trained myself to forget about my work when I am away, doing my best to shut out as much as possible. However, one of the burdens of being an Internet junkie is that I am always available, even when I'm on vacation. Because I run my own business, I feel itís my responsibility to stay connected to my clients when I am out of town in case a time sensitive problem occurs. While I feel it is necessary for me to be reachable, I don't allow myself to become enslaved by my commitments. After all, we all need a break!

I've also come to realize that because I am working for myself, there is the problem of knowing when I should take time off. When the office is literally your home, you have that uncontrollable urge to work continuously. Itís so easy to get caught up in the grueling routine, making it almost impossible to decide on a time to go on vacation.

However, watching a breathtaking Maui sunset puts it all in perspective. Taking a break and relaxing is hard to do, but definitely necessary. Without it, I could easily burn myself out and begin to despise what I once enjoyed.

That said, thereís no time better than the present to make my reservations for next summer.

Lisa Martin
Lisa Martin owns Martin-McLean Literary Associates LLC. She represents established authors as well as new writers.

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