Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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Jennifer_Laughran

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Hi Jennifer,
I had the rare fortune of having several agents interested in my NF food blog-based book. That being said, once I chose an agent and finished the proposal rewrites, I was hoping that the process of them selling the book to a publisher would be a little faster. I'm getting positive emails that there is definite interest, but its been almost 3 months. Is that typical? I have no idea how long this process takes.

It can take anywhere from 24 hours to a year and a half, to forever-they-don't-sell-it. There is no typical. Sorry.
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I have a question about percentages. You said above that you accept approximately .1% of what crosses your desk (which, I gather, is pretty normal for an agent). What I'd like to know is, what percentage of manuscripts you request make it out of the slush pile and on to your client list?

I have two manuscripts out on requests right now (one partial) and I'm just wondering what my odds are. They've both been out for over a month which I hope is good news since both requests were made within a week of my query (going under the (possibly flawed) assumption that if they read queries so fast they probably have at least looked at my MS).

Thanks! You're doing a great thing here and I'm sure it's a big drain on your time. I'm sure I speak for everyone here when I say we really appreciate your efforts!

Umm... I have no idea. I would say that I request about 1 full in every 50-80 queries. And of those fulls, I end up repping possibly 1-2%
 

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Hi Jennifer,

I read somewhere that agents hate prologues, and stop reading right there...is that true? Do you personally feel that way as well? Thanks for taking the time to do this.

I do hate them - But I know that about myself, so I will usually read past it.
 

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Hi Jennifer, thanks for assisting us on AW. I'm an oldtimer who hasn't been here for a while. I am working on a book comprised of celebrity interviews which I am conducting as a writer and and a therapist. (I'll be happy to email or IM you the specific interview topic privately if you would loike to hear it.) The interviews will be via telephone because the subjects are all over the country. Do I need to have hard copy signed release forms if I have their voices on tape? Also, should I first try to get an agent based on a proposal because people will be more likely to agree to be interviewed if I already have an agent (or better yet, a publisher?) Or would it be better to get interviews because then I am more likely to get a good agent (or publisher?) I have good contacts to celebrities and am ready to interview but just want to make sure I am going about it the right way before I start actually taping. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and experience!

I am very sorry, I know NOTHING about grownup non-fiction.
 

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Manuscript typo(s) = deal breaker?

I'm asking because, hypothetically, a writer could send her (requested) MG novel to a young, rockstar agent at, say, Andrea Brown Lit., having made ill-advised last minute changes, only to notice the typo(s) several weeks later. It could make said writer beat her head against the pavement and I want to react appropriately, with good information, should I happen to be walking by this writer on the sidewalk during such a tantrum. It could happen.

Should she resend? Should she hope the agent won't notice, or that the story will show enough potential in other ways? I wouldn't send out a manuscript with typos in it, personally, but I'll need to know what to tell this girl, the writer.

Thanks very much for your professional opinion about horrible, regrettable manuscript typos.
 

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Manuscript typo(s) = deal breaker?

I'm asking because, hypothetically, a writer could send her (requested) MG novel to a young, rockstar agent at, say, Andrea Brown Lit., having made ill-advised last minute changes, only to notice the typo(s) several weeks later. It could make said writer beat her head against the pavement and I want to react appropriately, with good information, should I happen to be walking by this writer on the sidewalk during such a tantrum. It could happen.

Should she resend? Should she hope the agent won't notice, or that the story will show enough potential in other ways? I wouldn't send out a manuscript with typos in it, personally, but I'll need to know what to tell this girl, the writer.

Thanks very much for your professional opinion about horrible, regrettable manuscript typos.

If the typos are like, a couple of misspelled words or a comma in the wrong place kind of thing, I wouldn't worry about it. If it is like CHAPTERS ARE MISSING kind of a thing... you can write a note and explain. :)
 

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time spans in MG

Hello again, Jennifer,

Your devotion to this site inspires me. Such unselfishness!

My question concerns time passage in MG novels. I've read comments which state that a MG novel usually covers only a short period of time - day, summer, etc. Is that always the hard and fast rule?

I'm asking because I'm working on a fairytale type story that includes a passage of several years - although done in a single sentence - before the protag makes an appearance. I originally tried it with a prologue, but I didn't care for it that way. The way it's written as of now, the witch needs to be introduced immediately to set up the curse - and the protag is then introduced as an infant for one scene, before we get to the crux of things.

I know it's been done in the past, but is this something that can even work in today's market?

We really appreciate you around here.

Sissy
 

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Janet Reid and I were having coffee a while back and she told me I should have a blog. Well, I was having coffee. I can't be certain what she was doing when she posted that advice to the world on her blog.

My questions for Jenn Laughran are:

Do you agree that unrepresented authors ought to have a blog before starting to query? (Too late for this one.)
And, if so, and even if not, should a blog target the intended audience of the book for which the writer is seeking representation?

For YA authors, that seems a little easier. They can just use a lot of ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! AND SAY "BESTIES" ALL THE TIME!!!! BUT THEY DO IT WITHOUT SOUNDING CONDESCENDING!!!! WHICH TAKES TALENT, FOR REALZ BESTIES, I'M NOT KIDDING!!!!! THESE YA AUTHORS, THEY'RE GENIUS THAT WAY, WHICH YOU SURELY KNOW!!!!

But what about MG? Should the blog be totally 9-12-year-old-centric?

Perhaps everybody knows these things, but I simply don't, yet.

Thanks, Jennifer!
 

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My question concerns time passage in MG novels. I've read comments which state that a MG novel usually covers only a short period of time - day, summer, etc. Is that always the hard and fast rule?

I don't think so. I've never heard of such a rule.

I'm asking because I'm working on a fairytale type story that includes a passage of several years - although done in a single sentence - before the protag makes an appearance. I originally tried it with a prologue, but I didn't care for it that way. The way it's written as of now, the witch needs to be introduced immediately to set up the curse - and the protag is then introduced as an infant for one scene, before we get to the crux of things.

I know it's been done in the past, but is this something that can even work in today's market?

Well, you say it is a 'fairytale type story' - this is done all the time in fairy tales. So go for it. Obviously I haven't read your book so I can't tell if what you'd done is successful -- If people read it and don't understand, or think it is too weird, you can always change it, but I see no reason why that would not be fine in theory.
 

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Janet Reid and I were having coffee a while back and she told me I should have a blog. Well, I was having coffee. I can't be certain what she was doing when she posted that advice to the world on her blog.

My questions for Jenn Laughran are:

Do you agree that unrepresented authors ought to have a blog before starting to query? (Too late for this one.)
And, if so, and even if not, should a blog target the intended audience of the book for which the writer is seeking representation?

For YA authors, that seems a little easier. They can just use a lot of ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! AND SAY "BESTIES" ALL THE TIME!!!! BUT THEY DO IT WITHOUT SOUNDING CONDESCENDING!!!! WHICH TAKES TALENT, FOR REALZ BESTIES, I'M NOT KIDDING!!!!! THESE YA AUTHORS, THEY'RE GENIUS THAT WAY, WHICH YOU SURELY KNOW!!!!

But what about MG? Should the blog be totally 9-12-year-old-centric?

Perhaps everybody knows these things, but I simply don't, yet.

Thanks, Jennifer!

I don't much care if authors have blogs. I think some people are good at blogging, it suits them and is a natural fit. Some just aren't, and would be better served working on more books. You should not blog if it is not something you want to do and like to do, because it will read terribly. Blogs that are up just for "marketing yourself" are awful to read.

I'd say that the blogs of middle grade authors are usually geared toward the teachers, librarians and other writers that will be much of your early buying audience. Kids come later, but most 8-12 year olds are not reading blogs.

I would also suggest you take it easy on YA bloggers. They can be some of the most enthusiastic boosters of other writers out there... and though their preferred demographic or style may be different from yours, there's no need to be disdainful.
 

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just wondering, is YA fantasy IYO defined by agents as suitable for 12-17 year olds, or younger(11-14)?

Basically, fantasy or not fantasy, these are the accepted age-ranges:

Baby book = 0-2

Picture book = 2-7 (some veer high on this scale, some low).

Easy Reader = 4-6

Chapter book = 6-8

Middle Grade = 8-12

"Tween" = 10-13 (this is NOT a real category, but people will know what you are talking about. Also called "upper MG" or "lower YA"

YA = 12+

Upper YA = 14+

Obviously some 5 and 6 year olds are already confident readers, some 9, 10, 11 year olds read YA books, some 11, 12, 13 year olds are already in the regular sf/f section, and plenty of 14 year olds read adult thrillers. Everyone is different. These are just basic guidelines, and publishers might have 'house styles' that vary slightly about what they call each age group or what ages they consider it.

Often ages on children's books are stamped in small letters on the back or inside jacket flap. This'd be a good thing to start looking for to get a better idea of where your book might fit, if you aren't sure.
 

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Jennifer, what are you currently looking for and not getting? Are you swamped?

I am really not seeing very much middle grade of any kind, or just awesome mainstream YA.

85% of my queries are paranormal romance... and I have to tell you, I have enough of it on my plate. For me to take on something else in the Weird Creature Love genre, it would have to be something beyond exceptional.
 
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quietfire

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I would also suggest you take it easy on YA bloggers. They can be some of the most enthusiastic boosters of other writers out there... and though their preferred demographic or style may be different from yours, there's no need to be disdainful.

Holy cow, no way--I was being serious! I find their enthusiasm amazing and they (the YA bloggers I've read) come across as completely sincere. That's all I meant. They ARE awesome.

And it does sometimes feel like we are absolutely supposed to have a blog, but what you said makes perfect sense. Thanks, as always.
 

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Holy cow, no way--I was being serious! I find their enthusiasm amazing and they (the YA bloggers I've read) come across as completely sincere. That's all I meant. They ARE awesome.

And it does sometimes feel like we are absolutely supposed to have a blog, but what you said makes perfect sense. Thanks, as always.

OK. I guess I am so used to people being snarky, it is hard to discern sincerity. Sorry! :)
 

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I am really not seeing very much middle grade of any kind, or just awesome mainstream YA.

85% of my queries are paranormal romance... and I have to tell you, I have enough of it on my plate. For me to take on something else in the Weird Creature Love genre, it would have to be something beyond exceptional.

Oh, that's interesting and very good to know. I know it may vary from one agent's inbox to the next, but I didn't realize there were so many people shopping around paranormal romance.
 

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Thank you so much, Jennifer, for your quick response. I was about to give up on it, but now I'll at least finish it.

I really appreciate reading your responses to all these endless questions. And I honestly hope I've never come across as snarky. That would be dreadful. Seriously.
 

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Jennifer,

Of the MG you're seeing, how much of it is paranormal in nature?

I really don't know. The amount of middle grade I get is so tiny compared to the amount of YA, I haven't bothered to pay attention and count up what genre they fall into.

In general, though, MG tends to be fantasy (like adventure-fantasy, high fantasy or animal fantasy) or realistic (and in realistic, either family story, school story, mystery or comedy, or some combo) -- there is not a ton of MG paranormal, just as there is not a ton of MG romance. (Some that I can think of, but not much.)

I tend to think that these topics are a bit more appealing to older kids.
 

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Jennifer,

We've been talking (again) over in the kids' section about MG word count. A few of us have heard from agents that an MG novel should be at least 30K. But I can name several Newbery winners that are much, much shorter:

Tuck Everlasting: 27K
Midwife's Apprentice: 21K
The Whipping Boy: 12K
Sarah, Plain and Tall: 8K!

Granted, none of these are recent books. Which makes me wonder...is this a post-Harry Potter trend? Are publishers seeking longer books for a reason, or are they just finding that kids really want longer stories? I can certainly see The Whipping Boy being even more delightful if it had been three times longer, but it's hard to imagine Sarah, Plain and Tall being three times longer just to sell.

And as a teacher I see a huge market for shorter books. No way could an entire class read and talk about something as long as the Mysterious Benedict Society, no matter how much fun it is. But Sarah, Plain and Tall is perfect, even for reluctant/struggling readers.

Plus there's the economy...and ebooks...both of which I imagine will have an effect on just how thick a book publishers want to take a risk on.

What do you think? Is there still a possibility for a well-written but slender book to be published these days? Or is chunky the wave of the future?
 

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I really don't know. The amount of middle grade I get is so tiny compared to the amount of YA, I haven't bothered to pay attention and count up what genre they fall into.

In general, though, MG tends to be fantasy (like adventure-fantasy, high fantasy or animal fantasy) or realistic (and in realistic, either family story, school story, mystery or comedy, or some combo) -- there is not a ton of MG paranormal, just as there is not a ton of MG romance. (Some that I can think of, but not much.)

I tend to think that these topics are a bit more appealing to older kids.

That makes me a little sad :(

Books like Wait Till Helen Comes were my favorites as a kid.
 
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