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View Full Version : Agent Q&A - Michael Carr, Veritas Literary v2



KingM
02-12-2016, 03:46 PM
I did a Q&A on this site (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?199944-Agent-Q-amp-A-Michael-Carr-Veritas-Literary) about five years ago when I was a new agent, and I've been thinking for awhile that I'd do a repeat, assuming there are enough interested parties to participate. I can credit the original thread with one of my favorite clients and a few invitations to teach at writing conferences, which I love to do. So!

To start off, I'm going to put up the original questions and answers, together with my new response to show how my needs have changed or not.

Q: Your web site doesn't list list YA, but you indicated interest on a thread. Can I query you with my YA?

Original Answer: Our web site is out of date and meant for the general agency rather than individual agents. We have a number of YA authors, including one that was recently signed based on a writer I met on AW. I am open to most anything except romance and erotica, largely because I don't know anything about those genres.

New Answer: The web site is up to date. Query the right agent with the right project. But when in doubt, try me!

Q: Do you troll (in the fishing sense) AW for new writers?

Original Answer: Yes, regularly. We signed the aforementioned AW writer based on a query I saw on SYW. The novel came, it was wonderful, we offered and the book will go on submission in January. I have made several other requests based on queries I've seen on AW and just offered to my second AW writer. She's waiting to hear back on a couple of fulls, but I'm optimistic based on our conversation.

New Answer: Not as much as I should.

Q: Is there anything you'd particularly like to see?

Original Answer: More non-fiction. In fiction, I'd love to have a commercial, upmarket writer like Alan Furst who writes in some other historical setting. If you have a real vampire novel (you know, the deadly blood-sucking kind who need to be staked), please query. I'm always looking for lucid writing and good old fashioned storytelling.

New Answer: Non-fiction. Historical, sf/f, women's fiction.

Q: Query or query + pages? Synopsis?

Original Answer: Query + first five pages. No synopsis. They make me break out in hives.

New Answer: My allergic reaction to the synopsis has grown to a life-threatening condition. I'm getting shots, but the allergist tells me they can take up to a year to have an effect.

Earthling
02-12-2016, 03:54 PM
Thank you for doing this!

Is there a particular word/phrase/etc that makes you auto-reject or auto-request a query? Besides including a synopsis. :D

"Women's fiction" - does contemporary romance float your boat?

KingM
02-12-2016, 04:03 PM
I don't autoreject a query for including a synopsis. I just skip past it. The things that cause me to autoreject instead of respond are people who come across as aggressive or bragging. As in "Don't miss out on this opportunity, Michael! This book will be an instant classic! A megablockbuster! Get on the rocket before it blasts off!"

<delete>

I don't have anything against romance, I just don't know the market. If there's one thing I've learned, often painfully, it's to only represent the type of book that I would read on my own. I know "women's fiction" sounds like it fits the category of things I'd know nothing about, but that's not true. I'm a big reader of book club-style books, especially the ones with both a plot and some literary aspirations.

Lillith1991
02-12-2016, 05:06 PM
Thanks do much for doing this!

I was wondering, is there any particular subgenre of SFF you'd like to see more of? And how do you feel about Lit-Genre crosses? Or vampire novels told from the POV of a vampire more like Spike or Angelus from Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Edward Cullen?

Sorry to pepper you with questions. Talking to an agent about what they like is kind of exciting.

KingM
02-12-2016, 05:15 PM
Thanks do much for doing this!

No problem. It's a fun break from my usual work.


I was wondering, is there any particular subgenre of SFF you'd like to see more of?

Nothing in particular, just great writing and storytelling. One issue that I sometimes face with sf/f is that there are a limited number of publishers, so I sometimes run through the people I know and see if I think it would appeal to them. But I'll take a chance if I love the book.


And how do you feel about Lit-Genre crosses?

Can you be a little more specific?


Or vampire novels told from the POV of a vampire more like Spike or Angelus from Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Edward Cullen?

I'd definitely take a Spike story over . . . well, that other guy. UF isn't exactly what I know best, but if the writing was fantastic, I'd take a chance.

Lillith1991
02-12-2016, 05:47 PM
Can you be a little more specific?

Sure. I was thinking of something in the realm of a recently turned vampire and her family coming to terms with her vampirism over the course of a year, or a genre bending work like Octavia Butler's Kindred that uses the speculative elements to pose tough questions while making the reader consider how they would answer whatever the questions are.

I'm always looking to read that type of more... well, I wouldn't say quiet stories exactly. But stories more about the emotional journey than the plot, though they also should be very well plotted in order for emotional growth and questions posed to have the impact the writer is hoping to achieve.


I'd definitely take a Spike story over . . . well, that other guy. UF isn't exactly what I know best, but if the writing was fantastic, I'd take a chance.

Good to know. I also prefer Spike from a character standpoint. As a reader I tend to find him more nuanced than the other one, though both are problematic characters in their own right.

KingM
02-12-2016, 05:54 PM
Sure. I was thinking of something in the realm of a recently turned vampire and her family coming to terms with her vampirism over the course of a year, or a genre bending work like Octavia Butler's Kindred that uses the speculative elements to pose tough questions while making the reader consider how they would answer whatever the questions are.

Octavia Butler is one of my favorite sf writers, so yeah. If someone can write like her, I'm sold.


Good to know. I also prefer Spike from a character standpoint. As a reader I tend to find him more nuanced than the other one, though both are problematic characters in their own right.

I'm okay with Angel. Prefer Spike, but Angel is fine. It's the sparkly dude's name I couldn't bring myself to say out loud.

Lillith1991
02-12-2016, 06:11 PM
Octavia Butler is one of my favorite sf writers, so yeah. If someone can write like her, I'm sold.

I'm thoroughly convinced the world needs more SFF that poses the types of questions posed by Octavia Butler in the majority of her work. Kindred, Lillith's Brood and the like pose some really tough questions and Butler gives some really tough, bleak answers that are uncomfortable and also make perfect sense all at once.

As you may be able to tell, I'm also a Butler fan. She makes me think and I enjoy that. I may not always enjoy what she makes me consider, but the fact she even dared pose those questions in her work is awesome.


I'm okay with Angel. Prefer Spike, but Angel is fine. It's the sparkly dude's name I couldn't bring myself to say out loud.

Sorry. I was thinking of the Sparkly Dude when I said the other vampire. Angel/Angelus is also a nuanced character though I do prefer Spike to Angel.

Lillith1991
02-12-2016, 08:03 PM
I have another question.

Is it safe to say that because you're a fan of Octavia Butler, you would be open to diverse stories that are hard hitting when it comes to matters of race and gender? I've found that Butler's work while appealing and evocative is also deeply rooted in her blackness and her views on what race and gender mean and how those things intersect.

KingM
02-12-2016, 08:12 PM
Is it safe to say that because you're a fan of Octavia Butler, you would be open to diverse stories that are hard hitting when it comes to matters of race and gender? I've found that Butler's work while appealing and evocative is also deeply rooted in her blackness and her views on what race and gender mean and how those things intersect.

Yes, of course I would be. I love stories that really dig into things that are not my own experience, regardless of what that is. Having said that, I'm primarily interested in story. So was Butler, I think. These were background, flavor, very important themes, but she didn't turn it into a soapbox, or if she did, she was so good at it that I never noticed.

Above all, I want something that makes me want to know what comes next. The more I have to know what comes next, the more likely I am to pick up the phone and make the call.

KingM
02-12-2016, 08:16 PM
As a brief threadjack while I'm waiting for questions, I've got a few thoughts on persistence. This initial stage that most AW writers are in can be very frustrating. It's easy to go from wild optimism to depression and back again. I've seen a lot of writers give up, some of them who were closer the finish line than they thought. Some of that might come down to initial expectations.

I think sometimes writers want to just sit down and produce words and feel like they're going to get there sooner rather than later. It would be like starting a painting project without taking lessons or reading books on technique. I know you've been to the museum six hundred times and can differentiate your Matisse from your Monet, but it's not the same thing as study and practice. Some people are brilliant right out of the gate, but not most.

So I'd say make it a long-term plan. Give yourself three years and/or three novels. Couple your writing work with intense study. Pick up books in your genre and look at how they open, build, and conclude. Read as much about the craft as you can. Workshop your fiction; the giving advice part is at least as helpful as the getting of advice. By the end of those three years/books, you'll have a much better understanding of where you are.

If you find that you hate it, well, that's useful to know as well.

Lillith1991
02-12-2016, 08:24 PM
Yes, of course I would be. I love stories that really dig into things that are not my own experience, regardless of what that is. Having said that, I'm primarily interested in story. So was Butler, I think. These were background, flavor, very important themes, but she didn't turn it into a soapbox, or if she did, she was so good at it that I never noticed.

Above all, I want something that makes me want to know what comes next. The more I have to know what comes next, the more likely I am to pick up the phone and make the call.

I agree. Story is always king and a good writer should always be able to work in the types of themes they want without soapboxing.

On that note, I'm starting to feel bad about monopolizing your time so I'm just going to ask a final question. How do you feel about some really good, scarey YA Horror that pushes boundaries?

KingM
02-12-2016, 08:35 PM
On that note, I'm starting to feel bad about monopolizing your time so I'm just going to ask a final question. How do you feel about some really good, scarey YA Horror that pushes boundaries?

No worries. There's nobody else on here yet, so why not?

Good, scary YA Horror sounds great. I've always said I would like a good old fashioned scary ghost story, but have yet to see one that hooks me. I'm more cautious about taking on YA these days, however, as my sell rate is not as good in YA as I would like it to be.

Perks
02-12-2016, 08:43 PM
You should get extra cake in heaven for not making writers write the dreaded synopsis.

I love you.

Earthling
02-12-2016, 08:44 PM
You should get extra cake in heaven for not making writers write the dreaded synopsis.

I love you.

I second this. :D The only thing worse than a query, for me, is writing a synopsis.

Brian G Turner
02-12-2016, 08:54 PM
Here's a question - I'm based in the UK but have begun to query agents in the US.

I've already tried to ensure my fantasy MS is as neutral as possible in terms of differences between British/American English, because I'm aware of the need to appeal to both audiences. But there are certain spellings I can't escape from - colour/color and axe/ax, for example.

If I'm asked by a US agent to submit a sample, should I use American English spellings as much as possible? Or is British English acceptable? I've presumed the latter so far, but I'm happy to stand corrected.

Dreity
02-12-2016, 08:56 PM
In addition to a classic ghost story, do you have anything else on your wishlist?

And what recent non-client SFF have you read that you really enjoyed?

KingM
02-12-2016, 08:59 PM
If I'm asked by a US agent to submit a sample, should I use American English spellings as much as possible? Or is British English acceptable? I've presumed the latter so far, but I'm happy to stand corrected.

Don't stress about this. Anyone in publishing is going to be sophisticated enough to know about the spelling differences already. If you sign with a U.S. publisher, a copyeditor will undoubtedly sanitize all your Britishisms. Until then, it's not an issue.

KingM
02-12-2016, 09:02 PM
In addition to a classic ghost story, do you have anything else on your wishlist?

I'm always looking for good historical fiction.


And what recent non-client SFF have you read that you really enjoyed?

I just read The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (Tor), which is translated from Chinese. Quite interesting on several levels. I could have read an entire novel written by Liu about the Cultural Revolution part alone, but that's a small part of the book.

Dreity
02-12-2016, 09:28 PM
I'm always looking for good historical fiction.

Any particular time periods that you're a sucker for?


I just read The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (Tor), which is translated from Chinese. Quite interesting on several levels. I could have read an entire novel written by Liu about the Cultural Revolution part alone, but that's a small part of the book.

I've heard nothing but good things about The Three Body Problem. Thanks to you I'll bump it up in the TBR pile!

The last book I read set in the Cultural Revolution was a memoir, Mao's Last Dancer. It's a quick read with a very YA feel to it. I found it very compelling, both as a former ballerina and as someone wanting to get a feel for life during that time. Li Cunxin is a wonderful dancer (I love watching him leap) and now I have a deeper appreciation for the grueling work he put into his art to get to that point.

ElaineA
02-12-2016, 09:32 PM
I have a question about "market," as in, "That market is too hard a sell right now." My gut tells me that if a story is well-written enough, market toughness isn't much of an issue, but what is your experience? What goes into a decision to take a chance on a manuscript you're jazzed about, even if the market for it might be somewhat problematic? (I know it's not the synopsis :greenie)

KingM
02-12-2016, 09:33 PM
Any particular time periods that you're a sucker for?


I don't have a personal preference myself, but I've heard from a couple of editors lately that the sweet spot is Renaissance to WWII. I don't understand why the bias against stories set in antiquity, and like many things, I suspect that the prevailing wisdom might become a self-fulfilling prophesy. But that's what the market is saying right now.

KingM
02-12-2016, 09:36 PM
I have a question about "market," as in, "That market is too hard a sell right now." My gut tells me that if a story is well-written enough, market toughness isn't much of an issue, but what is your experience? What goes into a decision to take a chance on a manuscript you're jazzed about, even if the market for it might be somewhat problematic? (I know it's not the synopsis :greenie)

I just wrote the above post before I saw this. It easily could have applied to your question, too. Sometimes what I think happens is that people get carried away with something, whether that's Scandinavian crime fiction or zombie novels. Something comes out that's really popular, and the market things it's popular because it's [fill in the blank], and not because it was just really good. So they buy some iffy stuff, which tanks, and suddenly the market is saturated.

You can see that the conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong by the fact that indie writers can keep having success in supposedly dead genres. I wonder, too, if maybe the editors just get sick of a certain type of novel and want to work on something else.

Having said that, writers and agents need to pay attention to what the editors are saying, just like the editors need to pay attention to what the publisher's sales force is telling them.

Tavia
02-12-2016, 09:49 PM
Thank you for doing this!

Since it's been five years since your first Q&A here... As you've gained experience as an agent, have there been any surprises along the way? Aspects of the industry you hadn't seen from your previous professions, genres you didn't expect to sell in, parts of the job that are easier or harder than expected, anything else?

ElaineA
02-12-2016, 09:51 PM
I neglected to say thank you for being here. It's a treat for us. And thank you for the thoughtful answer.

VeryBigBeard
02-12-2016, 09:55 PM
Yeah, just wanted to echo the thanks. I've been lurking along here and it's so great to have resources like this. I'll try to come up with an intelligent question in a bit.

Dreity
02-12-2016, 09:57 PM
Yes! Thank you so much for doing this. It was a great idea.

Lillith1991
02-12-2016, 10:19 PM
Echoing all the thanks!

But I do have yet another question. Have you ever received queries that seem as if the writer wasn't even sure they wanted to be sending queries or not? It seems to me like people often feel they have to sell things associated with creative hobbies, to recoup some of the loses so to speak. What would you tell writers who feel like this or still aren't sure what their writing goals are?

mayqueen
02-12-2016, 10:42 PM
Thank you for doing this and answering our questions! You addresses this a bit already, but I was curious about your thoughts on the current market for historical fiction. As you said, it seems like certain time periods are more marketable than others, but what about styles and sub- or cross- genres?

KingM
02-13-2016, 01:11 AM
Since it's been five years since your first Q&A here... As you've gained experience as an agent, have there been any surprises along the way? Aspects of the industry you hadn't seen from your previous professions, genres you didn't expect to sell in, parts of the job that are easier or harder than expected, anything else?

There's a lot of change in the industry. That surprises me a little. Of course, people have been declaring that the end is nigh forever, and it keeps chugging along. But editors come and go.

I consistently find that answering queries is the most challenging part of my job. I don't let them build up (most of the time), so I don't have to go through hundreds at once, but I really don't like all the rejecting that is necessary. Sometimes, I get started and can't bring myself to go forward and don't do queries that day.

What's hard to sell? Everything! Almost every sale I make was one rejection away from not selling at all. I have four or five books that just never sold that I still can't figure out why not. A few others that I took on speculatively that I didn't sell for more obvious reasons. It's hard enough with the stuff you're 100% confident about that I don't do that anymore.

KingM
02-13-2016, 01:14 AM
Echoing all the thanks!

But I do have yet another question. Have you ever received queries that seem as if the writer wasn't even sure they wanted to be sending queries or not? It seems to me like people often feel they have to sell things associated with creative hobbies, to recoup some of the loses so to speak. What would you tell writers who feel like this or still aren't sure what their writing goals are?

Not that I've noticed, but if they come across as really amateurish, they're probably in and out of mind too quickly to pick up on that. I would say that the business is hard enough that someone who is ambivalent just shouldn't do it. There are other reasons to write besides professional publication. There's nothing wrong with that, so don't beat yourself up with chasing what you don't really want in the first place.

KingM
02-13-2016, 01:16 AM
Thank you for doing this and answering our questions! You addresses this a bit already, but I was curious about your thoughts on the current market for historical fiction. As you said, it seems like certain time periods are more marketable than others, but what about styles and sub- or cross- genres?

I think it's a good time for historical fiction. One option that didn't exist in the past was Amazon Publishing's historical imprint, Lake Union. I've worked with some great people there, and while the Amazon imprints aren't for everyone, they give a valid alternative to NY. Some indie writers have done well with historicals, too. Libbie Hawker comes to mind.

Do you have anything specific in mind when you refer to styles or cross-genres?

Mclesh
02-13-2016, 01:32 AM
What's hard to sell? Everything! Almost every sale I make was one rejection away from not selling at all. I have four or five books that just never sold that I still can't figure out why not. A few others that I took on speculatively that I didn't sell for more obvious reasons. It's hard enough with the stuff you're 100% confident about that I don't do that anymore.

Thank you, Michael, for mentioning this. I think it helps, to keep things in perspective, to know how hard it is from the agent's standpoint to sell a client's book. Especially when one is going through the query process and getting those Rs. :)

Lillith1991
02-13-2016, 02:04 AM
I promised myself I would let other people ask more questions, but... have you represented any novels based on short stories?

KingM
02-13-2016, 03:06 AM
I promised myself I would let other people ask more questions, but... have you represented any novels based on short stories?

Not that I can think of, although I have a client who is talking about converting an old short story into a novel. He's got another project to finish first, so he might get sidetracked by the time he's ready to work on it. In principle, though, I don't see any problem with taking a successful short story and expanding it out, depending on the writer.

KingM
02-13-2016, 03:10 AM
Thank you, Michael, for mentioning this. I think it helps, to keep things in perspective, to know how hard it is from the agent's standpoint to sell a client's book. Especially when one is going through the query process and getting those Rs. :)

Rejection is the worst part of this business, there's no question. I always think of writers and musicians as being descended from the type of people who sat around campfires singing and telling stories. They were paid for the efforts with a bit of extra beer or a choice piece of meat. Every village needed its entertainers. The problem is, we live in a global village. You're no longer competing with a hundred people for the person who gets paid for telling a story with her words, you're competing with tens of thousands of other storytellers.

The good news, as I always tell writers, is that most of the competition doesn't have the stamina. There are a lot of things out of your hands, but your own work ethic and persistence can win the day.

Filigree
02-13-2016, 05:45 AM
Thank you for doing this again, Michael. I remember your first round, during my own first year on AW. +1 for synopsis hate, too!

If you are still answering, are there any flavors of high fantasy/secondary-world fantasy you especially like or loathe?

KingM
02-13-2016, 07:40 AM
Thank you for doing this again, Michael. I remember your first round, during my own first year on AW. +1 for synopsis hate, too!

If you are still answering, are there any flavors of high fantasy/secondary-world fantasy you especially like or loathe?

I figure I'll keep answering for several days, at least, until either I get bored or you do. As for your question, I still like traditional high fantasy, and represent a couple of fantasy authors who produce stuff that hits all the right notes for people who enjoy that sort of work. The great thing about fantasy is that you can let your imagination run wild, so don't hold back. Just make it readable and compelling.

Filigree
02-13-2016, 11:30 PM
Thanks, Michael. Alas, I'm in the romance and erotic romance field now, so my question was purely academic.

lacygnette
02-14-2016, 05:32 AM
Just came across this thread. Wow, so helpful. Could you talk a little about what attracts you to women's fiction? Thanks.

KingM
02-14-2016, 07:16 AM
Just came across this thread. Wow, so helpful. Could you talk a little about what attracts you to women's fiction? Thanks.

I think it's sometimes used as a shorthand for a bookclub-style novel. The main characters happen to be female, but they're usually books that elicit emotion and touch on universal feelings. I was never put off by female characters, even when I was a boy. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, and certainly my favorite pre-1900 author.

That's my interest as a reader. As an agent, I have had some success placing some of these books, especially when they have crossover appeal in the historical market.

Lillith1991
02-14-2016, 10:14 AM
What do you feel the current market is for retellings/adaptations based on classics, mythology, and poems? Is it stronger in the YA market or do you feel an adult retelling would do well?

KingM
02-14-2016, 05:13 PM
What do you feel the current market is for retellings/adaptations based on classics, mythology, and poems? Is it stronger in the YA market or do you feel an adult retelling would do well?

That is a good question, and I'm not sure I have a great answer for that. I think if you found a clever angle and paired it with strong writing, I think there would be a market for that. YA is very receptive to all sorts of experimental things, so that would probably be slightly easier to pull off.

ItsRachelConnor
02-14-2016, 06:37 PM
Thanks for answering our questions, Micheal! :)

I have a couple and apologies if you've answered them already and I may have missed it:

Has you ever received a query where you personally liked the idea but felt it wouldn't be commercially successful?
Have you ever had any regrets about 'throwing a query back into the water'?
What advice would you give to a writer who is trying to get a thicker skin for criticism but is struggling?

KingM
02-14-2016, 07:13 PM
Has you ever received a query where you personally liked the idea but felt it wouldn't be commercially successful?


Sure, all the time. Or maybe I don't have time at that moment, or I don't know the market well enough and think someone else should rep it. There are lots of reasons to pass on a query that don't have anything to do with the quality.


Have you ever had any regrets about 'throwing a query back into the water'?

Queries, not so much. I have to go through so many of them that I forget them almost immediately. If you've ever sent out a boneheaded query breaking all the rules or flogging some project that you later realize is crap, this should give you courage. We see too much stuff to put anyone on the permanent naughty list.

What I have regretted on occasion is rejecting a requested manuscript too quickly. This is usually because I'm too busy for new clients unless they blow me away with their skill, but sometimes I wish I had the time to give them another 20 pages or so. There was one time that I read about thirty or forty pages of a requested manuscript and rejected it because it had too many flaws, and I didn't have the time to go through a lot of edits with an author. However, I found myself still thinking about the story a good week or two later and thought I'd go back and read some more, even though I'd sent the author a rejection. After about twenty more pages, I decided that no, my initial impression was correct.

I do make mistakes, of course.


What advice would you give to a writer who is trying to get a thicker skin for criticism but is struggling?

It's not personal. I know everything is personal from the writer's perspective, but for the agent and editor, no. I use this analogy a lot when teaching at conferences. Imagine you've gone into a bookstore. You have ten bucks and a certain number of reading hours. You very carefully choose one book that catches your attention and you can afford. Are you making a value judgement about all the other books in the bookstore? No, you're saying that this particular book is where you want to spend your time and money.

It's the same for an agent and editor. Of course most of what we see is not up to professional quality, but there's plenty of stuff that is that we pass on anyway. All you know for sure as a writer is that the editor and agent had a limited amount of time and other resources to spend, and unfortunately, they're not spending it on your book. That's not the same thing as saying they think it sucks, anymore than you buying a guidebook to Turkey means that you think nobody should buy a copy of Intermediate Spanish II.

That probably doesn't help a lot, I know. Rejections stink. Getting them hurts, and giving them isn't much more fun.

LouieBichon
02-14-2016, 07:37 PM
I was recently offered a contract from a digital-only mystery imprint of PRH, called Alibi. This was done without agency representation. PRH wants the rest of the series, of which I now have a back list of three books published with them. Because I am reluctant to give up my dream of ever seeing my books in print, do you think an agent (maybe you?) would have any interest in representing me with the idea of finding a publisher interested in both print and digital editions?

lacygnette
02-14-2016, 07:41 PM
Thanks for your answer about women's fiction. Also, I love your analogy about going into a book store. Something to hold against my chest when rejections come in. Or I feel lost by all the non-answers from the black hole of querying.

KingM
02-14-2016, 08:40 PM
I was recently offered a contract from a digital-only mystery imprint of PRH, called Alibi. This was done without agency representation. PRH wants the rest of the series, of which I now have a back list of three books published with them. Because I am reluctant to give up my dream of ever seeing my books in print, do you think an agent (maybe you?) would have any interest in representing me with the idea of finding a publisher interested in both print and digital editions?


Did you sign the first contract? Without seeing the terms, it's hard to say if the contract is good or not. Is there an advance? How many copies of the first book have you sold? I'm wary of these digital-only offers, because, with the exception of the Amazon imprints (which are not technically ebook only, but effectively all about the ebooks), I've rarely seen authors make much money from them.

Speaking personally, even when a contract is on the table I need to like the book in question. It's a big commitment, with lots of ups and downs. I don't generally represent people's backlists unless the self-pubbed book in question has sold extremely well. If an author does well as an indie, I generally recommend keeping those books indie and trying NY with something new.

But as I always say, when in doubt, query!

ETA: I've never actually done a contract with Alibi or one of the digital-only imprints, although I have worked on sixteen different books with Amazon Publishing imprints. However, here is Scalzi talking about a contract with Alibi (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/03/06/a-contract-from-alibi/) that he looked at. This was a few years ago, so who knows what, if anything, has changed. Please draw your own conclusions.

KingM
02-14-2016, 08:42 PM
Thanks for your answer about women's fiction. Also, I love your analogy about going into a book store. Something to hold against my chest when rejections come in. Or I feel lost by all the non-answers from the black hole of querying.

That's hard, I know. There are editors who do the same thing, even with agented submissions. I have a little more leeway in prodding, but it's frustrating when I get a request in 15 minutes and then hear nothing but crickets. Query widely and you should have more than enough answers, one way or another.

Aggy B.
02-15-2016, 04:51 PM
Do you find you have a preference when reading query letters about the length of the "pitch"? I got a lot of flack from critters when I put together a long log-line type pitch to use while querying. They said log-lines had no place in querying. This resulted in an expansion of the original pitch into three paragraphs, but, in the end, both the long and short version caught the same amount of interest.

Assuming that a three sentence pitch actually conveys the beginning, middle and end of a book - is that enough for you? Or do you typically want to see more in the pitch/query?

KingM
02-15-2016, 07:09 PM
Do you find you have a preference when reading query letters about the length of the "pitch"? I got a lot of flack from critters when I put together a long log-line type pitch to use while querying. They said log-lines had no place in querying. This resulted in an expansion of the original pitch into three paragraphs, but, in the end, both the long and short version caught the same amount of interest.

Assuming that a three sentence pitch actually conveys the beginning, middle and end of a book - is that enough for you? Or do you typically want to see more in the pitch/query?

I prefer a shorter pitch. If they're long, I tend to skim. Assuming it's the right genre, I'll always take a look at the opening of the book anyway, but if I'm skimming the query, it's with an additional dose of skepticism.

Every agent has his or her own preference, but in my case, shorter is better. Don't feel you have to get it all down, provide a 100% accurate assessment of the book, etc. Your only job is to make the story sound enticing enough to get me to read your sample pages. That's it. Stay away from explaining subplots, from giving background, etc.

Brian G Turner
02-15-2016, 07:56 PM
Writing a synopsis can be challenging enough - but I'm struggling to get my head around one for multiple protagonists in an epic fantasy.

Most multi-POV stories appear to be centred around a single protagonist and are defined by their relationship to them - ie, love interest, best friend, mentor, antagonist, etc. I've identified precious few novels in my genre that genuinely have multiple protagonists - literally, a handful, for the first book in a series.

I've tried to write a two-page synopsis for just some of the protagonists, but feedback from readers has been that it reads as too complex. However, writing for only one protagonist leaves the story feeling incomplete.

I hold my hands up and accept that perhaps there is a problem with my plotting in the first place, as trying to perfect my query has forced me to rewrite the fourth act. Additionally, perhaps I'm just failing to grasp how to write a synopsis adequately.

But I also struggle to see how similar novels with multiple protagonists, such as Game of Thrones or Gardens of the Moon, can have a synopsis for a single protagonist. Neither Ned Stark nor Whiskey Jack convey the actual full plot of their respective novels, which is what the synopsis is supposed to deliver.

I'm left scratching my head at how to convey multiple-protagonists in a simple and succinct manner for agents. I suspect the multi-protag approach is the way to go and just need to figure out how to find a necessary balance.

However, I'd welcome any pointers on how to give agents the information they want in such a situation.

KingM
02-15-2016, 11:56 PM
Keep in mind that I don't like synopses. I don't like to read them or write them. But a mistake that a lot of writers make in any sort of book summary, whether that's a one line elevator pitch, a full query, or the synopsis itself, is that the writers feel the need to explain everything. Come to think of it, the urge to explain is a killer for pacing in anything, including the book itself.

People aren't looking for a blow by blow account in a synopsis. They want the gist of it, to see how it's going to develop and how it will end. You don't need to explain that this named character over here is really the cousin of this guy over there, or that they once jointly owned the dog that bit the woman who developed rabies. You might not even need to name the cousin, the dog, or the rabies at all. Don't make the synopsis inaccurate, but paint in very broad strokes. Make it as story-like as possible.

Once you have a great, catchy synopsis that may very well gloss over major plot points, there's one final, important step: make sure you cut it out of the query you send in my direction. :)

Jo Zebedee
02-16-2016, 06:22 PM
I've just been directed here to ask a question I'd popped elsewhere on the forum (thankyou!)

Does a writer always have to have a completed book to sub? I am working on my 6th book but have 3 coming out with publishers over the next 18 months, so getting the final edits done between edits on the other 3 is very time consuming, which means it may be late summer before I have it completed for sub. (I also have 3 publishers interested in it with at least two likely to offer.)

I have been repped in the past but we parted ways, amicably, due to the agent's specialism not matching my writing range. This agent was happy to reccommend me to others and, I think, would do so again.

Things are moving quickly for me - I have two books out, both of which have been Amazon bestsellers in their SF categories in the UK, one has been a Waterstones Top 10 bestseller, and the other has been mentioned for the Hugo and Campbell awards. I'm in at least four anthologies this year, including an invite only from a well established and thought of small press.

I have a well followed blog, a twitter and facebook, as well as forum, presence, established website with daily hits - so most of the SM platform is in place.

But I've had to negotiate both a publishing contract and an audio contract for my trilogy in the last few months and I'm in the place where I really feel I need an agent.

What is the etiquette around this sort of instance?

(And many thanks for answering questions and such an informative thread.)

KingM
02-16-2016, 07:29 PM
I would say in almost all cases you need a complete book to get a contract (speaking of fiction). If you're a big enough name where you can sell on proposal, you'd probably know it already.

Are these contracts with a small press or a major publisher? Obviously, you'll have an easier time getting an agent's attention if your contract is from Tor or Orbit than someone who doesn't pay an advance. From an agent's point of view, it's a business. I'm always hoping for larger contracts, of course, but if a debut novelist sells a book for 7,500, I still see that as a win, as it could be a stepping stone to larger contracts and more sales and recognition for both author and agent. But doing the math, I'm only going to get about $1,000 from an advance of that size. I'd need to do dozens of deals of that size every year to make a living, so it's only worth it if you look at the long run. Put a small press contract in front of me with a token advance or worse, and there's no incentive for me. The potential sales are generally smaller, too.

I also think it's bad agenting on my part. My personal opinion in this day and age that is that an author should either go big or go indie. I don't see an advantage in turning over rights to someone who won't pay at least five or ten thousand dollars to pin down the rights. If a writer has a book that's good enough for the market but hasn't secured a contract, I'd almost always advise that they either sit on it or release it as an indie title.

Jo Zebedee
02-16-2016, 07:58 PM
Thank you for replying. I'll keep squeezing the writing of it in!

aus10phile
02-16-2016, 09:27 PM
Thanks so much for volunteering your time like this. It's very generous!

Do you ever pass on a query *solely* based on word count? Obviously bad query + bad pages + high word count would be a pass. But what about good query + good pages + high word count?

I'm asking for personal reasons, for my own education, of course. I have a manuscript with a high word count. I know I need to cut it down significantly. Let's say I think I need to cut it down 15-20k words because it will help tighten it up, improve pacing etc. But maybe that still won't get it in the standard range I've seen for sci-fi and fantasy of 80-125k. As a debut author, is it pretty much critical that my MS falls within that range to have a shot at getting repped by anyone?

KingM
02-16-2016, 09:46 PM
Thanks so much for volunteering your time like this. It's very generous!

No worries. It's a nice change from the daily routine, and I happen to find myself in a rare period of having a little bit of extra time on my hands. A good time to query if anyone is on the fence!


Do you ever pass on a query *solely* based on word count? Obviously bad query + bad pages + high word count would be a pass. But what about good query + good pages + high word count?

Sure. Anything that makes a book harder to sell makes me hesitate, and there comes a point where it's simply impossible. I get queried for novels that are 30,000 words or 750,000 words. I can't sell those.


I'm asking for personal reasons, for my own education, of course. I have a manuscript with a high word count. I know I need to cut it down significantly. Let's say I think I need to cut it down 15-20k words because it will help tighten it up, improve pacing etc. But maybe that still won't get it in the standard range I've seen for sci-fi and fantasy of 80-125k. As a debut author, is it pretty much critical that my MS falls within that range to have a shot at getting repped by anyone?

How big are we talking? Is it one of those 750,000 word monsters? Because chopping 15-20K would be like trimming an elephant's whiskers in the hope he'll fit in your golf cart. If you're at 160,000, on the other hand . . .

aus10phile
02-16-2016, 10:01 PM
How big are we talking? Is it one of those 750,000 word monsters? Because chopping 15-20K would be like trimming an elephant's whiskers in the hope he'll fit in your golf cart. If you're at 160,000, on the other hand . . .

153,000 is where my "first draft" came in. I edit a lot as I go, though, so my first drafts aren't just a garbled mess--they're usually pretty clean. It's sci-fi. I think I can get it down to 135k by cutting some stuff I like but (sadly) should probably go. :) So, assuming I can do that... do I go for another 10k to get to a more acceptable level and not shoot myself in the foot with word count? I sort of hate the idea of arbitrarily cutting stuff to get to a number... but I also want to give my book the best chance I can.

ETA: It also has 4 POVs. They're all significant characters, but it's not weighted equally among the 4. 2 of them have a lot fewer chapters.

Sage
02-16-2016, 10:16 PM
One thing we've heard a lot about queries is that they should usually cover only the beginning of the novel, say the first third (I think the first 30 pages is also a guideline). When agents request off a query, do they read the book expecting everything in the query to show up early in the book?

I have some books with twists that come late in the book. I think these twists help hook, but I do worry that when an agent requests off my queries, they expect most of the book to be about the aftereffects of the twist, not the action leading to it. Sometimes I wonder if this gives the agent a false sense of what the book will be like.

KingM
02-16-2016, 10:16 PM
I guess if I'd read your signature, I'd have had my question answered for me. 135K is plausible. If you've really trimmed and tightened the prose, I'd say go out with it and see what happens. Just make sure there's no flab on that body, soldier, before you march into battle.

KingM
02-16-2016, 10:21 PM
One thing we've heard a lot about queries is that they should usually cover only the beginning of the novel, say the first third (I think the first 30 pages is also a guideline). When agents request off a query, do they read the book expecting everything in the query to show up early in the book?

I have some books with twists that come late in the book. I think these twists help hook, but I do worry that when an agent requests off my queries, they expect most of the book to be about the aftereffects of the twist, not the action leading to it. Sometimes I wonder if this gives the agent a false sense of what the book will be like.

Hi Sage,

I can answer your question in general terms, if you'd like. Or, if you think it would be helpful to you and the forum, you can post the query itself and I can have a go at it. I'll be gentle but direct.

aus10phile
02-16-2016, 11:02 PM
I guess if I'd read your signature, I'd have had my question answered for me.]


No worries!


135K is plausible. If you've really trimmed and tightened the prose, I'd say go out with it and see what happens. Just make sure there's no flab on that body, soldier, before you march into battle.

Thanks for your perspective!

aus10phile
02-17-2016, 12:12 AM
One more for you... I saw this question on another thread, but I was curious to get your take. If your book is intended to be book one of a series or trilogy (but still works as a stand alone), would you find it valuable/useful if the writer had a summary or first 3 chapters available on request for the next book? Or is that just putting the cart before the horse? I've seen advice given on both sides before--yes it's helpful, or no, don't waste time on anything having to do with a sequel when you haven't sold the first.

mpack
02-17-2016, 12:15 AM
I can answer your question in general terms, if you'd like. Or, if you think it would be helpful to you and the forum, you can post the query itself and I can have a go at it. I'll be gentle but direct.


I can't speak for Sage, but I know the question comes up a lot in Query Letter Hell. Many queries struggle to summarize the entire plot. That isn't a good idea for a number of reasons, but I have also worried that covering just the first 30-50 pages can give a false impression. For a ~100k manuscript, I'm not sure how to balance the enticing purpose of the query with the show-the-story purpose of the query.

Thanks for taking the time to share your views with us. I appreciate it.

popmuze
02-17-2016, 12:55 AM
How do you feel about an author having too many credits, ie. a big backlist of titles that all sold poorly? In this case would a pseudonym for the next novel help the problem?

KingM
02-17-2016, 06:45 AM
One more for you... I saw this question on another thread, but I was curious to get your take. If your book is intended to be book one of a series or trilogy (but still works as a stand alone), would you find it valuable/useful if the writer had a summary or first 3 chapters available on request for the next book? Or is that just putting the cart before the horse? I've seen advice given on both sides before--yes it's helpful, or no, don't waste time on anything having to do with a sequel when you haven't sold the first.

Mostly cart before the horse. I'd hold onto that information until you have the conversation with the agent where you're offered representation. Otherwise, it muddies the waters.

KingM
02-17-2016, 06:47 AM
I can't speak for Sage, but I know the question comes up a lot in Query Letter Hell. Many queries struggle to summarize the entire plot. That isn't a good idea for a number of reasons, but I have also worried that covering just the first 30-50 pages can give a false impression. For a ~100k manuscript, I'm not sure how to balance the enticing purpose of the query with the show-the-story purpose of the query.


Resist the urge to explain too much. You're just trying to hook a potential reader with a roughly accurate representation of what the book is about. When I start reading the pages, the last thing I do is go back and check it for accuracy against the query. Make the query super enticing, and make the pages even more so, and the problem will take care of itself.

KingM
02-17-2016, 06:50 AM
How do you feel about an author having too many credits, ie. a big backlist of titles that all sold poorly? In this case would a pseudonym for the next novel help the problem?

I think too many credits hurt if they're all things I haven't heard of. If you can say "I have five titles published by Penguin between 1999 and 2010," I can't see how that will kill your chances, even if your career seemed to have died a horrible death. It shows that you can write well enough, but maybe had some bad luck. I'd go check out your books before I offered, and if things looked ugly enough after our conversation, I might suggest a pen name. Or not.

mellymel
02-18-2016, 06:46 AM
So I'd say make it a long-term plan. Give yourself three years and/or three novels. Couple your writing work with intense study. Pick up books in your genre and look at how they open, build, and conclude. Read as much about the craft as you can. Workshop your fiction; the giving advice part is at least as helpful as the getting of advice. By the end of those three years/books, you'll have a much better understanding of where you are.

*searches for emoticon throwing the towel in*

:(

More than 3 novels, more than 3 years, but I will not give up. I will NEVER give up. :D

Thanks for coming back Michael. I remember when you FIRST appeared here on AW in the Query Letter Hell thread as brand spanking new to agenting. You requested off a query I had up in QLH, and although you rejected it (no bitter feelings at all--thick skin), it was kind of awesome to have an agent on the board taking an interest in some of the amazing writers on this board (not tooting my own horn--> than 3 novels, > than three years ;)). Anyway, congrats on your success and thanks for coming back to do this. I was just thinking about how long it's been since we've had one of these Agent Q and A's and here you are! :)

Sage
02-18-2016, 07:03 AM
Hi Sage,

I can answer your question in general terms, if you'd like. Or, if you think it would be helpful to you and the forum, you can post the query itself and I can have a go at it. I'll be gentle but direct.
I meant more in general terms, but the query I'm talking about is more or less here (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?206817-Hero-Villain-query-YA-UF-new-version-at-post-49&p=5913338&viewfull=1#post5913338). It's been edited, but much of it, including the structure with the plot twist that comes at the 2/3 mark, is the same. I prefer to keep it in the password-protected forum.

I just wonder that, because stakes tend to escalate as a book progresses, adding a later stake would seem to help hook in some cases. However, if the agent expects that later stake to show up at the beginning, it might set them up to feel like the pacing's off or like what they're reading isn't what they requested for the first part of the book. I've just always wondered about the pros and cons of adding a later stake or a late plot twist.

KingM
02-18-2016, 05:18 PM
*searches for emoticon throwing the towel in*

More than 3 novels, more than 3 years, but I will not give up. I will NEVER give up. :D


No! That's at a minimum. I know someone who wrote six books and over 100 short stories before he sold a novel. That was over roughly 15 years. He's now sold something like twenty novels and is well over a million lifetime sales.

I was just reading one of Lawrence Block's books on writing, and he talks about whether or not something feels like your calling.

1. When you're doing it, you never feel like you should be doing something else.
2. It's a source of satisfaction and occasional pride.
3. It's terrifying.

Aren't those true for most writers? Wouldn't you want to keep doing it regardless of outside recognition?

KingM
02-18-2016, 05:23 PM
I meant more in general terms, but the query I'm talking about is more or less here (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?206817-Hero-Villain-query-YA-UF-new-version-at-post-49&p=5913338&viewfull=1#post5913338). It's been edited, but much of it, including the structure with the plot twist that comes at the 2/3 mark, is the same. I prefer to keep it in the password-protected forum.

Understood. No worries.


I just wonder that, because stakes tend to escalate as a book progresses, adding a later stake would seem to help hook in some cases. However, if the agent expects that later stake to show up at the beginning, it might set them up to feel like the pacing's off or like what they're reading isn't what they requested for the first part of the book. I've just always wondered about the pros and cons of adding a later stake or a late plot twist.

I would say that your goal with the pitch part of your query is to make it short and enticing and storylike. Don't try to explain too much. If you're getting into multiple plot twists, it's probably too much.

A quick and dirty format:

Character A wants to do X, but when she runs into X problem/person, she realizes she needs to do Y. Unfortunately, B, also wants Y, and will stop at nothing . . .

Really just short and without complications.

paddismac
02-18-2016, 07:19 PM
Hi Michael. It's always sort of a "squee" moment when an agent takes time out of their busy schedule to respond to questions. Thanks!

I wonder if you could weigh in on the much maligned prologue. (not that I have one. I'm asking for a friend. :greenie)

I've seen it suggested that if one has a prologue to their novel, it should NOT be included as part of the sample pages submitted with the query. On one hand it makes sense, since prologues often feature a different time/place/character(s) from the main story. But at the same time, it feels misleading to me to omit it.

What would be your suggestion: Include it in sample pages, or leave it out until additional pages are requested?

Earthling
02-18-2016, 07:46 PM
One thing that's been puzzling me lately... why do agents ask for partials after a query, rather than requesting a full right away? The only reason I can think of is mailbox space, but Word documents are so small.

KingM
02-18-2016, 08:07 PM
Hi Michael. It's always sort of a "squee" moment when an agent takes time out of their busy schedule to respond to questions. Thanks!

I wonder if you could weigh in on the much maligned prologue. (not that I have one. I'm asking for a friend. :greenie)

I've seen it suggested that if one has a prologue to their novel, it should NOT be included as part of the sample pages submitted with the query. On one hand it makes sense, since prologues often feature a different time/place/character(s) from the main story. But at the same time, it feels misleading to me to omit it.

What would be your suggestion: Include it in sample pages, or leave it out until additional pages are requested?

I'm not a huge fan of prologues, although I think of them like Brussel sprouts, in that I'll eat them if I have it. Here's why. If it can be cut with no loss, why not cut it entirely? If it's too boring to use your five pages on, doesn't that say something about the efficacy of the prologue? If it's exciting enough to open with, why not call it chapter one?

Having said all of that, I'd probably start with whatever the real story is, but don't be surprised if you're asked to cut that prologue later.

KingM
02-18-2016, 08:10 PM
One thing that's been puzzling me lately... why do agents ask for partials after a query, rather than requesting a full right away? The only reason I can think of is mailbox space, but Word documents are so small.

It's about managing expectations. If you get a partial, think of it like "Sounds intriguing, but I'm not 100% sold yet. The five pages didn't answer the question, so I want to see how I feel after three full chapters."

Keep in mind that almost never have I read a full manuscript only to reject it. I stop reading at the point where I'm sure that I'm not going to offer, plus maybe 20%. So if I request a full and you get a rejection three days later, what do you think? That I haven't read the whole thing, and that's not fair. Where as if I requested chapters (whether or not I finish them), all you know is that those three chapters didn't quite hook me enough that I needed to see the rest to make my decision.

Personally, I go back and forth. Lately, I've been requesting fulls exclusively, but that isn't always the case.

Does this help?

mellymel
02-18-2016, 11:25 PM
No! That's at a minimum. I know someone who wrote six books and over 100 short stories before he sold a novel. That was over roughly 15 years. He's now sold something like twenty novels and is well over a million lifetime sales.

I was just reading one of Lawrence Block's books on writing, and he talks about whether or not something feels like your calling.

1. When you're doing it, you never feel like you should be doing something else.
2. It's a source of satisfaction and occasional pride.
3. It's terrifying.

Aren't those true for most writers? Wouldn't you want to keep doing it regardless of outside recognition?

Absolutely. There were times when I'd shout "I'm done". It would last about forty whole seconds and then the sweats would kick in. And then the shaking. And then I'd run to my laptop and hug it and apologize for the empty threat. :D

In all seriousness, I've really developed some thick skin through the process, but the best part is, every MS I write, I find my craft and style further developing and getting stronger and better. It's only a matter of time. But it's also a matter of having the right book for the right agent at exactly the right time. Kind of like hitting the Lotto it feels these days. But there are other options for writers as well. I still hope one day to go the traditional route, but it's nice to know that it's not the end all route for sharing my work and leaving my little mark in this world. ;)

Now for an actual question: I'm guessing it's different with each agent/client, but when an agent signs on a client/project are you always looking for long term relations with that client? In other words, are you always signing the client as opposed to the book? If so, how soon do you expect clients to turn around their next project? I have so many agented friends who are constantly on these crazy deadlines and it seems very stressful and if you are someone who doesn't naturally turn around a draft/novel in three to four months (especially if you have other obligations like children and a full-time job and you are under pressure) what are your chances of thriving in the biz long term? How long would you say the average published novelist takes to turn around their next project to you (provided they don't have ten MSs rearing to go on the back burner).

Also, what's your view/preference/thoughts on POV in YA nowadays?

paddismac
02-19-2016, 01:21 AM
I'm not a huge fan of prologues, although I think of them like Brussel sprouts, in that I'll eat them if I have it. Here's why. If it can be cut with no loss, why not cut it entirely? If it's too boring to use your five pages on, doesn't that say something about the efficacy of the prologue? If it's exciting enough to open with, why not call it chapter one?

Having said all of that, I'd probably start with whatever the real story is, but don't be surprised if you're asked to cut that prologue later.

I appreciate your perspective, Michael. Enlightening and depressing.

As a first-time author, soon to be in the querying trenches, I want my query and pages to succeed or fail on the strength of the writing. I sometimes get the impression, however, that if the agent scrolls down and sees the word "Prologue", he or she will never know whether the writing is strong or not because it'll be a quick auto-reject. And, to my mind, a proper prologue can't be called chapter one. They're two different beasts.

I have total confidence in my prologue (says every writer ever), but I hate the idea of putting myself at a disadvantage in the slush pile because of its existence. It's a very Scylla and Charybdis position to be in, but I'll work it out.

Thanks again for your time!

KingM
02-19-2016, 02:49 AM
Absolutely. There were times when I'd shout "I'm done". It would last about forty whole seconds and then the sweats would kick in. And then the shaking. And then I'd run to my laptop and hug it and apologize for the empty threat. :D

You're definitely a writer, then. When I teach at conferences, people sometimes add caveats: "I'm a writer, but I'm not published..." My question is always whether or not you're producing new work and sending it out to the market. If you are, you're a writer. None of the other stuff you can control, only your production and whether or not you submit it.


Now for an actual question: I'm guessing it's different with each agent/client, but when an agent signs on a client/project are you always looking for long term relations with that client? In other words, are you always signing the client as opposed to the book? If so, how soon do you expect clients to turn around their next project? I have so many agented friends who are constantly on these crazy deadlines and it seems very stressful and if you are someone who doesn't naturally turn around a draft/novel in three to four months (especially if you have other obligations like children and a full-time job and you are under pressure) what are your chances of thriving in the biz long term? How long would you say the average published novelist takes to turn around their next project to you (provided they don't have ten MSs rearing to go on the back burner).

I'm definitely looking to sign the writer, not just this project. When I offer, I want to have a conversation about where this writer sees herself going from here. As for pace, that totally depends. I have one author who turned in an entire trilogy of doorstopper fantasy novels in a single year. Another author, who is very successful, produces a new novel every two years, on average. This is something to work out with your editor, more than with me.


Also, what's your view/preference/thoughts on POV in YA nowadays?

First person seems to be really popular, still. I always prefer third person, but I'm flexible. I think most editors are flexible, too.

dancing-drama
02-19-2016, 01:54 PM
Hi Michael!
Thank you so much for doing this! I've been reading all the Q&A religiously. Now I have a question of my own:
How open are traditional publishers to YA novels with a LGBT romance subplot? As in: a novel with all the regular action and all the emotion, except the love interest for the female lead just happens to be a girl.

Brian G Turner
02-19-2016, 02:38 PM
I have one author who turned in an entire trilogy of doorstopper fantasy novels in a single year.

Actually, that raises another interesting question. I know some authors have been able to get a trilogy of fantasy books published reasonably quickly, ie 1 month (Brent Weeks), 3 months (Julia Knight), and 18 months (Joe Abercrombie).

However, does it remain difficult for publishers to break away from the "one book a year" model?

It's just that if it's going to take 2-3 years from first query to published book, I could have WIP2 + WIP3 already completed by then, even after third-party editing.

And because I know it's going to take a while to develop traction with fans, closer release dates would seem to work to everyone's benefit - if deliverable.

KingM
02-19-2016, 04:14 PM
Hi Michael!
Thank you so much for doing this! I've been reading all the Q&A religiously. Now I have a question of my own:
How open are traditional publishers to YA novels with a LGBT romance subplot? As in: a novel with all the regular action and all the emotion, except the love interest for the female lead just happens to be a girl.

Some might shy away from it, but it doesn't seem particularly controversial in this day and age. If you've got a good story, go for it!

KingM
02-19-2016, 04:20 PM
Actually, that raises another interesting question. I know some authors have been able to get a trilogy of fantasy books published reasonably quickly, ie 1 month (Brent Weeks), 3 months (Julia Knight), and 18 months (Joe Abercrombie).

However, does it remain difficult for publishers to break away from the "one book a year" model?

It's just that if it's going to take 2-3 years from first query to published book, I could have WIP2 + WIP3 already completed by then, even after third-party editing.

And because I know it's going to take a while to develop traction with fans, closer release dates would seem to work to everyone's benefit - if deliverable.

I agree completely with what you're saying, and I think most publishers are coming around to it, too. When readers are hungry for a series, they want to binge on it. They certainly don't want to wait a year or two to get the next book.

I would suggest to writers who are faster than their publishers that they consider indie publishing on the side. Make sure your contract clearly lets you, of course. One of my writers, David Dalglish, has published a couple of series with Orbit while he puts out occasional books in a long-running side project. Seems to work great for him, and I think there's a synergy between his indie books and his traditionally published books that helps move more copies of both.

I should add that Orbit is happy to publish on an aggressive schedule, so this particular case isn't about the writer producing new words faster than the contract allows.

Lillith1991
02-19-2016, 04:53 PM
I was wondering about length between books as well. Is there a difference between the contracts for books in a universe or series and stand alone books of a similar style? Like if a writer writes Speculative Fiction or Historical Romance instead of a series like Madeliene Roux's Asylum series.

Which begs another question. How do you feel about the relatively recent trend for novellas in YA series? And what do you feel is a good starting between book time for most first time authors?

KingM
02-19-2016, 06:29 PM
I was wondering about length between books as well. Is there a difference between the contracts for books in a universe or series and stand alone books of a similar style? Like if a writer writes Speculative Fiction or Historical Romance instead of a series like Madeliene Roux's Asylum series.

Most publishers I know are flexible about stuff like this. I do think it makes things difficult if book one of a series is 100K, book two is 140K, and book three is 70K. I would definitely advise debut authors to try to hit within the standard length. It's tough enough to break in without fighting what seems to be an unnecessary battle over length.


Which begs another question. How do you feel about the relatively recent trend for novellas in YA series?

I don't feel confident in my speculation to try to answer this question, except to say that this is probably driven by trends in self-publishing.


And what do you feel is a good starting between book time for most first time authors?

I'm not sure I follow. Do you mean how long should a writer take between finishing one book and starting the next? This really depends on the author. I'd advise working as hard as you can without burning out. I don't subscribe to the notion that writers need to let ideas percolate for six months or a year between projects. Too many highly successful writers, artists, and musicians have been highly prolific over the course of decades to think that slow = good.

One thing I tell people at conferences no doubt applies to most aspiring writers here, too. You're probably not writing enough. If you want to break in, don't compare yourself to the people in your writing group who have been giving you a new chapter of their book every couple of months. Compare yourself to working professionals who have the kind of career you want. I'd say a book a year for someone trying to juggle a full time career is challenging, but doable. If you quit your job to make a go of it, or have a partner who is willing to support you for some period of time, you should shoot for more. Don't squander your opportunity.

Lillith1991
02-19-2016, 07:14 PM
Most publishers I know are flexible about stuff like this. I do think it makes things difficult if book one of a series is 100K, book two is 140K, and book three is 70K. I would definitely advise debut authors to try to hit within the standard length. It's tough enough to break in without fighting what seems to be an unnecessary battle over length.

I was thinking about how long until the author has to provide another book in the series, like if the contract states that the author must produce one book a year in a particular series or something along those lines. Sorry I wasn't clear earlier.



I don't feel confident in my speculation to try to answer this question, except to say that this is probably driven by trends in self-publishing.


Possibly. Most of the novellas in a particular series I've come across are published by the company publishing the series itself, however, so your guess is as good as mine.


I'm not sure I follow. Do you mean how long should a writer take between finishing one book and starting the next? This really depends on the author. I'd advise working as hard as you can without burning out. I don't subscribe to the notion that writers need to let ideas percolate for six months or a year between projects. Too many highly successful writers, artists, and musicians have been highly prolific over the course of decades to think that slow = good.

One thing I tell people at conferences no doubt applies to most aspiring writers here, too. You're probably not writing enough. If you want to break in, don't compare yourself to the people in your writing group who have been giving you a new chapter of their book every couple of months. Compare yourself to working professionals who have the kind of career you want. I'd say a book a year for someone trying to juggle a full time career is challenging, but doable. If you quit your job to make a go of it, or have a partner who is willing to support you for some period of time, you should shoot for more. Don't squander your opportunity.

Sorry. I meant, how many books do you think an aspiring writer should, on average, try to produce a year? Completed books, not first drafts.

KingM
02-19-2016, 07:26 PM
I was thinking about how long until the author has to provide another book in the series, like if the contract states that the author must produce one book a year in a particular series or something along those lines. Sorry I wasn't clear earlier.

This is something to negotiate in the contract, but most publishers aren't too pushy about anything between six months and two years. A year seems to be the default.


Sorry. I meant, how many books do you think an aspiring writer should, on average, try to produce a year? Completed books, not first drafts.

More than they're currently writing? I'd say one book a year if you're working a full time job or parenting full time. You could shoot for two books. At a thousand words a day you'll have a first draft in three months. Another three months to revise and submit. This is an admittedly ambitious schedule, but you're in a field that rewards hard work. It's the only factor you can really control.

Trdriver
02-21-2016, 04:10 AM
Thanks for taking the time to help us new writers.

mellymel
02-22-2016, 06:08 AM
I was just wondering what your all-time favorite (non-client) books are and what it is about them that you love so much. Top 5. Go.

mbowman
02-22-2016, 07:57 PM
Hi Michael, thanks so much for doing this! A few questions:

1. Whenever an agent is kind enough to leave a personalized response, no matter how minuscule, I like to try to incorporate their feedback into my next edit of my book (I usually do a new edit before sending it out for each request, sometimes even if its changing a paragraph or two). I recently had a full request where the agent said "I loved [character name] and [main plot thread], but I didn't fall in love with it enough to offer representation." I'm...a little unsure what exactly that means and how I can make my work better from it.

2. I write primarily YA because its what I prefer to read (the Bloody Jack series being my absolute favorite, followed by the Hunger Games and Harry Potter) but a novel I am drafting right now is a bit more adult than what I've written before, with f-bombs abound and some sexual content. The characters are still teenagers though, and I've been told I could market it as New Adult to break into that new market, but is it the best option? I've heard good and bad things about marketing it as New Adult. Personally I'd rather stick to YA because I feel the themes fit better, but I don't want agents to be turned off by the content.

3. About how long, on average, does it take from agent acceptance to a printed book in stores? I've heard varying answers on this, just wondering how it is with your agency.

4. Last question! For some time in history, women writes have been using male-sounding pen names in order to sell books to appeal to a wider audience (JK Rowling for example). I'm wondering if this is still considered a legitimate marketing tactic for certain genres or if its widely unnecessary these days. I have even heard of a small movement of women querying under male-sounding or gender neutral names because of the perceived bias in the publishing industry (though I believe most agencies are women-run these days?). Wondering if you have run into this.

Thanks!

KingM
02-22-2016, 08:02 PM
I was just wondering what your all-time favorite (non-client) books are and what it is about them that you love so much. Top 5. Go.

That's too hard to do. How about this? My favorite books as a kid were The Chronicles of Narnia and The Chronicles of Prydain. I'm read many, many books by Stephen King, and frequently think about his books years later. My favorite classics are anything by Jane Austen, but especially Persuasion, which I think is underrated.

KingM
02-22-2016, 08:13 PM
1. Whenever an agent is kind enough to leave a personalized response, even how minuscule, I like to try to incorporate their feedback into my next edit of my book (I usually do a new edit before sending it out for each request, sometimes even if its changing a paragraph or two).

I'd be careful of this. Make sure multiple people are giving you the same advice or you might be changing for the sake of change. A lot of that advice, unless very specific, comes down to "didn't love it" like what you mention below.


I recently had a full request where the agent said "I loved [character name] and [main plot thread], but I didn't fall in love with it enough to offer representation." I'm...a little unsure what exactly that means and how I can make my work better from it.

You probably can't, except for continuing with a general desire to study and practice until you improve overall. Didn't love it just means she didn't want to spend her time and resources on your particular book.


2. I write primarily YA because its what I prefer to read (the Bloody Jack series being my absolute favorite, followed by the Hunger Games and Harry Potter) but a novel I am drafting right now is a bit more adult than what I've written before, with f-bombs abound and some sexual content. The characters are still teenagers though, and I've been told I could market it as New Adult to break into that new market, but is it the best option? I've heard good and bad things about marketing it as New Adult. Personally I'd rather stick to YA because I feel the themes fit better, but I don't want agents to be turned off by the content.

I don't know a huge amount about the NA market, so take this with a grain of salt. How badly do you need the strong language and sexual content? Maybe it's critical, maybe not. Just be sure you know the answer, and be aware that it is possible to hurt your chances by violating category norms. If it's good enough, you can get away with almost anything, of course.


3. About how long, on average, does it take from agent acceptance to a printed book in stores? I've heard varying answers on this, just wondering how it is with your agency.

This is so variable. It could be a week to go on submission, a week to sell, and then a rush to print, like what happened with a true crime book we had. It could be three months if you need revisions, another three months to get an offer, and two years (if you're unlucky) to see print. Let's say a year to year and a half is typical.


4. Last question! For some time in history, women writes have been using male-sounding pen names in order to sell books to appeal to a wider audience (JK Rowling for example). I'm wondering if this is still considered a legitimate marketing tactic for certain genres or if its widely unnecessary these days. I have even heard of a small movement of women querying under male-sounding or gender neutral names because of the perceived bias in the publishing industry (though I believe most agencies are women-run these days?)

Personally, I don't see the point. A majority of writers, editors, agents, and readers are all women. Even in supposedly male-dominated categories like sf and thrillers, you see tons of women active at all levels. Sure, there are some men who only read books written by men, but there are also women who prefer books by women. I doubt it's as high a percentage, but given that there are more female readers overall . . .

Well, I don't know. Maybe I just don't like it. A good writer should be able to put him or herself in the head of all sorts of people and situations, and I don't like to see people being told what they should or should not write, or being forced to hide their true identities.

And readers are both smarter and more flexible than people give them credit for. This includes kids. When the reading public learned that J.K. Rowling was a woman, did her sales tank? Hardly.

mbowman
02-22-2016, 08:20 PM
You probably can't, except for continuing with a general desire to study and practice until you improve overall. Didn't love it just means she didn't want to spend her time and resources on your particular book.
I figured as much, I just wanted to check.




I don't know a huge amount about the NA market, so take this with a grain of salt. How badly do you need the strong language and sexual content? Maybe it's critical, maybe not. Just be sure you know the answer, and be aware that it is possible to hurt your chances by violating category norms. If it's good enough, you can get away with almost anything, of course.
Considering I'm still in the first draft stage, I may do away with it later. It's just something different I wanted to try.




Personally, I don't see the point. A majority of writers, editors, agents, and readers are all women. Even in supposedly male-dominated categories like sf and thrillers, you see tons of women active at all levels. Sure, there are some men who only read books written by men, but there are also women who prefer books by women. I doubt it's as high a percentage, but given that there are more female readers overall . . .And readers are both smarter and more flexible than people give them credit for. This includes kids. When the reading public learned that J.K. Rowling was a woman, did her sales tank? Hardly.
Yeah, at this point it time after the success of JK Rowling, I really don't think its really needed anymore.


Thanks!

phantasy
02-22-2016, 10:30 PM
Hi Michael! Thanks very much for answering our questions, this thread has been very informative.

My question has to do with queries. Atm, I'm working on the query for my fantasy novel, but I'm finding that I'm stripping the novel of its interesting subplots and secondary characters and details. Any suggestions for hooking an agent? The main plot is interesting, but not as high concept or easily explained as much of the competition. Thanks.

mpack
02-23-2016, 12:13 AM
I have another query question that comes up a lot in QLH.

What are your thoughts on handling multi-PoV books? One line of thought suggests it's jarring, for example, if the query focuses on a character different than the PoV of the first chapter. Other times, you see the concern that a unique character, or perhaps the voice of a diverse character, might stand out in the manuscript, but they may not come through in a query focused on "the MC". Is there a way you'd like to see that handled?

(I'm in the midst of querying while working on a new project. The WiP is multi-PoV, and I'm trying to think ahead.)

Thanks again for any thoughts you have.

Laer Carroll
02-23-2016, 01:12 AM
Sorry to get this nit-picky, but in another thread in this forum there's a discussion of what format to send a writing sample. Your agency, Veritas, says inline the first five pages of the MS.

http://www.veritasliterary.com/submissions.shtml

Some people say they always send those pages in standard manuscript format: indented, double-spaced, etc.

When I copy and paste a MS in that format on MS Word on my PC the indents and double-spacing goes away. The text becomes jumbled together.

So I reformat paragraphs before-hand, to no indents, single spacing, with a break after each paragraph. That last translates in the several email programs I use as an extra line. In other words, pretty much as this post appears in this forum.

Any pointers on inserting the writing sample?

Unrelated question: how often do you read queries on your cell phone and how much on a PC or Mac?

aus10phile
02-23-2016, 04:40 AM
My favorite classics are anything by Jane Austen, but especially Persuasion, which I think is underrated.

I'm a big Austen fan, too! (Maybe that was obvious from my user ID.) Have you read Diana Peterfreund's sci-fi retelling of Persuasion called For Darkness Shows the Stars? I really enjoyed it. And I just love the idea that a sci-fi retelling of Persuasion exists. :)

KingM
02-23-2016, 06:59 AM
Hi Michael! Thanks very much for answering our questions, this thread has been very informative.

My question has to do with queries. Atm, I'm working on the query for my fantasy novel, but I'm finding that I'm stripping the novel of its interesting subplots and secondary characters and details. Any suggestions for hooking an agent? The main plot is interesting, but not as high concept or easily explained as much of the competition. Thanks.

This is where an author's desire to explain gets in the way of an agent's need to cut to the chase. You're not trying to give a fully nuanced version of your story--if that were possible in a paragraph or two, you'd wouldn't have written the book!--you're trying to hook the reader in a reasonably accurate way. All you want to do with your pitch is get me to look at your opening pages with slightly greater attention, right?

I can't speak to the specifics of your actual query, but have you run it through the query workshop on this site yet?

KingM
02-23-2016, 07:03 AM
Sorry to get this nit-picky, but in another thread in this forum there's a discussion of what format to send a writing sample. Your agency, Veritas, says inline the first five pages of the MS.

http://www.veritasliterary.com/submissions.shtml

Some people say they always send those pages in standard manuscript format: indented, double-spaced, etc.

When I copy and paste a MS in that format on MS Word on my PC the indents and double-spacing goes away. The text becomes jumbled together.

So I reformat paragraphs before-hand, to no indents, single spacing, with a break after each paragraph. That last translates in the several email programs I use as an extra line. In other words, pretty much as this post appears in this forum.

Any pointers on inserting the writing sample?

Yes, this is tricky. I sometimes get queries where the font is tiny or the formatting is FUBAR. I'm pretty understanding since we have that inline requirement (unsolicited attachments are dangerous), but you still want to test it out on a couple of email clients if you can. Make sure it looks okay. Feel free to format the paragraphs like you see on this forum, with double spacing between paragraphs, if that's what it takes. Again, we know this is not how your actual manuscript will look. You just need it readable, not standardized.


Unrelated question: how often do you read queries on your cell phone and how much on a PC or Mac?

Never on my phone. That sounds horrible. All queries are read in my PC. However, when I request a full or partial, I send it to my Kindle to read, so I can get away from online distractions and give it the full attention it deserves.

phantasy
02-23-2016, 07:37 AM
This is where an author's desire to explain gets in the way of an agent's need to cut to the chase. You're not trying to give a fully nuanced version of your story--if that were possible in a paragraph or two, you'd wouldn't have written the book!--you're trying to hook the reader in a reasonably accurate way. All you want to do with your pitch is get me to look at your opening pages with slightly greater attention, right?

True. But there are also agents who only want queries in the submission. With those, your query is your only shot. There are queries that absolutely sing out there, and I'm competing with those. I'd like my query to undeniable. I'll warrant that I may be over-thinking this, but I don't want to see my book ignored because of a lackluster or confusing query.



I can't speak to the specifics of your actual query, but have you run it through the query workshop on this site yet?

Yes, I have. If you're interested, here's my thread: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?304682-High-Fantasy-Query-Update-on-Post-91/page6

And the crits keep coming, which makes me wonder if the query is any good. I keep getting responses like, "I know something is wrong with this, but can't place it.' It's frustrating.

Old Hack
02-23-2016, 11:34 AM
Just keep at it, phantasy. It's hard, but you'll get there.

mbowman
02-23-2016, 06:56 PM
Hi Michael, I have another question.

When querying, sometimes the novel isn't represented exactly because of word count limitations and the like (this is especially true for me, since I love doing novels where the narrator is incredibly wrong about everything and its only revealed that their viewpoint on things was a lie in the end) but would you be incredibly turned off if the query ended up representing something completely differently than the novel did?

For example, in my current query thread that I'm working on, I'm playing up the MC's feelings and survivor's guilt, whereas in the novel that is something the MC hides, even from the reader. Its there and it becomes obvious by the end, but in the beginning of the novel its not as noticeable.

KingM
02-23-2016, 09:33 PM
Hi Michael, I have another question.

When querying, sometimes the novel isn't represented exactly because of word count limitations and the like (this is especially true for me, since I love doing novels where the narrator is incredibly wrong about everything and its only revealed that their viewpoint on things was a lie in the end) but would you be incredibly turned off if the query ended up representing something completely differently than the novel did?

For example, in my current query thread that I'm working on, I'm playing up the MC's feelings and survivor's guilt, whereas in the novel that is something the MC hides, even from the reader. Its there and it becomes obvious by the end, but in the beginning of the novel its not as noticeable.

I think this is another case of make the query grabby, make the book even grabbier, and don't worry too much about having the plot points all spelled out in the query. If it represents something "incredibly different," then maybe that's a problem. If you're worried about spoilers in the query, don't.

aus10phile
02-24-2016, 09:18 AM
Along the same lines of a previous question about why some agents request partials... do you have any idea why some agents want ONLY queries (no sample pages)? If I'm interested in a book, I always read the blurb and at least the first page to see if I'm going to connect with the style. I would think a query/pages would be the same kind of situation... but maybe it's different because the author writes the query (and not usually the blurb)? Just wondering.

KingM
02-24-2016, 03:44 PM
Along the same lines of a previous question about why some agents request partials... do you have any idea why some agents want ONLY queries (no sample pages)? If I'm interested in a book, I always read the blurb and at least the first page to see if I'm going to connect with the style. I would think a query/pages would be the same kind of situation... but maybe it's different because the author writes the query (and not usually the blurb)? Just wondering.

I don't know, I've wondered that myself. There's no risk in getting the first five pages, and it can give a writer a second chance. There are lots of queries I'm on the line about. With only a query, they're going to be rejected. With the pages, I've occasionally requested if the writing is strong. Unless an agent explicitly says otherwise, you should always include those pages.

Maybe it's again about managing expectations, but again, there's no cost to an agent if the pages are down there. Nobody compels you to read that material.

ElaineA
02-25-2016, 02:16 AM
I don't know, I've wondered that myself. There's no risk in getting the first five pages, and it can give a writer a second chance. There are lots of queries I'm on the line about. With only a query, they're going to be rejected. With the pages, I've occasionally requested if the writing is strong. Unless an agent explicitly says otherwise, you should always include those pages.

Maybe it's again about managing expectations, but again, there's no cost to an agent if the pages are down there. Nobody compels you to read that material.

You do know you're making yourself nigh irresistible to queriers here, right? I foresee a blast of queries in genres you don't rep. :greenie

Earthling
02-25-2016, 02:36 AM
I don't know, I've wondered that myself. There's no risk in getting the first five pages, and it can give a writer a second chance. There are lots of queries I'm on the line about. With only a query, they're going to be rejected. With the pages, I've occasionally requested if the writing is strong. Unless an agent explicitly says otherwise, you should always include those pages.

Maybe it's again about managing expectations, but again, there's no cost to an agent if the pages are down there. Nobody compels you to read that material.

I read a blog about this recently so I thought I'd give the other perspective: Jessica Faust at BookEnds says she finds the first five pages worthless because so many writers hone them to perfection and then page six takes a sharp turn downhill. I don't think she auto-rejects for including them or anything drastic like that. She just doesn't think they have any value.

Just another perspective for anyone reading the thread. Obviously, every writer wants to put their pages in so Michael's answer is the best one :D

KingM
02-25-2016, 05:40 AM
I read a blog about this recently so I thought I'd give the other perspective: Jessica Faust at BookEnds says she finds the first five pages worthless because so many writers hone them to perfection and then page six takes a sharp turn downhill. I don't think she auto-rejects for including them or anything drastic like that. She just doesn't think they have any value.

Just another perspective for anyone reading the thread. Obviously, every writer wants to put their pages in so Michael's answer is the best one :D


I read a blog about this recently so I thought I'd give the other perspective: Jessica Faust at BookEnds says she finds the first five pages worthless because so many writers hone them to perfection and then page six takes a sharp turn downhill. I don't think she auto-rejects for including them or anything drastic like that. She just doesn't think they have any value.

Just another perspective for anyone reading the thread. Obviously, every writer wants to put their pages in so Michael's answer is the best one :D

I certainly see cases where the first five pages are pretty strong, and things go downhill in a hurry. More common is a query that has practically been workshopped to a high polish, and the pages are terrible. Sometimes, the first half of the book is good, then deteriorates, and I'll guess the opposite is sometimes true, although I never get to the point of knowing for sure.

Obviously, an agents guidelines trump everything. I strongly believe, however, that unless you're explicitly told not to, include the first five pages. It's pretty standard these days, so you're unlikely to offend.

Treehouseman
02-26-2016, 11:29 AM
Oh, here's a question I have, kind of inspired by the previous page and the AW'er who asked about male pronouns.

So anyway at a sci fi convention a few years back one of the guests was the managing editor of a large science fiction publisher (Not Golancz, but certainly in the ballpark). The beer was plentiful, and after a few pots he loudly and drunkenly exclaimed at the bar that he would never publish a female science fiction writer.

Which he hasn't. (Spoiler alert!)

As an agent, are you aware of these little quirks and foibles of publishing management? I know his admission was due to drink, but there must be some people who have little secret issues that need to be approached with some delicacy. Do you find out the hard way?

KingM
02-26-2016, 04:08 PM
Oh, here's a question I have, kind of inspired by the previous page and the AW'er who asked about male pronouns.

So anyway at a sci fi convention a few years back one of the guests was the managing editor of a large science fiction publisher (Not Golancz, but certainly in the ballpark). The beer was plentiful, and after a few pots he loudly and drunkenly exclaimed at the bar that he would never publish a female science fiction writer.

What a bizarre thing to say. Would he not have published Octavia Butler? Nancy Kress? Would he have rejected The Sparrow? How about Ursula K. Le Guin? Is she good enough?


As an agent, are you aware of these little quirks and foibles of publishing management? I know his admission was due to drink, but there must be some people who have little secret issues that need to be approached with some delicacy. Do you find out the hard way?

I usually find out the hard way. There's an editor who will request anything I send her, but getting a response is another matter. I know editors who won't publish anything set in WWII, or who shy away from difficult subjects. Almost all of the people I know in the industry seem to be very nice people. Learning how they work takes time.

paddismac
02-26-2016, 06:13 PM
Thanks for sticking with us, Michael! So much good info in this thread.

Here's a quick question about the subject line of query emails.

If the submission guidelines don't spell out exactly what to put there, (other than "query") is there anything that would particularly catch your eye and say "open me first"? Genre, age category, snazzy title??

Treehouseman
02-26-2016, 06:22 PM
What a bizarre thing to say. Would he not have published Octavia Butler? Nancy Kress? Would he have rejected The Sparrow? How about Ursula K. Le Guin? Is she good enough?



I usually find out the hard way. There's an editor who will request anything I send her, but getting a response is another matter. I know editors who won't publish anything set in WWII, or who shy away from difficult subjects. Almost all of the people I know in the industry seem to be very nice people. .

Thanks for replying! Yes, we were surprised too. Seems he was certain he couldn't sell SF unless it was male oriented. There are female authors on that publishers slate, but of the epic fantasy and very light futurism. Of course you know writers get together and discuss our experience of publishing entities (as you do!) and he was universally frowned upon as being someone not receptive to anything but a very narrow focus.

And i agree, he was a strange outlier among some lovely people :-)

Sage
02-27-2016, 01:18 AM
Another query question. Would you ever reject a query because you didn't believe a plot twist could be pulled off, even though you hadn't read pages? I've seen, in three different contests where judges were giving their thoughts on pitches (different pitches even), those judges say it's a great hook, but they reject because they didn't think it could be pulled off...without seeing any pages. I've wondered in the past if agents do the same thing.

KingM
02-28-2016, 02:29 AM
Thanks for sticking with us, Michael! So much good info in this thread.

Here's a quick question about the subject line of query emails.

If the submission guidelines don't spell out exactly what to put there, (other than "query") is there anything that would particularly catch your eye and say "open me first"? Genre, age category, snazzy title??

Query: Title.

That's all I need. The "query" part is so that it's filtered into the right folder. The other is hopefully to catch my eye. I think Query: EPIC FANTASY is fine, too, or whatever it is.

Unless you get cute, you're probably fine. About once a week or so, someone will put REQUESTED MATERIAL, when it wasn't, and this is an autoreject. They're hoping to get past the slush reader (spoiler: it's me!), but it just makes me irritated.

KingM
02-28-2016, 02:30 AM
Another query question. Would you ever reject a query because you didn't believe a plot twist could be pulled off, even though you hadn't read pages? I've seen, in three different contests where judges were giving their thoughts on pitches (different pitches even), those judges say it's a great hook, but they reject because they didn't think it could be pulled off...without seeing any pages. I've wondered in the past if agents do the same thing.

Hmm, I don't know. If the pages hook me, and the writer convinces me she knows what she's doing, I'm along for the ride. I'd give the book a chance.

Will Collins
02-28-2016, 02:52 AM
Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for this thread, it's incredibly helpful.

Lillith1991
03-02-2016, 11:02 PM
I don't think anyone has asked this yet, and I'm curious because things like trends take a while to trickle down to readers and potential authors. What genres are currently trending in the publishing world?

KingM
03-02-2016, 11:48 PM
I don't think anyone has asked this yet, and I'm curious because things like trends take a while to trickle down to readers and potential authors. What genres are currently trending in the publishing world?

I'm anti-trend myself, feeling that it sends writers, agents, and editors chasing their tails, and frequently leads to the acquisition of bad stuff and the ignoring of good stuff. It does seem like fantasy is doing pretty well at the moment. Orbit is expanding and Game of Thrones continues to drive interest. Thanks to a couple of big blockbusters, WWII fiction is back in business.

I note that specifically, because I met resistance (not THE Resistance, alas) for a pair of WWII novels I sent into market in the past few years. They were picked up in the end, and both have done great. Not All the Light We Cannot See great, but certainly bestsellers in my particular stable of authors.

Persevere
03-03-2016, 12:51 AM
I've heard including how long a novel took to write in a query letter is a bad thing. I wrote my latest, and I think my best, novel, in seven months. I worked my fingers to the bone and impressed myself with what I accomplished. Should I include this with my other writing credits?

Thanks for your time & advice!

susanjhernandez
03-03-2016, 07:16 AM
Hello, Michael! I have a question about the editing process. This question focuses on their changes/markup relating to plot and character development.


How do editors actually do their editing? In other words, have they actually read the book first, from beginning to end, before they start editing? I don't know how much they read when an agent submits to them.

Likely, editors have "seen it all." As a new writer, I may not write much that would shock them. That said, if they got to the end and saw something they didn't expect, might they change earlier markup? Similarly, if the editor is open to the idea of a series, do they typically factor that larger plot into their markup? Do they even accept outlines for the whole series up front?


As do the others, I appreciate your time to help us all understand!

Old Hack
03-03-2016, 11:28 AM
Hello, Michael! I have a question about the editing process. This question focuses on their changes/markup relating to plot and character development.


How do editors actually do their editing? In other words, have they actually read the book first, from beginning to end, before they start editing? I don't know how much they read when an agent submits to them.

I'm going to have a crack at this, as I've edited a few books over the years.

We read books before we sign them. Ideally, we discuss any potential editing issues with the author and the agent before we acquire a book, although this doesn't always happen. Then, with a clear idea of what we want the book to be, we read through the book again. Some editors (I do this, but I don't mark the book up at this stage) will make notes on this second read-through; some won't. Then I read my notes, see if I've duplicated or contradicted myself, type up a clean copy, and send it to the author. I'll sometimes read through the book a second time before I do this.

The author then makes the changes I've requested OR doesn't, if he or she feels they're not appropriate. Then I'll read it through again, make a few more suggestions if I feel they're needed, and so on.


Likely, editors have "seen it all." As a new writer, I may not write much that would shock them. That said, if they got to the end and saw something they didn't expect, might they change earlier markup? Similarly, if the editor is open to the idea of a series, do they typically factor that larger plot into their markup? Do they even accept outlines for the whole series up front?


As do the others, I appreciate your time to help us all understand!

I'm not going to see anything I don't expect when I get to the end, as I'll have read the book prior to its acquisition.

My first response takes the form of those editorial comments, which are a separate document, so I tend not to mark up the manuscript early in the process. The smaller things come later in the process.

I aim to not have to backtrack and change my comments based on what happens later in the book, because it is not a good use of my very limited time. Luckily, this doesn't usually happen as I have read the book before I start to edit.

I don't work with fiction, so I don't work with series in the way you might think: but I have worked with books in non-fiction series, and yep, I do take that into account when writing and editing.

If you're writing a series, write the first book and query it on its own. But you can say something like, "stand-alone title with series potential" in your query.

susanjhernandez
03-04-2016, 08:25 AM
"Old Hack" Thank you very much for your insight! I wasn't sure if editors would only read "just enough" on the first submission, but in makes more sense for them to be through so they don't end up spending more time later.
:)

KingM
03-04-2016, 06:14 PM
Sorry, I've been semi-offline, as I'm in South America at the moment. The advantage of being able to work from anywhere is that I can work from anywhere. The disadvantage is that . . . well, when you can work from anywhere, you do. Good thing I love my job!


I've heard including how long a novel took to write in a query letter is a bad thing. I wrote my latest, and I think my best, novel, in seven months. I worked my fingers to the bone and impressed myself with what I accomplished. Should I include this with my other writing credits?

Thanks for your time & advice!

No, I wouldn't mention it. Every writer feels that it's their best, that they worked their fingers to the bone, etc. Keep this to yourself, rather than cluttering up your query. If it's good, if you put in the work, it will show. Sometimes it shows by looking effortless.

KingM
03-04-2016, 06:20 PM
Old Hack had some great things to say, but I'm going to add my own thoughts.



How do editors actually do their editing? In other words, have they actually read the book first, from beginning to end, before they start editing? I don't know how much they read when an agent submits to them.

It really varies from editor to editor. Some editors request almost everything I send them, but reject just as quickly. Others only request a few works, those they think are really strong possibilities. I'll get more passes up front, but a greater hit rate when they do request. They won't do any editing until after acquisition, and even then it really varies. Some acquire only, maybe with a few dev edit suggestions. Others do a more extensive edit before passing off to copyeditors and proofreaders.


Likely, editors have "seen it all." As a new writer, I may not write much that would shock them. That said, if they got to the end and saw something they didn't expect, might they change earlier markup? Similarly, if the editor is open to the idea of a series, do they typically factor that larger plot into their markup? Do they even accept outlines for the whole series up front?


Your editor probably reads all the way through making notes as she goes before she goes back to start editing. If she sees a twist at the end that explains earlier questions, you might get a followup not that clarifies thinking, or explains why the earlier comment doesn't apply any longer.

The outline thing will really depend. If you sell the first book of a trilogy, they'll undoubtedly want to know what the other two books will have in a short summary or synopsis before offering a full contract. A new writer always has less leeway than someone with a strong track record, but even then, it's helpful for them to know the gist of where you're going.

susanjhernandez
03-05-2016, 12:51 AM
Old Hack had some great things to say, but I'm going to add my own thoughts.
Thank you, I appreciate it!

mellymel
03-05-2016, 02:44 AM
Did you ever have a client's project that you both really loved and supported and shopped the heck out of to editors only to get no bites on it? What happens next? Have you ever SP'd a client's book (or would you ever) because you just felt so strongly about it and couldn't let it go?

KingM
03-06-2016, 08:50 PM
Did you ever have a client's project that you both really loved and supported and shopped the heck out of to editors only to get no bites on it? What happens next? Have you ever SP'd a client's book (or would you ever) because you just felt so strongly about it and couldn't let it go?

I wouldn't ever publish a client book myself. This feels like a conflict of interest, and I don't see why an agent would be the best person to do this. Better for authors to do it themselves, or at least, to find a small digital publisher with a good track record. I have had some near sales where I have urged the author to look into self-publishing. There are some small, but significant differences between the NY marketplace, the Amazon imprints, small publishers, and indie publishing, and a book that fails in one, may find success elsewhere.

When I don't sell a book, the only thing to do is figure out what to work on next. Get started on the author's next book. I did have one author for whom I shopped three different books, only to have each of them fall frustratingly short. I really loved working with her, as she was great in every way, but I obviously wasn't doing anything for her, and I'm still in this as a business, and I had to initiate a very painful conversation. She took it great, but I still felt like crap when it was over.

grunner
03-08-2016, 08:36 PM
Thanks for taking questions. I have a book that could be classified as literary, book club, upmarket or upmarket women's fiction. (With respect to the "literary" it is on the more commercial end of that spectrum, with faster pacing and more of a plot than many literary books.) I feel like book club or upmarket would be the most accurate description (like, say, The Help), and if an agent says they rep or are looking for either of those, I would pitch it as such. But for agents who don't list either upmarket or book club as a category, should I avoid those terms? There seems to be some level of disagreement over them as "real" categories.

KingM
03-09-2016, 12:24 AM
Thanks for taking questions. I have a book that could be classified as literary, book club, upmarket or upmarket women's fiction. (With respect to the "literary" it is on the more commercial end of that spectrum, with faster pacing and more of a plot than many literary books.) I feel like book club or upmarket would be the most accurate description (like, say, The Help), and if an agent says they rep or are looking for either of those, I would pitch it as such. But for agents who don't list either upmarket or book club as a category, should I avoid those terms? There seems to be some level of disagreement over them as "real" categories.

It's hard to say without seeing the book in question, but I do see a fair number of books where the author has mislabeled the category. Some books are hard to pin down, but in many cases it's muddled. Agents, editors, and readers all prefer it when they can say "this is an X." It's just how the industry works, even though this is frustrating for people who simply want to write the book that interests them most.

Addressing the question more specifically, I think "upmarket women's fiction" sounds about right. I'd bite on that before I bit on "literary" or "book club." Then, I think if there's some overlap with agents, go ahead and give it a try. If it's wrong, all you've lost is the time you spent querying that agent. Unless you do something obnoxious, your name isn't going on any sort of agenting blacklist.

Richard White
03-09-2016, 12:36 AM
Michael,

I'm working on a novel where the protagonist is unnamed throughout the story (based on a series of short stories I did with the same character). This came about when a reviewer for one of my early stories said it reminded her of "Lord of the Rings if filmed by Sergio Leone", so I took that conceit and ran with it for the ten short stories. About as close as I've ever come to naming him is when I refer to him as "The Rogue with No Name" - not in any story but when I'm telling people about the stories.

However, this leads to my quandary. At this point in development, I'm really at a loss on how to pitch the query. I really feel like it should be told from his point of view (esp. since the novel is in first person), but I understand first person queries/"in the story" queries don't find much favor from agents. However, I'm not sure if a third person omni pitch is going to work since I can't say, (X) does this because he is never named in the book. I could use "the protagonist" over and over, but I think that would get annoying after a while too.

Have any of your clients run into a situation like this and if so, did you have any advice on how they could overcome it?

Thanks!

KingM
03-09-2016, 06:08 PM
The pitch needs to be in third person, but after that, why not just call him The Rogue? After that, you could put the pitch up in SYW and see if it works or not. If nobody there balks at what you're doing, there's a good chance an agent won't either. Of course there are risks any time you start coloring outside the lines, but that's something you undoubtedly knew all along.

Richard White
03-09-2016, 06:13 PM
The pitch needs to be in third person, but after that, why not just call him The Rogue? After that, you could put the pitch up in SYW and see if it works or not. If nobody there balks at what you're doing, there's a good chance an agent won't either. Of course there are risks any time you start coloring outside the lines, but that's something you undoubtedly knew all along.

Thanks, Michael. Yeah, it's a tough one. I've discussed the concept with several publishers/agents at events like World Fantasy, and the response has been "Love the concept, when's the novel coming out." So, the novel is under construction, but I'm just trying to get my head around how to "pitch" it properly once it's done.

Mamitt
03-09-2016, 08:57 PM
Hi, Michael,
Thank you so much for doing this!
I asked this in another thread, but haven't gotten a reply, so I thought I'd try you:

Some agencies says not to query more than one agent at a time or not to query several agents simultaniously. But the same agencies sometimes states that they don't have time to respond to all queries. How long do you wait to query another agent at the agency?

Also: Can you re-query an agent with a no-reply-means-no policy, if you have "re-edited" the query and the sample pages?

Thanks in advance for any reply!
M

KingM
03-10-2016, 06:19 PM
Mamitt,

When in doubt, query. If your query is polite and professional, with nothing weird about it, the worst you're going to earn is a delete. Sometimes agents get way behind and just mass purge so they can start over. The agent may not have seen it the first time. Give it a few months, of course, and if you don't hear back a second time, don't be obnoxious about it.

As for when to query more than one agent at a time, just to clarify for anyone skimming, I think you mean more than one agent at a given agency. Of course you need to query widely within the pool of agents elsewhere, and nobody should ever ask you for an exclusive on a mere query. I don't even agree with exclusives on partials or fulls, but I can understand why some people ask for that. Still, the process is long enough and arduous enough that agents shouldn't force people to drag out the process so they can sit on a book for a month or more.

If the agency is very explicit about one agent only within the agency, don't requery at all, otherwise, I'd give it at least a month. We do share with other agents in our office, but it's hardly foolproof.

Remember that queries are voluntary work that have to be considered after all the other obligatory stuff is taken care off. If anything has to be pushed aside, it's the unsolicited stuff. I do think that once an agent has requested material, she should feel obligated to respond in a timely manner, and I know that not all agents do this. As a writer, you have a right to be irritated if someone requests and you never hear back from them or from your subsequent followups.

Mamitt
03-10-2016, 07:27 PM
Mamitt,

When in doubt, query. If your query is polite and professional, with nothing weird about it, the worst you're going to earn is a delete. Sometimes agents get way behind and just mass purge so they can start over. The agent may not have seen it the first time. Give it a few months, of course, and if you don't hear back a second time, don't be obnoxious about it.

As for when to query more than one agent at a time, just to clarify for anyone skimming, I think you mean more than one agent at a given agency. Of course you need to query widely within the pool of agents elsewhere, and nobody should ever ask you for an exclusive on a mere query. I don't even agree with exclusives on partials or fulls, but I can understand why some people ask for that. Still, the process is long enough and arduous enough that agents shouldn't force people to drag out the process so they can sit on a book for a month or more.

If the agency is very explicit about one agent only within the agency, don't requery at all, otherwise, I'd give it at least a month. We do share with other agents in our office, but it's hardly foolproof.

Remember that queries are voluntary work that have to be considered after all the other obligatory stuff is taken care off. If anything has to be pushed aside, it's the unsolicited stuff. I do think that once an agent has requested material, she should feel obligated to respond in a timely manner, and I know that not all agents do this. As a writer, you have a right to be irritated if someone requests and you never hear back from them or from your subsequent followups.

Thank you so much for your thorough reply!

MythMonger
03-10-2016, 07:38 PM
With my current manuscript, I'm putting it in the genre of speculative fiction because it doesn't fall neatly into scifi or fantasy.

If you were to see a query with spec fic as the genre, how would you interpret that?

KingM
03-10-2016, 07:52 PM
With my current manuscript, I'm putting it in the genre of speculative fiction because it doesn't fall neatly into scifi or fantasy.

If you were to see a query with spec fic as the genre, how would you interpret that?

I'm comfortable with the title of spec fic, as sf/f is my background. I attended Clarion way back in the 90s and have been published in the field under various names. So it wouldn't scare me off. But I'm guessing there's some other way to describe it. Gunpowder fantasy? Steampunk? You might look for something more specific that helps an agent identify what you're trying to do.

MythMonger
03-10-2016, 08:00 PM
I'm comfortable with the title of spec fic, as sf/f is my background. I attended Clarion way back in the 90s and have been published in the field under various names. So it wouldn't scare me off. But I'm guessing there's some other way to describe it. Gunpowder fantasy? Steampunk? You might look for something more specific that helps an agent identify what you're trying to do.

Thank you.

Thick Skin
03-11-2016, 09:31 AM
Obviously, you'll have an easier time getting an agent's attention if your contract is from Tor or Orbit than someone who doesn't pay an advance. From an agent's point of view, it's a business. I'm always hoping for larger contracts, of course, but if a debut novelist sells a book for 7,500, I still see that as a win, as it could be a stepping stone to larger contracts and more sales and recognition for both author and agent.

How about selling the film/TV rights to Hollywood? While a $7500 advance from Tor or Orbit is small, what would that translate to in film rights? Anything?

And, does Hollywood option most novels? Or only those published by the BIG-5 publishing houses?

Many thanks for your continued participation. These Q&As are very instructive and useful.

KingM
03-11-2016, 08:20 PM
How about selling the film/TV rights to Hollywood? While a $7500 advance from Tor or Orbit is small, what would that translate to in film rights? Anything?

Most books aren't optioned, and a minuscule number ever reach actual production. It's true that the bigger the advance, the more film people come sniffing around, and a 7,500 advance is unlikely to see much action. Think of all the huge sf/f bestsellers have never been made into film. You have to be at the level of The Martian, Ender's Game, or Shannara to see it happen.


And, does Hollywood option most novels? Or only those published by the BIG-5 publishing houses?

A small minority, Big 5 or otherwise. It does happen, of course, but it's not something to worry about until you're well down the road.

aus10phile
03-15-2016, 10:18 PM
Hi there! I'm not sure if you're still checking this thread since it's been a few days, but what the heck.

For whatever reason, I'm struggling with the concept of comp titles. I feel like it should be a simple concept, but when I start thinking about comp titles, I get hung up on all the differences between my book and others. Plus it feels almost presumptuous to say because a reader liked such and such book, they'll like mine too--even if I'm not considering a NYT bestseller or anything

So, my question is this: how perfect of a comparison do the comp titles need to be? I've read advice to match tone, genre, and style more than plot elements. Does that mean if I'm writing in 3rd person with multiple POVs, my comp titles should be the same? Is it a mistake to use a 1st person comp title? Or, if my sci-fi book is set entirely on a planet, is it a mistake to use a comp title that's set mostly on spaceships?

Part of me feels like I'm overanalyzing this, and part of me feels like I'm just missing the point completely. Any help would be appreciated. Last time I queried, I got a lot of requests without comp titles, but a few agents said things like "I'm not confident I can sell this." Maybe that's just a generic statement in a rejection letter, but I feel like if I want to put my best foot forward, it might help to illustrate the marketability of my book, right? Or am I wrong?

KingM
03-15-2016, 11:10 PM
There's no need for comparable titles at all. I think they're just a waste of valuable space, myself, cluttering a query letter. An agent can certainly think of comparable titles if that's necessary. Most of the time I see them in queries, they're inaccurate anyway.

As for the specific agent's comment, that's unrelated. Almost all rejections come down to "didn't love it enough."

Thick Skin
03-15-2016, 11:47 PM
I'll chime in here with my personal experience. I met an agent who told me he couldn't read a query that didn't include comp titles. He said he used them to quickly peg the genre and audience for a work. He also said, interestingly, that it helped him approach a manuscript correctly. I thought about that a little. I suppose I do approach books with certain expectations, based on jacket blurbs, cover illustrations, etc.

I then carefully selected a couple of modest comp titles that weren't huge best sellers only to have an agent tell me that my comp titles weren't what publishers wanted to hear. She said I needed to pick bigger names.

I finally settled on a couple of well-known comps that match my genre and general audience. I don't think it's possible or advisable to find an exact comp, since if you can, why does the world need your book?

aus10phile
03-16-2016, 01:48 AM
Thanks for both of your responses!

Kevin_R
03-16-2016, 02:24 AM
Hi Michael,

I too wish to thank you for taking the time to share your insights and experience. As a neophyte here I have found the information fascinating and encouraging. Thanks!

popmuze
03-16-2016, 09:46 PM
Let's say you've got some relatively impressive credits--awards, prestigious publications, good reviews--would it make a difference to lead with these before segueing into your query (instead of putting them in the last paragraph)?

KingM
03-17-2016, 01:55 AM
It looks like my last post might have been eaten. I was posting on my phone from a beach in Ecuador. The upside of being an agent: you can work from anywhere. The downside of being an agent: you can work from anywhere. I was just pontificating about how I still didn't quite see the point of comps. If I don't know the comps as an agent already, I'm not sure that I'd be a good match for that project.


Let's say you've got some relatively impressive credits--awards, prestigious publications, good reviews--would it make a difference to lead with these before segueing into your query (instead of putting them in the last paragraph)?

Relatively impressive? No, probably not. Winning a Pulitzer or even a Nebula, sure, absolutely. Otherwise, I'd still put it at the end.

mbowman
03-17-2016, 09:58 PM
Hi Michael,

Just wondering if you think the rapid changing of the industry lately is a good thing. When I first started querying about ten years ago (kind of embarrassing now that I think about it, but I had some LONG breaks in between shopping books) you still got lists of agents from print books and many wanted the letter and materials sent by post. Now its all by email. So many publishers/agencies went under and the Big Six is now the Big Five and ebooks outpacing print books.

From someone who is trying to get agented, the email thing was a godsend but the smaller number of agents out there is a bit worrying. You have a limited (well, around 200 in my genre maybe) pool of reputable agents to query before you have to start over. Sounds like a lot but that rejection pile builds up fast. Just wondering what people in the industry think of these rapid changes.

KingM
03-17-2016, 10:20 PM
Some people are trying new stuff, other people are "retiring" (i.e., brushing up their resumes), and others are . . . well, I'm not sure. I usually talk to other agents at conferences only. At our small little agency we're cautiously optimistic.

There's a lot of churn because it sure sounds like fun to work with books all day, but it's not easy. It took me a while to get going, and I started about the same time that indie publishing and the rise of ebooks set off the latest big changes, but I'm doing all right. Who knows, maybe I'd have make three times as much twenty years ago, but that was back when Barnes & Noble and Borders were supposedly killing the book industry. The industry is always dying, apparently. It was dying a hundred years ago, and it will be dying a hundred years in the future. Meanwhile, people will keep writing and reading.

Speaking to e-queries, all I can say is thank God. I dealt with paper submissions early on, and it was a pain. True, it's now possible for someone to query pretty much every agent out there in a few hours of work, but it's easier than it was to sift through the slush.

Archullus
03-20-2016, 09:35 PM
Hi Michael and thanks for being here.
Some writers see themselves as still developing. Is kind of detail irrelevant in the author-seeks-publisher equation?

KingM
03-22-2016, 03:01 AM
Hi Michael and thanks for being here.
Some writers see themselves as still developing. Is kind of detail irrelevant in the author-seeks-publisher equation?

All writers are still developing, right? Nobody wants to think she's already written the best thing she'll ever write. For me, the majority of my writers are early in their careers, anyway. I'm the first agent for most of my writers, and the majority published their first novel within the past five years.

If by "still developing," you mean not quite ready for a publisher offer, that's true of most aspiring writers I've spoken to, with some much closer than others. Agents really are only going to sign you if this book right here is marketable with few or no changes. If not, we might give you some feedback, but we'd rather take a look at your next project rather than sign you on potential.

phantasy
03-22-2016, 05:57 AM
Agents really are only going to sign you if this book right here is marketable with few or no changes.

That's another thing I'm curious about. Not doubting you, but then what are Revise and Resubmit about? Other writers have said they can be pretty extensive. And I've heard everything from agents wanting practically perfect manuscripts to wanting someone they can help take their work further. It's confusing to understand how much an agent will work with an author to perfect an MS.

Roxxsmom
03-22-2016, 06:13 AM
I'm not Michael :greenie , but it's my understanding that revise and resubmits are something agents do when they like a book's overall concept and think it's marketable, but there are reasons they think it's not quite there yet. They make some general suggestions, but don't go over the thing with red pen or anything, and say they'd be happy to look at it again when and if those changes are made, but they make no promises. It's not a huge time sink for them or anything.

But with regards to things that are bigger time sinks: I had a friend who was picked up by an agent at a well-regarded agency, and they spent over a year going back and forth on revisions (the writer was also working on two other manuscripts at the time and receiving some feedback from agent about their potential marketability). The writer felt they strengthened the book, but in the end, it didn't find a home (had a couple of near misses). They and the agent parted ways not long after, amicably from what I understand.

So this isn't a ringing endorsement for editorial agents spending lots of time and effort on revisions with a client (the agent put in countless unpaid hours of work on the revision process with nothing to show for it in the end, while the writer, at least, got a well-edited manuscript to self publish, if they decide to go that route), but it does suggest that some are agents willing to take on diamonds in the rough if they think the manuscript has sales potential. It also means they can be woefully wrong, so I certainly don't blame agents for wanting a manuscript to be very close to "there" in their estimation if they actually take it on.

KingM
03-22-2016, 06:48 PM
That's another thing I'm curious about. Not doubting you, but then what are Revise and Resubmit about? Other writers have said they can be pretty extensive. And I've heard everything from agents wanting practically perfect manuscripts to wanting someone they can help take their work further. It's confusing to understand how much an agent will work with an author to perfect an MS.

Revise and resubmit is exactly what I'm talking about. It's not good enough for submission, so the agent isn't offering representation until it is. Personally, I'm making fewer R&R requests than I used to because I'm usually disappointed with the results. It's easier to suggest a weakness than a fix. In most cases, I think the author would be better off putting her time into the next book rather than continue working over this one.

KingM
03-22-2016, 06:53 PM
But with regards to things that are bigger time sinks: I had a friend who was picked up by an agent at a well-regarded agency, and they spent over a year going back and forth on revisions (the writer was also working on two other manuscripts at the time and receiving some feedback from agent about their potential marketability). The writer felt they strengthened the book, but in the end, it didn't find a home (had a couple of near misses). They and the agent parted ways not long after, amicably from what I understand.

Some of my biggest mistakes as an agent have been this sort of thing. If it's not quite there for me, it will probably be not quite there for editors, too. It's so much easier to fix superficial stuff than structural problems and better for the author, as well. Spend six months reworking the manuscript only to have it still falter in the end? I'd rather not put myself and the author through that.

I do give plenty of notes to my authors, but it's usually along the lines of "this part seems a little rushed," or "could you give me a line or two of what he's thinking when he says this?" The sort of stuff that a good dev editor would do.

By the time I'm suggesting new characters and subplots, I've gone too far.

phantasy
03-23-2016, 01:03 AM
Revise and resubmit is exactly what I'm talking about. It's not good enough for submission, so the agent isn't offering representation until it is. Personally, I'm making fewer R&R requests than I used to because I'm usually disappointed with the results. It's easier to suggest a weakness than a fix. In most cases, I think the author would be better off putting her time into the next book rather than continue working over this one.

Oh okay, now I get you. You meant you want the ms perfect when on submission to publishers, not when you're signing the writer. Makes sense. Thanks.

KingM
03-23-2016, 01:22 AM
Oh okay, now I get you. You meant you want the ms perfect when on submission to publishers, not when you're signing the writer. Makes sense. Thanks.

Hmm, I think I'm still not explaining myself very well. An R&R is asking the author to bring the manuscript up to snuff before offering representation. I don't sign an author unless I think that the book is probably salable as is. My requested revisions at that point will give me even better odds.

If the book is not salable, but almost, I might request that the author revise and resubmit. As I said, I usually find that the book is still not quite there, and end up passing a second time. So I don't ask for an R&R as often as I used to. I'm more likely to say "P.S. Please try me with your next book" at the bottom of the rejection.

mbowman
03-23-2016, 04:43 AM
Hi Michael,

Just wondering what kind of things would lead you to pass on a book? I mean, we understand when a book is absolutely terrible but what are some general things you see often that are just dealbreakers for you and would lead you to pass on it rather than R&R.

Most agents just reject it so the fact that you say you often give personalized advice is awesome.

Thanks!

KingM
03-23-2016, 04:30 PM
Hi Michael,

Just wondering what kind of things would lead you to pass on a book? I mean, we understand when a book is absolutely terrible but what are some general things you see often that are just dealbreakers for you and would lead you to pass on it rather than R&R.

Most of the time it's really either "not my genre" or "didn't love it enough." That second category includes everything from "this is terrible" to "I hope the writer tries me again with her next book." In the second case, I might put a little P.S. at the bottom.

As for some specifics. I occasionally get a strong query that happens to be very similar to a project I'm already shopping. I have a few themes that seem to be popular for author across genres that don't do anything for me. I'm turned off by cocky queries. Be confident, but not arrogant or boastful. (If you have to worry that this might be you, it almost surely isn't.)


Most agents just reject it so the fact that you say you often give personalized advice is awesome.

Occasionally, not often. My in-box is always stuffed (22 queries came overnight, for example), so I have to get through them relatively quickly. Also, personal advice sometimes gets either an argument or a request for more information, neither of which I have time for. I do like to give a hand up when it is possible. This is one reason I like teaching at writing conferences, even though it's not necessarily the best use of my time in terms of finding new writers.

mbowman
03-23-2016, 10:28 PM
Occasionally, not often. My in-box is always stuffed (22 queries came overnight, for example), so I have to get through them relatively quickly. Also, personal advice sometimes gets either an argument or a request for more information, neither of which I have time for. I do like to give a hand up when it is possible. This is one reason I like teaching at writing conferences, even though it's not necessarily the best use of my time in terms of finding new writers.

Oh yes, I can definitely understanding not wanting to do it often because of people arguing. Is that perhaps why agents usually respond "please try again with your next book" rather than "if it is substantially changed, feel free to submit again?" From a writers perspective, being told "write another book and submit me again" is extremely disheartening, because we never want to give up on something we spent a year on to start all over. We'd rather edit it to death first.

Though knowing how people react to criticism on the internet, anything to avoid an argument upon rejecting someone seems perfectly valid to me.

KingM
03-23-2016, 10:42 PM
I can't answer for other agents, but mostly for me it's a question of disappointing results in the past. I have usually found that "almost there" turns into "a little closer, but still not there" after the author has put in extensive rewrites. This is discouraging for all parties.

Having said that, of course it's brutal to get a "try me with the next book" comment as well. The mental response has got to be "but I'm planning to sell THIS one, dammit!"

The only thing I can say to this is to consider writing to be a long-term project. Whether you sell this book or not, whether you decide that indie writing is where you're happiest or whether a trad contract is the only thing that matters, your career won't be built in a day. Assuming you enjoy being a writer (and if you don't, stop), then take some pleasure in the journey and keep planting the next crop even as you're eyeing the harvest for this one. I do generally believe in doing your best possible work and then moving along, rather than endlessly tinkering. You're likely to improve faster that way, especially in the early going, when you've only got one or two manuscripts under your belt.

popmuze
03-24-2016, 08:58 PM
I may have already asked this earlier in the thread, but I'm beginning to think I fall into this category of having too many credits too long ago. Once an agent can figure out that I already had my day back in the day, I'm getting the feeling they don't even want to consider the query no matter what. In a resume you can usually disguise your age. How do you do this in a query? Or do I have to list any credits at all?

KingM
03-25-2016, 01:11 AM
I may have already asked this earlier in the thread, but I'm beginning to think I fall into this category of having too many credits too long ago. Once an agent can figure out that I already had my day back in the day, I'm getting the feeling they don't even want to consider the query no matter what. In a resume you can usually disguise your age. How do you do this in a query? Or do I have to list any credits at all?

I think this is a legit issue. I have an author who published a novel last summer for the first time since the 90s. He mentioned it in the query, and I'll admit it gave me some hesitation. Why did he stop writing for so long? Did they kill his career for bad sales, or did he lose interest? Neither of those is a good sign.

I read the book and loved it. Got the offer, then mentioned the history. They could have looked it up from his name, earlier, but I thought I should talk about it before we signed the contract so it didn't look like we were hiding anything. It didn't hurt us, and the book has sold well with fantastic reviews.

I think anything that points back to something before the turn of the century has some risk behind it. There's a lot of ageism in this business, as there is in most industries. It's dumb everywhere, and pure bigotry in most cases. People who would never think of making an unkind remark about someone for their race, religion, gender, orientation, etc., regularly dismiss "old people" with cruel comments. Maybe it's just fear; that's our fate too, after all.

In publishing, it makes even less sense than elsewhere. Some of the greatest works of literature have been written by mature writers, and a lot of writers continue producing excellent work up until the end of their lives. People in their sixties and beyond regularly publish debut novels. One of my writers sold her first book when she was already a (youngish) grandmother, and her books have now been translated into sixteen languages. The agency has represented an octogenarian and a nonagenarian.

Sorry for the mini-rant. :)

If you think your credits harm you, whether they indicate age or because you once wrote Teletubbies tie-in novels, don't mention them. Don't lie, either. Never lie to your agent or editor.

popmuze
03-25-2016, 02:18 AM
I don't want to tie up the line here, but I'm now leaning toward querying under a pseudonym and not mentioning any credits at all. How would I do this and not be considered lying? Do I put my real name in the query and then put "writing under the name Popmuze?" Any agent could still look me up and find out the awful truth of my negligible and ancient track record.

KingM
03-25-2016, 02:38 AM
Are they really that bad? I'm just trying to think of worst-case scenario here and failing to come up with something that would kill you. You're going to have to have a conversation about this stuff eventually anyway, so why not just query under your real name. What kind of agent is going to love your book but balk because you once had a novel or two that didn't launch?

In this day and age, with self-publishing so prominent, tons of people query me who have put out an indie book or two that have rankings of 1,000,000+. It doesn't really hurt them. If I'm going to count that against them, I may as well start to ask for their old rejection letters, too.

Unless there's something I'm missing, you're worrying too much about this.

popgun62
03-25-2016, 03:08 AM
Hi Michael - thanks for taking time out to be on here! I have agent representation with a manuscript plus the synopsis for a sequel being shopped to several houses. This is my first time dealing with the "Big 5." My question is this: In your experience, is it a good sign, or no sign at all, when an editor takes a long time getting back to your agent? In other words, is that a sign that they might be sending the manuscript around to get buy-in, or that they're just busy, or what? I'm thinking it's good that I at least didn't get an automatic rejection in the first couple of days. Or weeks. In the meantime, I'm working on the next book so I don't go totally loony tunes. Thanks for your help :)

KingM
03-25-2016, 03:35 AM
Hi Michael - thanks for taking time out to be on here! I have agent representation with a manuscript plus the synopsis for a sequel being shopped to several houses. This is my first time dealing with the "Big 5."

First of all, congrats! That's a big step, although as you're learning now, it's not the last step, or even the second-to the last step. But it means you've worked hard, and someone has recognized your efforts, enjoys your work, and thinks it's marketable enough to put her time and effort behind it.


My question is this: In your experience, is it a good sign, or no sign at all, when an editor takes a long time getting back to your agent? In other words, is that a sign that they might be sending the manuscript around to get buy-in, or that they're just busy, or what? I'm thinking it's good that I at least didn't get an automatic rejection in the first couple of days. Or weeks. In the meantime, I'm working on the next book so I don't go totally loony tunes. Thanks for your help :)

No sign, really. It can take longer to accept a manuscript than to reject it, but that doesn't mean either case is necessarily fast or slow. In your case, the slow response probably means nothing more than the editor hasn't got around to reading it yet. This can take a very, very long time. I've had rejections come so slowly that the book was literally on the shelf with another publisher when the editor for another house told me she was sorry, she'd liked the book, but there was this thing or that wrong with it. Also, sometimes you don't get any response at all, which is super frustrating.

I can't tell you your chances with this particular book, but answers to a few questions might give me a clue. How many editors have it? How long have they had it? Have you had any rejections yet, and if so, what did they say? You can answer these or not as you feel comfortable (if you do, please do so in vague terms, as I don't want to undercut your agent's work), but these are the things I'd ask a fellow agent if she said she had a book on submission.

popgun62
03-25-2016, 03:59 AM
First of all, congrats! That's a big step, although as you're learning now, it's not the last step, or even the second-to the last step. But it means you've worked hard, and someone has recognized your efforts, enjoys your work, and thinks it's marketable enough to put her time and effort behind it.



No sign, really. It can take longer to accept a manuscript than to reject it, but that doesn't mean either case is necessarily fast or slow. In your case, the slow response probably means nothing more than the editor hasn't got around to reading it yet. This can take a very, very long time. I've had rejections come so slowly that the book was literally on the shelf with another publisher when the editor for another house told me she was sorry, she'd liked the book, but there was this thing or that wrong with it. Also, sometimes you don't get any response at all, which is super frustrating.

I can't tell you your chances with this particular book, but answers to a few questions might give me a clue. How many editors have it? How long have they had it? Have you had any rejections yet, and if so, what did they say? You can answer these or not as you feel comfortable (if you do, please do so in vague terms, as I don't want to undercut your agent's work), but these are the things I'd ask a fellow agent if she said she had a book on submission.

Right now it's with four editors. A couple are well-respected indies. To be truthful, it's only been two weeks, but I know it can take 12 weeks or longer. No rejections yet.

KingM
04-01-2016, 03:45 PM
Hi everyone. It looks like this thread has run its course. Maybe I'll pop up for another go in five years. This year I'm teaching at the Las Vegas Writers Conference at the end of April and the Cape Cod Writers Conference in August, and always interested attending other conferences or conventions, schedule permitting.

I look forward to reading your queries. Good luck, AW community.

popgun62
04-02-2016, 07:04 PM
Man, I know how to kill a thread, don't I ? :P

CaoPaux
04-03-2016, 05:34 PM
Heh, it happens to the best of us.

Thank you for your time, Michael. I'll close this now.