Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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Jennifer_Laughran

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Some who post here and on other sites ask "what's the most quality you--a writer--seeks in an agent." ... I'm interested in your take on this, and ask if you would post the qualities you believe an agent (and agency) should displsy for a writer to seek out.


I'd make a list of all the things an agent might be, and rank them according to which you value most. Here are some categories I can think of off the top of my head, though I am sure I am missing some:

1. Cuddly / Hand-holding
2. Market knowledge
3. Connections in the industry
4. Well-known agency
5. Experience agenting
6. Energy / Time for clients
7. Open communication
8. Lives in NYC
9. Track record of sales


Now for me, I am NOT a cuddly hand-holder. I have been an agent for less than a year. And I don't live in NYC.

However, I have a lot of market knowledge and connections in the industry, I am with a very well-known agency, I am new so I have energy/time for my clients, I place a high premium on good communication, and I have sold a good number of books so far (though my career history is not long).

So I'd be a great agent for some people -- but not a great fit for others. You have to decide what is important to YOU!
 

Darzian

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I hope you aren't sick of all the thank yous because I'm going to say it too!

Thanks a lot!
 

lakotagirl

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I am currently rewriting my (MG) WIP. It will probably be a couple of months before I get it back from my betas and complete the final fixes.

I couldn't help starting a second novel right away but have finished a couple of short stories too. I tend to love getting lost in a novel so have a lot more fun writing them.

My question is:

Before I get lost in the new novel should I be concentrating on getting a few of the short stories published so I can claim publishing credits in my query letter? Do you pay any more attention to a query letter when the writer has previously published short stories?

Thanks so much!
 
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scope

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Thank you for the informative list and the addendum as it applies to you. For what it's worth, I agree with everything you said.
 

Teriann

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Hi Jennifer: I'm curious about the life of an agent. What do you find most difficult? Is there an aspect that might cause burn-out? What do you think makes an agent successful or unsuccessful? I'm struck by how young so many successful agents are. My guess is that new agents either "succeed" fairly quickly and eventually have their stable of writers, or they leave the business.

Reading agents webpages and blogs and interviews, I always get a rosy picture -- "I LOVE my job! I LOVE writers!" Is there a negative side, other than the usual -- the discomfort of giving rejections and dealing with rejection.

I went through a sales training once. Is agenting like that?
 

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Before I get lost in the new novel should I be concentrating on getting a few of the short stories published so I can claim publishing credits in my query letter? Do you pay any more attention to a query letter when the writer has previously published short stories?

This is just my personal opinion, OK, so don't take it as gospel. But for me, short story writing and novel writing seem like two different skills. I really don't care AT ALL if you have short stories published, unless you are actually famous for them, have them published in the New Yorker, and have volumes of them put out by Random House. I would, for example, care if you happen to be a short story writer like Alice Munro or John Cheever or David Sedaris or James Thurber. I do NOT care if you have a story in Cricket Magazine.

The only publication credits that matter to ME are novels -- but many (if not most) of my clients are debut authors who have no publication credits at all.
 
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Ken

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hi Jennifer :)

A children's picture book has begun to materialize on my PC.
Was wondering if some of the stuff in it would fly with editors.
It centers around a young girl's revulsion to boys, which is typical to her age bracket (Too stereotypical?) and a comical step she takes to ward off future interactions with them.

Just got to thinking this morn that I might also have her take similar steps to ward off hypothetical advances from girls, which would be a reference to same-sex relationships.
I suppose this would be acceptable in theory, but would this impair its marketablity?

Thanks for any feedback.
 
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brittanimae

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Hi Jennifer,

It's wonderful to have an agent who represents juvenile literature here! Thanks.

A couple of questions:
I've asked before but have never gotten a definitive answer (maybe there isn't one): What is the preferred format for submitting picture books? For the most part I've heard that they should be formatted just like anything else, but on the other hand suppose you have an important page turn in the middle of a sentence (for surprise effect) or something? How much is too much in the way of layout?

Second (if I can be broad here), what is the current market for chapter books like? What is selling, and what isn't?
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I'm curious about the life of an agent. What do you find most difficult? Is there an aspect that might cause burn-out? What do you think makes an agent successful or unsuccessful? I'm struck by how young so many successful agents are. My guess is that new agents either "succeed" fairly quickly and eventually have their stable of writers, or they leave the business.

Reading agents webpages and blogs and interviews, I always get a rosy picture -- "I LOVE my job! I LOVE writers!" Is there a negative side, other than the usual -- the discomfort of giving rejections and dealing with rejection.

I went through a sales training once. Is agenting like that?

For myself, the most difficult thing is that I only have so many hours in the day, and nobody has really invented a time-turner. Since taking care of my current clients is very much my priority, that means I don't get to read new stuff nearly as much, or as quickly, as I might like. If you query me, you might notice that I return your email at 1:30 am on a weekday, or 8:am on a Sunday, or some other ridiculous hour -- well, that's because normal business hours are generally for clients and editors.

I guess I would be one of those that people would call "young", but I have been in the book industry my whole life and have a ton of relevent experience, more than many people much older than me -- so, I guess I don't consider myself particularly young. Most agents I know may be young, but have also either been in the book industry in some capacity for years or have multiple university degrees or both. I think this is a job that favors people with a lot of energy.

I do love my job, and I do love my authors. I am not usually bothered by giving or getting rejections, that's the way of the world. I AM bothered when I really really like something, but I have to reject it anyway -- because the question isn't just "do I like it" it is "can I sell it".
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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It centers around a young girl's revulsion to boys, which is typical to her age bracket (Too stereotypical?) and a comical step she takes to ward off future interactions with them.

Just got to thinking this morn that I might also have her take similar steps to ward off hypothetical advances from girls, which would be a reference to same-sex relationships.
I suppose this would be acceptable in theory, but would this impair its marketablity?

Impossible for me to say, since I haven't seen it. But from what you describe, it sounds a little odd. This little girl wouldn't be warding off "hypothetical advances" from girls -- she'd be warding off friends. Most 4-7 year olds don't spend a lot of time cruising each other. So, she's just a loner who doesn't want friends? Why? Just a misanthrope? OK, but I don't see that having anything to do with same-sex relationships.

I suppose I have misunderstood the concept. But this advice is universal: Just write a darn good book, and worry about its "marketability" later.
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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I've asked before but have never gotten a definitive answer (maybe there isn't one): What is the preferred format for submitting picture books? For the most part I've heard that they should be formatted just like anything else, but on the other hand suppose you have an important page turn in the middle of a sentence (for surprise effect) or something?

Plain text, just like anything else. Kinda like poetry, in a way.

If it is broken into rhyming lines, write it like that. If you have an important page turn in the middle of a sentence --

-- make that a new paragraph!

Whatever you do, do NOT paginate the text (ie, make it 32 pages with two lines on each). And illustration notes are frowned upon -- if there is an image that absolutely MUST exist for the story to make sense, you can add a note in italics. Agents and editors read a lot of picture books with no pictures and we are very very adept at using our own vivid imaginations to fill in the blanks.

Second (if I can be broad here), what is the current market for chapter books like? What is selling, and what isn't?

This is a bit broad. I say you take a look at Publisher's Marketplace. :)
 

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Thanks for being here at AW! It's very generous of you to donate your time and expertise.

I have a marketability question. I'm agented and have a rough draft completed of a YA paranormal mystery, but my agent and I are currently focused on marketing my adult books. I thought I'd ask my question here in case other AWers might be interested in your answer.

One way to describe my YA book is to say it's Nancy Drew meets The Ghost Whisperer. So it's not really "fantasy," but it's not a straight mystery, either. It involves four teenage girls and a treasure hunt, and is set in Hawaii. Is there much of a market for a book like this? A mystery with cross genre elements for teens?

Thanks so much!
 

Jennifer_Laughran

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One way to describe my YA book is to say it's Nancy Drew meets The Ghost Whisperer. So it's not really "fantasy," but it's not a straight mystery, either. It involves four teenage girls and a treasure hunt, and is set in Hawaii. Is there much of a market for a book like this? A mystery with cross genre elements for teens?


Depends. Is it any good?

There is always a market for compelling and well-written. Certainly there are editors, and teenagers, who like paranormal mysteries. Go to the bookstore, see what's out there, and figure out how this story is similar and how it differentiates itself.

I will say, if it is truly YA, I would suggest you find a slightly better way to describe it. From THIS description I would think it was MG, and a bit like that one Brady Bunch episode with the Evil Tiki...
 

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Thanks, Jennifer. My description is pretty simplistic, true. The story's kind of dark, though, so I wouldn't call it MG. Is it good? For teenagers, yes. For adults, maybe not. Anyway, I was only curious about the market. My adult urban fantasies are my primary focus right now and the YA was a side trip for my muse. I appreciate your response. Thanks again!
 

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Impossible for me to say, since I haven't seen it. But from what you describe, it sounds a little odd. This little girl wouldn't be warding off "hypothetical advances" from girls -- she'd be warding off friends. Most 4-7 year olds don't spend a lot of time cruising each other. So, she's just a loner who doesn't want friends? Why? Just a misanthrope? OK, but I don't see that having anything to do with same-sex relationships.

I suppose I have misunderstood the concept. But this advice is universal: Just write a darn good book, and worry about its "marketability" later.

thanks for the advise and incentive.

ps My work isn't as hopeless as all that.
Just sorta hard to describe.
Yeah, I know, that's what they all say ;-)
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I don't know if this question applies to you... but it's been in my mind for a little while. Do you think that, with the current state of the economy, it makes things even more difficult for us aspiring writers in our efforts to get our novel sold? I've been hearing stories about editors being even more selective with their lists. Anything we can do about this?
 

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Hi Jennifer
Once you have had a book published by a POD/vanity, does that mean an agent will not look at you? If yes, then why? What does it have to do with the current story you are trying to sell?

Brandy
 

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Hi Jennifer!

I queried a novel last year, but I am still looking for representation. I have finished another novel involving the same character, and I want to requery those agents that requested partials and fulls of my last novel, since they have already showed an interest. Should I mention in my query that they requested the partial or full of my last novel, or will that just remind them of the rejection? Perhaps I could say something like "You requested the partial of my last novel a year ago, and I think you will find my new novel stronger and more compelling."

Thanks!
 
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Jennifer_Laughran

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Do you think that, with the current state of the economy, it makes things even more difficult for us aspiring writers in our efforts to get our novel sold? I've been hearing stories about editors being even more selective with their lists. Anything we can do about this?

I have not noticed any significant slowdown in number of books sold, or advances received. Do keep in mind, though, I am only familiar with the children's market -- that might not hold true on the grown-up side of the fence, and the recent sharp downturn in the stock market MAY have consequences for large publishers that we haven't seen yet. Meantime, I am not panicked.

Editors are always selective with their lists!
 

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Once you have had a book published by a POD/vanity, does that mean an agent will not look at you? If yes, then why? What does it have to do with the current story you are trying to sell?


Depends. An agent probably won't look at you if you had the book published POD/vanity and are now trying to query them with that book. We are keen to find NEW material, and you'd be surprised how many people don't get that. But you are talking about querying a brand-new manuscript... well...

You really want the brutal answer?

It is a sad truth that many agents do not consider POD books to be real. There is definitely a reason why POD exists, and it is certainly the right solution for some projects (family histories, or very regional books with limited or zero nationwide appeal, for example) -- but still, for better or for worse, it has a certain stigma about it. When somebody crows that they are a multi-published author, and then it turns out that the "publisher" is a copy machine in the garage, well -- it's laughable.

As an agent, I have had great success with debut authors. IF I were an author who had done a vanity book, I probably wouldn't mention it, and I CERTAINLY wouldn't brag about it, unless that book had sold thousands of copies -- positioning myself as a debut author would be much more likely to work out in my favor.
 

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Perhaps I could say something like "You requested the partial of my last novel a year ago, and I think you will find my new novel stronger and more compelling."

Sounds to me like you just answered your own question.

Seriously, there are a couple of people I requested fulls but declined once, who later requeried with a new ms, (reminding me that I liked the first book) -- and are now clients. If someone liked your book well enough to read the whole thing the first time round, there is a very good chance that they will at least be interested to see your next book, too. So you should mention it. I am not sure if I would bother to mention it unless they read the FULL last time -- but it couldn't hurt, either way.
 

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I have not noticed any significant slowdown in number of books sold, or advances received. Do keep in mind, though, I am only familiar with the children's market -- that might not hold true on the grown-up side of the fence, and the recent sharp downturn in the stock market MAY have consequences for large publishers that we haven't seen yet. Meantime, I am not panicked.

Editors are always selective with their lists!

You do have a point. Thank you so much!
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I'm adding to the chorus to say that I'm so happy you're here.

Anyway, I've written a pretty dark YA novel in verse in the vein of Ellen Hopkins, Kirsten Smith, and Lisa Schroeder, and I'm wondering how you feel about these types of books? Also, is the market open to them? God, I hope so.

Many thanks for all your help.
 
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