she’s seeing too clearly what she can’t be

# queries read yesterday: 58
# proposals requested: 1
query tyop of the week: “plutonic friend”

And, hey… I just realized that Nephele Tempest of the Knight Agency friended me. She’s at: nephele and has an entry about attending conferences.

In other news… things have been busy. Frenetic one might say. I have a ton of paperwork to get through today. And I don’t mean reading (though I have quite a lot of that as well). I don’t see things really slowing down until after World Fantasy. All this tends to leave my thoughts kind of muddled when I get around to staring at my blog. I’ve realized, of course, that it isn’t that there aren’t relevant things floating around in there to say but that I’m just not inspired. Agent’s block? Ergo, I’m going to try the Q&A thing this week rather than sit in silence, and see if that jogs things loose. So, here in the comments, post your questions about writing, publishing, stuff agents do, etc., and we’ll see what we can do with that.

44 responses to “she’s seeing too clearly what she can’t be

  1. Hello – a quick question…
    If a query/sample chapters were ignorantly submitted to agents before the material was ready (and all of the issues were in the formerly atrocious first chapter), what is the ettiquette for re-submitting queries?

    • Mmm… premature evaluation… don’t worry, it happens to a lot of writers. To be honest, your mileage will vary. Some agents have better memories than others. And some are more forgiving than others. While there is no standard against resubmission of materials, and in fact, I have more than one client who had their original submission rejected, it is true that it can color one’s opinion (the good way or the bad way) if it’s memorable. Or if the person submits one thing after another after another in quick succession. In the end, what you need to remember, though, is that the trick is in the reading. We’re after good books that we can sell, so that’s what needs to shine through.

  2. query tyop of the week: “plutonic friend”

    You sure that was a typo? That might be interesting! Or creepy. πŸ˜‰

  3. Same agency?
    Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions. Here’s mine:
    If a writer is turned down by one agent at a large agency (not DMLA in this case, although I’m certainly interested in that answer too), whenβ€”if everβ€”is it appropriate to query another agent at the agency?

    • Re: Same agency?
      Again, I find I must admit that you won’t get the same answer everywhere for this one. Some agencies are close-knit groups, and others are more loosely affiliated. In the former case, it’s likely if one agent thought your work was appropriate for a colleague, they’d pass it on. But, in the other situation, it’s possible the agents don’t do much collaborating, especially at the query level.
      But, really, what have you got to lose? The cost of another stamp or two? If there’s a way to offend an agent in doing this, you probably don’t want to be with them in any case. The best that can happen? The other agent signs you up, your book is a bestseller and they gloat in the general direction of their partner who turned you down. The worst that can happen? You get another slip of paper for your collection.

  4. Oh, heck, if you’re answering publishing industry questions, I’ll ask one. πŸ™‚
    Can you explain the whole reserve against returns thing? I’ve never found a satisfactory explanation of how that works, beyond it giving me a vague sense that it’s amazing the publishing industry or anyone involved in it ever makes any money at all. I have this very fuzzy grasp which suggests they do something like cut you a royalty check, assuming you’ve earned one, less your advance and less…the books that have been returned? Less the books they think might be returned? How long do they hold out on reserve against returns? Until you sell through your whole print run? Do they do a new one if you go into a second printing? Enquiring minds want to know!

    • oh boy.
      *gets out popcorn, lays in a store of diet coke, and kicks back to hear the answer on that one*

    • Gah. Essay question. *eyes paperwork* Right. Let me explain. Um, no, is too much, let me try to sum up.
      What are reserves against returns?
      Yep, they’re a guess. An educated guess. Of the percentage of an author’s book shipped that bookstores will send back for credit with the publisher. (Does everyone out there know about stripping books? I nearly had an aneurism the first time I had to do it when I was working at Waldenbooks.) So, the publisher doesn’t want to pay the author for books they’re going to give the bookstore credit for, and count as a debit on the author’s account, because they’d end up never making any money (as MizKit surmised). Ergo, the reserve on the royalty statement, which is the percentage of your books they don’t pay you for until they’re more certain of what the returns will be. Typically, this number starts to decline after a year or so, and eventually it goes away entirely.

      • …and I assume they don’t just print fewer books because hey, what if they’re wrong, and that way they don’t have to go back for a second print run?
        It *astounds* me that the publishing industry makes money. πŸ™‚
        Thank you! It’s nice to know that my shaky grasp was basically correct, and it’s even nicer to have an explanation somewhere I can point people at, because the whole thing is so weird. πŸ™‚

        • There are probably a lot of reasons they don’t just print fewer books (and in some cases they do — print runs among my client vary wildly). One of the big ones, though, is cost. Per unit, books cost less if you print more of them. Smaller print runs are more expensive. Just like when clients have postcards or bookmarks printed up and it turns out to cost less to get 1000 rather than 500 now, 500 later.

        • You need to have the product out where it can be picked up. (I work in leaflet distribution, but the principle is the same). If you aim to only display what will be picked up, you’re losing out on sales, and you’re lacking feedback of how many more you _could have_ gotten rid off.
          We calculate a certain amount of returns – when a leaflet is finished, we *will* pick up a small percentage and scrap it. It’s impossible to work otherwise.
          If I display twenty leaflets and they’re gone next time, I don’t know whether the level of interest was twenty, fifty, or a hundred, and I’m trying to get rid of as many as I can. If I display fifty, and fourty are gone, I’m *certain*. I’ve also gotten rid of twice as many, even if I’m scrapping ten in the end that _might_ have been displayed elsewhere. To us, that’s not wastage, it’s overheads.

  5. A Publishing Question
    Once the book has been purchased by the publisher, how much input does the agent typically have on how the publisher is going to handle publicity for the book?
    For instance, does an agent have any input with a decision to spend money on proprietary placement in chain bookstores or other special promotions in stores, such as Barnes & Noble’s Discover new writers? Or does the editor who purchased the book typically handle that?
    I suspect the answer is that it differs form sale to sale and publisher to publisher but I wondered if there’s a general guidelines for it.

    • Re: A Publishing Question
      Okay — here’s the sad, brutal truth. Most authors don’t get that stuff. Publishers typically do it for big sellers (a la Dan Brown, Nora Roberts, etc.) or for debut books they’ve decided to make a splash with (such as Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN or some such). Sure, agents make suggestions, and with a client that has enough oomph, the author and the agent will sit down with the publicity person assigned to the project and make all sorts of plans. Honestly, I don’t think most editors fare much better in the larger companies when it comes to making these kinds of decisions. They have some input, of course, but their strength is editorial, not production or promotion.

      • Re: A Publishing Question
        I have some bookselling experience and also a little with book buyers for one of the big chains so that’s actually close to what I thought
        I think I was just hoping that maybe I was being too bleak about it.
        Apparently not. πŸ™‚

  6. Thanks!
    Thanks for answering my question. And so quickly!

    • Re: Thanks!
      You’re welcome… As I thought, this sort of thing jogged loose the thoughts in my brain and I’m whirling through the replies, *and* my paperwork is also shrinking steadily. I’ll call this a good work day, I bet.

  7. Is a Plutonic friend someone who is irradiated? Like with Plutonium? heehee… a plutonic friend glows green! ohkay, I’m just easily entertained!

  8. Plutonic friend: someone you only hang around with for the money.

  9. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a plutonic friend. I have quite a few of them. πŸ™‚ Tall, pale, obsessed with death, and can only stay in a relationship for six months at a time…

  10. Here’s another question for you:
    How do you and other agents feel about a writer querying agents while also submitting directly to a publisher? My understanding is that this isn’t considered simultaneous submission, but I’ve heard different things about whether it’s smart or foolish. That is, would it hurt your chances with that publisher, if an agent later signs you on? Will it hurt your chances of getting represented–or should you not mention it in your queries?

    • I wouldn’t presume to speak for other agents. Well, maybe, a little, but please note this is my general impression of such things and there might be those who feel differently.
      The definition of simultaneous is “at the same time” — I don’t know that I can see that it matters who the submission is to. The problem with submitting to agents and publishers at the same time is that it can turn into something of a catch-22 with a variety of sticky outcomes. Among others, perhaps the agent makes suggestions that ring true and assist the author in improving the manuscript, but subsequently discovers that the author has already submitted the work to a handful of publishing houses who have rejected it. Yes, it’s possible to resubmit, but it could also mean that those houses won’t be interested in seeing the work again regardless. Ergo, the author has burned up some of the market. Conversely, the agent could have invested time in reading and responding to the author (prior to agreeing to represent the project – yes, it does happen), and the author could have used those suggestions and netted a contract on a direct submission, thus cutting the agent out of the picture. (And, yes, this happened to an agent-friend of mine and has since made them much more guarded about offering a lot of feedback.)
      As for not mentioning this in your queries… I’ve heard some people say that it’s like omitting the truth. Admittedly, the agent should take you on because of the writing, because they fell in love with the story and can’t resist and they will hate themselves if they don’t go for it. But, your ultimate goal is to have them sell the project, right? Not giving them all the information up front is putting them at a disadvantage.
      That said, I have heard from a variety of sources how agonizing it is to wait for replies, from both agents or publishers. And I’m not necessarily advocating agents as gatekeepers, though I think it’s a great advantage to have one in your corner. But of course an agent would say that. In any case, yes, getting an agent and then a publisher can take a lot of time – but after all the effort of writing the novel in the first place, I think you owe it to yourself to give it all the advantages it can get. Publishing is hard, ya know.

      • Thanks for your insight and general impression of how other agents feel. I really appreciate it.
        For reference, James Macdonald is one writer who says this is okay (1, 2). But I’ve heard various things from other writers, so I’m glad to hear the perspective of an agent directly.
        You’ve pretty well convinced me not to submit to publishers and agents at the same time. But just to check, it’s okay to query multiple agents at once, right? And send them partials and complete manuscripts as requested, unless one of them asks for an exclusive?

        • Jim’s been around a long time and he’s a talented writer with a lot of insight. And, like I said, your mileage will vary in this as in anything where more than one person might have a viable opinion. And there might be cases where submitting simultaneously is the right thing to do, but it also might not be in your best interests. Listen to all the opinions and then make the judgement call that feels right to you.
          At the query level, it seems reasonable to submit multiple letters. After that, the agent should let you know whether they want exclusivity on chapters or full manuscripts. I think it’s okay to submit to multiple agents as long as you tell them you’re doing so. In fact, when I ask for submissions based on the query, I’ll ask to know this.

  11. Other than a crystal ball, or a toss of the d20, what tools do you use to determine what is ‘hot’ on the market and what has ‘been done to death’? Would you mind sharing a little insight (if any) on those two categories as they stand today? Lastly (sorry, I know, abusing the agent 😦 ) Have you ever ran into anything that was ahead of the market trend so that ‘not right for me at this time’ was really what was meant?
    -=Curious in Hawaii=-

    • I would never use a d20 — I’d need a table and percentiles at the very least. And beyond that, you’re asking for trade secrets here. Plus, it’s difficult to boil down. There’s an awareness of what is selling now to readers and what editors are buying now (which are often different categories). What editors are telling you they want to see and what they don’t want to see. The knowledge that something well-written enough will blow all the wants and don’t-wants out of the water. The ability to discern whether something *is* that well-written. And now I will come up with something pithy to say about trends…. Or not….

      • And beyond, you’re asking for trade secrets here.
        Gah! Foiled! Now I’ll have to obsess over it until I find out.
        And now I will come up with something pithy to say about trends… Or not…
        Gah!X2. Foiled and teased! *rolls percentil, cross-references chart…chart says*: You may see something pithy… Or not… *DOH*
        Now to go obsess over trade secrets… πŸ˜‰

  12. A question
    What are your thoughts on e-queries? I find that agents are really split right down the middle on this issue.
    Some agents have the “you won’t hear from me unless I’m interested” thing going with e-queries. What is that all about?
    And, as an agent with a good reputation, what you would consider your dream query? You know….the one that would make you shriek, “Oh I MUST have this manuscript at once!”
    Thanks for the opportunity to ask!

  13. I’m trying to sift through the query-related suggestions in my thankfully small collection of advice-to-writers books, so:
    What do you (or other agents you know) think of “high concept” pitches (e.g., “Mists of Avalon meets War of the Worlds”)? I can’t help but think they’re a bit silly–but maybe that’s silly of *me*. Silly or not, though, if a high-concept pitch can help in a query, then by jove I’ll come up with one! πŸ™‚
    Also (if I may be so forward as to come this late to your post and ask not one but two questions), do you find it helpful or annoying (or something else) when a query letter says something along the lines of “This book will appeal to readers who like [insert name of author or book or series that bears some sort of resemblance to the work being queried]”?
    Thank you for inviting questions and answering them so cheerfully!

  14. This is not a question, but a comment. This last weekend I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference and was lucky enough to meet the man himself (Donald Maass). I was super impressed with his attitude and willingness to answer any and all questions. I had a pitch session with him, but since my novel isn’t quite finished, I used the time to show him my query letter and ask for some advice on how to improve it. He was tremendously helpful.
    You’ve got a great boss, Jennifer, though I’m sure you’ve heard that before.

  15. How long should an author expect to wait for an editor to read a full manuscript they have requested? If they state to expect to wait 4-6 months for an unsolicited one, is it silly to assume a shorter wait on one they’ve asked to read?
    Does one “follow up” after a certain (presumably shorter) point with a solicited manuscript, or just wait for the six month mark like one would with an unsolicited one?

    • Patience is a virtue, I guess
      That’s a great question, and I’d love to hear an estimate, as well. I’ve found that the wait to hear back on a full manuscript is between three weeks and two years. (grin) That doesn’t include the time spent waiting through the query-partial cycle.
      I’m always a little reluctant to query an editor or agent about the status of a submission, because in years past, that has occasionally resulted in the assistant digging my stuff out of a pile and throwing it into the SASE with a, “Here ya go! Sorry we kept it so long!” But I’ve done a little better in the past couple of years, getting replies that indicated they were still considering it or hadn’t gotten to it quite yet. I think much of this depends on just how high the stack is and how appealing the work sounded to the person when it was requested.
      And I’ll bet that the answer is, “It all depends.”
      By the way, I have also met Mr. Maass and found him personable and gracious, even when dealing with the Unwashed Unpublished (me). I won a manuscript contest at a Dallas conference years ago, and there was a penthouse reception that night at the hotel (which was then the Richardson Hilton, but is now a Clarion) for the winners. What he told me was that my manuscript was well written, but that the book would be destined for Midlist Hell, and that wasn’t the way he preferred to launch writers’ careers. Nodding, I shredded my prize certificate as I stared over his shoulder at the sparkling lights below. He said I could send him the full anyhow. I did, and it came back with pretty much the same summation, along with the advice to write something else and let him take a look. He was very nice about it; I’ve found that the bigger and more powerful the person, in general, the nicer he or she is to beginners without being dismissive (in the way that some people who only *believe* they are v. influential can be.) He was charming and told our crowd several funny stories about publishing.
      I think one of the other contest winners did end up publishing her novel, but yes, that young adult fantasy I wrote is a midlist novel. *sigh* Most of the novels I love and have on my keepers shelf were/are midlist rather than best-sellers. I tend to write what I want to read. But I’m working on trying to be more like other people so I can turn out a work with more potential to be a breakout book. (Yep, I have DM’s book about writing the breakout novel and have taken several suggestions to heart.)

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