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Ask Jennifer Laughran! Tireless agent-in-residence!

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

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Jennifer_Laughran

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There seems to be a hot debated discussion right now regarding a genre that is targeted for the ages that come between YA and Adult. Some are throwing around the word "New Adult" as a possible new genre.

Where do you stand in the controversy of whether or not a new category does in fact need to be created that better fits stories containing characters of this in-between age bracket?

I don't think it is hotly debated at all. I also don't think it is a controversy at all. One publisher, St. Martin's, is experimenting with this category. A few people, on the internet, are discussing it. Nobody else in the world knows it is a thing.

Once upon a time, one publisher tried to start a movement called "Lad Lit" to be the "male version of Chick Lit". Remember that? No? Well, it went exactly nowhere, because the books didn't sell. St. Martins will have to actually find and publish these books, and they will have to prove themselves commercially viable, for there to be a bandwagon for anyone else to hop on. I think there are very smart people behind it with very good ideas, and it just might be very successful -- but it hasn't quite happened yet.

I love Upper-YA books (aka "crossovers") but from the perspective of a bookseller, I think they should stay in the YA section of the bookstore. If there is a new category added I think it should be "tween" (aka what is now known as "upper Middle Grade" or "lower YA") Because that right now is a category that is FULL of books, but we have noplace to put them, and getting rid of them from the YA section would raise the bottom age in YA, making older stuff more acceptable. In other words, now we have Middle Grade ages 8-12 and YA 12+. I suggest:

Middle Grade = 8-12 (approx)
Tween = 11-14 (approx)
YA = High School Plus

But whatever. Either way you slice it, bookstores will have to decide to make that a thing, which they will when the number of books and demand for them reaches a tipping point. Wait-and-see mode, on!
 

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Just a quick question (I apologize if this has already been asked): What should a writer put in the subject line of an email nudge on requested materials? I'm not sure if there is a general rule for this, but I don't want my nudge to get lost in the deluge of new queries....

I'd put something like "status check - requested materials - TITLE" or "re: TITLE by AUTHOR" or similar. There is no rule, use your best judgment.
 

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So many of the announcements of sales say "a 2-book deal." I'm curious how that works. Is it usually done just for authors who have a sequel planned to that particular book? Or can the second book be something completely different?

Both, or either, or other. A multi-book deal evolves out of discussion between the agent and the editor -- either because the book is something that obviously NEEDS a sequel, or because the author has other works in progress on tap already that are equally awesome, or sometimes even if nobody has any idea what the second book might be but obviously this person can write, so the multi-book deal is just to sweeten the offer. I've had it all those ways.

There are good reasons to take a two-book deal and equally good reasons to turn it down. I would take it on a case-by-case basis.

Good reasons to accept: You want to have the feeling of security. You're a debut author and the publisher wants to prove that they are "in it for the long haul", and you are guaranteed the same $ for book 2 even if the first book is not successful. It is a book with obvious need for sequels or companion books.

Good reasons to decline: If the first book is phenomenally successful, you can demand more money for the next book if it isn't already under contract. If you and the editor work badly together, you can go elsewhere rather than stay locked in a poor working relationship.

If you know you are slow or work badly under pressure, you should also probably not accept a multi-book deal.

How long does the author typically have to produce that second book (one of the things I worry about, because I seem to be slower than most...)? Does the editor usually want a synopsis or some such info about the planned second book ahead of time, or does the author just write what the muse inspires and then hope everybody likes it?

Time frames will be part of the contract discussion, but generally it would be due somewhere 6-12 months or so from the due date of your first book so that the books could be released about a year apart.

Usually my clients have discussed possibilities for book 2 with the editor well ahead of time and know the direction they want to go in, and might send a partial along before they get too far into it just to be sure that they're on the right track.

Keep in mind that you can "hope everyone likes it" all you want, but if they DON'T like it, they won't publish it. And you'll still have to come up with something that they DO like to fill the contract, or else that contract will get cancelled. So open communication is a good idea.
 

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I was wondering, if you receive a submission with a very promising idea but if the finish (writing) is somewhat lacking, do you still keep the author "on tabs" or do you reject him right away?

Great ideas are easy, great execution is hard. I'd reject.

However, if the idea was REALLY interesting, I'd mention it in the rejection, remember the writers name and keep track of them or offer to read a revision in the future.
 

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I was curious as to how much it takes for an agent to reject a full. I mean, if they love the premise, the writing, the voice, but a.)it takes 20 pages or so for them to get into the story, but from that point on, it's a page turner or b.) the ending was a disappointment or too rushed. From an agent's point of view, would those be easy revisions and they'd offer representation or would they reject it because of those flaws?

If I am just so-so on the premise, writing, voice, etc, then a rushed ending or lame beginning might be a deal-breaker. But if I really love the premise, writing, voice, characters, and everything else, then a rushed ending or lame beginning are easy enough to fix.

I guess it depends - how much do I love all those other elements of the book? Does the author seem amenable to revision? Would the revision still fit the author's vision? How much do I want to work with the author? Do I have the time to take on a major new project without short-changing my current clients?

I might decide to give the author notes and offer to look again should they decide to revise.
 

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Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Ms. Laughran! Hope you enjoyed your holiday and happy new year!
 

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I wondered how you feel about brick and mortar vs. online, especially in relation to new or debut authors? Is it ESSENTIAL to be in the B&N, Borders, etc. these days or is Amazon enough?

First of all I agree with OldHack's response. But I'll add to it.

I happen to have grown up in a bookstore, and so I am biased for sure, but I feel very strongly that good distribution and bookstore placement is essential to book success.

You've given one scenario, in which an internet browser sees more than a shop browser. But from my experience it is actually not quite like that. Let me give you an analogy, in which a Bookstore is represented by a physical copy of the newspaper, and Ama*on is represented by the online version of the same paper.

I have a copy of the New York Times. I look at the headlines and skim the front section. I paw through all the sections and find the ones I like (in my case, the Arts section or the book review). I read it - starting with the headline that most interests me, but because I have to flip the pages to read more of the story, I find other articles along the way. I finish that section, but I am not done with my coffee yet, so I paw through the other sections - oh that Business article looks intriguing, and while I am reading more of IT, I stumble across more things that I have an interest in, wowee! I play the crossword puzzle and munch on toast, and probably take a look at the actual news before I am done. Total time in paper-land = 30-45 minutes.

OR, I have an online version of the New York Times. I glance at all the section headings and click on the arts section. I go directly to "books" and "lists" and see if my stuff is on the bestseller list. I see if there is a review of any book I am already interested in, and if there is, I click on it. I look at the headlines only, and if one seems interesting, I click on it. I leave. Total time = 3 to 4 minutes.

Is one inherently better than another? Nah, they are both good for different reasons. The physical paper is a tactile experience - you get smell, touch sight and the act of pawing and flipping pages, as well as all the things you look at without even really realizing you are doing it. You stop, slow down, peruse, enjoy, glance, etc. The internet paper is quick and ink-free, you get what you want and you keep moving.

The same is true for physical bookstores vs online. The times that you "browse" online are when you don't know what you want, but even then, your choices are limited by what the computer THINKS YOU MIGHT LIKE based on its own internal algorithms - rather than in a bookstore, when you can look at anything, and booksellers can give you recommendations in a much more personal way.

But anyway, all that is neither here nor there. I don't think Ama*on is enough personally, I think physical store exposure is important (not only Waterstones or B&N, but also indie bookstores, and Tesco, Target, Walmart and/or Costco woundn't hurt) if you want to actually move serious paper. But whatever, prove me wrong.
 

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Hi, I'm trying to break into writing. I've heard that a lot of agents stop reading after the first paragraph. What makes you stop reading?

Crap writing, unbelievable characters or dialogue, ridiculous premise. I usually give it a bit more than a paragraph, though. :)
 

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My family and I are now on a world record attempt bike ride from Alaska to Argentina. My sons are trying to break the record as the youngest people to cycle the entire length of the Pan American Highway.

We are now at the equator - halfway around the globe! I would like to write two books about our experiences. The first would be from the arctic to the equator - the part we've done already. The second would be the last half.

How do I put that in a query? Do I just ask about the first part now and not mention what's to come? Or do I ask about a two-part series?

Why does it have to be two books? That seems silly. Why not one great book rather than two slim books? I suggest you really think about why you are dividing it like this and figure out if you have to do it that way. I think that the journey AND the finale with closure, success, failure, lessons learned, etc - is a vital part of why people read books like this - and if you stop halfway through the journey... I just don't get it.

But whatever. Once you've figured out what you are really writing about, create a proposal that includes: A brief synopsis with the entire arc of the story. A table of contents. A sample of a couple of chapters. A description of what you are trying to achieve with this book, who you think the audience for it is, what other books that are similar have come out and how your book is different. etc. If you really feel that you MUST do this in two books, you'll have to explain why and give a brief rundown on what sort of things book 2 might entail, as well, because obviously that is gonna be a question in any agent or publisher's mind. ("So... what happened??!")
 

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First of all I agree with OldHack's response. But I'll add to it.

I happen to have grown up in a bookstore, and so I am biased for sure, but I feel very strongly that good distribution and bookstore placement is essential to book success.

You've given one scenario, in which an internet browser sees more than a shop browser. But from my experience it is actually not quite like that. Let me give you an analogy, in which a Bookstore is represented by a physical copy of the newspaper, and Ama*on is represented by the online version of the same paper.

I have a copy of the New York Times. I look at the headlines and skim the front section. I paw through all the sections and find the ones I like (in my case, the Arts section or the book review). I read it - starting with the headline that most interests me, but because I have to flip the pages to read more of the story, I find other articles along the way. I finish that section, but I am not done with my coffee yet, so I paw through the other sections - oh that Business article looks intriguing, and while I am reading more of IT, I stumble across more things that I have an interest in, wowee! I play the crossword puzzle and munch on toast, and probably take a look at the actual news before I am done. Total time in paper-land = 30-45 minutes.

OR, I have an online version of the New York Times. I glance at all the section headings and click on the arts section. I go directly to "books" and "lists" and see if my stuff is on the bestseller list. I see if there is a review of any book I am already interested in, and if there is, I click on it. I look at the headlines only, and if one seems interesting, I click on it. I leave. Total time = 3 to 4 minutes.

Is one inherently better than another? Nah, they are both good for different reasons. The physical paper is a tactile experience - you get smell, touch sight and the act of pawing and flipping pages, as well as all the things you look at without even really realizing you are doing it. You stop, slow down, peruse, enjoy, glance, etc. The internet paper is quick and ink-free, you get what you want and you keep moving.

The same is true for physical bookstores vs online. The times that you "browse" online are when you don't know what you want, but even then, your choices are limited by what the computer THINKS YOU MIGHT LIKE based on its own internal algorithms - rather than in a bookstore, when you can look at anything, and booksellers can give you recommendations in a much more personal way.

But anyway, all that is neither here nor there. I don't think Ama*on is enough personally, I think physical store exposure is important (not only Waterstones or B&N, but also indie bookstores, and Tesco, Target, Walmart and/or Costco woundn't hurt) if you want to actually move serious paper. But whatever, prove me wrong.

I appreciate your time and thoughtfulness here.

Maybe you can enlighten me then as to placement in a bookstore, because I guess I'm picturing five copies of my novel on a shelf someplace where nobody will ever see them. If I can manage to get good distribution, and get INTO these stores, what kind of placement can I expect? Are there tables for debut novels, or simply new releases? If my initial print run is 500, how can I expect to get into these stores? Should I select bigger stores in bigger markets only (as opposed to the 700 or whatever B&N across the USA)? Do I need to push for a bigger first print run, of maybe 1500-3000? ARGH. So many question. My biggest fear is that I'll push this new, small press to get great distribution, the books don't sell, and I drag them under with returns.

Any thoughts?

Thanks,
Richard
 

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Jennifer,

Thank you so much for your response to my question above. I have one other, follow up question. I am being told that my novel isn't YA because the MC is 18 (soon to be nineteen) and the love interest is 20 and it all takes place on a university campus. The story, pace and overall theme and feel of the story seems YA to me and was written with a YA audience in mind.

How should I label/query this book? Will most agents reject it as being YA as soon as they see the age of the characters and the setting of the story? Should I label it as Paranormal Romance and stop sending it to agents who represent YA? Can I send it to both and query it according to what a particular agent represents (adult fictions vs. YA fiction)?

Thanks.
 

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Jennife,

The Wimpy Kid books, what level are they considered? The main character is in 7th Grade, but the writing and length seem to be aimed at a younger reader. Thank you.
 

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I appreciate your time and thoughtfulness here.

Maybe you can enlighten me then as to placement in a bookstore, because I guess I'm picturing five copies of my novel on a shelf someplace where nobody will ever see them. If I can manage to get good distribution, and get INTO these stores, what kind of placement can I expect? Are there tables for debut novels, or simply new releases? If my initial print run is 500, how can I expect to get into these stores? Should I select bigger stores in bigger markets only (as opposed to the 700 or whatever B&N across the USA)? Do I need to push for a bigger first print run, of maybe 1500-3000? ARGH. So many question. My biggest fear is that I'll push this new, small press to get great distribution, the books don't sell, and I drag them under with returns.

There are tables for new releases. But if your publisher is really that small and your initial print run is only 500 copies, I can't imagine that you'll get into big chain stores without some kind of miracle.

As an author, you don't get to "select stores" to carry your book or pick how many copies they print or where they end up - that is so not the authors job. You can't MAKE a small company "get good distribution" -- that is like saying that you want to make the children's lemonade stand on the corner get their own lobbyist in Washington DC and start pushing legislation through congress. It doesn't work like that.
 

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Jennifer,

Thank you so much for your response to my question above. I have one other, follow up question. I am being told that my novel isn't YA because the MC is 18 (soon to be nineteen) and the love interest is 20 and it all takes place on a university campus. The story, pace and overall theme and feel of the story seems YA to me and was written with a YA audience in mind.

How should I label/query this book? Will most agents reject it as being YA as soon as they see the age of the characters and the setting of the story? Should I label it as Paranormal Romance and stop sending it to agents who represent YA? Can I send it to both and query it according to what a particular agent represents (adult fictions vs. YA fiction)?

Sure. Why don't you call it "upper YA/crossover" fiction for YA agents, and "paranormal romance" fiction for the agents who do that. It is all just marketing terminology, don't stress.
 

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Sure. Why don't you call it "upper YA/crossover" fiction for YA agents, and "paranormal romance" fiction for the agents who do that. It is all just marketing terminology, don't stress.

Deep breath in, smooth, controlled breath out. I feel so much better now. Thank you!!!
 

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Great ideas are easy, great execution is hard. I'd reject.

However, if the idea was REALLY interesting, I'd mention it in the rejection, remember the writers name and keep track of them or offer to read a revision in the future.

Thank you for your reply. :)

One last question - and I think it's part of every author's hope, hidden in the back of his mind.

What are the chances nowadays of authors getting big advances? I know you mentioned in the thread that the days of the big advances are on the wane, but is it possible to mention some figures? From x amount to y amount? On average, I don't necessarily want specific book genres.
 

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submission guideline confusion (merged with Ms. Laughran's thread)

Hi Jennifer,

I was confused by a part of the online submission guidelines to your agency .


On the website I read "Do include a proper and personalized greeting to the agent you are querying. We tend to ignore letters where this is omitted..." Later it says "...you don't have
to individualize every query, but at least give the illusion of targeting the
particular agent whom you are querying."


Does the proper and personalized greeting mean "Dear Ms. Brown"? Or does it
mean something else? For example why you thought this agent might be a good fit
for your ms?

Thanks!
 

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On the website I read "Do include a proper and personalized greeting to the agent you are querying. We tend to ignore letters where this is omitted..." Later it says "...you don't have
to individualize every query, but at least give the illusion of targeting the
particular agent whom you are querying."


Does the proper and personalized greeting mean "Dear Ms. Brown"? Or does it
mean something else? For example why you thought this agent might be a good fit
for your ms?

At LEAST put the agent's name on it -- if you put "dear sirs" or "to whom it may concern" or just nothing, it will look like spam and we'll very likely delete.

If you have a reason for choosing that particular agent, it is nice to put that as well.
 
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