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I'm a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. I specialize in crime fiction. I'll be glad to receive a query letter from you; guidelines to help you decide if I'm looking for what you write are below. There are several posts labelled "query pitfalls" and "annoy me" that may help you avoid some common mistakes when querying.
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Yup, I'm still on vacation.
Trying out new things on vacation!
Sorry readers, I'm on vacation.
I'll be back next week.
At LonCon last week I had a conversation with a published author about sequels. Now, if you were to believe the internet, when unpublished, you shouldn't really write sequels and should instead work on making the first book a stand alone. According to the internet, it's pointless working on sequels because the first book might not sell well, meaning you'll be left with a backlog of books that no one wants.
But during my discussion, I heard of two book contracts where these particular authors were given deadlines to hand in the sequel to their first book...before the first book had even gone on sale.
Now I know the demand for a second book would probably happen with two stand alone books, but both authors expressed a little bit of angst at having to produce something that would have - to some degree - been finished had they just written the sequels in the first place.
So what's the truth? Is it better to finish that trilogy before pitching? Or is it better to just plan the hell out of the second book and move on? Or are these simply isolated cases? And are most debut authors asked to produce a second book regardless of the sales of the first?
You're missing a key piece of information here: what does the contract say? Most first time authors that I represent get deals with a contract asking for two or three books. Not stand alones at all. SERIES.
So yes, it's good to have that second book well underway when you get a deal.
Here's what I think you've heard and misinterpreted: don't say you have a series in a query letter.
What that means is you focus on querying the book you have in hand. Don't mention it's the first of N more books, because if I don't like this one, I don't care how many more you have.
Most publishers want books (at least in the categories I rep) that can be built into series. They want this cause once they've invested in you, they want readers to come back for more, and More means More of the Same stuff we loved in Book One.
Focus on writing the very best book you can. Query that book. While you're waiting for us to
get off our slacker asses
read our queries, you work on Book Two.
What is this magic future-seer gizmo agents have and where can I get one?
I have the test results and they say "yes".
I have attended a few writing conferences this year and another one is coming up rather quickly in a few weeks 'round my parts of the sea. I always shell out the extra money to have a pitch session/practice with the agents brave enough to sit all day with eager writers. I've swam through the chum, followed The Shark (tm) query letter guidelines for over a year now and practiced, practiced, practiced my pitch along the way. Feeling confident-enough, I sent my letter out to agents. The responses are all over.
I have some replies that tell me "... I'm not sure how these types of books are doing with all the success of the xxx and xxx series out now. It sounds super interesting and I hope you hit on an agent that knows this market well," or , "The concept grabbed me, and you deserve an enthusiastic agent who can champion your work..."
I am not writing anything YA, distopian, Twilight-y at all. I am writing for another, younger, age group that I have at least 3 years of weekly hands-on experience with that equates market research for my book. I have adults in my critique group that try to pry the next scene from my carpel tunnel hands before the next group meeting because they cannot wait.
I'm sorry, but most of these agents I meet in person or have queried cannot possibly have had any interaction with a group of children like this since they were children themselves. Most are fresh off the college circuit (which is completely fine), travel frequently, etc. How do they know what my age group wants if they have no/ limited experience with the end user? Are agents just following trends? I know a variety of books are selling, but many would be selling anyway because that is all that is out there. How is a writer to know which seashell is a good sell down by the seashore?
You can't conflate the agents who attend writing conferences with the agents who are reading your queries/manuscripts. A lot of us aren't on the conference circuit. And guess who REALLY isn't on the conference circuit: agents with kids.
The other thing you're missing is that agents don't work in a bubble. We hear from readers via our authors, and we see the feedback from school visits, and we watch what librarians are interested in like hawks. Librarians and teachers make the buying decisions for a lot of middle grade books (which is what I assume you're writing)
In other words, its our job to pay attention to what sells, and we do.
Also you don't have test results. You have friends and people you know telling you they like the book. A book they didn't have to pay to read I might add. There's a world of difference between "did you like my book" and "hey, will you pay me $15 to read this?"
I've recommended the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators before. You should join and hear from the people who are in the field you're writing in.
I've been querying agents and have gotten a partial or full request from quite a few, but I seem to get stuck at the last step: an offer of representation. They give the same reasons - they like my writing, my plot, even my characters, but they just don't fall in love with the novel.
As an example, the last agent (who had a partial) said: "You have a great imagination - I love the premise - and you're a good writer, but I'm sad to say that I just wasn't passionate enough about this to ask to see more. I wish I could offer constructive suggestions, but I thought the dialogue was fine, the characters well-crafted, and the plot well-conceived. I think it's the kind of thing that really is subjective - why some people adore the book on the top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and others don't." I've received similar comments from other agents.
What should I do? I don't even know what I'm doing wrong.
You're not doing anything wrong, you're just not doing something that excites agents and gets them to keep reading.
My esteemed colleague Jenny Bent
(who knows a thing or ten about good books) once tweeted that pacing was the single biggest problem she found in requested fulls that she didn't offer to represent.
Clearly you need help with something. This is where you find a brutal critique group or enroll in a year long class (Grub Street
offers this kind of workshop.)
You don't mention which novel this is for you: first, second or Nth. I remember Jenny Milchman
saying she wrote something like nine novels before her "first" published novel.
It takes a long time to learn to write a good novel. Clearly you've got talent if you're getting requests, but maybe you're just not quite there yet. (Remember the 10,000 hour theory made famous by Malcolm Gladwell)
I have a question for you (I have only read so far back on your blog posts, so I apologize if you have addressed this farther back) regarding anonymity. My first novel that I am working on right now is a bit like Grisham, Crichton, and King having an orgy produced love child with Veronica Mars, including Big Themes about free will, power structures, Biblical metaphors, neuropsychogy, feminism and the nature of creative vs destructive genius all wrapped up in the palatable presentation of a suspense novel from a female perspective (with a tiny bit of sarcastic comic relief interspersed throughout to play with the tension - I have been writing/performing stand-up comedy for 2 years).
I would love to write across genres as I have always been a fan of horror, scifi, fantasy, and suspense. I also would like to avoid fame as long as possible so that I may continue to interact with real humans in order to continue widening my reality tunnel so I can understand as many diverse perspectives as possible.
Would a literary agent take on a writer who has the desire to avoid fame under one name, instead preferring to write under a variety of names, or is the publishing industry as such that they rely on the Cult of Personality to sell books?
I have found that people only pay attention to the message for so long before they begin deifying the messenger instead. I would rather people understand the complex scientific and philosophical concepts I am translatong into more common language through metaphor while enjoying the entertainment aspects instead of just blindly worshipping a favorite author. I am aware that it may sound like hubris to imagine myself as a literary rock star, but I have confidence in my wisdom and understanding of humanity and my ability to convey that in various metaphorical languages for wide audiences.
Given that I would like to remain relatively unknown for as long as possible, should I go the literary agent/publishing house or the self publishing route?
Thanks in advance and I hope that wasn't a duplicate question.
I think you're the perfect candidate for self-publishing. Make sure you hire an excellent book designer, a good copy editor and leave your author photo off the dust jacket.
A few months ago I started the querying process for a supernatural thriller of mine. Within the first couple of weeks I received three requests for the full manuscript. About a week later, two of those three agents politely declined. Three months later, and one of them has yet to get back to me. My problem is this: I emailed the manuscript to the agent's assistant as requested. The agent's website indicates response time of 4-6 weeks. It's been well over that, so last week I sent a polite follow up to the assistant just to make sure the manuscript was received, and I have yet to get a response.
Is it considered 'too pushy' to email the agent directly for a follow up? I'm worried that perhaps the assistant isn't receiving my emails. I say this because the other two agents I emailed responded right away with a "thank you! I will get back to you in ____ amount of time," but I didn't receive any confirmation from the assistant what so ever.
Thanks for you time! I hope I'm not being too paranoid.
There's no such thing as too paranoid when you're a writer. You guys can work yourselves into a frenzy over correct punctuation. I've seen it happen:
However in this case you are not paranoid. You are correct to be concerned. I can think of several things that might have happened:
1. The assistant is no longer employed there and the agency hasn't fixed her email yet.
2. The assistant doesn't know she's supposed to acknowledge receipts of full manuscripts.
3. They didn't get it, the assistant lost it, or some other cataclysmic event that is giving the assistant conniptions.
Therefore, because this is your career, and your manuscript, you politely email the agent and say "I just want to confirm that you received the manuscript you requested from me on DATE. Thank you for your time and consideration. Love, You.
PS Your assistant is a slacker.
Never assume someone got a file. I've seen this happen, and in fact, wrote a blog post about it.
And the reason I know this is the correct path? It happens with editors too.
Back in April, I queried an agent at a literary agency where guidelines ask you to requery (with a note to that effect) after one month. After a little over a month, I re-queried, but I never did get any response.
The agency invites queries to other agents once one has rejected your MS, but they're also clear that they always respond to queries. I'd really like to query another agent at the same agency, but I'm not sure what to do. I don't particularly want to email that first agent yet again with another reminder, as it just feels silly and pushy, and I'm also not sure it would do any good. Should I query a second agent at that agency? And, if I do, do I mention the no-response? I've been ignoring the other agents at the agency until now because of the no-answer, but as I get further down my query list, I can't help wondering and wishing I hadn't emailed this agent to begin with...
You query the second agent and you don't mention the first. If she's not courteous enough to reply to the initial query or the follow up, then either she didn't get either email, or she's so behind she's not even looking at her email. What this means for you is she doesn't count anymore. It's not a no, nor is it a yes, it's more like a do-over.
I know there are agents who have hundreds of queries stacked up over many months. That's not your problem. If an agent can't get a handle on her inbox and her website says 30 days, you've fulfilled your part of the social contract.
Of course, if the agent you're querying is me, you might want to check Query Letter Diagnostics,
cause I'm caught up through yesterday.
I have a question regarding submitting my work to literary agents. I write juvenile horror novellas for ages 8-14 (I like to think between Goosebumps & Twilight Zone) and what I'm finding is that several agents don't represent novella writers. Is this pretty standard or am I unfortunately finding only those that don't?
You're confused about what you're writing. You're not writing novellas. You're writing chapter books. Novellas are shorter than novels, but that only applies to adult trade books.
You're writing for kids. That means you look for agents who say they are looking for MG (middle grade) or YA (young adult)
You describe your work as scary chapter books akin to R.L. Stine.
And I'm guessing you don't belong to SCBWI
because you didn't know this. Join. Learn. It's a resource you'll come to value a great deal.
I recently parted ways with my first agent (amicably, of course) and have had requests from editors at mid-size and larger houses to see my future work. I have a manuscript that has been polished and is ready for submission. Should I send to those editors while I'm querying, or should I wait to see if I can secure an agent before doing so?
Don't send your work to editors before securing an agent. If you do so, you'll find getting an agent is MUCH harder because you've trampled all over the crime scene and contaminated the evidence.
When an agent takes on a project, she puts her knowledge and expertise to work on your behalf. That might mean revisions to this "polished" manuscript and it certainly means a tailored submission list. All you know are the editors who've said they'd like to see you work. What your agent will tell you is which editors SHOULD see your work.
Don't let your impatience get the better of you. I posted about this recently
but it bears repeating: I'm not keen on stepping in to a project after it's started, and once you've sent your book to a publisher, you've started.
I've been reading your blog for awhile now and have seen you speak highly of AbsoluteWrite.com on multiple occasions.
I admit, I am biased in the opposite direction. Every time I see you tell writers to check out their writing forums, a little part of me dies inside.
Why do you like AbsoluteWrite so much?
Every time I have posted or read and replied to posts there, I have been bullied, belittled or ignored. I always leave their forums feeling like I need to crawl into a tight space and cry, or wanting to pick up my monitor and chuck it across the room.
I don't want to sound haughty, but I'm almost positive I am not the only person who feels this way. With a simple Google search of "bullying on AbsoluteWrite" a variety of results come up where people talk about their experiences.
Now I'm sure there are gems of people out there in the AbsoluteWrite community, but it seems like the majority like to tear new writers down in an attempt to make themselves feel better.
This leaves me wondering why someone I respect (you) and go to for answers, and who seems to really care about writers trying to pursue their dreams, would advocate a place that has such strong ties to bullying behavior.
I am not trying to be rude here, or trying to serve up a smack down. I am genuinely curious. Have you experienced otherwise on the forums? Did you not realize that such behavior was going on there? Or do you think writers need a strong backbone and if they can't handle AbsoluteWrite, then writing isn't for them?
On a side note, I haven't been to their forums in about a year now. I had an absolutely awful experience there around that time and swore them off completely. COMPLETELY (I am being extremely civil here in expressing the amount of mouth-foaming, eye-popping rage I have for that community). So, maybe the moderators have changed? And the community is much better now than it was? I hope that might be the case, but am doubting it.
For starters, that's never been my experience at AW, but it never would be. As an agent, people over there tread pretty lightly around me. The last time someone was dismissive of me, they were quickly chastised by other posters.
Which may illustrate your point.
Yes AW is a free for all, but there are moderators and I've seen them step in and close down threads that were getting out of hand, and remove users for inappropriate posts.
And yes, groups of people tend to sort themselves into In/Out and woe betide the new writer who doesn't understand that dynamic is fully at work in any bulletin board community, let alone one as long standing as AW.
You didn't mention which forums you participated in. I've only seen Ask The Agent and Bewares and Background Checks. The people who get smacked down there tend to be the ones who come in full steam ahead without doing any research, and who tend to have opinions that don't match the majority. And people who don't listen very well (or read other posts very well.)
AW is an incredible resource for information for writers. Before AW there wasn't a place for writers to exchange information about response time, or experiences with agents, agencies or editors. I think that's a VERY good tool for a writer to have.
But I also think that AW, like all groups, has its own way of doing things, and that can be No Fun if you don't know what those unspoken rules are or if you fall afoul of them.
I don't want to get in to a big debate about AW here. Your experience there is yours. I will tell you though that you can find blog posts around the web from writers talking about THIS blog and how mean, rude, and awful I am to people. Not every resource is suitable to every person.
When writing a synopsis and trying to distill 85K words into a meager 750, I feel like I have to leave out so much (subplots, minor characters) that it hardly feels representative of the same manuscript.
My question is, will an agent count as a strike against when reading a full that so much is missing? For example, 20% of my current manuscript is told from a particular character's POV. But there's just not enough room in the synopsis to even mention this character, so I've summed up that storyline as if from the main character's POV. Feels like cheating, or am I being paranoid?
For starters you don't write a synopsis from any one's point of view. Synopsis are always in the objective third person. You list the main events of the book and the main characters and the main plot twists.
For example: In Gone With the Wind you obviously have three time periods: before the war, the War, after the war.
In the book there is a long section about how Gerald Butler came to America from Ireland and won the hand of Ellen Robillard. This is in the before the war section of course.
As important as that is to the woop and warf of the book, you leave it out of the synopsis because GWTW is mainly the story of their first born daughter Katie Scarlet.
The movie version leaves out all of SueEllen's story with Will, the man who comes to Tara after the war. You'd leave that out of the synopsis as well.
A synopsis isn't intended to be a miniature replica of the book as a whole.
Instead, it's more like the interior support of the building. It's what holds the novel together
and gives it shape and form.
This is the synopsis:
This is the query:
This is the book:
Last Friday's blog post half-answered a question I've long had. As the follow up....
Let us say this publisher gives me a $10K advance, and that I'll need to move 4,000 books to earn that back. ON AVERAGE, ABOUT how long would it take a book to sell 4,000 copies? I understand we're working with SWAG numbers here. But are we talking 6 months, or 6 years?
Well, I don't know what SWAG numbers are (are they like imaginary numbers, cause that's what ended my math career?!) but what I do know is there's no answer to this.
It varies, seemingly indiscriminantly from one book to the next. Not even from one author, but book by book.
I do know this: generally books sell well their first year of publication. There are a lot of exceptions to this. I can think of ten off the top of my head right now.
Generally second books do not sell as well as first books. There are exceptions to this too. Lots.
I know Veronica Roth sold upwards of 19 million books last year. I know Lee Child sold something like that too. (Those numbers are in the trades.)
I know that most books published by small presses have no hope of selling 3000 copies in any time frame at all because the publisher only printed 1000 copies and doesn't intend to print more.
What you're trying to do here is linear analysis of a Jackson Pollock painting.
It can't be done. NOR SHOULD IT.
It shouldn't be done because you're setting yourself up to drive yourself crazy.
It's also insane to measure yourself against some phantom average because the ONLY book
that matters to you is YOURS.
The only thing you can reasonably plan on is EFFORT. You can not plan on results.
Do I know if I can sell a book? No.
Do I know that I can pitch a book? Hell yes.
Do I know that if the first pitch doesn't get the results I want I can analyze my effort and change up? HELL YES.
Do I know how to find new places to pitch? Yes.
Do I pay attention to what has worked for other agents and steal their ideas relentlessly? You better believe it.
So, if you know you have to sell 4000 books, and you WANT to do it within a year, you make a list of the things you can do to make that happen. And then you do them.
What I know is that it might work, and it's surely more likely to succeed than doing nothing.
I wasn't 100% honest in all my queries to this point. I usually go by Jim not J.D., really creative pen name right? I sign J.D. Because I am currently [doing something that draws public attention] and I didn't think it would be a good idea to put that [something] in my bio. I didn't want anyone to take me on just because of the built in fan base since I will be writing as J.D. not Jim. I didn't want anyone getting too excited about something I'm not going to even attempt to capitalize on. Also, [the activity could end very soon.] Basically I didn't want anyone taking me on based on who I am, but I do realize that it might be somewhat misleading if I don't at least mention it. What do you think - mention it in future queries, or just let it be? Thanks again.
I absolutely guarantee you that you should not mention anything like this. It's not a writing credit and it does not build platform. Let's say, just for fun, that you've qualified for the Miss America pageant. Do you mention that in your query? No you do not. It has nothing to do with your writing, and come September 14,
you very well might be Miss Congeniality or even the third runner-up, but chances are you will not be Miss America. If you ARE, well, you'll be busy and you'll put your querying on hold.
A lot of things that are REALLY important to you as a person are not things you put in your query: your kids, your spouse, your dog, your cat***, your hobbies, your desire to be a writer, your hope that I will love your book, and that you are Miss Bumblebee, Arkansas and headed to Atlantic City.
***those go on your Facebook page!
I've heard this question asked before, and the answers are all over the map. I've read many of your query posts, but not all. If you've already addressed this, my apologies.
When querying, should you include mention of works published on websites--like for example if you been a long-time contributor at a certain site that highlights your work, and have a dedicated page there?
Do professionals in the agenting business really care about short stories, personal essays, articles published online? Do agents or their gatekeepers even click the links to check such work out, or are they just considered an encumbrance in the way of making a decision about the work the writer is seeking representation for?
You're confusing platform with writing credits.
A writing credit is work that has been curated, edited or selected in some way. Most work published on websites isn't curated. You submit a post, it's posted. That's GOOD for your platform, but it's not a writing credit.
The best example I can use is this blog: these posts are not writing credits. I hope the posts are well written, informative and useful, but there's no one looking over my shoulder saying "no, that post is awful, you can't use it." This blog IS platform: it's an indication of how many readers would know my name if I published a book.
If you have a regular page on blog, that's terrific, but you list it as platform. If you have short stories published online you mention it as a credit if there was an editor saying yes/no in a submission process.
Generally I do not click links in a query letter. I look at your query, and I look at your pages. I'm only concerned with the work you've sent me right then. IF I like the concept and the writing is good, and I've requested a full, then I swim over to get a more complete picture of your body of work.
"And going WITH writing friends is a great way to get more than your money's worth from the conference."
This line from your Wed. July 16th blog post has been gnawing at me ever since.
There's this writing conference I'd like to go to in September and a few others from the online writing group I'm part of are also considering it.
We're all in agreement that it's meant to be a good conference and it would be great fun to finally meet some of the online crew face to face.
But, that there might be a further benefit of turning up in a group, en masse, hadn't remotely occurred to any of us.
Anyway, even though I've been thinking it over, probably too much, I'm still wondering what exactly you meant...
Going to conferences with friends means you have someone to eat lunch with just for starters. There's a lot to be said for that since we all know what it's like to be in a room full of people and know NO ONE at all.
There are other benefits as well. You can divide and conquer the workshops more easily. Each person in the the group attends a workshop, and you trade notes and tips and insights.
Everyone compares notes on the agents you meet. Was Agent Amazing really all that amazing? Was Agent Bilious really as sickening as she sounded?
If you have a bad experience and others do too, you know it's not you. That's HUGELY valuable at a writing conference because talking about writing is very subjective.
Even if you go with pals, I strongly encourage you to reach out to new people while you are there. Boldly introduce yourself to the writer sitting next to you at a workshop. S/he'll be just as shy as you are, and glad to meet you. Need a starting point for the conversation? Ask about her book!
One of the great things about being an agent at a conference is you can walk up to total strangers who are clearly alone and shy, introduce yourself and be fairly confident they want to talk to you. I've met some very nice people doing that. You will too.
An agent recently tweeted that she wanted people to mention in their query letter if they had submitted past projects to her. Now, if someone had requested a full from me before I could see the benefit to this, but what about someone who declined to request material or didn't even respond? Should we remind even the rejections that they've seen our names before?
I'm going to take a wild guess here and mean "submitted past projects" means submitted full manuscripts, not queries.
I'm not sure why anyone wants to know this, but if she does, she does. On the other hand if it's not in her submission guidelines, how the hell is anyone to know unless they happen to see that particular tweet?
And truly, honest to god, this is just one more way to make writers crazy. I'm of a mind that making it as easy and straightforward to query the better. Time enough to make your clients crazy when you need a synopsis for a film deal in 30 minutes.
I believe you have said** that $10K is common for an advance. Approximately how many books have to sell to earn out the advance?
It depends on what your royalty rate is. Royalty rates are negotiable so you'll need to know what your contract says before you can make these calculations. In other words, you won't know till you've got a deal in hand.
Let's use easy numbers to demonstrate.
You are offered an advance against royalties
You are offered royalties of 10% of jacket price for the first 10,000 books sold.
Assume your book will be published in hardcover at a book jacket price of $25.00
You will earn 10% of $25 for every book sold. That's $2.50
You'll need to sell 4000 books to earn out.
You won't be surprised to learn there are at least a dozen royalty rates in a standard publishing contract. Often there are many more.
One of the many things that have changed in publishing in the last twenty years are the proliferation of ways to sell books, each with its own formula and rate.
Your agent should be able to explain ALL royalty rates to you in ways you can understand. And s/he should be able to do the math for them too. If that's not the case, you need a new agent because auditing royalty statements is one of the biggest values an agent brings to the table.
**Well, I didn't say that but that doesn't matter for the question to be useful.
My question is this:
Writer: I have a backlist of titles I'd like to self-publish.
Agent: That's a great idea! And we'll revise your contract to exclude self-published works from my commission structure. It's only fair, since I never worked on those books.
Agent: Remember that book we worked on together, the one I loved so much and submitted to 10000 publishers? No one's biting. I'm afraid we have to take it off submission now.
Writer: Hey, maybe I can self-publish that one too...
Ah, but what happens next?
Possible scenario 1:
Agent: You self-published that? The one I worked several hundred hours on?
Writer: Well, it sucks to be you. Agents are working on spec, so if you don't make the sale, you don't get any of the cash.
God Almighty: Um, Writer, have you never heard of theft of services...? Don't answer that. I know you have.
Possible Scenario 2:
Writer: Here, a freelance editor would have gotten $$$ for all the work you did, so take this check.
Agent: Oh boy!
People Who Oversee Agent Ethics: Bad agent! Bad! No
cookie! whisky for you!
Possible Scenario 3:
Writer, thirty-five years later: Well, I earned another five bucks this month from Amazon. I guess it's time to write my agent a check for eighty-six cents.***
My Question then is this:
Writer doesn't like any of these scenarios. What does the Shark say? #2 seems like the best option, except Writer isn't sure if it's an ethics violation for an agent to accept payment for services rendered to a client.
Well, it's not theft of services because the service the agent offers is selling your manuscript. She didn't. Thus no theft. God is very clear on this.
It's entirely ok with the AAR if you compensate your agent for sales of a book. Whether you write the check, or Random House writes the check, it matters not a whit.
This is something you want to discuss with your agent BEFORE the situation arises. You'll say "Hey, if this book doesn't sell because every editor in NYC has lost his/her mind, followed soon thereafter by all editors in the known universe, and I self-publish this, how do we work your commission?"
And you'll find out what the agent wants to do. It's then up to you to agree. If you don't agree, negotiate.
Thus Scenario #4
Agent: Remember that book we worked on together, the one I loved so much and submitted to 10000 publishers? No one's biting. I'm afraid we have to take it off submission now.
Writer: Hey, maybe I can self-publish that one too...Still later:
Writer: Hey, I sold 5000 copies of that book that all those stupid editors said wouldn't fly, and that you and I really believed in. Here's a check for x% of my earnings. Rock on!
Agent: Yay! Booze fund money!
A lot of agents are doing this these days.
I've been accused by dear friends and colleagues of being "too pure" which cracks me up to no end, but my position is this: I signed on to sell your book. If I don't do that, you don't pay me. If you elect to self-publish, you assume the risk, and you get the reward.
This is something to work out ahead of time though. The last thing you want is a disagreement about who owes who what when there's actual money on the table. Actual money at stake brings out the knives faster than you can say "fillet of shark."
*** Agent commissions are generally 10% on subrights, and 15% on domestic sales. Thus the commission is either .50 or .75 . If someone wants you to pay 17.2% on a book you self-pubbed you might want to shop around.
For philosophical anarchists like Joyce, rejecting authority meant rejecting the entire conceptual category to which "authority" belonged: abstractions and foundational assumptions. Anarchists believed that states and churches rested upon phantom concepts (like legitimacy or moral obligation) masquerading as fundamental truths when they were really just inventions helping tyrants wield power.
The philosophical core of anarchism was thus a skepticism of the ostensibly self-evident concepts that held sway over people. It was the conviction that big ideas could enslave, whether they be duty, rights or God; your home, your fatherland or your church.
Anarchism emerged as a response to the rapid growth of the modern state, and, more particularly, to the growth of one of the nineteenth century's biggest ideas: the police.
When the British Parliament created the Metropolitan Police in 1829, it invented a form of state power that was diffused throughout the city. Ten years later, Parliament empowered the police to arrest loiterers, "riotous" drunkards and anyone committing misdemeanor whose name and residence couldn't be verified. The act banned cockfighting and shooting firearms within three hundred yards of homes. It banned driving "furiously," wantonly ringing doorbells and flying annoying kites.
It banned the sale and distribution of "profane, indecent, or obscene" books, and the laws would only get stronger over time.
By 1878, the British government had passed more than one hundred laws expanding police powers, and Britain set the example for police expansion all around the world.
For people suspicious of authority, the multiplying laws were self-perpetuating: more ordinances created more criminals and, thus, the need for more police officers and an ever-exploding government. The professionalize of law enforcement made patrolmen seem like foot soldiers in an increasingly centralized apparatus staffed with detectives, jailers and bureaucrats who thought of state power as job security.
To artists like Joyce, who considered free expression sacrosanct, censorship epitomized the tyranny of state power, for the state not only banned obscenity, it decided what obscenity was. Unlike firearms or kites, the violation was arbitrary--the law hemmed the government in with limits of the government's choosing -- and that fact censors acted as if indecency were self-evident only made the arbitrariness more blatant. To publish a gratuitously obscene text -- to deny "obscenity" as a legitimate category altogether -- was away to expose and reject the arbitrary basis of all state power. It was a form of literary anarchy.
The MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: The Battle for James Joyce Ulysses
(The Penguin Press: 2014)
Hello - I came across your blog recently, and have found it a very interesting insight into the world of literary agent-ness. I was hoping you could help me answer a question. A friend of mine has asked me to serve as his agent in getting his first book published. I have zero experience, but I am trained as a lawyer, so I figured that I could handle the legal side of things, at least. I also truly love my friend's writing style, and would love to see him get exposed to a wider audience. My question for you is: is this completely crazy, or is it possible for me to get my friend's book published on my own? I'd love to do it if I can, but I don't want to hurt my friend's chances. Any advice would be super appreciated. Thanks!
Here are the questions you need to ask yourself:
1. How many editors do you know well enough to have their direct phone line AND have them pick up the phone when you call?
2. How many books have you read in your friend's category so that you know what's current, what's not, and what an editor will consider fresh and new?
3. Do you know what the standard splits are on sub-rights in a publishing contract? Do you know what to actually ask for instead?
4. Do you know what rights are normally reserved to the author in a publishing contract?
5. Do you know what a first proceeds clause is and why it's important?
6. Do you know what a royalty audit clause is and have boiler plate wording for it to insert when the publisher doesn't?
7. Do you know what a production editor does and why it's important to know that?
8. Do you know what countries to exclude from a contract that includes a non-exclusive license for the open market?
9. Have you ever seen a royalty statement, and if so, do you know how to read one and explain it to your client?
10. Do you know what should always be excluded from the warranties and indemnities clause of a contract?
An effective agent has a complex set of skills and knowledge that go far beyond Contracts 101 in law school.
An effective agent knows the people to call, and the people s/he's calling know her. Or have heard of her. Or her agency.
An effective agent has boilerplate language for contract clauses that the publisher doesn't include in the initial draft, and knows that you're supposed to do that.
An effective agent knows the importance of the production department and what their deadlines are.
An effective agent knows how to read a royalty statement, knows who to call when the statement needs explaining, and can then in turn explain it to a client.
An effective agent is someone who has experience doing all these things, and most important has a network of colleagues to call on when a situation arises that she doesn't know about.
If your friend wants a brand new agent, well, you're probably no worse than some of the other beginners I've seen. But if your friend wants an EFFECTIVE agent, well, he might want to query people who've done more than just read his book.
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You commented in one of your last posts that an agent would not want to take on a client that had already approached some publishers. Understandable.
In a previous post, I understood one of your comments to say that an agent would not be interested in working with a small press, as there's no real financial incentive.
I'm mid-querying process - a healthy number of rejections, a good deal of radio silence and
a gratifying handful of manuscript requests. While all this is going on - and I do understand (sort of) the leisurely pace of the process - some small presses open the window for direct author submissions for perhaps a month. After a month, they will close and not open til summer of next year. They respond at the end of a month.
So, there is a well regarded (for my genre and little universe) small press open for submissions now. Some colleagues encourage me to submit although I still have manuscripts out there in agent world - assuming that the whole process is so slow and there is no guarantee that any of these fine agents will pick me up, and that submitting to this small press or another could give me more more potential options.
May I have your thoughts? Also, what's the deal with agents and small presses?
There is no right or wrong answer on this because it's a question of strategy, and whether a strategy is right or wrong can only be measured when you've got results.
Things to consider: if you "win" the open submission process and you're offered a contract, do you have tools at hand to negotiate for yourself? I've done a couple blog posts on this topic so I know there are some resources in the archives.
Next thing to consider: if you "lose" the open submission process, are you willing to close off a potential publisher once you have an agent (if you get one of course.) If a publisher has seen, and passed, on your work, they're not willing to look at it again from an agent (most likely.)
This is the kind of one hand or the other
that can paralyze you with indecision, I know. Me, I'm a risk taker (no surprise, given my profession.) I'd rather go for something than not.
Thus, if this were my decision, I'd submit my work to the publisher, but then I'd make SURE I was prepped for that next step. And I'd keep querying.
As for "what's the deal with agents and small presses?" I'll leave it at this: working with small presses can be great, but inevitably it's more work for less money.