Author, agent, and speaker Michelle Lazurek is one of the presenters at the 2023 Write Stuff Conference
Interview by Sara Karnish
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award winning author, speaker, pastor’s wife and mother. She is a regular contributor for ibelieve.com and crosswalk.com and is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting ‘80s memorabilia and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website.
Michelle will be holding a half-day workshop on Thursday—“The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing”—as well as breakout sessions on Saturday.
SK: You are also an agent. How do you think this informs your writing?
ML: I’m an agent but I started out as an author. I’ve been an author for 13 years. I’ve sat where authors have sat, and I’ve been in the same publisher appointments and meetings just like other authors. I understand the unique challenges the author faces when it comes to getting that book contract. I think that’s what I bring to the agent space. Not every agent is an author, and because I was an author first, I understand what a publisher is looking for. This helps me to shape the author’s writing and marketing and work together to polish the proposal and get it in the best shape possible so we can get that book deal.
SK: What is your best advice for writers seeking an agent?
ML: As an agent, I look for three things:
Unique idea: I’m looking for a unique spin on an old idea. For example, there are many books on prayer. What I am looking for in an author is their unique perspective on the topic of prayer. Publishers don’t want ideas that have never been sold before. On the contrary, they want a unique spin on a concept that has sold well and so they know they can guarantee their sales if they do offer a contract with an advance.
Writing: The writing must be good. Authors must invest in their own writing skills, whether that is by taking courses, hiring professionals, etc. Agents are not editors, so we don’t do much editing.
Platform: In my mind, platform is king. If you don’t know what platform means, think of it in terms of someone building a stage. They build it plank by plank and give it a firm foundation so that the person who’s on stage can deliver their message in the best way possible. It’s the same for writers. Their platform is the literal place that they stand where they can get their book in the hands of as many readers as possible. The bigger the numbers the better. If their platform is small, I may encourage them to wait before we submit to publishers because I know they are expecting either large numbers of previous sales or large numbers of places where they engage regularly. This guarantees not only they will make the advance back, but they’ll also make the publishing company a profit.
SK: One of your Write Stuff sessions focuses on writing for children. What is one big mistake new children’s writers commonly make?
ML: The biggest mistake I’ve seen authors make is not placing the tension or conflict earlier in the book. I do a lot with picture books, so they only have about 24 pages to really tell a story. Therefore, the book’s tension or conflict, which every picture book should have in some form, should appear in the first couple of pages. It can’t be halfway through the story, because the author will run out of room to be able to resolve it effectively. Kids today have a short attention span. Therefore, a children’s writer’s additional job is to keep the child turning the pages from the first page to the last. Therefore, their tension or conflict must begin very quickly to keep the child’s attention.
SK: Another session focuses on self-editing. Why is this step so important in the writing process?
ML: Every author must learn how to be a good editor. If you want to attract the attention of an agent or a publisher, your work must be in the best shape possible. At the very least, authors need to know the basics of English and grammar so that they can fix the very common typos and syntax errors that the first draft of their work presents. If they have difficulty beyond that, I encourage them to hire an editor so when an agent or publisher looks at it they know this author has a good grasp of the basic rules regarding literature.
SK: Why do so many writers think they don’t need to edit?
ML: Some writers make the mistake of thinking that agents will edit for them or that the publisher will edit for them. While this is true, your work needs to have gone through not only your hands at least a couple of times but also passed on to someone whom you trust who knows the basic mechanics of the English language. At minimum, I encourage writers to write the first draft. Put it away for a couple of days, then with fresh eyes look at it again. Look at it several times before you pass it on to someone else. By the time a professional editor has gotten to it, your work will have been passed through at least five to seven times.
This year’s Write Stuff Conference runs March 23-25 at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel. Registration is open!