Monday, April 24, 2017

R&R? Reject and retreat!

What is the proper etiquette for a querier who receives editorial comments and R&R from a literary agent, but after careful consideration, decides not to proceed with the revision? Polite email explaining why? No response? Ignore R&R and query the next book when ready? None of the above?

While "You're a dunderhead for suggesting this" is probably not the best choice, it's also true, even the polite version of that - "Thanks but no thanks"- isn't going to get you anywhere.

You're under no obligation to follow an agent's advice.
Some of us them give terrible advice, it's true.

But no one, not even dunderheads, likes to hear our pearls of wisdom are being discarded as worthless trinkets.

Thus "thank you for your notes; I appreciate your time and insight" is all you need to say. That their insight made you realize they are idiots, can go unsaid. Or that you don't intend to implement their suggestions.

If, at some point in the future, the agent gets in touch to ask whatever happened to your retelling of Casino Royale with dogs,

that's when to say "I decided to go in a different direction." Unless they ask, you don't have to tell. 

But just one more little trinket of wisdom: before you write off editorial comments and revision suggestions, let some time pass.  Some of our advice is better after it sits awhile. Yanno, like novels.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Query strategy in the face of looming life changes

My latest manuscript is almost ready to query. Yay! Next to shopping for swimsuits, there's nothing I enjoy more. But...I've been accepted to law school and plan to start this fall. I have four kids still in elementary and middle school. I fret, as writers always do.

What if I am fortunate enough to find an agent who loves the manuscript as much as I do? What if he/she thinks it needs more revision than I  have time for? Will he/she wait until I do? It might be a year or more. Or should I even bother sending out queries right now when I've got this other endeavor looming on the horizon and threatening to take over my whole life?

What would you advise?

You know yourself better than I do (at least I hope you do!)
My plan would be to focus on law school right now.
You don't know how much time it's going to take to keep up with your classes and the assigned reading yet.

And your kids are going to need some attention unless they're the kind you can hang in the closet till Christmas vacation when you need them again to be cookie bakers and tasters. (My friends who are parents have horrifying tales of children who expect to eat at least three times a day! And want to talk to them! It's the stuff of nightmares.)

On the other hand maybe you're one of those people who can do three things well at the same time. Certainly there are examples of people who write novels while in some form of graduate school (medical school, law school, clown school)

As to the actual question: I put manuscripts/projects on hold for people regularly. I'm happy to wait, BUT generally it's about a year.  You're undertaking a three year law school adventure. Then you're going to study for the bar.

Even if you've got a manuscript that requires NO revision, you do need to be available through the editing and production process. Copy edits generally have a very firm two week turn around deadline.

And this doesn't begin to address the problem of promotion. Promoting a novel is a long term process but it requires regular (as in daily) effort.  Will you have the time to do that? You don't know yet.

And there's another thing you don't know about yet: your legal writing class. I have no idea if you can write a novel while also trying to master the art of writing a legal brief. And you don't either.

I suggest waiting to query until you have a better sense of what kind of time law school requires, and more important, how much of your brain space it needs.  

The really good news is there are a lot of people who went to law school who ended up writing some pretty terrific books later. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Agents who don't respond to an offer notice

I received an offer of rep a little while ago, and as any loyal Reider would do, I notified all the other agents with the manuscript (and those with the query less than a month, plus those with the query longer than a month but who said they responded to all queries).

I got responses back from most within a few days—either they would read and get back by the deadline, or they would step aside—but not from two of them with the full. Should I follow up in case they didn't see the first Offer of Rep email? I worry in particular because I did an R&R for one of them, and we've talked on Twitter from time to time, so I don't want to accidentally snub them if they didn't get the first email.

Am I overthinking things? To borrow a phrase, it's woodlands all the way down.

No, you're not overthinking things.

Just yesterday I got an email from a writer who queried before the date I showed on the blog as "caught up through" but not heard back.

I had no record of a query from her, and nothing in my spam file.

Where the hell was the email?
Who knows, but it sure wasn't here.
I was very glad she'd reached out again.

Given that you have a deadline, I would suggest you reach out one more time.

With the agent you've talked to on Twitter and done an R&R for, mention that in the email too. (Yes, sometimes we forget things.)

In the end though, you're not at fault if they don't reply.  You tried, more than once. That's all decorum requires.

Friday, April 21, 2017

is it possible I'm a good writer and agents are still rejecting me?

 I've been in the writing game for a long time (specifically, I've written ten novels over the course of ten years) and, to be frank, I've had hardly any success out of hundreds of queries sent to literary agents (basically, only a few minuscule nibbles and a solitary full manuscript request, ending in a form rejection). At this point in my career I can't help but be confused, since I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, have been meticulously mentored by small a press editor and several authors of big six publishers, and yet my success rate has been truly abysmal.

Over the years I've also heard many agents and editors say that based on my type of track record, that means my writing is just not at a high-enough level to gain the interest of agents. However, every once in a while I also hear about success stories in which an unagented writer who claimed to have almost zero agent interest in a novel submitted that novel during a large publisher's open-submission period and - viola - they not only got a deal but their book sold well.

So this makes me pause. Is it sometimes possible (perhaps albeit not so frequently) to actually be writing at a very high, publishable level, but still be hardly getting any agent requests or interest over the course of a few years and countless queries? Or would you say the writer is still not up to snuff and may not even be talented enough to make it in this insane, shark-infested business?

It's entirely possible to be a talented writer and not get any interest in the books you write.
In addition to talent, you need skill. Generally you'll build your skills with practice, but practice without coaching isn't useful.

The coaching you're getting though (the MFA, the help from other writers etc) might not be doing the job. I'd suggest you get some from the people you're querying: agents.

If you have some cash to invest, you might consider one of those "I'll critique your novel for a charitable donation" kind of thing that crop up periodically.

The other reason that well-written novels fail to catch an agent's interest is they're not books we want to read.

I see well-written books that are non-starters all the time. There are a couple reasons for this: the novel feels like something out a 70's TV show; the characters are people I wouldn't want to ride the subway with, let alone pay $25 to invite into my lair; the topic bores the sox off me.

On the other hand.

It's entirely possible that you're writing something agents don't want to read but other people might. To that end, open submissions at publishers are a great idea. Another good one is posting to platforms that get your book in front of readers (Wattpad etc.)

I have a client who is prolific and published. He thinks about one in eight of his novels are publishable. I'm not sure that's accurate but I do know I've read more of his novels than I've sold.

That means you need to pick which novel you think is your best work for this critique/open submission/Wattpad. If you don't know or can't decide you'd probably do well to choose the most recent one, given I hope you're improving with each new book.

And my best tip on how to assess your own work is to write out a novel you love.

If you love Jack Reacher novels, pick your favorite. You'll inhale his rhythm and syntax without thinking about it.  You'll see where he turns a reader's expectations upside down. You'll see where he surprises his readers.  (If you're not surprising your readers, you're going to start boring them.)

This is a really difficult problem and you should expect to spend some time and effort analyzing it. There's no quick solution.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Vocabulary Quiz to come

I have a question about writing in two genres (having seen several times that you recommend against it for authors starting out, and suggest mastering one before adding the other).

As I see it, there are two types of genre: genres that talk about the plot, and genres that talk about the setting. Mystery, for example, defines a kind of plot and talks about what will happen. Historical defines a kind of setting and talks about where it will happen.

I can see the problem with trying to combine two type of plot genres, especially for new writers. If you're still learning how to plot out a good, compelling mystery, I imagine it'd be really hard to also figure out how to plot out a good romance, and then even harder to figure out how to tie those two plots together and balance them well. So I totally get that.

But it seems to me like if you have a mystery, it has to be set somewhere. Why not make it historical? If you don't make it historical, what is the non-setting that means you're not writing in two genres? Would it have to be modern day where you live? And similarly, if you are going to focus first on mastering historical fiction, what sort of plot would work for not combining two genres?

Or did you have more in mind trying to combine mystery and romance when you don't yet know how to write mystery or romance?

And are you ever tempted to make up new genres with esoteric rules to confuse and bewilder the authors who keep asking you about genres?

(Sharkian Fiction: The protagonist must be named Felix Buttonweezer, and he must be chased by a shark throughout the story. If he is chased by a dolphin, please see Delfine fiction. There should be at least three but no more than seven instances of key words used throughout the story (letters in consecutive order, but not necessarily in the same word); the words must be chosen from advertisements in the New York subways. Always submit on a Tuesday, and only to agents whose name begins with an F, Z or Ö.)

Thank you for your patience!

I'm not sure why you think there are only two genres, and that they are plot and setting.
That is simply not what genre is.

Genre is used to describe a certain kind of book. Genres are: crime, science fiction/fantasy, and romance.

Historical is NOT a genre. Plot is NOT a genre. Nor is setting.

Historical is a category. Any genre can have books that are historical (although historical science fiction defies easy explanation.)

YA is a category, because any genre can have books that appeal to young adult readers.

The reason I tell you to focus your writing in one genre (ie write crime novels, not crime and a romance and a fantasy novel) is because you need to be familiar with the books in your genre if you want to write something fresh and new.

That means you know the canon. Canon means the books that came first. Those are books that you see on lists like "100 Best Crime Novels of All Time."  Unless you know who murdered Roger Ackroyd, you're operating with a severe handicap if you want to write crime.

It also means you know who's leading the pack these days.  You want to read the nominees for Best Novel for the Edgar Awards, and you certainly want to keep up with what is selling well, and also what doesn't seem to be selling at all.

It's hard enough to do that in one genre, let alone two or more.

The larger problem is this: you're operating in a vacuum of knowledge here. You need to spend some time learning the vocabulary of your trade. It's essential that you know what genre and category are, and not just decide on your own.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Don't query someone you're not willing to sign with

I plan on querying soon. I have 30 agents on my first round list of querying. I plan on sending these queries out in a series of 5 queries at a time for about 1-2 weeks. I am sending them out in alphabetical order by Agency because I would be happy with any of the agents. I do have a query etiquette question though.

I have all reputable agencies on my list, but the agents have varying degrees of expertise from the power agents to the newcomers. I added newcomers because I believe they might read my manuscript faster and if the newcomers offer me rep, that would allow me to email the other agents with an offer which will in turn speed up their reading. Does this sound shady? As I mentioned I would be happy with any of the agents, but it would be false to say it wouldn't be intriguing to pick a proven power agent over a newcomer. So to summarize my questions:

1. Does this sound shady? I hope not.
2. What benefits does a newcomer have to an "old head" power agent (I would assume the "old head" power agent's submissions hold more credibility with editors)
3. How can you tell if the newcomer is in it for the long haul with their own career and will be a power agent one day? Are there any little tricks you know in helping us determine this?

I kind of like the idea of having a newcomer because we can grow in the industry and they should have a bit more time on their hands (my guess, this of course could be absolutely false). But there is a kind of luster with having a power agent. In addition,it seems like some authors have one agent, then their book makes it big and they switch to a power agent, so there must be something behind that. Thank you for answering these questions.

(1) It's not shady at all. The trick is to make sure you only query agents you're willing to sign with. What will damage you badly (and you won't even know it) is if you email agents with "I have an offer" and then don't actually sign with anyone. Yes, we watch for that. Yes, we watch for that cause we've gotten burned in the past.

(2) I'm not sure I want to see "old head" become the designation for those of us who aren't newcomers, but that's a rant for a different day.

Agents with established relationships with editors do get things read faster, but I can garandamntee that our young agents here at New Leaf get their work read a whole lot faster than Agent Experience at BumfuckLLC does. No matter how long Agent Experience has been in business. A good agency name carries weight. Thus it's not just if the agent has experience or not; it's where they work you want to factor in as well.

(3) Well, if they worked for me they're probably headed to the New York Times Bestseller list soonishly. On the other hand none of those agents could be remotely thought of as newcomers now, so it doesn't really answer your question.

You want to look for passion and excitement for your project. You want to find out who's backstopping the young agent (ie who she's got on her team that's watching out for her.)  And you want to ask what happens to you if the agent decides to hang up her hoverboard.  That's a fair question to ask any agent, but you'll want to know for sure if you're one of her first clients.

As to how to tell: I wish I had the answer. Some great agents I know burned out. Some pretty crappy agents I know are still around. You're going to roll the dice here. Make sure you haven't burned any bridges in case you need to sound retreat at some point and hatch a new battle plan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Did you "win" QueryShark?

 Hi Query Shark,

Really appreciate your blog.

Quick question: There are a few queries that I would LOVE to read the final published books from, but since you anonymize the blog posts, I haven't been able to find and follow the authors.

I know you mention some of the authors once they get book deals, so I'm guessing these haven't yet, but I'd love to just get on the authors' mailing lists even if the books aren't yet available.

Any chance you'd be willing to share the author names with a potential fan? The authors I'm interested in are query #124, #179, and #181.

(And let me know if I'm just a dummy and missed somewhere on the site where I can find this info.)

Thank you!

Well, I know about #124, cause that query was from Dan Krokos and he's a New Leaf client. While I wasn't able to find a home for the Ford Kelly novel, Dan has also written a wonderful trilogy, the first of which, False Memory, was the Young Adult Thriller of the Year at ITW in 2013.

And he's got a middle-grade series, The Planet Thieves.

As for the others, I don't know, but let's find out!

If you won QueryShark, and particularly if you're #179 and #181, your fans await!

Monday, April 17, 2017

"I don't want to clutter their inboxes"

I've been querying a novel over the past eight months during which it went through one total rewrite and one large revision. I know, I know, as a first time writer, you think something’s ready only to learn the hard way. But now, it seems like the pieces are finally coming together and it’s gotten a lot of requests and upgrades lately — probably because of some of the early agents who were kind enough to give me real feedback along the way.
In the age of no response means no and form rejections on fulls, I'm grateful to those agents who took the time to help make this a better book and me a better writer. Some of them said to let them know if I revise this work to resend, which I think it’s finally time to do that, and some said something about sending future work.
I don’t want to clutter their inboxes, but should I bother asking them if they want to see the revised version? Or should I firmly conclude the concept was not for them and just keep them on the list in case this MS doesn’t result in an offer? Am I reading too much or not enough into the wording? It’s like being stretched on a ouija board!

Let's be very very clear about something: I need good stuff to sell or I'll be out of business. Thus, it's in MY best interest to see as much good stuff as I can. And we all know it's all about me me me, right?

We may differ on what we call good stuff, but I hope that you believe your stuff is good. Thus, you're eligible for chomping if you did not at least give me a heads up on the revisions.

I know agents yap endlessly about being overworked, and I spent a good portion of this weekend sending emails that started with "I'm sorry I've been so slow to respond" so too much email is a problem, yes.

BUT that is absolutely irrelevant to YOU.
You have a project that you KNOW is good.
I need projects to sell.
Nothing else should factor in to your decision about whether to reach out to agents me me me.

And just a reminder: believe us when we say nice things to you, ok?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A short hiatus for the Easter weekend

For those of you who celebrate: Happy Easter.
For those of you don't: Happy Spring.

For those who are pretty sure going IN the water is contra-indicated: here's a picture of Donnaeve's little dog, who agrees with you.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Wait...who looked at this?

I recently received a rejection on a full.

Here’s the blow-by-blow on how reading that rejection went:

“Hi Robert,” 
Phew, good sign, she read my name!

"Thank you for sharing XXXX with me. I've had the chance to consider your manuscript,”
oh crap, this is a rejection.

“And discuss it with our editorial board.”
What??? I thought this was a rejection?

“There's a lot to admire here in your imaginative and musical novel, but,”
Crap, this really is a rejection.

“It just wasn't coming to life for me on the page.”

So I’m confused. First off, I thought editors and publishers were the ones with editorial boards. Why does an agent have an editorial board? And I know you are always telling us not to read to much into a rejection, but I can’t help it. Does this mean she read the MS, wanted to sign, but her management killed the idea? Does this mean she read the MS, didn’t like it, so sent this response to make sure I wouldn’t submit to other agents at the agency? Does this mean… I know, I have to stop this. But seriously, do you have any insight here?

As an aside, she then went on to say, “I'm afraid I just felt the writing was uneven and didn't always feel on point for YA.” At this stage in the query process I have the hide of a 50-year-old rhinoceros and am really thankful for any criticism, especially if it comes from an industry professional.

I politely emailed asking if she could share any additional notes or suggestions. I didn’t necessarily expect to hear back and I didn’t. As it stands, her criticisms are not helpful. Sometimes the writing is rhythmically uneven and there are abrupt tempo changes reflecting the pace of the action. At one point the content is a little edgy for YA. These are deliberate and aspects that other readers have really liked, but balanced against the opinion of an agent…

I’m torn between doing nothing (tossing her comments off as her subjective opinion) and ripping the novel to shreds trying to find a fix. I’m tempted to see a psychiatrist, but that can get expensive. Any sage advice?

In my quest to torment writers in new and interesting ways, I may need to adopt some of this for my own (evil) use.

The first question - does an agent have an editorial board? - is easy to answer: she really doesn't. What she's got are other people in the agency reading the manuscript, or assessing what she's saying about the manuscript. She's getting what you've heard called second reads.

I also get second reads on manuscripts I'm considering,  particularly those that don't easily fit into a neat category; for manuscripts where I may not have read enough in the category; to see if I'm reading with rose-colored spectacles, and in fact this ms is dreck and what the hell is wrong with you SharqueForBrains.

And I also get reads from our foreign and film departments to see what they think of a manuscript's potential in those areas.

This is certainly not an editorial board because none of those people can say "nope, you can't sign this." Unless she is a very junior agent, my inclination is she doesn't need permission to sign something either.

So, my guess here is AgentTasteless got some second reads and the manuscript didn't resonate enough with them to overcome her hesitations.

What that probably means is you are toast for other agents at the agency BUT unless their website says one and done, there's no cost to you to query them. I don't think it's likely you'll get an offer, but yanno, I didn't think the current occupant of the Oval Office had a snowball's chance in Hades either, and look how wrong I was about that.

As to the other questions, there's no way to know if she's on point or not. Just cause she said it doesn't make it a fact. It's always and forevermore her opinion. Give it as much weight as you choose.

If you think she assessed your style accurately but you chose that style for a reason, well, you might want to think about changing up.  I've had that exact conversation with clients and it did make a difference (I was able to sell the revised novel, and then three more.)

This is where you can benefit from one of those critiques that are periodically offered by agents for charitable causes. Of course, you're just getting another opinion, but two is better than one.

Bottom line: keep querying. One agent's abrupt is another agent's tautly paced.

 MY editorial board has an opinion on your-too-edgy-for-YA stuff too:

Janet's Editorial Board

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Facebook not so much

 Current chatter on the blog about agents and their social media presence/platforms made me think about something a few published friends have said to me recently, "You have to be on Facebook when you are published so you should start now to get used to it". I am not currently on Facebook, nor had I any intention of joining when I was published. I do have a website (with blog), twitter, instagram and pinterest. While I am not an avid user of the last three I felt that would be sufficient. When I want to find an author I look for their website, but I'm starting to wonder if I'm a bit odd like that. I know this is a topic you've covered before (you don't need more than the basics before you are published), I wondered what an agent's expectations are for a published author? And what Reiders expect/want when looking for an author?

There's no industry standard on this. I wish there was; it would be a lot easier.

What I do know is that of all social media platforms right now** Facebook seems the best at driving book sales.

But that's not the answer to "do I have to be on Facebook" cause doing social media you hate is a bad bad bad idea.

Social media is SOCIAL. If you are a grumpfest, you're not going to make friends at the cocktail party. You're going to be sitting in the darkest corner you can find and snarling about having to put on your party shoes and attend this soiree.

Plus "Facebook best at driving book sales" is a VERY general statement. Facebook may not be the place to drive sales for YOUR book.  

I recently sold a book that I think will be an ideal candidate for Google ads (ie if you type in certain search terms, this ad pops up.)  We don't think the audience will be looking at their Facebook feed for the answers and help this book will provide (sorry to be cagey on details; the deal has not yet been announced.)

As for expectations, well, of course we love it when you roll in with a million twitter followers and a blurb from JK Rowling, but we're also a tad more realistic about what to actually expect.

If you have a social media presence, that's good.
If you don't, that's not a deal breaker.

We sold books for DECADES before the internet was a gleam in anyone's eye, and I'm old school enough to believe that hasn't gone away.

The key here is figuring out where the biggest groups of your readers are.
Are they on Facebook? Well, that's good to know.
Are they on Instagram? Are they already reading your blog?

And how do you figure that out?
Well, look at where people are talking about the books you think are comparable to yours.

If you wrote a book that readers of Felix Buttonweezer's Kale Recipes for Thin Thighs in Thirty Days will like, you might want to look at where his book was reviewed or discussed.

Figure out key words for your comp books and look for those. 

As to what readers expect, I think the answer is "present" rather than absent.  That means when they google you, something pops up that's not a stripper in Dallas with your name (Felix, oh Felix!) I myself prefer a website, cause I'm generally looking for the correct title to something; or for the order books were published.

Sometimes I'm looking for events in NYC (and if you have an Events page, keeping it updated is really REALLY smart.)

Finding a place to buy autographed copies of your book is something people want to know too.

And if they're looking to get to know you, a link to your social media sites, or your blog is good.

The very worst thing you can have is a blog that hasn't been updated in months, a Twitter stream that stopped in 2015, or a Facebook page that's only info I can get on Amazon.

If you're not going to be social, and provide content, get off the platform.

Mostly though, right now, you want to look for places to build relationships. The Number One way people hear about books is still by word of mouth. That means one reader talking to another. We see this happening right here on this blog every week. I frequently buy books that commenters mention. I see comments that people buy books I talk about too. 

A community that supports its own is a good place for a writer to hang her hat.


**(if you're reading this in six months-ie October 2017 and beyond please note!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


 My contract states that my advance is "payable upon the Publisher's acceptance for publication of the complete and final manuscript for the Work." We are now past all stages of editing (including copyediting) and the editor has stated that the book is ready for design. However, they've now pushed back the publication date significantly (I suspect it's because the press is struggling), and I still have not received my advance. Is there a standard definition of "final manuscript," or is this language as subjective as I fear? Until they formally accept THIS book, the 30-day window for my next book's "first look option" doesn't even begin. For that matter, neither does the 18-month publication window for my current book.

If they don't pay my advance in a timely manner, is this leverage for me to beg out of the contract? 

ah yes, the lovely D&A payment.

Delivery and Acceptance means you've delivered the manuscript and they've accepted it.
They've accepted it if they've sent it to production (ie sent off to be designed.)

However, absent language that says D&A is assumed 45 days after X event unless otherwise notified, it can be a chore to collect.

I'm assuming since you're writing to me that you do not have an agent.
(If you do have an agent, you should be discussing this with her not moi) 

What you do is write a firm, but polite, letter to the editor. You will say that since the manuscript has now been copyedited and put into production, you'd like to know when you'll receive your D&A payment.

Most likely this is NOT in the editor's hands, or under her control, so be gentle with her.

If she gives you a date, you confirm that date with her.
(Confirm means you email her back with "confirming that May 1, 2017 is the date to expect D&A payment.")

Most likely you'll hear "that's up to Accounting, I'll forward your email to them."

And that's when you say "I'd be glad to email directly, please let me know who to contact."
OR you scout around on their website, or in their catalog for a name.

You also need to check your contract for a clause that says if they don't pay you, rights revert to you. Most likely you'll know if it's there, cause it's one we always have to put in. Very few publishers start out offering that in their boilerplate.

If you hear nothing from the editor, there should be a name in your contract, and an address for legal notices.  Get in touch with the publisher. Again, polite but direct. Do NOT apologize for asking for your money.  This is a legal contract, and they owe you this money. 

If they can't pay their bills in a timely fashion, that's not your problem, and they shouldn't be balancing their books on your back.  You fulfilled your part of the contract. Time for them to fulfill theirs.

At some point you might need an attorney to write a sterner letter. Let me know if you need names. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

#RevPit and freelance editors

What do you think of twitter pitch type contests?  The current one is #revpit where you submit to three editors a query letter and five pages and answer a few questions.
They go through them, make anon comments about the query letter and pages. They can ask for partials and fulls and end up picking one to work with for a month.

What do you think about freelance editors overall?

I think freelance editors can be terrific, and some of them aren't worth much at all. 

I have no idea how to find out which is which short of seeing what they say about your work. Except of course, the best editors often tell you things about your work that you're not all that eager to hear. As in you have six plot holes, and the tension drops to zero in chapter fourteen.

I've had very mixed results when sending writers to freelance editors but there's no way to know if that's cause the editor isn't very good or the writer didn't do what the editor suggested. 

I recently heard back from a writer whose full I'd read and thought needed a lot of work. She told me she was just going to self-publish it instead of revising.  I'm pretty sure editors have had that same thing happen.

As for Twitter pitch contests, it's not like they'll hurt you. And maybe they'll open a door for you. And maybe one of the editors will tell you your tension drops to zero in chapter 14, and you'll actually hear her and plan to revise.

In other words, there's no reason not to participate in these kinds of things. If it helps, great. If you think the advice you're getting is dreck, at least sit on it for a month before ignoring it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Eenie Meanie (sic) Miney Moe?

 Well, all the time I spent combing through the Query Shark archives paid off: I sent out 35 queries, had 21 agents request fulls or partials, and three weeks later, am faced with four offers of representation from amazing agents.

So here's my question: How do you choose which one to sign with? They're all from reputable agencies, their clients sing their praises, they've got lists of recent sales to well-known publishers, they're all gratifyingly enthusiastic about my book. I can see myself getting along with all of them. Given in the hell do I make my choice?? And how do agents feel about being rejected? (I know I shouldn't worry about this, but I ALWAYS worry about hurting other people's feelings.)

Don't worry about rejecting agents. We're much more used to this than you are. Just let them know your decision in a timely manner and thank them for their time. Don't get all apologetic or flowery. This is business, not some sort of romance.

As for how to choose: this is something no one can do for you.
You've asked all the right questions.

What to do:
Make a choice, but don't tell anyone, or the agent. See if you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach the next day.  That means you made the wrong choice.
Sometimes your gut will tell you what your brain won't.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Well, maybe not epic, but....

If an agent who gives editorial feedback offers representation, is it appropriate (as part of the pre-acceptance process) to ask them to pick a section of the ms they think needs work and give editorial remarks? That is, in addition to discussing their vision for the ms in a general way, which I seem to recall you saying a writer should expect. The purpose being to see what it would be like to work with them on that level. If that's okay, rather than epic ass-hattery, what size section would be appropriate and not an imposition?




An agent is not auditioning for the lead in Editor On the Roof.

Either she's already given you notes;  she thinks chapter seven is fine; OR you're going to get notes and see what she thinks. It's entirely acceptable to ask "do you think the manuscript needs work; if so, what kind, how much etc." You can even ask "do you think chapter seven needs work?"

BUT saying "can you give me edit notes on chapter seven before I decide to say yes or no to your offer of representation" is not something you want to do.

Presumably by the time you've gotten to this point with an agent you know something about how she works. For example, you might have asked her clients if she gives notes to them, how fast that happens, how useful they are, and so on.

You might have read her blog to see if she can string words together herself.

You might have actually done a round of revisions with her before the offer was made.

But asking someone to give notes as part of the offer fails to recognize that  until she sells anything, she's got no income from you. In other words, you're asking for a favor. You'll want to be judicious in those asks.

You can get this information, or enough of it to be useful for your decision, without asking her to do more work than she has offered up voluntarily.

I'm glad you asked this question because it is one that would make me reconsider taking someone on, and I'd hate to see that happen if the writer just didn't know how it would be perceived on this end.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

you didn't, oh gadzooks, you did.

Three weeks ago, I got a Full request from an agent and I quickly submitted my Full to her.

Then last week, another agent emailed me, saying she enjoyed my submission and would be delighted to read the Full, but that the agency only read on an exclusive basis.
I replied back, attaching my Full and confirmed that the first agency still have my Full but haven't yet got back to me and that I promised not to submit my Full to any other agents whilst she was considering it. I asked her if this was agreeable and also for a rough indication of timescale for reading my novel exclusively, but she didn't respond and there is no indication the agency website.

Then, lo and behold, I've just had a third request for my Full this afternoon, but have had to explain to this agent that I can't currently submit my MS to her, as it is out on an exclusive, but would she be prepared to wait for now, until I get clarification from the exclusive agent?

I then dropped Ms Exclusive agent a brief, polite email explaining that I have just received another Full request but have obviously not submitted as I agreed to exclusive arrangement and could she give me a rough idea when she might be able to get back to me?

She still hasn't replied.

I have never had an exclusive request before – I'm assuming Ms Exclusive will read my MS - she didn't reply saying she wouldn't - and I did clarify that it was only with one other agency.

How would you advise that I proceed?!

The first agent who requested my MS, e-mailed me a week ago to say she will be back at work this Monday after a week's holiday and will be in touch this coming week.

Remember when I told you exclusives sucketh the Large Lemon Drop?
Ok, here's where I said it again.

And in case you need that third iteration: Exclusives Stink.

Your first (well, only) mistake was Agreeing To A Deal She Didn't Offer.
 She asked for an exclusive.
You sent the ms and ADDED: I won't send this to anyone else till you let me know.

Because she has not AGREED to your offer, you don't have a contract with her. And by contract I mean an agreement about the terms of exclusivity (duration for starters.)

You are free to submit this manuscript to Agent #3.
When (I hope) Agent #1 calls with an offer, you notify Agents #2 and #3 of the offer.

I have no idea why you thought it was a good idea to hamstring yourself with Agent #2 by saying you'd stop sending your work out to people actively asking to see it.  That gives Agent #2 more
power over your career trajectory than anyone deserves. You also let her set the terms; NEVER DO THAT. If you're agreeing to something, you offer terms that are favorable to YOU, and let her negotiate. 

Exclusives assume an agent's time is more valuable than yours. That is not true and any agent who says that (or thinks it without saying it) has a skewed view of themselves.

Exclusives are never in a writer's best interest and an agent who would ask you to do something that isn't in your best interest is not an agent I'd want to work with (nor should you.)

I will tell you that exclusives seem to be much less prevalent in the YA market where there is a lot of competition for good manuscripts.  The YA agents I know read manuscripts overnight, and have notes in the morning for the author on hot projects.

If an agent doesn't like to lose something cause they're slow, there's one easy answer to that: read faster. It's not like we are operating under varying time/space continua.

Friday, April 07, 2017

More on category, cause you are really in a tizzy, I know

I have a client who is trying to figure out how to tag her books at Amazon.

There's a category for Police Procedural, of course. But what about when the Procedural part is done by an investigator -- and not a PI, but someone who works for a private firm that consults with the police and Homeland Security and other agencies around the world. So although the tone is light and similar to a cozy, the protag's a professional, very good at what she does, and entirely respectful of rules and boundaries. In a fresh twist in fiction, she defers to her boss and doesn't stake out on her own.

Do we have an acknowledged term for that? Investigator Procedural?

Categories are intended to help readers find other books they will like. Since I love Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, I might also like yours.  That your protagonist is not official police is less important than the fact the main character has a legit reason to investigate. In other, words NOT a librarian or zookeeper or philatelist solving crimes in her spare time.

Procedurals are also more a methodical-solve-the-case style plot than they are "and suddenly her evil twin sister turns up" (although Erle Stanley Gardiner used that double device more than once.)

You can always just use "crime novel" too.

But if you're looking to find readers, nothing beats "if you like Ed McBain, you'll like this" and "if you wonder why property values in Cabot Cover haven't dropped to zero, this book is for you."

And of course, look for similar books and see what categories they're in.  No use reinventing the wheel if someone has already gotten their hands grimy for you.


Thursday, April 06, 2017

Hands on or hands off, and no I don't mean that.

On Monday 3-27, you said:

6. Is the agent hands on or hands off?
An agent should know this about him/herself. And his/her clients will know for sure. ASK.

The more you know about an agent's day to day style of working with clients, the better.

Will you clarify what you mean by hands on/off? I always thought "hands on" simply meant an agent who gives fairly detailed editorial feedback on the writing. After reading a couple comments on that post, I'm wondering, is there more to the definition than that? Or maybe I'm wrong and it means something entirely different.

I'm hoping "hands off" does NOT mean an agent who never or rarely communicates with clients, but is one who leaves any editing to the publisher. 

Hands on is more than just how to describe an agent who gives fairly detailed editorial feedback.
Some agents sell a book, then *poof* they're off to the next sale.
Editors and clients don't hear from them until it's time to re-up.

There are levels of this; some agents will stay in touch a bit more often than that, but their focus is selling the next project not managing this one.

And that is perfectly legit. Some authors want that.  

If, on the other hand, you want or need an agent who is more involved, you want an agent who is more "hands-on."

When people ask me that question, I tell them I'm involved with editing and development right up till we sell it. Then I hand off content to the editor. If there's a problem, I get looped back in, but I'm not an editor and I like to sell to editors who really know their stuff (ie a lot more than me about how to make a book better.)

Of course, I've got my long pointy nose in all the business side of things.  From royalty statements to short story contracts, to helping authors develop their brand, activate their social media presence and build platform, I'm right there in the trenches with them. That's what hands-on means.

One of the things I need to learn about every new client is how much involvement they need and want. It can be two different things, which is interesting.  Generally we find out when we hit some sort of rough spot---which is one of the reasons I have a bar in my office.

And authors need varying levels of handedness through out the year, and throughout their career. A client who needs a lot of coaching will often become a client who doesn't need much by the third or fourth book.

Or, the client who didn't need much on books one through five, suddenly needs a lot when their career is making a left turn they didn't see coming. 

How do you determine if an agent is hands on or off (that does sound weird I know): ask their clients. Ask what their agent works with them on. If it's only the contract, that's hands off. If it's editorial work up till the book is sold, then not till the next book, that's hands off. 

I reiterate: both hands on and hands off are legit choices. One is not better than the other. The trick is to know what you need and sign with an agent who does that.