ThrillerFest, ePublishing, and Getting an Agent

I recently attended ThrillerFest.

It was a four day event. Last two days are panels of famous authors and lots of awards. I saw Ken Follett speak and met and spoke for a while with Larry Beinhart. The first 1.5 days were called CraftFest, and consisted of three tracks of great panels from highly successful writers in the Thriller genre. At the end of the CraftFest was AgentFest. It was like a speed dating event, but you’re pitching agents. (Forgive my metaphor, as it’s the only one I knew offhand).

The CraftFest portion of the event was very enriching. Lectures covered topics such as “How to develop your voice”, “keeping the reader in suspense” and “point of view, psychic distance, and passive voice”.

Probably my favorite lecture was from Stephen James who had a very fast delivery style (he was covering “nine characteristics of the modern thriller”) and who had an odd technique of literally hurling free books AT the audience, and even his handouts were distributed essentially spraying a cascading fan of paper over the front few rows.

There was tons of advice given, but I heard these basic lessons reiterated and I think they are still the most valuable to give to anyone entering the field:

1) READ READ READ, good and bad, in your genre


Simple no?


Over the last year the volume of press about self-publishing and e-publishing has been deafening. Working and writing about technology in my other life, I was very familiar with the rags-to-riches stories that had been told about application development for mobile phones, and some of these same themes were being explored in eBooks.

During the last year the here’s what I heard through all my sources — all the rumors, discussions, opinions — about e-publishing

  1. There’s no longer a stigma to being self published
  2. Publishing is transforming to digital faster than it did for music or movies
  3. E-publishing is now 20% of the bookbuying market. or 30%. Or something like that.
  4. Amazon sells more e-books than normal books
  5. Not really, Amazon sells more volume because many books are cheaper
  6. Spam eBooks are killing Amazon, and then you’ll need a filter, which will be… traditional publishers
  7. Only Amanda Hocking and Adam Locke did a million and you’re not them
  8. Borders is going bankrupt because eBooks are the future
  9. Barnes and Noble’s new focus is toys, gifts, coffee table books, games, puzzles, DVDs, CDs, and scones
  10. The way to succeed with eBooks is 1) social networking 2) writing half dozen acceptable quality books in rapid succession
  11. Literary agents have been infected with the Hollywood virus and are now out to steal your soul and all your royalties because they no longer work for you they just want to own your back catalog mwah hah ha
  12. E-royalties suck and aren’t fair in traditional deals
  13. Publishers never did anything for midlisters anyway it was all up to them to market themselves
  14. Don’t get an agent you can do it all yourself
  15. Don’t get a publisher you can do it all yourself
  16. You just need to spend a few grand for an editor and somebody to make you a good cover
  17. Oh wait, if you focus on learning social networking and building up your audience you may not have time to write
  18. If you self publish successfully you can get a traditional book deal and sell to people who don’t have e-readers and a few of those still exist
  19. $0.99 to $2.99 ebook pricing is devaluing books
  20. People can’t find your book in a bookstore if it’s e-published
  21. There’s no longer a stigma to publishing traditionally on paper

Getting An Agent

The main reason I had gone to the event was to learn about getting an agent. Here’s what I learned about THAT:

  1. You need an agent because they can submit simultaneously instead of you slowly pitching your manuscript slowly, one publisher at a time, over many years.
  2. You need a “log line” – a punchy one-line hook about your book
  3. Loglines are too Hollywood ; those are for scripts. You need a pitch line and a query letter.
  4. You need to work on your pitch a lot to make your query perfect.
  5. You must address your query letter to the agent and research the agent and address them by name and call to verify their name but you can’t nag and you can’t do anything strange or unusual in your query letter.
  6. Actually you don’t need a query letter they’re too slow. You need to go to conferences and meet an agent and pitch your book. Then they’ll ask you to send the manuscript.
  7. If the agent doesn’t like your pitch, because your one-line description of the book wasn’t short enough and perfect enough.
  8. Wow this is going to be really hard.
  9. Actually you’re interviewing the agents and you need to see if you can vibe with them.
  10. Oh wait, the right agent will like your pitch if your story is good because they’re interested, and will ask for the manuscript.
  11. If the agent doesn’t like your pitch you can simply move on. There are other agents.


The event was amazing (I’m writing spy thriller and some scifi thriller so it was a good fit for me) and I plan to go next year as well. To recap:

  1. There’s no longer a stigma to having a literary agent
  2. Read in your genre
  3. Write a lot

3 responses on “ThrillerFest, ePublishing, and Getting an Agent

  1. Colette

    My daughter asked me how finding an agent is going. It’s not. I’m so confused by the contradicting advice it’s immobilized my efforts at getting published. I’m looking forward to your next blog, Brandon.

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