• Guest please check The Index before starting a thread.

Zeno Agency (John Parker, John Berlyne)

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

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
They probably will. Anecdotal note - I met John Berlyne in April (I managed to pitch to him without completely losing it to nerves and he asked for a partial. Quick getting back too, and gave me nice feedback). He said that 'at the moment, series sell best' or 'Pubs only want series' or something along those lines (hey, it was April, I was nervous!) Sadly my MS was not his kind of thing.


BTW he is extremely impressive in person. Very incisive.

Anyway, good luck.

Thanks! Yes, that's the impression I've been getting from contacts over here. I have several friends writing SF&F and getting published, and a 2-3 book deal seems to be standard. Fans of the genre like to get into a world and spend as much time there as possible, preferably with characters they know and love. And with "A Game of Thrones" due out from HBO in spring 2011, there's bound to be an upsurge of interest in gritty historical/political epic fantasy.

Know what you mean about the nerves, too - I got my break at a con and found myself chatting to a publisher in the bar. Took me a couple of minutes just to marshal my thoughts and launch into "So, looking for new writers, eh?"
 

Filigree

Mildly Disturbing
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
16,433
Reaction score
1,511
Location
between rising apes and falling angels
Website
www.cranehanabooks.com
This is extremely interesting. I've seen other agents write that series are preferable right now, as a way to build platform and sales. But a lot of workshop directors and agents are also saying to make that first book a standalone, just to be safe.

So confused.

Filigree
 

profen4

Banned
Spammer
Joined
Apr 25, 2009
Messages
1,694
Reaction score
186
Location
The Great White North
This is extremely interesting. I've seen other agents write that series are preferable right now, as a way to build platform and sales. But a lot of workshop directors and agents are also saying to make that first book a standalone, just to be safe.

So confused.

Filigree

The goal, I think, is to write something that is stand alone but that has series potential. My personal opinion is that a stand-alone will get you more attention from the editor--since it's less risky-- but having ideas for how to turn it into a series will be something they--and the marketing department--might want to consider.
 

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
The goal, I think, is to write something that is stand alone but that has series potential. My personal opinion is that a stand-alone will get you more attention from the editor--since it's less risky-- but having ideas for how to turn it into a series will be something they--and the marketing department--might want to consider.

Exactly - the first book needs to have a self-contained plot (cliffhangers don't go down well with readers), but having a setting and/or characters that leads into sequels is very attractive to publishers. it's a much easier sell than another one-off!
 

Zeno Agency

Registered
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
3
Reaction score
0
Let me see if I can shed further light on this... the chances of getting you a one book deal are next to nothing. It does happen, but about as often as a two-headed goat is born. This is simply down to the fact that in the main areas into which I'm selling, publishers have to make significant efforts to come up with a brand for a new author, something to distinguish them from the pack. These efforts, such as a cover art, cover style, typography, scheduling, marketing, publicity etc, etc, etc will produce better returns if they have a chance to work over a number of titles. The more awareness customers have of your product, the more they recognize it, the more chances of sales.

If you write you fantasy Opus and then turn in a noir crime novel, the big, docking sword that defines your branding for the fantasy won't work for a book that sits on the crime shelves.

And if a publisher has success with your fantasy, they're going to want to repeat that success a year later and again a year after that. When I present a project to a publisher therefore, I'm almost never thinking about a single novel, but rather about offering them something that gives them maximum return on their investment. (The better that return looks, the better the advance is likely to be.)

For authors (and this is specific, but not limited to authors in the areas in which Zeno specialises) it is important, vital even, to have this understanding of the commercial imperatives of the business they're attempting to break into... did you see the word I used there? *Business*. And I appreciate it's easy to lose focus on how important this aspect truly is - writing is a solitary craft, after all.

There is a reason why series work - becuase they're good commercially and they're what readers want. If I read a book by Joe Schmoe and love it, of course I want the repeat the pleasure I experienced on reading that first book when I hand over my money and start reading the second. And when I read the third one too. (After that, I'm ready to try something new!!).

Look at Brent Weeks, folks - three books in The Night Angel Trilogy published one after the other in October, November, December, in 2008. The first one hooked reader (becuase it was good!) and in this world of instant gratification, the second and third books were right there and available to buy as a set for your mates at Christmas. This was a brilliant publishing strategy by Orbit and it shifted a *lot* of copies. On both sides the Atlantic and in a bunch of other territories too.

The other thing that occurs to me is that if you've gone to all the trouble of inventing a whole WORLD - a place with it's own geography, races, politics and what-have-you, why would you only chose to write one story in it?

A trilogy is not one book split into three, it is three books with three separate stories but where each is umbillically linked to the other, whether by character, setting or plot. Look at Steve Erikson's Malazan Books or Abercrombie's First Law - when you finish the first book in each of these series, you want to go back and visit these places again, to spend more time with these folks. These books were bought by their publishers, not just becuase they were brilliant, but becuase they offered repeat pleasure for the reader. The deal for Erikson was for TEN books!

But each book must stand - not alone per se - but certainly on its own merits. So I'm not sure I entirely agree with swhibs123 who says "My personal opinion is that a stand-alone will get you more attention from the editor--since it's less risky-- but having ideas for how to turn it into a series will be something they--and the marketing department--might want to consider." It absolutely won't get you more attention and nobody wants your single, stand-alone book. But yes, having those ideas for what happens beyond book one is essential becuase if you get that first book right, you'll be required to perform the trick a second and a third time.

And if they bomb...you'll have to do it all again, under a different name :)

Good luck folks!

John B
 

miamyselfandi

here and there again
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 1, 2010
Messages
193
Reaction score
6
The other thing that occurs to me is that if you've gone to all the trouble of inventing a whole WORLD - a place with it's own geography, races, politics and what-have-you, why would you only chose to write one story in it?

A trilogy is not one book split into three, it is three books with three separate stories but where each is umbillically linked to the other, whether by character, setting or plot. Look at Steve Erikson's Malazan Books or Abercrombie's First Law - when you finish the first book in each of these series, you want to go back and visit these places again, to spend more time with these folks. These books were bought by their publishers, not just becuase they were brilliant, but becuase they offered repeat pleasure for the reader. The deal for Erikson was for TEN books!

But each book must stand - not alone per se - but certainly on its own merits. So I'm not sure I entirely agree with swhibs123 who says "My personal opinion is that a stand-alone will get you more attention from the editor--since it's less risky-- but having ideas for how to turn it into a series will be something they--and the marketing department--might want to consider." It absolutely won't get you more attention and nobody wants your single, stand-alone book. But yes, having those ideas for what happens beyond book one is essential becuase if you get that first book right, you'll be required to perform the trick a second and a third time.

And if they bomb...you'll have to do it all again, under a different name :)

Good luck folks!

John B

Thank you for your detailed explanation.

Does this mean that a fantasy trilogy in which the story is continued throughout three books is pretty much dead in the water? Each book has its own dramatic through line, but the question raised/quest revealed in the first book isn't finally answered/resolved until the end of the third...

Again, thank you!
 

Mr Flibble

They've been very bad, Mr Flibble
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 6, 2008
Messages
18,889
Reaction score
5,028
Location
We couldn't possibly do that. Who'd clear up the m
Website
francisknightbooks.co.uk
Not meaning to step on any toes here, but I'm not as busy as the Zeno agency :) From what I gather (and I could be wrong) it's like this. Your story may have a grand arch that encompasses the trilogy, but each book should have a plot (or sub plot) that resolves rather than leaving things hanging at the end of a book. You van leave parts of the main plot in the air to an extent, but many of the questions of the book should be answered.


So, in the Brent Weeks example, in the first book, the answer to the Durzo question was fairly well resolved (excuse me while I sigh...), giving a nice satisfying ending - but then of course, Azoth/Kylar has other things (brought up in the first book) to contend with - the overarching plot.

So, each book is satisfying in its own right BUT the overall story continues through the books. Some things - fairly large things - should resolve. Other things - the background plot, big picture, are part resolved but left open. And of course there are as many ways to do this as there are writers :D And then of course you have your series a la the Dresden Files where each can be read alone, but if you read them in order....

ETA: I should note here: My editor is extremely hot on each title being able to be read on its own. That is, you should not have had to have read the previous to enjoy it. Now, this will probably vary from house to house, but it's not a bad idea. As she says, if someone picks up book 2 by accident(I have done this more times than I care to count, and I get irritated when I'm expected to know what happened before. Maybe neon lights on the series part number is the answer)...make them love it so much they go back and pick up book 1. Win win.
 
Last edited:

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
I think the problem is that we see a lot of conflicting advice on the web - and some of it is either out-of-date, based on older books about writing, authors' experiences a decade ago, different genres, or just misinterpreted...

A writing teacher whom I otherwise greatly respect ends her online course with a lesson on "why you don't want to write a series". She bases this on her own experience, but then AFAIK she hasn't actually published any fantasy recently (she moved into paranormal romance/suspense), which make me think she's out of touch with the market. So, be careful to seek out up-to-the-minute intel from the guys on the front line, not the veterans telling their old war stories in the pub :)

Also, many agents' blogs say "Only pitch the one book in your query". Yes, you only pitch the one book up front, because you have limited space to interest the agent, but as John says, if it's fantasy, once you get past that initial query you will be asked about sequels/series potential because that's what's going to build readership. Other genres vary (mainstream contemporary fiction is much more prone to standalone works), but whatever you write, you need to show that you can produce more material in a similar vein that will satisfy readers' demand for "More, please!"

Fantasy lends itself particularly well to sequels and series because readers fall in love with the world, not just with the characters. Switching genres even a tiny bit (e.g. epic fantasy -> steampunk, or even vampires -> werewolves) risks losing some readers - you need to write more of the same without repeating yourself (never easy!).
 

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
Not meaning to step on any toes here, but I'm not as busy as the Zeno agency :) From what I gather (and I could be wrong) it's like this. Your story may have a grand arch that encompasses the trilogy, but each book should have a plot (or sub plot) that resolves rather than leaving things hanging at the end of a book. You van leave parts of the main plot in the air to an extent, but many of the questions of the book should be answered.

This :)

From what I can gather, what publishers don't want is another "Wheel of Time" or "A Song of Ice and Fire" - an ongoing saga so big, the author may not make it to the end! I loved "A Game of Thrones", but GRRM's TV background shows in the closing chapters, which are more like a TV season finale than the end of a novel, and I know many readers are extremely frustrated by the slow rate at which the books come out. This is clearly not a problem for GRRM, who is an established writer with his fingers in many other media, but for a new author it could well be a career-ender.

The Robin Hobb/Juliet E McKenna approach - multiple trilogies/tetralogies set in the same world - is a lot safer and more popular with readers.
 
Last edited:

Zeno Agency

Registered
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
3
Reaction score
0
I'm a little wary of getting sucked into a dialogue,so I'll throw two more points in response and then withdraw to the shadows, where I shall sit with a white cat upon my knee whilst watching you all as if you are chess pieces and planning world domination...

Publishing, like pretty much anything in the free world, is a subjective entity, full of as many opinions as there are grains of sand on a beach. I've said nothing authoritative nor made any claim to have the "answer". All I'm looking for are good books to sell to the industry. So your editor, IdiotsRUs, might say A and I might say B and we might both be right! If you pitch me a good book, I'll be wanting, sure as eggs are eggs, to know what you've got in mind to follow it up with and that you'll be able to deliver it a year (preferably less) after the first one (which took you ten years to write) and if it manages to repeat the trick of the first one and break new ground (in other words to be exactly the same AND completely different at the same time) we will have a long and fruitful relationship!

These myriad opinions lead on to the mulch of advice that - as Anne rightly says - is out there for authors. The key here is common sense and the ability to discriminate. Surely the simplest answer to whether trilogies or series are "in" or not is to go to a bookshop (assuming you can find one out there nowadays) and LOOK. (Or get hold of a publisher's catalogue which they issue every six months) There are trends and patterns and fashions - pick up on them, anticipate them, write them and sell them.
 

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
Thanks, John - we appreciate your taking the time to contribute. You must be snowed under with queries right now! (And real snow, from what I hear of London weather. East Anglia is too dry for us to be snowed under for long.)

...I'll be wanting, sure as eggs are eggs, to know what you've got in mind to follow it up with and that you'll be able to deliver it a year (preferably less) after the first one (which took you ten years to write) and if it manages to repeat the trick of the first one and break new ground (in other words to be exactly the same AND completely different at the same time) we will have a long and fruitful relationship!

The first book took me four years, most of which was learning how to revise a rough draft (and doing a shed-load of historical research). I think I have the revision process nailed now - which is not to say I'm not terrified at the prospect of writing a second book that's as good as the first!

Now, off to screw my courage to the sticking-place, as Lady Macbeth would say...
 
Last edited:

Mr Flibble

They've been very bad, Mr Flibble
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 6, 2008
Messages
18,889
Reaction score
5,028
Location
We couldn't possibly do that. Who'd clear up the m
Website
francisknightbooks.co.uk
Yes, thanks - we really do appreciate the input

So your editor, IdiotsRUs, might say A and I might say B and we might both be right!
Oh, absolutely. I wasn't trying to say other wise, hence saying houses might differ etc. It was just a thought/example of the reasoning behind it which will be different for everyone I suspect

And that point, of course, is what makes it so hard! As you say, the best thing is to write a great book. But maybe be prepared with a sequel or two in your head :D
 
Last edited:

SJAB

Being edited for submission
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 17, 2006
Messages
157
Reaction score
17
Location
UK
Website
www.susanjboulton.com
I'm a little wary of getting sucked into a dialogue,so I'll throw two more points in response and then withdraw to the shadows, where I shall sit with a white cat upon my knee whilst watching you all as if you are chess pieces and planning world domination...

:scared:
 

Rowan

Wielder of the Witchblade
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 24, 2009
Messages
2,637
Reaction score
1,140
Location
In the red zone
Thank you for your detailed explanation.

Does this mean that a fantasy trilogy in which the story is continued throughout three books is pretty much dead in the water? Each book has its own dramatic through line, but the question raised/quest revealed in the first book isn't finally answered/resolved until the end of the third...

Again, thank you!

A good (and very successful) example of this is Karen Marie Moning's "Fever" series. It's a five book series and the story arc isn't resolved into book 5 (due out in January 2011).
http://www.karenmoning.com/kmm/novels/fever-series.html
 

miamyselfandi

here and there again
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 1, 2010
Messages
193
Reaction score
6
Since he's here no longer to receive my thanks... did someone hear a cat meow?

Offering thanks to thin air for the further elucidation!

And I was going to mention this before John B showed up, so will go ahead and say it now since he's no longer around (ahem) and I can't be accused of sucking up. I'm very impressed with the fact that Zeno/John B is responding to queries, and especially with helpful detail at least some of the time. I've noticed on query tracker that most of the London agencies I'm watching don't respond in any way at all.

[Why do I feel oddly... dominated?]
 

Filigree

Mildly Disturbing
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
16,433
Reaction score
1,511
Location
between rising apes and falling angels
Website
www.cranehanabooks.com
I'm just grateful for the information and the encouragement it gives me. At this stage, it's too easy to lose confidence in my own instincts.

I'm one of those idiots who took twelve years to write my third mms (although a career got in the way for eight years). But I've started outlining and writing the fourth, I only have to do rewrites on # 5 and #6 (since they existed as another series), and I have detailed notes on plot resolution for the last book. Plus story arcs that could easily be three other novels. That's at least seven big stories, with individual closures but a linked structure.

So I'm fairly confident that I could write a book a year, if I found an outlet for them. I'm having enough fun that I'll probably write them anyway, just to get them finished.

And I'm happy to say that my dreadful record of form letters and non-responses has been broken. I now have personal rejection letters offering really good advice, and one tentative 'maybe'. So I'm learning something while hurling myself at the brick wall.

Filigree
 

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
And I was going to mention this before John B showed up, so will go ahead and say it now since he's no longer around (ahem) and I can't be accused of sucking up. I'm very impressed with the fact that Zeno/John B is responding to queries, and especially with helpful detail at least some of the time. I've noticed on query tracker that most of the London agencies I'm watching don't respond in any way at all.

Yes - the response time from Zeno is amazing! I guess that's due in part to the limited submission window, which allows them to focus on processing queries. That said, both the initial responses (query and partial) I got from John B arrived late at night, so I guess he's doing his reading out of hours - I only got replies during office hours once we started chatting over email about my partial.

Very nice agency - now I'm just keeping my fingers tightly crossed!
 

miamyselfandi

here and there again
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 1, 2010
Messages
193
Reaction score
6
Is everyone getting such fast response times? It has been over two weeks since I queried w/o a response.
 

Anne Lyle

Fantastic historian
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 23, 2007
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
395
Location
Cambridge, UK. Or 1590s London. Some days it's har
Website
www.annelyle.com
Is everyone getting such fast response times? It has been over two weeks since I queried w/o a response.

Well, there's the small matter of Christmas - non-retail UK businesses basically shut down for the ten days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day inclusive. I won't be going back to work until Tuesday, because Monday is a public holiday (since NYD was on a weekend).

(Apologies if this is obvious - you don't say in your profile if you're UK-based, US or elsewhere.)
 

Brindle MacWuff

Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 3, 2009
Messages
319
Reaction score
37
Sent off an email a few days ago, but as I suspect the latest round of submissions to Zeno has reached sixty feet in the air, response will take a little longer than other worthies of this thread.