Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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MacAllister

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Since Jennifer keeps coming back like some kinda masochist, to very kindly answer questions and play with us, I'm adding her to the august group of "Absolute Sages" -- you know, those folks who wear a sticker under their name tag that tells you they know what they're talking about? This is a milestone, because she's the first AW Sage I've ever added. Heh.

And Jennifer? Thank you so very much. You're not only amazingly patient and helpful, you're funny as hell. We very much appreciate the time you spend here.
 

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Dear Jennifer Laughran,

I'd first like to thank you for patiently answering all our questions. I certainly learned a lot from your answers!

I'll just add a question of my own: how much is the Middle Grade readership demanding for stories set in a foreign country/culture? (Or, in my case, contemporary China?)

I have written two very different versions of my story: same story, but one set in the USA, and one set in contemporary China. So far, I am finding the story set in China to be fuller and richer in detail, as the opportunity to present the many interesting (almost quirky) aspects of Chinese culture gives me lots of material.

I have noticed that since the Beijing Olympics, the foreign media had been much more interested in China, although I feel as though the western press isn't doing China and its culture justice. There hasn't been many stories in the market set in China, I have noticed; those which are published seem to be either written by foreigners (journalists mostly) who happened to live in China, or Chinese immigrants in the western world (and the second type of stories seem to be more about immigrants trying to fit into the western culture, than about the lives of Chinese people IN China). Perhaps a story written by someone who had lived in China all his life would fill this void.

My question here is, how much does the MG market demand for this kind of story? On the one hand, many MG readers will be interested to read about a totally different culture. However, will the reader really resonate with the story as well as they would if it was set in their own culture? By setting the story in a foreign culture, would I make the reader feel a bit -- I don't know -- alienated? If a child were to see two stories, with one set in their own culture, and another set in a foreign country, which one will he/she pick? Will he/she be willing to step out of their comfort zone by choosing the second option?

I'd like to hear your opinion on this subject. Having lived in China all my life, I can't really see the Chinese culture as a "foreign" culture, despite the fact that my story, if published, would certainly be read exclusively by an audience who DOES consider it as "foreign." Having someone from outside answering my questions would be nice.

Thanks in advance!
 
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Jennifer, great to have you here! Thanks for taking the time.

I have a couple questions.

1. How do you know when you are ready to find an agent?

2. Which is most important: cover letter or submission?

Thanks!
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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My question: Do I simply look for an agent who handles MG, or do I need to find that needle in a haystack, an agent who handles Christian MG? My MG novel is an Advent and Christmas book and is, of course, Christian in content and outlook.


Hmmm -- this is a tough one, actually. First of all, a holiday book is a tough sell in any case. But the question of whether you go with a Christian agent* or not depends on if your book will sell to the regular trade market or Christian market. Yep, there is a difference. I could rep a basically secular book with potential Christian interest, for example -- (I probably WOULDN'T, but that's a different story) -- but I couldn't rep a Christian book.

Why? Cause the Christian book market is actually quite different from the regular trade market. I honestly wouldn't know how to sell the Christian book, or to whom. So I guess you have to figure out what sort of a beast you've got.

Also, if this is not the only book you plan to write, will your future books also be Christian-themed? If you have other, more secular projects to shop as well, you will probably have a better shot at landing a regular trade agent.

* ETA - for anyone that is unclear - by "Christian Agent" I am not implying the actual religion of the agent themselves, but rather, what market they sell to. There are plenty of agents, who are Christian, who do not rep Christian Market books. There are probably lots of agents who are Zoroastrians or Jews or Hindus or something else, who DO rep Christian Market books. (Well, maybe not "lots", but SOME.) So don't write me weird mail about it!
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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Just curious, given with the voluminous, almost daily changes at publishing houses-editors, consolidations, liquidations, etc.- during the past several months, what method do you use to keep your records current? It seems like an overwhelming, time consuming task, although necessary.

We have a database.

But it becomes a lot easier to remember when the people losing their jobs are your friends.
 

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When do you think a published author should create a website and/or blog? I don't have either, but since my latest book will be out in about one year (I hope) I have decided to turn a new leaf and create same for exposure about six months before its release. I'll pitch the upcoming book and will also have several links, including "other works". Also, what about an unpublished authors with no book yet sold? How useful do you think a site an/or blog would be for them?

In the past I have written a fair amount of published nonfiction books for children and adults. With the exception of creating a site and/or a blog to announce the release of an upcoming book, my belief is that one is more likely to draw to their site if it is "theme" oriented, as opposed to general in nature (writer thoughts). What you think?

I think that a website is as important as a business card. If you are a professional writer, ie, you are being published by a legit publisher, IMO, you need a website.

People might disagree with me, but I don't think you really need one until you actually have a book deal and a release date. At that point, a clean, professional website is in order so that people can see what you've got coming out, you can list personal appearances, etc.

I do know unpublished writers who have personal websites and blogs, and that is fine -- I do, however, find it weird when people have links or post material from unpublished work online. If any of my clients have that kind of thing up, I ask them to remove it before we begin shopping the manuscript.

I do NOT think it is a must to have a blog unless you are a natural blogger. If you are writing a blog because "it is good marketing", I have news for you, nobody will want to read it. The blogs that are interesting are about subjects that the author is passionate about, and that are funny and relaxed and only occasionally and tangentially about the book. Some people are good at this. Some people aren't. If you are one of the ones who isn't, I strongly suggest you NOT get a blog!
 

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Since Jennifer keeps coming back like some kinda masochist, to very kindly answer questions and play with us, I'm adding her to the august group of "Absolute Sages" -- you know, those folks who wear a sticker under their name tag that tells you they know what they're talking about? This is a milestone, because she's the first AW Sage I've ever added. Heh.

And Jennifer? Thank you so very much. You're not only amazingly patient and helpful, you're funny as hell. We very much appreciate the time you spend here.

Aww, thanks, it is a pleasure.

Somebody asked me WHY I agreed to do this, and it is pretty straightforward: I see SO many writers getting screwed over with bad advice, or wandering around lost and stumbling into scam artists, etc, that it bums me out. I hope that I can at least help SOME people avoid those traps!

Oh and also, it is a way to feel semi-productive, and procrastinate at the same time. ;)
 

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I'll just add a question of my own: how much is the Middle Grade readership demanding for stories set in a foreign country/culture?

Well, I don't know how much middle graders themselves care, but there are certainly loads of agents and editors who are very interested in authentic stories set in non-US cultures.

We have plenty of books set in the USA, and very few set outside of it. Certainly, we need more!
 

scope

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Jennifer,

Once again, thanks for the great insight and the time you devote to all of our questions.
 

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1. How do you know when you are ready to find an agent?

2. Which is most important: cover letter or submission?

1. "When your book is ready to be published" sounds like a kinda pat answer. So I will go further. You want to be a professional writer and you have done all the right things, everything you can do under your own steam: read a ton of children's books, written a lot, shown your work to other people, learned to revise, and you really think that the book you have in your hand is a polished gem and, well, ready to be published. Now you can look for an agent.

But if you HAVEN'T done that stuff yet - ie, if you don't read children's books regularly, if you don't know how to revise, if you have never written more than a rough draft, or not even finished that, if you don't have a critique group or someone to at least objectively look at your work... please don't bother.

2. The cover/query letter should be interesting, professional, and simple. I am certainly more interested in the submission itself. You do yourself a disservice by rambling, but also by being curt - the cover letter should just be a nice intro to who you are and what this thing that I am holding in my hands might be. I kinda think people get too wound up about these things!
 
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Yvettesgonefishing

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I kinda think people get too wound up about these things!


Yes, that's an accurate impression. Count me among those quaking in their boots. It seems even more important than the actual submission are all those things spinning in orbit around it: cover letter, synopsis, and the dreaded query.

I went into this thinking that if the story was strong, I'd have no problems. Ack. All these other things can sink you, even before anyone takes peek number one at your actual story. Personally, I'm petrified. A sure sign of a noob, but there ya go! We're all frightened! :)
 

Red.Ink.Rain

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Hi Jennifer! Thanks for coming.

I had an agent interested in reading my manuscript recently. Because her agency was very new and her publishing background seemed vague, I posted several threads on forums like Absolute Write, asking for any more information about her. I mentioned that she was brand new and had no client sales yet, so I was debating on whether it was even a good idea to send her my manuscript. Today she sent me the link with one of those threads and a short note explaining she was no longer interested in taking me on as a client because of this.

My question is, did I say or do something rude? I asked this agent my questions directly, but never received an answer for some of them. I felt like it was just unprofessional on her part, but I wanted to make sure that this wasn't some taboo thing on my part.

Second question: What projects have you been most excited about recently, whether you actually took on the client or not?
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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My question is, did I say or do something rude?

I am a little stunned that you have to ask this. I can presume based on the information that you have given me here that I know who you are talking about, and I saw those posts too. In a thread with her name on it, you copied and pasted pieces of her correspondence, presumably without permission. You also said that you were going to use her potential offer as a "sneaky" way to get your top agents to look faster or offer rep. Then said, quote, "I think I'm going to try to find some way to NOT send her my manuscript, lol." You also called her "fishy" and suggested that she might be a "scammer".

Well, I'd be offended, too! I can guarantee you that if one of my potential clients posted anything like what you posted about her, about me, or indeed posted any of my emails in public without my permission, I would drop them like a hot potato.

Posting questions on a public forum is not the same thing asking a confidante for advice. Posting libel on a public forum is not the same thing as gossiping or talking smack with your best friends. It kills me when I see writers posting the gorey details about their agent search, or delicate information about offers and negotiations. Ugh, STOP! EVERYONE reads these forums. EVERYONE has google alerts. EVERYONE knows how to look up your old posts, and even if you use a pseudonym, your identity isn't so secret if you post info like private emails online!

It is important for new writers to have people to vent with and learn the ropes from, I totally get that -- but you still have to be professional (ie, discreet) in public.

I know it might sound harsh, and I am sorry, but I am not trying to be mean. This case aside, you might think before you post in future.

Second question: What projects have you been most excited about recently, whether you actually took on the client or not?

Mmmm - good question, but I can't tell. I am excited by all the stuff that my clients are working on! :)
 
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Red.Ink.Rain

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No, it's okay, you're probably right. I was essentially just trying to be thorough, but I obviously got carried away. Thank you for the advice.
 
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Hi, Jenn! This is Ixtumea! I finally got in!

I have a few questions. When you query agents should you mention that you are also querying others? Or only do this if they ask?

What is your take on exclusives? Should a writer say no? Or if they do decide to do this, to give the agent a timeline?

On the bio part of your query, should you only put down any publishing credits that are with traditional presses?

Also I'm interested in how much you should reveal if you do blog about the whole querying journey. A few writers have listed which agents have turned them down and whether or not it was with a form 'no' or more personal. I'm curious about your take on this.

Once again, you rock! Thanks for taking the time to answer questions.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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When you query agents should you mention that you are also querying others? Or only do this if they ask?

I have answered this before, I think, but basically: Sure. I mean, I assume that everyone is querying others, but I guess it doesn't hurt to mention it.

What is your take on exclusives? Should a writer say no? Or if they do decide to do this, to give the agent a timeline?

LOL, IX! I answered this too! Briefly: I don't believe in exclusives personally, but I know there are a few agents who insist on them. If someone does request an exclusive and you want to give it, do set a short timeline and stick to it.

On the bio part of your query, should you only put down any publishing credits that are with traditional presses?

Well, you can put whatever you want, it is your call, but I would probably not put anything that might make me look "small-time". Like, I might put that I have had stories in the New Yorker, but I probably wouldn't put that I have stories in the Lafayette Advertiser. I would certainly put that I had a book published by Random House - I might skip that I had an e-book published by Randim-Hauze.com. You know what I mean? Matter of personal preference, I suppose...

Also I'm interested in how much you should reveal if you do blog about the whole querying journey. A few writers have listed which agents have turned them down and whether or not it was with a form 'no' or more personal. I'm curious about your take on this.

Well, I don't know. Again, my personal thought on this is, the less said the better. I don't blog about the houses I am submitting my clients work to. I don't blog about it when I am in the midst of courting a potential client and trying to woo her away from all the other agents, nor do I blog about rejecting people. I feel like work-life and blog-life ought to have a bit of distance between them, and just because you are thinking something doesn't mean you HAVE to blog about it.

I know that plenty of people want to do this, though, so whatever. As long as you are polite about it and you don't post their rejection letters online. I also have no problem with putting response times on sites like Absolute Write and Verla Kay.

Thanks, hope that answered your questions.
 

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Hello Ms. Laughran! I'm HappyToWrite and I'm a freshly picked newbie.


Here are my questions.



1. Does an unpublished writer's age affect wether or not the agent decides to represent them?

and

2. I have heard over and over again, what a writer should include in a query letter, but one thing bothers me. I am constantly told that a writer must include their prior experiences with Writing. IE, workshops, critique groups, college degrees, and any other writing "credits". But, what if you don't have any of these? What if for whatever reason, be it financial or lack of transportation, all of the knowledge about writing that you were only able to acquire was through Creative writing books, reading, and occasionally seeking advice from older Writers when you were given the chance.

Will that deter an agent from wanting to represent me?
 

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1. Does an unpublished writer's age affect wether or not the agent decides to represent them?

Hi, Happy. There are other posts sort of answering this earlier in the thread, but. If the book is truly outstanding, it doesn't matter how old you are or how much experience you have. There is no reason that a minor can't have an agent, they would just need to have their parents involved if they are under 18. That said, it is really hard to GET outstanding without a certain amount of experience.

Speaking only for myself: I have never read a manuscript or a book by a teenager that has made me say "I WISH I REPRESENTED THEM!" Never. And that includes teen authors that have been published for millions. By all means try to make me change my mind.

2. I am constantly told that a writer must include their prior experiences with Writing. IE, workshops, critique groups, college degrees, and any other writing "credits". But, what if you don't have any of these?

I disagree. I think you need only include those items if they are relevant. If not, close with: "This is a debut novel. Thank you for your time."

Best of luck!
 

Wizard1

I see at your agency, as well as many others, there are various titles attached to agents, such as senior agent, agent, associate agent, etc. I assume that these titles convey different levels of experience and seniority with the firm. My question is how important is this to a new writer looking at which agents to submit work to within an agency. Do we have a better chance at getting looked at by a less experienced agent with fewer clients? Does the more experienced agent tend to get bigger deals? etc. Thank you in advance for your response.
 

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I see at your agency, as well as many others, there are various titles attached to agents, such as senior agent, agent, associate agent, etc. I assume that these titles convey different levels of experience and seniority with the firm. My question is how important is this to a new writer looking at which agents to submit work to within an agency. Do we have a better chance at getting looked at by a less experienced agent with fewer clients? Does the more experienced agent tend to get bigger deals? etc.

Yes, you assume correctly. I can't speak for any other agency, but at mine, there are Associate Agents, Agents, a senior agent and the president. Though as an agency we work collaboratively on just about everything, Associate agents are "partnered" and work very closely with more senior agents. This is good because our clients have the expertise of the senior agents and the enthusiasm and energy of the junior -- we are actively building our lists!

I think there are good points to having either a senior or junior agent. Senior agents do tend to have more "Big Deals" -- but a lot of this has to do with the fact that they have "Big Clients". Most new agents don't START with huge multi-million-dollar authors on their lists, we build up to that. :)

Senior agents also tend to have less bandwidth for new clients - it is just a fact. Especially if they have lots of big-time famous people, or rising stars, as clients! Clients just have to take priority over reading slush, so for that reason, a newer agent is more likely to discover a newbie author and give them a chance.

The most important thing, though, in my opinion, is that you find the agent that is going to be the best champion for your work. When I started, I had just a few clients, but I really, really clicked with their work and was passionate about it, and even though I was new, I don't think that any other agent would have been able to do as good a job for them, quite frankly. At the same time, agents with decades of experience have been able to do extraordinary things for their clients, and I might not have even looked at those submissions twice if they came across my desk.

What I am saying is, do a little research and sub to reputable agents that you think will really "click" with your work - that is more important than their title. Good luck!
 

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Hi, Jennifer. Thank you for being here and answering questions.

I've gotten a lot of advice from fellow writers on the subject of what is and what isn't relevant in a query to an agent or publisher. On my queries, I used to list how many articles I've written online whether it was an open content site like Helium and Associate Content, to articles I was hired to write for other sites. How relevant is that information when I'm querying for a fiction novel? Many people advise me not to list any credentials because it's not fiction. What are your thoughts?

I'm also asked Nathan this question and to see if the consensus is the same.
 

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Hello Jennifer-thank you for your time in answering my question-I have a solid query I'm ready to send out-it's one page and very informative about the book-but I was told I should write a much shorter query with just the basics-which is more preferred, a short query with basic information, or a longer query (both fit on one page) with deeper information? Would a shorter basic sabatoge the book by not including all the aspects of the story, or would a long one be too much information? Thank you again for your time :)
 

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Hi Jennifer

A query question(s).

How important is for a writer to have or pad their writer's resume?

What is the best way to do it for a first time writer, contests or magazines?

Thank you for your time.

Rafael
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I am happy to answer questions, but I do encourage all potential questionees to read the thread first. All of the following have been answered - so forgive me if I get a bit terse.

On my queries, I used to list how many articles I've written online whether it was an open content site like Helium and Associate Content, to articles I was hired to write for other sites. How relevant is that information when I'm querying for a fiction novel? Many people advise me not to list any credentials because it's not fiction.

Yup, they are correct. Don't care, not relevant.

How important is for a writer to have or pad their writer's resume?

What is the best way to do it for a first time writer, contests or magazines?

I would rather you not. See posts #8 (first page), #81, and #243 (THIS page) for more.

I have a solid query I'm ready to send out-it's one page and very informative about the book-but I was told I should write a much shorter query with just the basics-which is more preferred, a short query with basic information, or a longer query (both fit on one page) with deeper information? Would a shorter basic sabatoge the book by not including all the aspects of the story, or would a long one be too much information?

Personally, I prefer short. All I want to know is what this book is and why I should care. Anything more than a paragraph, I will probably skip and get right to the writing sample.
 
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