By Rhiannon Schaub ‘20
Many a student at the Claremont colleges is an avid lover of books (apart from the time spent poring over class texts), and a large portion of those students secretly dream of writing a book. After all, what could be more gratifying than seeing your name elegantly printed across the cover of a paperback in Barnes & Noble? But the confounding problem is… well, how to actually get published. In our heads we imagine the shadow of a nameless and intimidating figure sitting behind the publisher’s desk, critically eyeing our soul-baring manuscript-- and then tossing it into the reject pile with a mere flick of their all-mighty wrist. Ouch.
Luckily, Janet Kobobel Grant and Wendy Lawton of Books & Such Literary Agencycame to the rescue in “So You Want to Write a Book”, a two-day seminar series on book publishing hosted by Scripps Career Planning & Resources in the Humanities Building on March 23rd and 24th. Over the course of their time at Scripps, Janet and Wendy cleared away the impenetrable fog surrounding the publishing world, personalizing the classroom atmosphere by sharing anecdotes about everything from their love of tea to the most cringe-worthy business queries they had received.
One especially colorful example of a failed query featured the line “pounding her fists into the tear-stained floor”, which the agents noted as not only unprofessional language for a business letter, but also an indirect over-promise of the writer’s own literary abilities. The best query example they gave starred a brief, professional format and a compelling hook. More than the writer’s resume and past accomplishments, Janet explains that an original storyline and stellar writing abilities are the selling points for taking on a client.
The class itself covered a diverse array of topics, one of which was the role of a literary agent. Janet and Wendy explained how every week they look over a landslide of emails sent by hundreds of hopeful writers, and that from these they must mine out the gems with enough potential to represent and pitch to publishing companies. “An agent is only as good as their gut,” Janet confides to the class. Wendy adds that, since they are the main point of contact between the author and the publishers, “the agent is the center of an ever-turning universe”.
Janet and Wendy also bestowed one other tip upon the prospective book writers: make a trip to the bookstore to figure out exactly where your book would be placed. Because of the alphabetized system, it can be of great significance whether the first letter of your last name lands you low or high on the shelves. They advised the students to be aware that sales are influenced by the little things, and factors such as a clear genre, an appropriate title, and an attractive cover cannot be overlooked.
Overall, this two-day seminar was not only informative and insightful, but resulted in the free gift of Janet and Wendy’s new book The Inside Scoop: Two Agents Dish On Getting Published, which was published and made available on Amazon just a few days before their visit to Scripps. The streamlined format makes it a quick read, and each chapter supplies original insight and helpful instructions for those on the path to publishing.