Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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Jennifer_Laughran

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Jennifer,

I'm confused. Are you saying that you never heard of a fiction writer outlining his work? Yesterday, I heard a CSpan interview with John Grisholm. He said he has never written a fiction book without first completing an extremely detailed outline.

NO. I am saying I have never heard of an AGENT REQUESTING such a thing. Obviously some agents do, since this asker is asking about it -- but I personally have never asked for such a thing, nor worked for an agency that required such a thing, and would have no idea what an agent who WOULD would be looking for.

Writers might use outlines to write -- or they might use flash cards or family trees or 150 yellow pads of paper or audio tapes -- but why would I want to see that as an agent? I care about the finished product.

Nonfiction is another story, I realize that many agents sell nonfiction mss on proposal, so of course they want an outline of some sort. But the asker was asking about fiction.
 

childeroland

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Ms. Laughran:

Is there a particular format of query most agents prefer? Three-four paragraphs with one being a mini-synopsis, or two paragraphs with the first being the author's intro, whatever?

How important are hooks/pitch lines?
 

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Fiction Outline

I have never heard of asking for an outline for fiction. That is so beyond weird to me, I can't even tell you. Sorry, I have no idea what they might want, or why they might want it -- I am useless to you. Perhaps on ask-other-writers threads people might have more guidance for you!

As for part two, depends on the agent. I never ask for 50 pages. I ask that you send 10 pages with your query. If I like them, I request the full. I cannot imagine doing it any other way, because I would never want to judge an author's work based only on a query letter. But, what the hell, everyone is different, right?

Jennifer, thank you for your candor. I also scratch my head and wonder why. I can't think of another business that wants to make a decision on what you are offering based on looking at a tiny piece of it. Sure wish you handled my genre—you've been straightforward, kind and helpful! :D Thank you so much!
 

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I have two questions...when an agent you meet for a one on one at a statewide writer's conference asks you to send her some of your stuff after she has read two stories (picture book text)...does she really want you to or is she merely trying to get you out of her hair? (if she were truly interested, wouldn't she have requested copies on the spot?)
And...after being rejected by an agent...is it kosher to send a thank you for the reponse even if they turned you down? I have a thing with manners...but do not know how those involved in the industry would react??
 

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Ms. Laughran:

Is there a particular format of query most agents prefer? Three-four paragraphs with one being a mini-synopsis, or two paragraphs with the first being the author's intro, whatever?

How important are hooks/pitch lines?


I'd say that two-three paragraphs is standard.

Opener - One para to tell about the book - One to tell about you - (maybe one extra if there is more info you need to tell) - closer.

If anyone has different needs, they'll probably have them listed in their submission guidelines.

Obviously the "pitch", aka the paragraph about the book, should be INTERESTING and BRIEF and MAKE THE READER WANT MORE. In other words, should "hook" the reader. Since that is the only chance you get. So um... very important?
 

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I have two questions...when an agent you meet for a one on one at a statewide writer's conference asks you to send her some of your stuff after she has read two stories (picture book text)...does she really want you to or is she merely trying to get you out of her hair? (if she were truly interested, wouldn't she have requested copies on the spot?)
And...after being rejected by an agent...is it kosher to send a thank you for the reponse even if they turned you down? I have a thing with manners...but do not know how those involved in the industry would react??


I can't speak for everyone else, but here's my 2 cents.

* I request stuff from pretty much everyone at conferences after one-on-ones. Why? Because it is nice, the person probably had to pay extra, I am interested to see what their other work is like or what it looks like after they think about my critique and the other stuff they learn at the conference.

* Does that mean that I am going to take them as a client? Probably not, I take a very low percentage of the stuff I look at. It just means I am interested to see more.

* I would never NEVER EVER pick something up *at* a conference -- I am way too tired, busy and my brain is probably overwhelmed with looking at and thinking about dozens of manuscripts. You wouldn't want me to look at your ms seriously under those conditions -- I prefer to be at home where I can consider things properly.

* You can shoot back a thanks, if it is an e-query and you have the burning need to. I just delete the thanks, but it does not offend me. IF it is a paper query though, a paper thank you note is strange and overly formal. Again, not offensive, but silly as there is very little chance that the agent will even see it, at most agencies such things get intercepted by interns.

* Though I am sure you'd never do this, please don't write back to argue with us about rejecting you. First of all, it doesn't make us change our minds. And it doesn't make us want to work with you more. And it makes us that much more likely to adopt a "no response means no" policy.
 

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THANK YOU so much for your response...see, I just can't help it:)

I do have one more question...and I feel like a fool for not including it in my earlier post...(so feel free to not reply to this one...if there is a question limit;)

I have written at least two dozen children's stories...and have only begun to submit querys to agents...do I promote just one and tell them I have more completed? Do I sumbit each manuscript query to different agents? And...do I have to wait for one rejection to query another agent?

Okay...so that was more than one...BUT...I promise that is all I need to know and will not send you anything else...aside from another thank you:)
 

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Hi Jennifer,
Thanks so much for listening to our questions:)
Is it ever better to submit directly to a publisher rather than an agent, or for a first-time author, do you really need an agent to get a publisher's attention?
Also, and I realize this is subjective, at what point would an author get the hint and just shelve the project as unsalable, at least for now? After all, sending out submissions to agents can be very time-consuming (and emotionally not always fun).
Thanks!
Sarah
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I am considering on writing a novel with a YA audience in mind, but am a bit confused about whether it would remain such if the protagonists age throughout the novel.

It starts off when the female MC is 16, the male MC is 20 and then progresses until the girl is 22. Would this still be considered YA as it starts off with a teen MC?
 

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Hi all

Thanks Jennifer, sorry if I made a faux pas...

-Cp
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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THANK YOU so much for your response...see, I just can't help it:)

I do have one more question...and I feel like a fool for not including it in my earlier post...(so feel free to not reply to this one...if there is a question limit;)

I have written at least two dozen children's stories...and have only begun to submit querys to agents...do I promote just one and tell them I have more completed? Do I sumbit each manuscript query to different agents? And...do I have to wait for one rejection to query another agent?

Okay...so that was more than one...BUT...I promise that is all I need to know and will not send you anything else...aside from another thank you:)

Pick your very best ms and concentrate on that. Tell agents you have others complete if they are interested.
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I am considering on writing a novel with a YA audience in mind, but am a bit confused about whether it would remain such if the protagonists age throughout the novel.

It starts off when the female MC is 16, the male MC is 20 and then progresses until the girl is 22. Would this still be considered YA as it starts off with a teen MC?

I can't answer that without having read the book.
 

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Don't know if this is the right place to post this, but sorry if it's not... I've received an offer of contract from an agent... I know she's had legit sales, just not many...

She's sent me an example contract and I'd just like opinions on whether it looks right or not...

Thanks in advance for any replies...

__________

It looks normal but I am a bit distracted by the fact that I don't think it appropriate to put somebody's contract up on an open website. I might be way off base, but speaking for myself - my agency agreement is in no way a "secret", it is very straightforward, but still I would be distressed if would-be clients were discussing it in an open forum such as this, same as if they were discussing emails or notes I had sent a client.

If you have confusion about some piece of wording or one small part of this contract, I'd be happy to answer a question for you as best I can. But I strongly suggest taking the text of the whole thing down. She will certainly know it is hers, and it just seems like a real breach of confidentiality... and rude.
 

childeroland

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Thanks.

If I may trouble you with one more question, what if nothing about your background particularly qualifies you to write about the subject of your novel. Should the author stuff just be general -- XX lives in a green house with nice dog, etc?

Thanks

childeroland
I'd say that two-three paragraphs is standard.

Opener - One para to tell about the book - One to tell about you - (maybe one extra if there is more info you need to tell) - closer.

If anyone has different needs, they'll probably have them listed in their submission guidelines.

Obviously the "pitch", aka the paragraph about the book, should be INTERESTING and BRIEF and MAKE THE READER WANT MORE. In other words, should "hook" the reader. Since that is the only chance you get. So um... very important?
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Thanks.

If I may trouble you with one more question, what if nothing about your background particularly qualifies you to write about the subject of your novel. Should the author stuff just be general -- XX lives in a green house with nice dog, etc?

Thanks

childeroland

Who is ever "qualified" to write fiction? It is your imagination, right?

You mention if you have been published before, and if you have a degree in writing, and if you've won any awards. If you've done none of that, you say, "This is a debut novel. Thank you for your time."
 

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Hello

I just wrote my first book. It is a YA Christian Fantasy. Seems like there are only a few agents that are interested in Christian themed books.
The book is about a 16 year old boy and a 16 year old girl, who are thrown into the spirit world to defeat demons. It is also a love story.

It has approx. 52k words.

Is your agency interested in this kind of story?

Thank you
 

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Hey Jennifer,

First, thanks for doing this. My first post here, so be gentle.

If an author has written a book and shopped it around to several small presses, probably ones you wouldn't have targeted to begin with, and has been rejected by them, lets just say 15-20 places, and has now contacted you, do you want to know about this history? Will it effect your willingness to read and/or represent this book?

Thanks,
Richard
 

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After Agent Rejection

Hi Jennifer

My MS has just been returned from a London agency - it's an anthropomorphic story.

The agent commented that the idea was:

......strong and intriguing....

......had strong points........

but the agency wasn't confident they

......could get a publisher to publish.......

Before the agency requested the MS I was considering other options to promote the concept, I never really saw the idea as a standard paperback the kind one of my boys would read.

I am considering options, such as

- Having a CGI or live action CGI trailer produced
- Commissioning a front cover - graphic novel (?)
- Book spine
- related marketing concept literature and designs i.e. DS cover, 360 and Wii etc.

I have extensively researched my concept, the idea is unique with a massive global target market but getting to the next stage without industry knowledge is very frustrating.

What industry options are available and how would you identify the resources in the market to support my concept through to fruition.

Regards
 

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Videos probably don't impress industry people much. They'd probably see one as somebody's attempt to buy their way in.

There's really a limit to how much marketing you can do to readers.

It's tempting to get a cover done if one can afford it. And if it helps put across an idea that they aren't picking up from letters, MIGHT be worth it. Could have other uses, as well. But it's possible that sending it with a submission might give the idea that you lack talent and are relying on money... and that you have definitite ideas about graphic presentation that are going to be a problem.

But if it's a graphic novel you're doing, why not submit directly to publishers? The "comics" industry is much less agent-driven than mainstream books.

We're TV writers with some exposure to publishing, so don't take anything we say as definitive by any means. We'll look forward to hearing Ms.Laughran's answer to you.
 

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Hello! I have a question about querying. I have previously written and queried 2 manuscripts that have gone unagented and unpublished. Now I am getting ready to query my third ms. My question is this: should I mention that I've written 2 other ms's? I am not sure whether this will show that I am committed to being a novelist...or just that I am not a very good one! Do you see this as a plus or negative? Should I include the info or write the query as if the novel I'm pitching is my one and only? Thanks for any advice you can offer!
 

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Where to Start?

I just finished my first novel, and I'm looking for an agent. My problem is that my book is a bit odd. I wanted to write manga, but I can't draw, so I converted my idea into a novel instead. Most manga isn't written by an American, so I'm afraid I won't be taken seriously. Where can I find an agent that specializes in my strange American-written, Japanese-based genre?
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Hello

I just wrote my first book. It is a YA Christian Fantasy. Seems like there are only a few agents that are interested in Christian themed books.
The book is about a 16 year old boy and a 16 year old girl, who are thrown into the spirit world to defeat demons. It is also a love story.

It has approx. 52k words.

Is your agency interested in this kind of story?

Thank you

We are not a Christian market agency, we deal with Trade publishing. Yes, these are different. There are Christian market publishers and agents, and I have no idea who they are but a bit of research will surely go a long way.

I am not an expert by any means, as I am NOT Christian, but... it seems to me that Christian publishers and agents might have a problem with demonic elements and a love story in a book for young readers?
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Hey Jennifer,

First, thanks for doing this. My first post here, so be gentle.

If an author has written a book and shopped it around to several small presses, probably ones you wouldn't have targeted to begin with, and has been rejected by them, lets just say 15-20 places, and has now contacted you, do you want to know about this history? Will it effect your willingness to read and/or represent this book?

Thanks,
Richard

Well, I don't know if this is gentle or not. Um...

Of course I absolutely want to know where else the ms has been, and if you don't tell me and I find out some other way, it is a dealbreaker. No need to tell me until I've expressed actual interest in repping it, though.

(Sorta like, you don't need to know your partner's sexual history before you even go on a date, right? And in fact, if you DO find it out prior, you might get skeeved out and not go on the date at all? Yeah. Let the agent get hot for you first.)
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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Hi Jennifer

My MS has just been returned from a London agency - it's an anthropomorphic story.

The agent commented that the idea was:

......strong and intriguing....

......had strong points........

but the agency wasn't confident they

......could get a publisher to publish.......

Before the agency requested the MS I was considering other options to promote the concept, I never really saw the idea as a standard paperback the kind one of my boys would read.

I am considering options, such as

- Having a CGI or live action CGI trailer produced
- Commissioning a front cover - graphic novel (?)
- Book spine
- related marketing concept literature and designs i.e. DS cover, 360 and Wii etc.

I have extensively researched my concept, the idea is unique with a massive global target market but getting to the next stage without industry knowledge is very frustrating.

What industry options are available and how would you identify the resources in the market to support my concept through to fruition.

Regards


I am only a book agent -- I have no idea what other media (video games, films, toys, computer-whatsits) might require for submission. But yes to what 2012 said, and I suppose google might help you with more info, or asking the question in some sort of multi-media forum.

I am sort of an expert about the lowly old book, though, and I can tell you that if your manuscript doesn't work as a bunch of plain white pages with normal sized black type on them, then it won't work as a book.

And if you submit things like covers, pretend books, discs, etc -- to a reputable, normal literary agency with no multi-media wing -- there is a 99.5% chance that it will be either completely disregarded and thrown away, or laughed at and then thrown away.

I haven't read your book so I don't know why they rejected you. Maybe join a critique group?
 
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