Q&A thread

So, with the disclaimer of being somewhat brain-dead and having been awash in paperwork for the last two weeks, I declare a publishing Q&A. Please post your questions about agents & publishing (if you have any) in comments and I’ll see what I can do with them. Short/easy ones will probably just get answered in comments. Longer essay style stuff will perhaps provide fodder for several days of entries and maybe shake the dust off this blog…

34 responses to “Q&A thread

  1. I’ve read somewhere – at Making Light, I think – that agents tend to have longer careers/make more money than writers and editors. It sounded vaguely right to me, but I don’t know. Do they? Is there a trend of agents becoming writers or editors and vice versa?
    I’m sorry, these aren’t very useful questions, and maybe not what you were looking for. But it stuck in my head and I’m really curious!

    • I was always taught that all questions are useful to someone. Hopefully the answers are too. And, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this before, which is neat.
      I don’t know whether I would say that agents make more than writers and editors. Agents work on commission percentages (erratic and it takes commissions from several writers to equal the advance of one usually). Writers work on advances (which are extremely variable — I certainly don’t make as much as, say, Nora Roberts). Editors (for the most part) work on salaries. There’s a bit of an apples and oranges trap to comparing them. If you read the PW annual review of salaries, I don’t even think they include agents and I always think their figures are desperately skewed by the executive types at various publishing conglomerates.
      As for longer careers, well, perhaps… Agents tend not to have answer so much to corporate masters which gives them more wiggle room than editors. There is a very large turnover, though, at the two-year mark or so. Agenting requires long hours and is very competitive, and not nearly as glamorous as some seem to think. Disillusionment tends to take its toll.
      The last few years it does seem as if a larger number of editors have abandoned the corporate side of the force for the “freedom” of agenting. I think that might be a reflection of the corporate mindset as much as anything else. Many publishing companies used to be family businesses and I have heard many a comment about how the shift in that dynamic has changed the focus of the industry.

      • Thank you! That’s really interesting, and my curiosity is satisfied. Useful on at least two counts!

      • The PW review of salaries was always called the second-best work of fiction of the year (after Books In Print) in our (editorial) office. I’m not sure where they got their salary numbers, but we all envied whoever worked there…

        • I’ll never forget the PW article around 15 years ago that said that the only way to make it in editorial was to come from money. That way, the parents could foot the bill for the required Manhattan apartment, and permit the newbie to live on the then-whopping $16k/yr that Editorial Assistants made, while still being able to go to all the important parties and schmooze with the people without whom you couldn’t advance in this business. I know/knew a lot of people who fit that mold who found themselves leaving the industry after about two years of “roughing it” when the promised payoff of all that socializing didn’t materialize.

        • Plus it virtually ignores swaths of the industry. And I surmise that only the publicly-owned companies are responding to the survey.
          You know, it’s been a long day: I can’t even remember if they still send the survey out…

      • Part of the incentive for editors to become agents, or book doctors, has been the consolidation of the publishing houses. With all the mergers in the last 10 years, there are fewer slots at the big houses. The big name editors may be able to move around from house to house easily, but the lesser names do not. If they stay, they block spots where assistant and associate editors might have moved up. Sometimes, after a few years editing with no upward mobility visible, “jumping the fence” to the agent side seems to be the best option.
        The other issue that many editors have to overcome is their personal likes and dislikes. As an editor, if a work is professional, but not to you taste, you reject it without being concerned about who sees it next. As an agent, you have to be ready with an idea of all the editors who might be interested in it. It takes a different skillset to place a work for a client, rather than acquiring for one’s own list.
        Two years does sound about right for turnover. Although I was not handling original works, and was only acting as a rights agent on behalf of publishers, writers and other agents, I held out three years before throwing in the towel (the last year, I actually went back to work full-time at a publisher to make ends meet). I envy the people who can make agenting work in the long term.

  2. POV and genre
    Is there a place in your query that you should say what POV you’re writing from?
    I’ve just started pitching my first novel. If the agent didn’t want sample pages they won’t know that I’ve done something different. My novel is urban fantasy, but unlike 99% of the urban fantasy that I’ve read – it’s in third person.
    What do you think?

    • Re: POV and genre
      I just read quite a few queries last night and most of them don’t mention the POV style, though a handful do now and then, so if it fits in your description, put it in. My overall thought is that the book should be written in the voice that it calls for and the story should be good enough to support it. Hope that helps.

  3. We all know the query letter is vitally important to show that a writer can put together something coherent, but *how* important is it in the scheme of things?
    As one of those people who for some stupid reason falls apart at the mere mention of ‘query letter’ or ‘synopsis’–as though my life depended upon them; and I guess, writing wise, they do to a certain extent–I just wondered if agents do go past the letter if the query really sucks.
    Thanks!

    • How useful is a resume when applying for a job? If it doesn’t suit, does the employer still schedule an interview?
      I hate to sound harsh, but the truth of the matter is that when one is facing thousands upon thousands of these submissions per year, one has to perform some sort of triage by necessity. My instincts, though, have become honed over the years, and believe me, if the writing has merit, it tends to show in the query even if the pitch isn’t perfect. If that element exists in the query (or the dreaded synopsis), I think most people will at least look further to see if it bears out.
      Of course, this also doesn’t address the issue of whether the project is right for the agent in the first place. The best writing in the world won’t get me to read your non-fiction proposal on economic theory because it never should have come to my desk in the first place. Perhaps an extreme example, but it’s to show that there are multiple variables in the representation game. And what is not right for me, may be a perfect fit for someone else.

      • That makes perfect sense, of course. I’ve never had to apply for a job; they’ve always come to me, or folk have heard of what I do and asked me. Perhaps that’s why I find it so hard to sell myself in this medium. I guess it is finding that element that makes one stand above the crowd. 🙂
        Thank you.

  4. POV
    SOmeone mentioned POV and I do have a question for any an all – is POV that important these days? I tend to be a POV purist. That is not to say that I don’t write from multiple POV’s but not in the same scene or paragraph or even sentence as I’ve seen lately. I edit for a small press and I’ve been told by the authors that this is their “style”, that “no one cares anymore” and that “it’s the way books are written now”. I disagree, so I was wondering what professional thoughts were on that.

    • Re: POV
      Well, I’m not a professional, but this drives me nuts, too. I recently read a book by a successful mystery author who jumps all over the place with POV. The biggest reason it makes me crazy is because I’ve never seen a case where the in-scene POV switch is necessary.

  5. There’s a lot of talk about how authors need to do a great deal of marketing on their own in these days. What does that mean for those of us who live abroad? Even if I were to convince local stores to carry my books, say, I doubt signing them would in any significant way affect the sales, seeing as the majority of people buy books in their native tongue. There’s always the Internet of course, but it seems to me that a lot of the common marketing advice requires you to be in the US in person. I know some agents (like Miss Snark 🙂 ) are hesitant to take on clients living abroad partly for these reasons. Do you think this is a prevalent attitude? Is there something those of us living abroad can do to better our chances?
    ~Mary

  6. Location, location?
    Thanks for the Q&A. I am thinking of querying an agent on the West Coast. I really admire this agent. But I’m nervous, since the hub of publishing is in New York. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an agent living outside of New York? I know the obvious answer is that in these days of e-mail, FedEx and (somewhat) low-cost airfare, an agent can live/work anywhere, but what are some of the more subtle advantages/disadvantages of an agent on one coast while the editor/publisher is on the other? And what of the writer caught between them, say, in the midwest?
    SurfGrape

  7. Should I Query a Junior Agent when…
    …the senior agent is someone I really would not to want to work with? The senior agent is accomplished and qualified, but she doesn’t have a personality I enjoy spending any time with, even in cyber-space. How involved is a senior agent with a junior agent’s work?
    Kimber An
    starcaptainsdaughter.blogspot.com

    • Re: Should I Query a Junior Agent when…
      Wow. Um. I’m not sure I have an answer for this one. The relationship between senior and junior agents is going to be different in every agency, so the dynamic where I work won’t necessarily be reflected anywhere else. Which means I can’t speak to this as an overall industry-wide issue. I guess I would suggest you ask yourself if the junior agent in question is a good enough match for you to outweigh whatever reservations you have otherwise. I wish I could be more helpful than that.

  8. Is there something you think people really ought to know, but never try to find out? In other words, what question do you wish people would ask?

  9. Hey! I’m a teenager, fourteen to be exact, and I’m sending out queries. Would my age be a positive or negative thing to put in a query letter?

    • Ask Christopher Paolini (though I don’t believe he ever actually queried his publisher).
      I’ve heard lots of opinions about age – both too young and too old. Frankly, the proof is in the writing. So, like many other personal details, I’d only include it if it’s relevant to what you’re pitching.

  10. I have recently signed a contract with a publisher for my first novel. I have more stuff in the works.
    When should I start looking for an agent?
    Should I have consulted one before signing anything?

    • Typically, I would advise any writer to have someone (either an agent or a lawyer experienced with publishing) review any legal document before they sign it.

  11. What if a writer likes to write in a variety of sub-genres…how important is it for a career to stick to one sub-genre? Can it be dealt with simply by a pen-name? Just curious….

    • Piggy-backing on this question – if one of your authors decided to try their hand at a genre you don’t currently market, what would you do? Just curious…

      • Research. And I’m not just being flippant. I’ve had his happen in the past. You live, you learn. Of course, the caveat of it being something I can both be enthusiastic about as a reader and sell as an agent, still would stand.

  12. Does being involved in on-line groups and communities like LJ impress agents? If so should you include them in your query? Nicole

  13. Query Letter Questions
    1. Do you answer every query letter, or do you have a “will only contact if interested” policy”?
    2. If you answer every query letter, what is your current reponse time?
    3. When it comes to adult fiction, what word count is considered “too short”? (My novel is 67,000 words.)
    Thanks, and have a lovely day! 🙂

    • Re: Query Letter Questions
      The official submission guidelines for the agency I work for are here:
      http://www.maassagency.com/submissions.html
      That will answer #1 (e.g. the official policy is “only if interested” on equeries and answer every single one received by snail mail with SASE) and #2. As for #3, it depends. There are certainly category romances and some mysteries that are that short. And some literary novels. So, it depends.

  14. International clients, trends and other confusing questions 🙂
    Firstly, do you get many clients that query from overseas? I’m currently residing in Australia, and I’ve started to look around for agents (I’ve only got one that I really want to work with so far) and I’m wondering if it’s better to stay national, or if it’s better to query agents in the US, namely New York (said agent being in NY). Secondly, how do you find dealing with clients who live overseas, what with the time difference, etc.
    Also, what is your opinion of writers who chase up query letters to which they have had no reply? Let’s say the turn around time is two weeks, and a month passes, is it okay for said writer to send a polite request for information, or should they just send out another query letter to the agent, or perhaps take it as a silent rejection and move on to agent number two on their list (assuming that the first query was sent exclusively?).
    As for following market trends, how do you suggest unpublished writers keep abreast of the changes. Again, the market in the US can be different from the market in Australia. For example I’ve heard agents / editors say that the ‘DaVinci’ trend is waning, but then I work in a book store and I get questions about other similarly themed books. Same thing goes with Chick Lit. There are less and less chick lits coming out, but I’ve still got customers asking for something that’s light-hearted and girly.
    Should potential clients (newbie authors) mention that they are writing other books, especially if they are writing a trilogy? Or would that make an agent hesitate? I’ve heard some say that some writers only have one book in them, so what would your reaction be? Would it be better for a newbie to finish the series before querying?
    As for queries, what if the query letter is pretty good (or even very good) but the writer accidentally forgot to double space the five page excerpt? Would the entire ms go in the bin with a snort of derision and a glower, or would you take a peak at the work anyway? Another note on query letters, I was wondering why it was that potential clients are expected to send personalized letters, whereas agents send out form letters in rejection? Do agents send personalized letters when they shop the ms to editors and receive form rejections as well? Or is it more a case of “well you want me, impress me” when it’s author / agent, and personalized between agent / editor because the latter need to work together in the future?
    I think I’ve left enough questions there, even answering one of them would be much appreciated! Thanks for taking the time to go through these questions!

  15. Weary of Queries
    As I am sure you are too! I’ve read all the sample queries in how-to books and writer’s magazines (I’ve written an amateur sleuth mystery novel) and they seem so bland to me. Would you know of a site or book that has actual examples of great query letters that agents were excited about? Is it the subject of the novel or the style of the writing that is most important in the “perfect” query? Thanks for your live journal – who says the internet is impersonal! KB P.S. I’ve succeeded in number 1. and number 5. on your list of New Year’s resolutions, which coincides with my perfect query quest!

  16. Queries
    Is it improper, if a writer realizes they made a huge error in their first query letter, to fix the query letter and resend it to an agent who already rejected it?

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