M A R T I N   O W T O N
For writers

I've been writing and selling fiction since 1995 and learned some lessons along the way. A few of those lessons are discussed here.

For short story writers
Where to sell short fiction:
I've sold somewhere over 20 short stories, some to markets that are long gone, some to markets that only paid in copies of the magazine, a few for hundreds of dollars. Here are a few of the markets that have bought my work:
Black Gate Magazine - top class fantasy adventure magazine from the US.
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine - excellent Australian Magazine that takes a wide range of SF/F.
Hub - UK magazine distributed weekly by e-mail as a free PDF.
There are a couple of excellent websites that list hundreds of markets for short fiction: for sf/f I rely on Ralan; Duotrope casts its net wider and covers many (mainly US) markets for general short fiction.
Finally, Ricasso Press.

For novelists
It took me a long time to get an agent and I learned a lot in the process, so if you're in the process of trying to find an agent this should help you.
Do I need an agent?
Yes. Next question.

How do I get one?
First off finish your book. Then rewrite it, then get a bunch of people who are familiar with your genre to read it and listen to what they tell you. Then rewrite it again. Yes, really. The more people who read it the better. Join a writers group like the T-Party if you can. And no, no-one is going to steal your idea. Ideas are plentiful, it is how you execute the idea that matters.

Done all that?
OK, you're ready to start the long and painful process of querying. If you are sending to a UK agent most of them will want to see your first three chapters, a short (1,000 - 1,500 words) synopsis (yes, you need one and yes, you do reveal the ending) and a brief covering letter. Here is a list of UK agents I put together (Acrobat PDF).

There are also some lists on UK agents on the Net:
Literary Agency Directory
Writers' and Artists' Yearbook,
and it is well worth joining Author Advance (it's free) so that you can use their searchable database, which includes some UK agents.

Most UK agents are OK about you phoning them if you are unclear about their submission guidelines or if you want to know if they are currently taking a particular genre - but don't phone US agents! If you are sending to a US agent the process is rather different, but the good news is that there are loads of resources to help you. Agent Query has an excellent listing, searchable by genre, of US agents as well as articles on drafting query letters and synopses. If you join Absolute Write (and why wouldn't you - it's a great site) there is a section where you can get feedback on your query letters and your opening chapters.

Very many agents now have websites where you can check on their submission requirements which you should always do. The standard approach to US agents is with a query letter either by e- mail or snail mail. There is a great art to the writing of these, and plenty of examples out there; the letter I used for 'Exile' is here.

I like the Queryshark blog run by agent Janet Reid, where she critiques queries that people have sent in. Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford also has some great guidance on query letters and other agent-related stuff. There is some debate about what constitutes a standard query, but I got into the habit of sending my first five pages along with the query letter UNLESS the agent's guidelines specified "send a query letter only". It mostly worked out OK; I got a lot of requests for more material.

A few more notes about agents.
Folks, there are scammers out there and there are useless waste of time people who call themselves agents but cannot sell your book. Do your due diligence, check out anyone you are considering querying at Absolute Write and at Preditors and Editors. If they haven't sold books to advance-paying publishers and do not have a background in publishing/agenting, don't send to them. DO NOT EVER PAY AN AGENT UPFRONT.

A note about new agents.
One of the best ways of getting an agent is to approach someone who has just joined an agency or set up on their own. Provided they have a background in publishing (were an editor for a major publisher), or trained at another agency, then they are an excellent prospect as they will need to take on 20-30 clients fairly quickly, whereas an established agent may take on only two or three new clients a year.

Can I approach an agent in the US/UK when I don't live there?
Yes, I know many authors who have agents in a different country. All that matters is that your work is right for the market the agent is expert in.

Can't I approach publishers direct?
The majority of publishers do not look at unagented submissions; those that do take a long time over it. It is possible if you can establish a connection with an editor (going to conventions is good for this) to submit to them direct, but you will always have less priority than an agented submission.

An agent rejected my first thirty pages without explanation, can I ask them why?
No. Just don't.

Should I hire an editor to edit my novel before submitting it?
Have you explored every free option of beta readers, critique groups etc? If you have, and after multiple rewrites you still feel it isn't good enough then you could consider it. This is a controversial area; freelance editors/book doctors have a rather better reputation in the UK than in the US, where they are mostly regarded as scammers. A reputable editor will not be cheap. I used John Jarrold for 'Exile' and was very happy with the outcome.