Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit

Literary agents are agents who represent authors and their manuscripts, ultimately securing a book deal between the author and a publisher. Though their role isn’t essential to getting a book published, it can be beneficial because they have network connections to the best book publishers, and often have worked with successful authors before.

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Literary agents do a lot of the leg work that authors may be unfamiliar with, so their expertise is always valued. They help secure fair deals, protect authors’ rights, ensure authors are paid fairly, and act as a liaison between the author and the publisher. Furthermore, literary agents connect authors with publishers in specific genres. Because they know the market, they can guide authors in specific directions that will garner success.

Besides the technical and professional aspects, literary agents also offer camaraderie and support for the authors they represent. They are there every step of the way, encouraging authors and making sure publishers see the authors’ craft.

Because literary agents aren’t always necessary to get a book published, authors must decide if they need one. If authors want to pitch their book proposals to larger publishing houses—especially the Big Five publishers—they will need and want a literary agent to help them navigate the process. However, if authors write for a niche market or if their work is more suitable for a smaller press, a literary agent is not always necessary.

After determining if a literary agent is needed, authors must find one that works best for them. Authors can visit online resources such as Publisher’s Marketplace, which provides logs of active literary agents. Another useful resource is the Association of Authors’ Representatives, an association of over 400 members that authors can choose from and seek a partnership with. Authors can narrow down their search by category and genre to find literary agents who have worked on projects like theirs. There are other online resources that offer more ways to connect with literary agents. Print resources exist as well; the Writer’s Market, published yearly, provides information on over 500 literary agents.

Authors can also use their own connections in the publishing industry to find an agent. If they know anyone who has worked with agents before, they can ask for recommendations of specific literary agents who might be interested in working with them. They can also inquire about places or events where they can interact with different literary agents.

After narrowing down their search, authors can reach out to prospective literary agents. This can be done in a couple of ways. They can attend events that literary agents may speak at—including writer’s programs, book festivals, and conferences—to get their foot in the door. They may also send literary agents a professional query letter telling the agent about themselves, their book, how they know of the agent, and how their work and the agent’s work could create a good partnership.

Literary agents provide a plethora of valuable information that any author can learn from. Thousands of literary agents are as eager as authors to make a book deal; authors just have to start the process of finding the perfect fit.

This is the third post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Read “Know Your Author Rights” and “Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role” now.

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A Linguist’s Tree of Knowledge: An Introduction to the Tree Diagram

The tree diagram is a newer method for diagramming sentences that is most commonly used by linguists and other academic professionals. While the Reed Kellogg diagram was considered an effective tool for students to visualize sentence structure, it had many limitations. It dispensed with traditional word order and used a variety of occasionally confusing symbols, meaning the resulting diagram was difficult to understand for anyone unfamiliar with the method.

Reed and Kellogg did introduce two core grammatical concepts: Constituency, how a word relates to the larger structure of a sentence, and dependency, how a word is dependent upon each one that precedes it. The primary goal of a tree diagram is to illustrate these concepts in a way that is visibly apparent, even for those previously unfamiliar with sentence diagrams.

In a tree diagram, a sentence is divided into two parts: a subject and a predicate. They are made up of noun phrases or verb phrases. These are groups of words that include a noun or verb and any words that add as modifiers. The subject is a noun phrase while a predicate is usually a verb phrase. The noun phrase A big dog is comprised of the indefinite article ‘a’, the adjective ‘big’, and the noun ‘dog’. The verb phrase jumped over the fence consists of the verb ‘jumped’ and the prepositional phrase ‘over the fence’.

Unlike a Reed-Kellogg diagram, these components are not separated by slashes and other symbols. Instead, they descend from the subject and predicate in the form of lines acting as branches. This continues until each noun or verb phrase is broken down into its simplest parts. In the end, a sentence diagrammed in this style should look like a vast tree, with the subject and predicate acting as the trunk and the sentence modifiers standing in as the colorful and complex leaves that give it personality.

Now that you understand the basic premise of a Tree Diagram and how it breaks down a sentence, let’s take a look at an example.

Seen here, the sentence is broken down into a subject and predicate. The subject is a noun phrase that consists of the indeterminate article ‘the’ and the noun ‘dog’. The predicate is more complex, as it consists of both a verb and a noun phrase. Breaking down the predicate, the verb is ‘ate’ and the noun phrase is ‘the’ (indefinite article) and ‘bone’ (noun). As you can see, the tree diagram uses minimal symbols and little complex jargon, yet clearly illustrates how each of these words relate to and depend upon each other.

Here is another example of a tree diagram. As you can see, this one is a bit more intricate. Let’s take a look and break it down.

Once again, the sentence is divided into a subject and predicate. The subject is composed of a noun phrase: ‘the’ as an indefinite article and ‘teacher’ as a noun. The predicate is more complex than before. Its verb phrase consists of three parts: the verb ‘gave’; the noun ‘homework’; and the prepositional phrase ‘to his students’. Are you starting to get a better understanding of constituency and dependency now?

Unfortunately, tree diagrams do have some negative aspects. Like the Reed-Kellogg diagram, more complex tree diagrams can take up a great deal of space and become more difficult to decipher in the process. Additionally, as both a strength and weakness, they are more open to interpretation than the Reed-Kellogg diagram. It is possible for a sentence to have multiple, different, and equally valid tree diagrams depending upon which unit is focused on, especially with a sentence taken from classic literature.

As a whole, tree diagrams offer a clear and more nuanced look at sentence structure without sacrificing traditional word order. While they are primarily used by grammarians and other linguistic specialists, they are quickly becoming the standard method of sentence diagramming, as the result is easily comprehensible to everyone. If you are seeking to improve your writing, I recommend that you try diagramming at least one sentence a day using this method. In doing so, you will gain a greater understanding of how to compose grammatically correct, diverse, and impactful sentences.

Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role

An important part of finding success as an author is marketing. Though book publishers help create positive buzz, authors must take on the primary responsibility of marketing their book.

Marketing combines elements of publicity, promotions, and public relations to generate interest from an audience and create sales. A marketing plan is a detailed plan that establishes the steps authors will take to successfully market their book. Common practices to promote the upcoming book include press releases, reviews, giveaways and contests, and sharing accompanying works.

While these practices are great and will guarantee some level of success for authors, there are other ways in which they can generate positive buzz. Essential to the marketing of a book is social media. While the publisher handles other aspects of the plan such as creating and distributing press releases, authors can take charge with their social media accounts.

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Why should authors use social media?

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are widespread platforms where millions of people interact every day. These platforms are free forms of publicity in which authors can directly engage with their audiences and promote their books. If authors create strong relationships with their readers first, they will likely already have loyal customers when their book is released.

How can they use social media?

To promote their books, authors can use social media sites to post writing advice, small excerpts from their books, and cover reveals. Creating these small promotions and linking to their author website or book page generates the elusive positive buzz authors seek.

Authors can easily engage with their audience by creating a conversation. They might ask “What is your favorite book?” or “What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?” This allows people to respond and create a connection with their favorite author. It also shows the audience that the author isn’t just trying to make a sale—they care about what their loyal readers think and feel.

For authors and their upcoming book, creating a positive image is also critical to generate positive buzz. Authors can do this by associating with prominent organizations that are appropriate to their field.

Why should authors care about their public image?

When readers think about an author, they unconsciously associate them with what they’ve seen or heard in the media. To make sure people view them positively, authors should present themselves in favorable ways. However, their presentation should still show an authentic image of themselves and their work, especially when seeking industry connections or when presenting to an audience for the first time.

How can authors create a favorable, authentic image?

Authors can join organizations that are specific and related to the genre of their works. For instance, a romance author may join the Romance Writers of America, an organization for writers of romantic fiction, to connect with people in their writing genre. This creates an opportunity for authors to reach potential customers and befriend other authors who can provide advice and support for the rest of their career.

To promote their book directly, authors can often participate in speaking engagements at organizations’ events. At these speaking engagements, authors may become “experts” on the topic of their book and relay valuable, interesting information to audiences. This creates more positive buzz and will likely result in book sales later.

Conclusion

Though publishers work closely with authors to ensure their books find success, publishers are not responsible for all of the marketing. Authors must take initiative to create a plan that will benefit their upcoming book release and their career. Social media and public image are paramount parts of the process.

This is the second post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Read “Know Your Author Rights” now and check back on September 21 for “Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit”.

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Classroom Grammar: An Introduction to the Reed-Kellogg System

The Reed-Kellogg system is a method for diagramming sentences that was commonly taught in grammar classrooms in the past. The system was introduced in the 1870s by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg. Previous methods of diagramming focused solely on teaching proper word order to students. The Reed-Kellogg system offered an alternative: Foregoing traditional word order in order to highlight the function of each word in a sentence. These grammarians believed that it would be most beneficial for students to discover the logical order of words in a sentence, so they could understand how to write effectively.

This system’s primary purpose is to break a sentence down into easily identifiable parts. Because it is intended for students, the method is simple and uses a minimal amount of symbols or jargon. You do not have to know every single grammatical term in order to diagram a sentence using the Reed-Kellogg method, nor do you have to focus on retaining a sentence’s original word order. For those who have no background in grammar or who are learning English as a second language, the Reed-Kellogg diagram is a great way to jump into sentence diagramming.  To start things off, here is a sample sentence that is simple in structure, as represented by Reed-Kellogg.

In a Reed-Kellogg diagram, you always start by drawing a horizontal line. You then divide it with a short vertical line. The subject of the sentence is located on the left of the vertical dividing line. In this case, the subject is “the topic”. Any sentence modifiers, such as adjectives and articles, are placed on a diagonal line below the noun or verb it is modifying. As seen here, the indefinite article “the” is situated on a diagonal line below the noun “topic”.

The predicate of the sentence is located on the right side of the dividing line. Here, the predicate is the verb phrase “was sentence diagramming”. The verb “was” is situated in the middle of the diagram as a linking verb, which simply connects the subject “the topic” to the predicate “sentence diagramming”. This is reflected by a slanting line between “was” and the rest of the predicate. Since “diagramming” is a modifier of the noun “sentence”, it is given on a diagonal line below what it modifies.

Now, let’s move onto a more complex Reed-Kellogg diagram. This one will show you how to diagram a sentence that contains a transitive action verb and a single direct object.

As you can see, this diagram is slightly different from the previous example. As the extremely simple subject of the sentence, “Joe” is on the left of the dividing vertical line. The predicate is where the meat of the sentence is. Since the verb is transitive, the line between the verb “kicked” and the direct object “ball” is straight rather than slanted. This indicates that Joe is performing an action with the ball. “High” and “in the air” are, respectively, an adverb and prepositional phrase that modify the verb “kicked” so they are given on diagonal lines below.

Although a Reed-Kellogg diagram has many positive aspects, it does have some drawbacks. Some sentences can be especially long and complex, especially if they’re taken from a piece of classical literature. Diagramming these sentences using this method can be intimidating and time-consuming. Unfortunately, the end result can be difficult to comprehend for anyone who is unfamiliar with the Reed-Kellogg system.

Additionally, while it is effective in illustrating general function within a sentence, it is not nuanced enough to show how each word in a sentence is connected to and dependent on the words around it. For example, look at the phrase “a beautiful woman”. A Reed-Kellogg diagram would list both “a” and “beautiful” as words that modify the noun “woman”. However, each of these words have different functions in the sentence. While “beautiful” modifies only the word “woman” as an adjective, “a” modifies both “beautiful” and “woman” as an indefinite article.

I hope that this post has given you a good idea of just what a Reed-Kellogg diagram is and how it is an effective (albeit traditional and therefore limited) tool for diagramming sentences. Although it is not commonly used or taught in classrooms today, I would strongly advise that any aspiring author try diagramming at least one or two sentences in this style. I’m willing to bet that it will give you a greater understanding of grammar and improve your writing in the process.

 

Know Your Author Rights

It’s an exciting time when a publisher accepts an author’s manuscript. However, with the celebration comes a contract that discusses ownership rights. Authors and potential authors may wonder what rights to retain and what rights to grant to publishers. Before you make any hasty decisions, you first need to know a little more about ownership rights.

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Copyright laws legally protect original works from being reproduced and credited to other people. When you create a new work, you automatically own the rights to it. These rights include the right to distribute, reproduce, publicly display, and modify the original work.

When you begin a partnership with a publisher, these rights will shift around a bit. Ideally, a publisher will specify the rights they intend to buy. Sometimes, though, the contracts are ambiguous or unclear, often with stipulations for rights muddled by intimidating legal terms. Have no fear! If you do your research about ownership rights, you will be in a better position to retain certain rights to your manuscript and create a beneficial partnership with the publisher.

There are a variety of rights you may negotiate to retain for yourself or grant to your publisher. These rights include first serial rights, one-time rights, and second serial rights.

First serial rights mean the publisher can publish the manuscript for the first time, but all other rights remain with the author. One-time rights mean the publisher purchases the right to publish the manuscript one time. There is nothing stopping the author from selling the work to other publications at the same time. Second serial rights mean you grant a publisher the right to publish the manuscript after it has already appeared in another publication.

The most important rights to be wary of are “all rights.” The publishers’ contract may stipulate that authors sign over all rights to their works. This means your work no longer belongs to you; instead, the publisher owns it and you can’t use it again without their permission. Try to avoid signing contracts with these “all rights” clauses. Instead, negotiate with the publisher for serial rights or one-time rights, which are more beneficial because you may want to revisit your work later.

It’s important to know what ownership rights are available to you, but you may have the daunting task of picking apart the contract to make sure you’ve received a fair deal. You don’t want the experience that many others have unfortunately had. They find themselves in a sticky situation with no rights to their books, a poor relationship with their publisher, and very little success. It’s beneficial to seek assistance from authors who have already worked on contract agreements and can offer insight. It is also recommended to seek legal counsel or someone certified in copyright law to offer advice.

As an author, it’s important to research ownership rights so that you understand what rights will fit your manuscript best. Once you’ve received advice about contracts and picked the contract apart, try to negotiate with your publisher before signing. If you can’t agree on the terms, it may be best to find another publisher who can better meet your needs.

Remember, publishers want your book to be successful, so work with publishers that make you feel comfortable and confident in where your partnership will take you!

This is the first post in a three-part series on navigating book marketing. Check back on September 14 for “Successfully Marketing a Book: An Author’s Role” and September 21 for “Literary Agents: Finding the Best Fit”.

Interested in more great content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and find our complete catalog on our homepage.

How Sustainable are Books?

When you hear sustainability, you might think of hot topics like sustainable energy or sustainable fishing, but what does sustainability mean in the publishing industry? To fully understand sustainability in the publishing community, it is necessary to understand how publishing is not only culturally impactful but also environmentally impactful. Understanding these two factors will reveal the symbiotic relation between publisher and consumer, as well as their obligations to one another for a stronger, more supportive reading community.

A small, dark-colored ereader and a larger, white-colored ereader, both displaying text on their screens.Culturally, publishing influences the books people read and the way those books are read. There has been an ongoing debate whether the rise of e-readers, tablets, and online publishing will eventually kill the print book. There seems to be a push from consumers towards technology, while publishers seem to focus more on print. In an interview with Jenn Webb from Tools of Change, Dennis Stovall from Portland State University remarks about the common publisher attitude towards e-books. “Every medium exists with constraints and opportunities, and the new frontiers of digital publishing have hardly been opened. Meanwhile, we’ve pushed many of the limits of the old technologies.” As technology shifts, so do people and the reading culture surrounding them. E-readers and online prints are gaining ground due to their accessibility and portability. For books to stay culturally relevant to a modern reading audience, publishers must embrace this cultural shift towards technology to create a stronger reading community.

A dark forest scene. Moss and fungi are clearly seen growing on the ground. A canopy of tree branches is overhead.By now, I can hear at least one person screaming, “There’s nothing like the smell of a real book!” And you’re right, but environmental concerns loom over any industry whether it be mining, fishing, or agriculture. Publishing is no exception. Print books take their toll on the environment by using paper and ink. Sustainability in this aspect is concerned with a publisher’s ability to print books in an economical fashion while reducing the environmental strain of manufacturing books. And this side of sustainability is more of a concern for the consumer. To explain, let’s talk about recycling. Many publishers attempt to manufacture books with recycled paper, but the accessibility of recycled paper is limited. Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly explains, “The biggest challenge unearthed by the study is the lack of availability of recycled paper. In 2014, the average amount of recycled content from reporting manufacturers was 12%, down from 22% in 2012.” Milliot then goes on to suggest the move towards is the cause for the lack of paper.

This is where we, the consumers, hold responsibility. Single-stream recycling is good for many aspects, yet it is terrible for paper. Typically, paper becomes wet when it is collected for single-stream and becomes unusable for recycle. While single-stream recycling is more convenient than other methods, it greatly decreases the yield of paper products. This is why the reading community must make changes and recycle in different ways, such as dual-stream recycling. By using alternate recycling methods, consumers help recycled paper become more accessible to publishers, making print books more environmentally viable.

For publishing to be truly culturally and environmentally sustainable, it must be an all-around effort from the publisher and consumer. This shouldn’t be difficult for either side, since we both love reading and understand its importance. Here at the University of North Georgia Press, we strive to give students access to free downloadable textbooks to aid in the endeavor of sustainable publishing.

How the News Gets the News

We may get our news from popular media outlets like CNN, Fox News, CBS, or MSNBC, but where do they get their news from? Media outlets, and any other news source for that matter, get a large majority of their information from press releases. Press releases act as a medium between the source of information and media outlets. A company writes a press release to a media outlet if they think the information is noteworthy such as new technological developments, upper management changes, or even new book releases. Sometimes, a company will post press releases to their website for reporters who are searching for a story to write about. Other times, the company may contact the media directly through fax or e-mail.

The format of a press release differs from what you may be used to reading. A press release has, like most documents, a title. The title must be intriguing enough for a reporter or journalist to even want to begin reading the press release. Geoffrey James at CBS Money Watch writes about a press release with a terrible title sent to him:

“As a reporter, my immediate response to that press release was that it’s not important because it expended an entire sentence saying absolutely nothing. And I assumed (probably rightly) that the company’s marketing team was a bunch of idiots.”

A stack of newspapers.Press releases generally include the following information as well:

1) The Date of Release
This information is generally somewhere towards the top of the document—usually below the title.

2) Contact Information
Contact information of the person who wrote the press release is at the beginning of the document and often times scattered throughout. It is important that a reporter or journalist can get in contact with the author of the press release or a company’s marketing team. This information should not be difficult to find.

3) An Introduction
The introduction outlines the purpose of why the presented information is newsworthy. If possible, the introduction should answer the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why.

4) The Body
Information is thoroughly explained in the section. It needs to give context and detail about why the information is newsworthy. This section contains the main reason you would be writing a press release.

5) Boiler Plate
You may be familiar with a boilerplate as a standard set text for legal documents, but a boilerplate in a press release usually only contains information about the company. A boilerplate in a press release displays the company’s name and contact information for their marketing team.

6) The Close
Once all that is written, a press release must have a close. The close is not a summary paragraph, but a set of defined symbols which indicate the release is over. These symbols vary, but two common closes are “-30-” and “###.”

7) Contact Information
Unlike the boiler plate which contains the company’s contact information, this contact information is specific to the writer of the press release or the company’s marketing team. Typically, the author of a press release leaves a phone number, e-mail, and fax number.

While all important, some of these elements can be left out. Robert Wynne from Forbes suggests, “Headline. Opening Sentence. Body. (What’s the story, why does it matter?) Contact Information.” If you’re confused, you can examine the formats of different press releases and find common themes between companies. For an example, check out this press release from Publishers Weekly.

Even if you have all these elements perfectly written, the title is the most important. It is crucial the title is clear and concise, since it is the first—and usually the only—element a reporter will initially see. Reporters must scan through hundreds of titles a day. For yours to stick out, it needs to be attention grabbing and directly to the point. Avoid long strings of meaningless adjectives and prepositional phrases. This way, reporters are more likely to understand what your press release is about. If they understand your title, they’re more likely read to read the whole release.