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Mr. Anonymous

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Hi Jennifer,

I posted these questions in the Nathan Bransford thread but I'd be interested to hear what you have to say as well (if you don't mind.)

I'm thinking thatI might want to become a literary agent (currently a freshman in college...)

My first is, quite simply, how do you feel about your work? If you had another chance, would you still go on to become a literary agent?

Secondly, what would you recommend in terms of education? I'm getting a bachelors degree right now (Do majors matter? I'm thinking history or philosophy...), so I'm mostly wondering about what to do after graduation...

Some of the options that are going through my mind are:

1) Trying to get straight into agenting right out of college. William and Morris has, from what I've heard, a pretty well respected agent-training program where you work your way up, learn the ropes, and finally become a full agent.

2) Taking the columbia publishing course, and then going through with #1.

3) Getting an MBA and then going through with #1.

4) Getting an MFA and then going through with #1.

Anyway, thanks very much for your time.
 
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Hi Jennifer,

I have a new question for you. I started querying an early middle-grade novel back in July. Since then, based on early feedback, I've rewritten the query and the first chapter, which has gotten me one full request so far. Now I've learned that a couple of the agents I queried earlier have moved on to different agencies.

In your opinion, would it be all right to send the new query to those agents, on the assumption that what didn't fit with one house might fit with another? Or should I assume that they've already passed, and a better first chapter and a new agency aren't enough to make a difference?

Thanks again for all the advice you've shared with us.
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I have a children's novel (35,000 words) about the red squirrel's fight for survival, in the form of an adventure. It was published in 1998 and that contract (for UK publishing rights) has now expired. I am hoping to find a publisher to take it on. The previous publisher only marketed at book fairs.

My questions are:

1. Should I mention the level of sales? These were 80% of a 3,000 run, but marketing was extremely limited.
2. What would attract an agent to this book in view of the fact it has been previously published - what would you be looking for?

Thank you in advance for your advice
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I have written a manuscript on a compelling topic and I can honestly say that it will be the "first book to..." I have queried about thirty agents and received requests for the first two chapters from three of the agents. After reading the chapters, all three said that they were not the best agent to represent me, but two of them did mention how compelling my material was.

My manuscript is part memoir, part research-based material, and part self-help (the self-help portion is both personal experience and research based). Do you think that that I need to consider revising my query letter, or is three agents showing interest (out of thirty) not bad?

Do you think that my combination of genres is hurting me? I believe that if an agent were to see my entire manuscript, or at least the proposal with all of the chapter titles and layout of the book, they would show more interest. My problem is getting the entire manuscript or the proposal past the guard gate...

Hi Marina.

Please take this with a grain of salt, as I do not represent adult non-fic, memoir or self-help. It seems to me that "compelling" is a nice thing to say in a rejection - but the important part is the NO.

3 partial requests out of 30 is not great. Without having read your query of course, but based on just what you say here, I think that it is very likely that there is something amiss with your query. If you don't know how to describe your own book in a SHORT, CONCISE way that makes people want to spend time and money on it, you've got a problem.

As an agent, I can't imagine not wanting a sample included with the query. I trash queries that do not come with a sample. But everyone works differently, perhaps that is not the norm in adult non-fic world. Hm.
 

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Everyone seems to worry about going over the desired word count, but what if a book is shorter? Is it just as bad, better, or maybe even good? :)

As I've said many times in this thread - word count is not something that I care much about.

I want this book to be the number of words it needs to be in order to tell the story well.
 

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Hello Jennifer,
Thanks for being here today. My question is what is the best way to contact celebrities? I am working on a collection of stories and my editor suggests I get high profile folks to contribute, to make my book more marketable. The bigger the star the harder they are to get a hold of. Do you know of any shortcuts I should use?

Personally, I would be in touch with their agent.
 

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I am going to ask this of both agents currently fielding questions in here. I've already considered the wisdom of posing this question on a public forum--I know agents read this board, and I'm none too keen on rubbing anyone the wrong way--however, I believe the question is important, particularly in an age when recycling is huge concern.

I am currently compiling my list of agents and agencies to query, since my story is completed and heavily revised/edited. I am coming across a lot of agents lined up on both sides of the fence--either only accepting email queries or refusing all email queries. Whuh?

I am wondering if you know of the reasons some agents refuse email queries.

I do have a serious problem with people resistant to technology. Every time I see "Does not accept email queries," I immediately think "If I have to drag this person kicking and screaming into the 21st century, what are they going to be able to do for me?"

The agencies I've seen that specify queries by email only, always state why--they're not killing trees. It's environentally friendly. It cuts down on paper usage. The agencies whose policies reject email queries don't say why. I can't imagine.

This is the way it looks to me: back in the days when paper was the new, big thing, there were a few clinging to the old ways. They rejected paper in all its forms and insisted all correspondence be submitted carved on stone tablets. What is the logic behind insisting on doing things the old, slow, inefficient way?

Huh?

The internet's been up and accessible by the public for what, 20 years? What is the logic behind resisting a technology that is 1) free [when was the last time you had to put a stamp on an email?], 2) time efficient ['immediate' beats '3 to 7 business days'], and 3) environmentally friendly [no dead trees, landfills, or recycling needed].

Oh, and did I mention the internet's been up and accessible by the public for about 20 years?

Are they just trying to keep the US Postal Service going or is there a method to the madness?

That's all for now. I have a load of clothes coming out of the washer and it takes about a half hour to feed each article through the ringer. It's still faster than before, though. Why, just last week, I was beating them on a rock. :D

I only accept email queries. It is not because I have any special love for trees (after all - the end product of my work is hopefully hundreds of thousands of BOOKS, and my computer being on all day takes plenty of energy too!) -- I only take email queries because I am all over the place. Half the time I work from home or am away at conferences, etc, and I want to be able to have my office all in my laptop.

Some agencies just simply are not arranged the same way. They have large offices or even entire buildings with secretaries and assistants and readers and giant filing cabinets. I don't.

Also, the fact is, when people had to go to the trouble of typing a letter (or at least printing it out) and finding a stamp, they were likely to take at least a BIT of time to think about what they were sending. Email allows people to instantly send whatever cockamamie things come off the top of their head, to a thousand agents at once if they want to. Lots of agents find this irritating enough to refuse all email queries.

It is just a different query philosophy. It is not evil. But if you feel that strongly about it, by all means don't query those agents.
 

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ask Nathan Bransford

Since you're kind enough to answer our questions, I'd like to elaborate on an earlier question about our current system of deciding who gets published. I wasn't suggesting a complete overhaul, just a bit of tweaking. For example, an agent's website specifically asks for thrillers, so the prospective author sends a query and gets back a form rejection saying it "doesn't fit their list". What?? Or a form letter saying the "market is tight". The author knew that before sending the query. This gives the author no actual reason for rejection, and the cycle continues. We all know the basics...tell a good story, have interesting characters, come up with a "hook", and that agents can't personally explain every rejected query. But wouldn't it save time and trouble for agents and prospective authors if the form rejection at least had boxes to check stating what was wrong? I know it shouldn't be easy making it through to a publisher, but a system with a 98% rejection rate has to be leaving a lot of good books unread. When even famous authors spent years before being able to boil their novels down to a one or two sentence hook, that suggests the rest of us could use a bit more than a "not for us" form letter.
 

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Jennifer,
Just a quick general question on agents. I am currently seaching a new agent because my current one has never given me any written replies conceringing where he has submitted my work and what replies he recieves.(He verbally gives me information when iI call him every six months or so.) He has handled three of my novels to no avail. I am not blaming him, but I am going to try and get a new agent that is a bit more professional for the new novel I have just finished. Although I am not currently under contract to my old agent, should I mention the unpublished manuscripts If I get a contract with another agent on my new novel? Also, should I try queries on my unpublished books to another agent? Thanks. Merchant Seaman
 

Mr. Anonymous

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Since you're kind enough to answer our questions, I'd like to elaborate on an earlier question about our current system of deciding who gets published. I wasn't suggesting a complete overhaul, just a bit of tweaking. For example, an agent's website specifically asks for thrillers, so the prospective author sends a query and gets back a form rejection saying it "doesn't fit their list". What?? Or a form letter saying the "market is tight". The author knew that before sending the query. This gives the author no actual reason for rejection, and the cycle continues. We all know the basics...tell a good story, have interesting characters, come up with a "hook", and that agents can't personally explain every rejected query. But wouldn't it save time and trouble for agents and prospective authors if the form rejection at least had boxes to check stating what was wrong? I know it shouldn't be easy making it through to a publisher, but a system with a 98% rejection rate has to be leaving a lot of good books unread. When even famous authors spent years before being able to boil their novels down to a one or two sentence hook, that suggests the rest of us could use a bit more than a "not for us" form letter.

I certainly don't want to speak for Jennifer... And as a writer who's done his share of querying, I know EXACTLY what you mean. With that said, you're looking at the situation as a writer. Try looking at it as a reader. Do you like all published books? All the classics? Chances are pretty good that you don't. Sometimes you hate a book. Sometimes you just don't get it, or it just doesn't click with you. I think that's where a lot of these rejections come from. There isn't necessarily anything WRONG with a book, but for whatever reason, the agent wasn't "into" it.
 

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As an agent, I can't imagine not wanting a sample included with the query. I trash queries that do not come with a sample. But everyone works differently, perhaps that is not the norm in adult non-fic world. Hm.
Thank you so much for the reply Jennifer. Everything that I have read on non-fiction querying is that you are not supposed to send anything except what is requested, which is almost always a one-page query letter. I always check the agent's webpage before sending anything out and most of them ask only for a query letter and many say that they do not want any material unless it is asked for.

Thanks again.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I'm thinking thatI might want to become a literary agent (currently a freshman in college...)

My first is, quite simply, how do you feel about your work? If you had another chance, would you still go on to become a literary agent?

Yes, absolutely, I love being an agent.

Secondly, what would you recommend in terms of education? I'm getting a bachelors degree right now (Do majors matter? I'm thinking history or philosophy...), so I'm mostly wondering about what to do after graduation...

Some of the options that are going through my mind are:

1) Trying to get straight into agenting right out of college. William and Morris has, from what I've heard, a pretty well respected agent-training program where you work your way up, learn the ropes, and finally become a full agent.

2) Taking the columbia publishing course, and then going through with #1.

3) Getting an MBA and then going through with #1.

4) Getting an MFA and then going through with #1.

Anyway, thanks very much for your time.

I don't think it makes a lick of difference where you go to school or what you major in, quite frankly. All the agents in our agency came from wildly different backgrounds - we have a PhD in Literature, an MBA, two former editors, a former teacher, etc etc.

Me? I went to a totally weird liberal arts school and majored in theatre and writing - basically I spent four years making puppets. I also spent 15+ years working at all levels in bookstores across the country and got to know the market VERY well, made friends with a lot of editors and authors, and worked for free as an intern for an agency for a year.

In my opinion, here is what is important:

* Willingness to work for free or close to it as an intern or assistant, for as long as it takes.

* Book knowledge - inside & out, backwards & forwards, you know what is out there and who is publishing it.

* Writing/Editing/Critiquing skill - not that you have to BE a writer, but you do have to be able to understand what a writer's process is, and how to help them make a good book better.

* Connections with editors - if you work for a reputable agency, they will give you the in here.

And character traits:

* Good salesperson - Funny, likeable, a talker
* Highly confident - Cool under pressure - Not easily intimidated
* Comfortable with talking and thinking about money
* Able to think big-picture AND be detail oriented
* Very good at multi-tasking

Finally - an MFA is useless for this job, so unless you want one for your own personal benefit, don't bother. MBA you also don't need, but it might help you in your life - again, if it is something that calls to you, go for it, but you don't need it for agenting. I don't know much about the Columbia publishing course - that might be more useful if you are looking to go into editorial, but... same applies as above. Of all your plans, the William Morris program is probably the most useful if you can get in -- it is real in-agency work experience that counts here. But know that you don't HAVE to do the WM thing, you can probably get an internship/apprenticeship, assistant job or reading position at an agency if you are smart and have good people skills and good critique skills.

And if you can get a job in a bookstore or intern at a publisher or agency while you finish your undergrad, and take it seriously even though they pay you very little, and read as much as you possibly can while you are doing it, that will probably help a lot too.

Good luck!
 
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Chiquita Banana

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Hi Jennifer.

It's so kind of you to come on here and answer everyone's questions. So thanks for that.

My question is a general one about book sales. Has the current state of the economy had a major impact? I'm wondering if they're still selling - and being printed - at more or less the same rate that they were a couple of years ago, or if the publishing industry has been hit like so many others have.

Thanks in advance!

All the best,
Chiquita
 

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Ms. Laughran,

If you were accepting memoirs would you shy away from tell all or confessional because of possible lawsuits from people whose names are mentioned?

I'm getting conflicting answers from people whose opinion I regard, and I don't know which way to lean.

Would you prefer a creative memoir instead?

Thank you.
 
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Z0Marley

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Hello Ms. Laughran!

If I were to have a series, would agents prefer to have the series completed before asking for representation, or is only having the first book to the series good enough grounds?

Thank you.
 

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ask jennifer laughran

I've been published by a reputable e-publisher. Does that carry any weight with agents, and should I list it on my bio? Thanks.
 

Mr. Anonymous

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Jennifer - Thanks very much!
 

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Hi, Jennifer.

I'm about to exercise my right to terminate my contract with my agent. Under the terms of the deal, I have to give 60 days' notice to get out of it.

My question is this: After I've let my current agent know that I'm moving on (via a registered letter), is it OK to query other agents during that 60-day notice period?
 

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Just to be clear. The novel I would like to query agents for is different than the one my current agent has tried to sell.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Since you're kind enough to answer our questions, I'd like to elaborate on an earlier question about our current system of deciding who gets published. I wasn't suggesting a complete overhaul, just a bit of tweaking. For example, an agent's website specifically asks for thrillers, so the prospective author sends a query and gets back a form rejection saying it "doesn't fit their list". What?? Or a form letter saying the "market is tight". The author knew that before sending the query. This gives the author no actual reason for rejection, and the cycle continues. We all know the basics...tell a good story, have interesting characters, come up with a "hook", and that agents can't personally explain every rejected query. But wouldn't it save time and trouble for agents and prospective authors if the form rejection at least had boxes to check stating what was wrong? I know it shouldn't be easy making it through to a publisher, but a system with a 98% rejection rate has to be leaving a lot of good books unread. When even famous authors spent years before being able to boil their novels down to a one or two sentence hook, that suggests the rest of us could use a bit more than a "not for us" form letter.

I don't actually understand what the real question is here. Oh, is it that you are asking for a system of checked boxes rather than form letter for rejections?

I have a better idea. Get a critique group. Take classes. If you are getting nothing but form letters, there is a reason -- maybe you are targeting the wrong agents. Maybe you are not following submission guidelines properly. More probably, though, your book just isn't publishable yet. You can learn a lot more from an awesome crit group (preferably one with at least some published authors in it!) than you would ever be able to with some form for an agent (or agent's assistant) to fill out.

Honestly, the biggest hugest problem I see in the slush, after the straight-up crazy people, is that most stuff is "just OK." Like, there is nothing WRONG with it, it just isn't inspiring me to bursts of song or anything. So... what would I check off? The "meh" box?
 

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Jennifer,
Just a quick general question on agents. I am currently seaching a new agent because my current one has never given me any written replies conceringing where he has submitted my work and what replies he recieves.(He verbally gives me information when iI call him every six months or so.) He has handled three of my novels to no avail. I am not blaming him, but I am going to try and get a new agent that is a bit more professional for the new novel I have just finished. Although I am not currently under contract to my old agent, should I mention the unpublished manuscripts If I get a contract with another agent on my new novel? Also, should I try queries on my unpublished books to another agent? Thanks. Merchant Seaman

Hi, it definitely sounds like you need a new agent. First of all, though you say you are not "under contract" with the first agent (really? they never even sent you an agency agreement? was this a real agent?) - it would still be smart to "break up" with him in writing. That way you have a paper trail just in case someone has questions or issues with it down the road.

Start seeking new representation with your new manuscript. There is no need to mention the other ones at this time. If somebody LOVES your book and wants to talk about repping you, that is the time to say "I have these other books as well that I can send to you if you'd like" and make sure you are able to give the submission history for each of them or the agent will be reluctant to shop them.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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My question is a general one about book sales. Has the current state of the economy had a major impact? I'm wondering if they're still selling - and being printed - at more or less the same rate that they were a couple of years ago, or if the publishing industry has been hit like so many others have.

Yes, in general, trade book sales are down, except in children's, where they are flat.

For more specific and up-to-the-minute industry sales info, you can subscribe to Publisher's Weekly, or read it for free online. http://www.publishersweekly.com/
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Ms. Laughran,

If you were accepting memoirs would you shy away from tell all or confessional because of possible lawsuits from people whose names are mentioned?

I'm getting conflicting answers from people whose opinion I regard, and I don't know which way to lean.

Would you prefer a creative memoir instead?

Thank you.

I don't do adult nonfiction. This might be a better question for Nathan B. :)
 
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