Aspiring authors check your Twitter feed. Are you witty? Are you providing a fresh perspective on something that's hot right now? Can you make your 140 characters sing with all the abbreviated elegance of a budding Bard? If so, you may be one of the lucky plucked from the millions of tweeps in the micro-blogosphere by an agent ready to make a deal.
Agents on Twitter
On Twitter, and soon maybe in real life, comic grammar and usage may outstrip the need to know if it's ever okay to mix dashes and colons. And why not when @fakeAPStylebook offers the helpful, "Do not combine a dash and a colon. It will open a portal to the Lost Tomb of Colonel McCormick," while proffering a giggle, "Also, it looks like a tiny dong." Dispensing such abbreviated witticisms earned Fake AP Stylebook a horde of loyal followers in just two short weeks. And not long after that, agreed to be represented by literary agent Kate McKean.
Kate McKean has been an agent for four years, and has spent most of that time with the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Inc., in New York. She says she "goes where the writers are" to search for fresh voices, often directly contacting potential authors she finds on the Web. Twitter was also her vehicle for signing Alan Beard and Alec McNayr. Their book, Historical Tweets, is due from Villard in April 2010.
Of Fake AP Stylebook, McKean says simply, the content is good and "It speaks to a specific market." What market in particular? "A market of word and writing geeks." Grammar and humor both have shelf space on the shelf in a traditional bookstore, McKean adds, and it helps that both are established markets—but also emerging ones. "There are a lot of ideas that don't have that kind of space on the shelf."
McKean admits she gets queries via Twitter, but she's not biting. Ironically, she prefers to receive solicitations through the more traditional channels of email and snail mail. Also, she wants to make it clear that she's not just looking for funny and quirky. She's looking for contemporary fiction, non-fantasy young adult (no vampires, please), crafts, and sports—with an emphasis on talent and passion. Oh, and make sure you have a platform (a large following doesn't hurt either). "That wins out over, 'look I'm trying to be funny,'" she says.
Byrd Leavell, who has spent nearly a decade discovering literary lights with the Waxman Agency, is no stranger to playing an agent in the vein of 007. He made his latest coup sleuthing with a tweet of his own, trying to find the writer behind the stream @shitmydadsays. It wasn't easy, says Leavell, because he didn't list his real name and was only following LeVar Burton.
Still it all unfolded quickly. "I spent an hour reading it, and then the next two hours trying to track the author down. But he saw my tweet, sent me a direct message, hit it off right away, and started working on the proposal the next day," says Leavell.
Leavell points out that it helped that the mystery tweep was Justin Halpern, a senior editor at Maxim.com, who not only knew his way around a sentence but who also had a large following.
"As soon as I read Justin's feed it was clear that what he was doing was funnier than anything I'd read in months and was hitting a nerve—300K followers couldn't be wrong. From that point it was simply a matter of figuring out how to package it in a book that made sense," explains Leavell. Halpern's book will be published by It Books in time for Father's Day, and, astonishingly, will also be made into a television sitcom by CBS.
Though he's kicking himself for not snagging Fake AP Stylebook, Leavell says he'll continue to look for undiscovered work in his favorite genres, narrative non-fiction and humor, on Twitter. He agrees with McKean though—no matter what the subject, "It has to work in the marketplace. It can't just be navel gazing. You have to ask, 'Would I spend $20 on this?' and the answer must be yes."
Publishers on Twitter
Publishers are also reaching out to potential new authors through Twitter. When George Plumley responded to a tweet from Matt Mullenweg, co-creator of WordPress, he didn't know that Carol Long, Executive Acquisitions Editor at Wrox Press/Wiley Publishing, was looking for a book. Plumley says he'd never even considered writing a book, but less than a month later Long had inked a deal with him to publish WordPress 24 Hour Trainer, due out this month.
Like McKean and Leavell, Long points to Plumley's feed as being professionally written and enjoying a large following. As for trying to skip over the agent, Long says that though Plumley did get representation, "It's ALWAYS great to conscribe talent for writing technical books w-o an agent, as you can qualify tech people more easily."
A Cautionary Tale
Brandon Mendelson, the self-proclaimed "Most Followed Non-Brand, Non-Celebrity, Non-Media Outlet On Twitter (for now)" recalls that he'd been working on one of the first Twitter novels in English when he was approached by a few agents. It would be enough to make the heart of any would-be novelist sing. But Mendelsohn smelled a rat. "The first one wanted to charge me, which is the first sign you should chase them back into the woods with a hand grenade," he says—tongue firmly planted in cheek. Several others couldn't provide references. Mendelsohn notes that these "agents" were also not members of the Association Of Author's Representatives (AAR). "It is not as cool as being part of the fellowship of the rings, but it's a must have," he says about the organization.
In the meantime, Mendelsohn is continuing to work the old-fashioned way, one entry at a time, for his book Dracula and Kittens. With a twitter following of more than 900,000, he's confident he's doing all he can to attract a legitimate offer. "It's incredibly hard to find a publisher for fiction as a new author, which is why I took the easy way and co-opted Bram Stoker's novel," he quips.
So for him and other hopefuls, McKean maintains, "Twitter is all about writing. You are forced to use language well and hone your skills to make it brief. Whether you'll get a book deal from Twitter, well maybe not. But it's one more outlet that I look at as an agent."