This week’s winner for query that traveled the furthest: From Fiji.
Reasons why e-queries can cause problems #286: An equery was received that consisted of just one-line and an attachment. A reply was sent indicating that I do not open unsolicited attachments. That reply was bounced because of the filter on the email account. There was no other contact information in the original email. Add this person to the list of writers who thinks that agents are rude because they do not respond. Sigh.
Reasons why e-queries can cause problems #287: A response indicating lack of interest to pursue a project netted instead that project being sent as an attachment because the author thought I might change my mind if I read it. It’s not impossible that if I had time to read every book by every author who queried that I would find one that grabbed me. But I simply cannot read over 100 books per week. And even though the email was politely worded, it still seemed to indicate to me that the author did not respect this limit.
I only made one submission request this week and it was for something in the thriller genre.
What else could I discuss besides queries and the submission process? I’m feeling a little too obsessed with it…
ETA: I got this reply coupon in a query and I have to wonder if anyone would honestly check that they “can perceive no value in the proposed submission, is afraid of change, and able to bear the shame of failing to sign the next cross-media superstar.” The only other two choices are to request materials. Am I the only one who finds this somewhat rude of an approach?
Silly question for you, then: In the conventional wisdom, it was said any agent that doesn’t work in New York City isn’t worth querying, because if you don’t live in NYC you can’t be an effective agent. Of course, the publishing world keeps changing, and I’m wondering if the conventional wisdom holds in the instant-message era.
I direct you to review:
Nelson Literary Agency http://www.nelsonagency.com/
The Knight Agency http://www.knightagency.net/
I’ve known Kristin and Deidre both for years and they are amazing agents who happen to live in Denver and near Atlanta. They have regular sales and books on the USA Today and New York Times Bestseller lists. Obviously, they don’t find their geographic location an obstacle.
Ergo, I would say that this conventional wisdom is old wisdom that no longer applies in the contemporary world.
I’d amend that to point out (from a former editor’s POV) that this works if and only if the agent in question put in time in NYC (and met editors that way) before moving away, or makes regular trips to get to know the editors personally. It’s possible to do everything on-line and via the telephone, but there’s always a better personal connection when you meet face to face at least once a year, and the personal connection can often make the difference in an agent’s relationship to a house.
I agree that there needs to be some face-time for agents, but they don’t necessarily have to start in NYC. There are several agents on the West Coast and in other areas of the country who got their start elsewhere. They did make the necessary connections, though, and continue to maintain them.
Thank you! That’s good to know.
I’m not entirely sure that I understand what question you are asking…
I have the queries sorted by day received and read them in that order. I think my lag time between receipt and reading is probably about 4-5 business days (not counting vacation and holiday time). The guidelines on our website say three weeks from receipt and I try to be sure to keep up with that.
These last couple posts where I’ve mentioned submission requests and such you can basically assume that it’s based on queries read during that week, which probably mostly includes all the queries received in the prior week. Travel time for packages seems to vary wildly. Some things only take a couple days to get to us; others can take more than a week (basing this on the postage cancellation dates).
Does that answer your question?
Mostly, yes. 🙂 I knew when I was writing it that I wasn’t finding the right words. Sorry.
I was curious what your lag time was and how you decide how many queries you’re reading in a week, but you answered that.
Three weeks is impressive. I think anything less than a month is pretty good, but that’s based on the limited experience I have sending queries and submissions, and the response times thereof.
It’s not an obsession if you make money doing it. At least, that’s the excuse I would use. 😉
As for other topics … my boss runs memes on the main white board in our office. Today’s asked for our favorite comic strip. So, what’s your favorite strip and why?
Mine was and still is Peanuts. Grew up with it and my desktop calendar is one of those dailies where you get a different day’s strip each day.
I’m trying to avoid e-queries because I’m worried that my formatting will be butchered when I copy-paste and it will end up looking horrible after I hit “send.” That, and I would prefer to get a reply. It’s all too easy to just delete an email and move on to the next.
I do get a fair number that have bad carriage returns, are in a font my computer screen mangles, etc. — it can make your eyes cross after a while.
I personally would like to know more about what an agent does and how. That seems like too generic a way to phrase it, though. Mostly, I’m interested in what an agent’s submission process is, and how it differs from an author’s (aside from the obvious things like an agent screens the submissions and tends to have a more clear idea what a given editor is looking for).
I seem to be able to find lots of information about negotiating the deals, but finding any information about what an agent actually does when shopping a manuscript has been tough. The quickest way to find an answer to a tough question is to ask an expert, though, so here we are: Once you’ve read a query and followed up with the author and agreed to represent a work, what do you do after that? What is your process for selling the work?
Yeah, I’m interested in what your process is too. But I’ve also got a question for agent manners. I keep reading recommendations to avoid getting an agent until you’ve found a publisher. While I know that most agents like the easy road to publishing that this idea presents, it seems to me that this is bad advice for both the author and any future agent. Why? Well, since the agents know the business better than any new author would, I would think an agent could negotiate a better deal, and since the agent gets a percentage, that means more money for both parties. It also keeps stupid first time author (projecting much?) from agreeing to something that, in the end, turns out to be an altogether bad decision. Is that right? Or is the market for first time publishers so set in stone that it really doesn’t matter? I have always imagined that, when I finally do get published, I’ll have a representative who is a partner to me — both of us working to help ourselves and each other. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking though. I mean, I know my own limitations. I’m a sucker when it comes to believing that I should accept a little less because the other side is broke. But I am good at marketing — I was a disk jockey for eight years. So I will need somebody who doesn’t fall for the “we just don’t have the money for more” line on my side.
Where are you getting this advice?
Sure, a deal on the table can be compelling for any agent, though I have found that it is just as necessary to read the materials and have the same level of enthusiasm as any other submissions in order for the long-term relationship to be as productive as possible.
But I know a lot of publishers don’t even read un-agented submissions anymore, so this advice seems counterproductive and somewhat improbable. I have already taken on first novels this year and I know other agents have as well.
And, as you say, an agent usually negotiates better terms than an author on their own. Even if not in advance amount, they probably have years of boilerplate contract markups with most of the major publishers that will work to the benefit of the author.
Gosh, finding where I’ve seen it is tricky. Honestly, I read so many tips on any given day (desperation will do that to you). Many sites are those “When is it time to give up?” kind of advice for writers, but not always. I did find one right off the bat since I have the book on my desk. This is “Getting Your Book Published for Dummies”…
“It’s common knowledge that the easiest way to find an agent is to already have a published book or an offer from a reputable publishing company.”
Of course that doesn’t specifically say to get the publishing deal first, only that it’s probably easier. I have seen the frank advice spelled out in many places recently that you “should” pursue the publishing deal, and honestly, the notion seems to be supported by the submission guidelines of many agencies that want a bio first, and further supported by agent blogs that say over and over that they look to see what the author has already done before they even consider reading the rest of the submission packet. To someone like me, it becomes very, very frustrating. Meanwhile the stories keep knocking on my brain with the persistence of door-to-door salesmen. Drop by any desperate hopeful writer site and you’ll see thousands of people resorting to vanity publishers simply to have something to put in their bio.
While I’m being blantantly honest, I have to say that the submission processes for the big agencies leaves a lot to be desired, especially if they ask for e-queries. You say over and over that you want a good fit with your authors. You help that out here because an author can read your blog a little first and judge whether they think you would be good to work with. But you are a minority; most agents don’t blog. They trust in the 50 word “about-me” line that their agency posts. And some agencies have resorted to email-only-submissions, which sounds good as a concept, except by creating a “dummy-proof” query system, the writer is forced to submit the query to the agency as a whole. This is a problem because it becomes harder to gear a letter to appeal to the reader when you have no idea who that will be, and what doesn’t appeal to one agent might have appealed to another. I don’t think they pass it around to one another — the way you and others describe the business, I doubt there’s time for that sort of thing. So now we’ve added “the luck of the draw” to a process that was already difficult to begin with.
I’d like to think all writers understand how swamped agents are. I do know what it’s like to be buried and too busy to read. Sadly, that reading part is what it really takes to see some of the gems that are out there, written by people who have skill and amazing stories to tell, but no history in the business. They probably won’t be read by most agencies they’re submitted to, and I can’t imagine a way around that. Authors are as wary of new agents/agencies as established agents/agencies are of untried writers, maybe even more so since scam agents appeared in the world.
I keep a list of companies that have rejected me. Rarely do I know WHO actually rejected me. So many have that blanket submission requirement and the rejection is more often a post card stuffed into my SASE. Those are the hardest. They offer nothing constructive, and whoever drafts those things is very often thoughtless about how they will be read. I got one that actually said, “We’re too busy to even look at any new clients right now.” Funny thing though, their website is still soliciting submissions. After that one, I started to wonder if my paper had some bad smell that I can’t detect but which offends agents.
>What else could I discuss besides queries and the submission process?
Football! just…no talk about St. Louis, please.
the problem isn’t e-queries. the problem is morons who send them. you shouldn’t have to indicate you don’t accept attachments–people should have enough common sense not to send them in the first place.
Do you have any comment on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest? It looks like a really cool deal, except for this bit, if you win the Grand Prize:
“Publishing contract with Penguin is not negotiable, and Grand Prize winner must sign “as is” upon receipt of the executable contract (as described in Section 6 below) if he/she wishes to enter into the publishing contract being awarded.”
If I’m reading that correctly, if you win, you must either sign the publishing contract “as is,” or forfeit your winnings. I could not find a copy of that contract displayed on the site. Is this a potential trap for authors?
I don’t know if I would call it a “trap” — but what I expect (and I don’t have a confirmation of this) is that the author would get the un-agented boilerplate. St. Martin’s does the same with their mystery novel contest that runs every year. Boilerplate contracts tend to be in the favor of the publisher, naturally, as well as grant control of any and all rights. IMO, if you’re not prepared to sign such a contract, you shouldn’t enter this competition because by my reading you are agreeing to sign that contract if you should enter and win.
I’d like to learn more about the process of revisions. When an editor makes revision suggestions and the author disagrees, what role, if any, does the agent play? Are the rules different for first time vs. established authors? Are there times when an author needs to rely on her agent for advocacy if she strongly disagrees with an editor’s suggestion(s)? What if the agent suggests one type of revision but the editor suggests the opposite (i.e., the author made the change at the agent’s behest, but then the editor recommends a reversion to the original material? Who makes the final decision?
Any do’s and don’ts in this scenario would be appreciated, as well as how the communication should flow.
Tells us what happens next…
Tell us what happens when after a person gets an agent. I mean, I have an agent and I know what happened with me, but before I did, I really wanted to know what happened after THE CALL. It seems like no one really talks much about that. Plus, I’d love to hear what happens at your agency. Not that I’m looking or anything. I’m very, very happy with my agent. But you did ask for a new topic.
It’s actually very helpful to hear about all of this. And also slightly amusing. I’m amazed that you only sent off one submission request. Is that how it normally is? What’s the most submission requests you’ve sent off in a week?
One or two per week is roughly normal for me. Though there are some weeks when I make none at all. I think the highest might be six.
ETA: I got this reply coupon in a query and I have to wonder if anyone would honestly check that they “can perceive no value in the proposed submission, is afraid of change, and able to bear the shame of failing to sign the next cross-media superstar.”
I am floored. Rude? Not only that. Try suicidal. If a writer can talk themselves into doing something like this, imagine how quickly they’ll shoot themselves in the foot in public. Wow.
Random query stuff
The more I read your blog, the more I must question how you keep your sanity.
I think I understand the passion and processes that you bring to this task, but I think I would be pulling my hair out by the third or fourth day.
I have one question – in the single paragraph allotted to us authors to outline out entire 200 page masterpieces – is int considered taboo if we have to use two or three paragraphs to get the concept across (I promise – no more than three) – or does that guarantee us a swift passage to the slush pile?
That ETA is astonishing. I think it’s hilarious, too, but then again I’m not the one getting the letters.
What else could I discuss besides queries and the submission process? I’m feeling a little too obsessed with it…
The last couple times I suggested topics, they weren’t exactly, erm, appropriate but I’m a writer and I continue to try, even when I probably shouldn’t.
Do you recommend a particular book for the business end of writing? The taxes, record-keeping, that sort of thing?