These are the scars that words have carved…

Incredibly long week…. Lots of reading on the horizon. I like to read – just like nephele. Who could stay in this job for over a decade if they didn’t? (rhetorical, much?) My father thinks it is vaguely amusing that people are essentially paying me to do that when I often spent my time that way whenever I got outside of homework growing up. I guess contract negotiation and so forth count as homework now. In any case, thought I’d open another Q&A thread. This time, though, the caveat is that we will not be talking about queries. I feel like it’s all I’ve been on about the last couple weeks! So, send your agent-oriented questions my way and I’ll see what I can do to answer them over the course of the next week. Meanwhile, if you’re in my neck of the woods — enjoy the snow…

25 responses to “These are the scars that words have carved…

  1. How does one prepare for the career of literary agent? What are the essential qualities (in your opinion) to be a good one, and how did you end up on this path? Is it where you want to be, 10 years from now, or is it one part of a longer journey?

  2. Can I be greedy and go for several questions?
    First, do you think releasing multiple books quickly benefits a new author’s career?
    Second, I hear about networking a lot. How important is it for aspiring authors to attend conferences? And why? What do you, as an agent, get out of attending conferences?
    Finally, at a conference earlier this year I sat in on a Q&A with several editors. I was amazed how differently they answered some questions. When asked how big a role the author should play in marketing, one editor said ‘writing the book is your job; selling the book is my job’ another implied ability/willingness to market extensively could be a deciding factor on whether she’d buy a book from a new author. I’d love to here your thoughts on this.
    Thanks and happy reading!

  3. Hmmm…not sure this is the type of question you’re looking for, but I’ll try it: Is it a good sign or a bad sign when an editor keeps your manuscript for almost two years with no response. I sent it in, per request after a conference, and have heard nothing. I’ve called…maybe six times within the time frame…and have been told, by an assistant that the editor still has the manuscript but has not had time to read it. This is nothing I’m holding my breath about, but it does seem like an awfully long time to decide if you’re going to reject someone or not. Does someone else read it before the editor does, and decides to put it on her desk or not? I know I don’t lose anything by her still having it, and to tell you the truth most of the time I have forgotten about it because I realize if it was something someone was REALLY interested in, I would have heard by now. Could she just be waiting to provide me proper feedback when she has the time? I would love that! Or is it in her slush pile waiting for the anticipated rejection letter? Curious for a professional opinion.

    • My opinion:
      After six months to a year, a short polite letter querying as to the status of your manuscript is not unreasonable.
      If there is still no verdict after two years, I’d be withdrawing my submission “with regrets”.

      • Thanks. You’re right. I was excited that an editor wanted to read my work. I am grateful that it got that far. It’s like unfinished business, so I guess I have to finish it, but truthfully, is it wrong for me to have expected a little more professionalism…I mean…not even a form rejection letter attached to the SASE manuscript?

        • It happens. No one is perfect, not even editors. My advice would be sent the letter – a polite one – and don’t hold it against them. Stuff happens. The editor in question could have had a death in the family, a chronic illness, a series of surgeries, a burned down house, a sick pet, or a million other things. It’s very easy to forget that editors are people, too. While usually yes, a response is expected and professional, don’t take the lack of one too personally.

      • Thanks
        I don’t know who you are, or what you do for a living, but I just wanted to thank you for your advise. I knew it was time to get my manuscript back and, frankly, I was just going to call and ask the assistant to send it back, but you advised me to send a polite letter to the editor and say, “with regrets”, I would like to withdraw the submission of my manuscript. I followed your advice. I told her how I knew she was busy and that I appreciated the consideration in wanting to read it in the first place. I sent the letter off on a Saturday and the next Wednesday I received an email from her apologizing for not getting reading my manuscript. She said that I should resubmit it, even electronically, and she would past it on to a colleague for consideration. How gracious! I just expected the postman to slam the package against my door one day. I never expected her to take the time and email me. Anyway, I have been fearful of resubmitting it (of course I will…perhaps electronically, since I’ve never even received the first manuscript back), but I think what if I am just fooling myself and another two years will go by, especially if there is never even feedback on what is wrong with the novel. I’ve never been published, and what if my mystery novel smells BIG TIME????!! Now, I’m the problem, huh? Any other words of wisdom? Thanks Again. Sylvia

        • Re: Thanks
          Please forgive my errors. The coffee as not afected my brain yet. heehee

        • Re: Thanks
          😀 I’m so glad I was able to help! It’s wonderful that she got back to you. I would definitely resubmit, as you’re planning to, and if doing so electronically is easier for you then go for it.
          Just go for it. The editor in question sounds like a truly gracious person, and I think you’d do well to resubmit and keep that communication open. It’s not a guarantee – rejection is still possible, but that’s the name of the game. You have a foot in the door now, and chances are she’ll remember you.
          If you have any other questions I can help with, please let me know!

  4. Here’s my question, and a purely nosy one at that:
    Have you ever signed a client because one book was brill, but then you saw the next manuscript of theirs and thought “Oh jeez, what have I signed up for?”
    Just curious.

  5. I’m curious about the confefrence question from ladycharlie as well. And I’m hoping that my ability to market things doesn’t affect my ability to find an agent! I really need an agent who does marketing stuff, or else I’ll have to hire a marketer as well and give them another fifteen per cent…
    Since I’m generally in a wheelchair, travel/conferences/tours and signings are going to be three times as hard for me as for a healthy person. Is that going to limit my marketability/publishing chances? I don’t mind doing some travel if they’re willing to pay for scooter rentals, business class plane tickets, decent hotels (with good mattresses) and possibly an assistant… but somehow I don’t see most publishers willing to go for that deal. Nor do I blame them, and I’m happy to skip the painful travel part until it’s more necessary. But I hope it won’t hurt my publishing chances!
    Are there other ways I can market myself without leaving home? Are things like author’s Web sites, chat boards, blogs and so on effective marketing tools in the eyes of the publishers? My other half is a huge geek, and hopes someday to be able to build a fancy Web site for my SF novels, including “extra material” like a language database and interactive content based on the series I’m working on. Would a publisher be willing to (gasp!) chip in for extra bandwidth bills or server costs for such things as marketing? JK Rowling’s Web site seems to have opened the door for more of this sort of thing, but Rowling’s mega-success is a very special case. (And I think her publishing company is hosting her site.)
    Other question: If I’ve got a mostly-written five-book series, and one mostly-written stand-alone novel, which should I submit to an agent first? I’ve been told that attempting to make one’s “first book” a trilogy or series is a Bad Idea by some people, but others have said that series are more promising than singles. I know the technique of saying “And this book could begin a series – I’ve got others lined up!” But what do you do if the first book of a series really doesn’t stand alone? How do you pitch a whole series to an agent? In a one-page outline? (I have in mind things that need to be series for length purposes, rather than something that could be published as one huge book.)

    • Re: the website thing, it’s not all that unusual for publishers to host and maintain authors’ websites, but usually only if the author is really popular (Robert Jordan, Terry Pratchett, and Gregory Maguire being other examples I can think of off the top of my head). Most lesser-known authors have to foot the bill themselves, I believe. (But as there seem to be a lot of authors who market primarily through websites, I’d say it’s a good tool. I recently did a survey of attitudes about author websites and found that blogs were unanimously rated as things that encourage the readers who took the survey to buy an author’s books.)

  6. Yes… how did the mysterious transition from bookseller to agent extraordinaire occur exactly? Magic wand? Secret Handshake? Initiation inquiry to the Agent’s Cabal of the Free and Accepted Order of Maass? (also known as Free Maassons, often confused with other fraternal orders of similar names 😉 )

  7. Thank you for opening the floor to questions!
    Recently I received a rejection on a partial from a pretty “big name” agency, in which I was told that I had “strong writing” and that the agency would be interested in reading any other queries I might have for other works. Naturally I thanked this person and told her that my current project won’t be finished for a few more months, but at that point, should I still be seeking representation, I’d be happy to query her.
    So my question (after that lengthy intro) is: How much time is “too much” to pass before you’re off the radar? Will it be tacky if, six months from now, I query this person with a “Remember when…?”

    • How long is too long?
      If I can tack a follow-up onto someone else’s question…There are a couple of agents I met at conferences – one in Aug 2004, one in Sept 2003 – and with whom I meant to “keep up.” But due to life circumstances, I haven’t done that. Would it be too weird/out of place to send an email now, along the lines of, “Just wanted to say ‘hi’…” or do you think they would feel “bothered” by such correspondence? Both agents were more than just ten-minute query meetings – one read and rejected my first manuscript with a “let me know if I can be of any help in the future” in the personal rejection e-mail, the other has not read my writing, but I was his escort through most of the conference and we talked a great deal, not just about writing, but also about life.
      And thank you so much for being here on LJ and reminding us that agents (and editors, publicists, etc.) are people, too! I just started reading your LJ a couple of weeks ago and have found it enlightening.

      • Re: How long is too long?
        This is the perfect time of the year – send them a Christmas Card, or a Christmas e-mail. If you get an enthusiastic ‘oh, hi, how are you?’ take up the contact again, if you don’t get any answer, consider again whether you want to take up the contact and how.

  8. My query might be a tad odd and is quite specific. Might I shoot you an email instead of posting it here? If that’s not convenient for you, no problem. I understand, and I promise not to take it personally 😉

  9. Like Cherie, I was wondering if I could e-mail you a question. naomikritzer at, if you don’t mind. Thank you!

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