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Entries in Agents (53)


Asking the Right Questions

Question of the day: I got an agent offer! I'm speaking with her (and hopefully a few others) this week. Do you have any good questions to ask if more than one agent makes me an offer?

First of all, CONGRATS! So exciting! You're smart to think about what you'd like to ask the agent rather than just immediately accept. As I've posted here time and time again, your relationship with your agent is possibly the most critical aspect of your career, and it's wise to take your time and do it right the first time.

That said, I think you need to reflect on what matters to YOU when chatting with her. This will vary from author to author (for example, I was very, very important to me that I have an open line of communicaton with my agent - other authors may not value that as much...), but here are some questions that if I were in your position, I would likely ask:

-Where do you see this book in the marketplace?
-Paperback vs. Hardcover?
-Do you have specific editors in mind? (You can then research what they've edited.)
-How do you work with authors - do you share your submission list? Let me know where I stand? Send me rejections?
-Are you open to my imput?
-How do you like to communicate with authors?
-Where do you see my career going? Whose career would you cite as an example of my ideal path?

I think those are good places to start - at least they were for me because these were the issues that mattered to me. I'm guessing that blog readers have plenty of other good questions too though. Anyone want to weigh in on what you would ask or what you asked in these circumstances?



On Finding The Right Newbie Agent

Question of the day: I've been following the thread on pursuing a new agent versus an established one, and it seems the general consensus is that a newer agent at an established agency can be the sweet spot for new writers who a) need to get their foot in the door with an agent who is less busy, and b) can give their book lots of the attention that it probably needs.  But for someone who is a "just hatched" writer like me, how do I know which ones are established?  While I'm familiar with a lot of the "big names" in publishing, I can't say the same for literary agencies.  Should I pay attention strictly to titles they list on their website and length of time in business?  Or are there other things to consider? 

It's funny (well, not "ha ha funny," but "coincidental funny"), but one of the most common questions I'm asked as a published writers is: How do I find an agent? And this is actually one of the easiest things to go about doing. NOT landing an agent, but actually finding out information about them. (And I don't mean that in any disparaging way to the question-asker. Just that this is a relatively basic question to answer. And one that I'm happy to answer, since I haven't addressed it on the blog in a while.)

There is information about potential agents EVERYWHERE. And for this reason, there is no excuse not to conduct a really thorough and exhaustive search - AND there's no excuse to pitch agents who are totally mismatched for you or your type of book. I always recommend that people begin on Agent Query and Publishers Marketplace. Yes, the latter costs $20 a month, but it well-worth it to see who is making deals, for how much and for (and to) whom. From there, look in the acknowledgements of your favorite books (and books similar to what you have written). Search authors' websites. Google exhaustively. There is very, very little that you can't ascertain these days from google. Your job, as an aspiring writer, is to find out everything you can about a potential agent, in the same way that you would about a potential spouse. Ideally, this is a career-long relationship, and you shouldn't go into it blindly. 

As far as finding out where an agent is on the food chain, again, Publishers Marketplace is great for this. While not all agents list their deals on the site, many, many do, and you can get a relatively decent feel for how well an agent is doing. Do you pay attention to the titles they list on their website? Well, yes. But only if they are titles that echo your own book. I couldn't care less if someone represents Stephen King (well, okay, I probably could, but you know what I mean), because I'm not sure how vital his agent's contacts would be for ME. I don't write thrillers, so we may not be a good match at all - regardless of the fact that he'd have SK's deals listed up and down his site. (This is a figurative example - I have no idea who reps SK, and frankly, he probably doesn't need to brag about it on his site. Actually, doesn't SK represent himself? At that level, maybe you can. Anyhoo - I've digressed.)

As far as years in the business, I think there's something to be said for having a few under his or her belt. Mostly for relationship-building with editors. But that's not to say that an agent can't light the world on fire straight out of the gate or that a long-term agent can't have really crappy contacts and not do much for you, regardless of years in the business.

I think my point here is that you have to dig up a lot of dirt, and then, you have to listen to your own inner-voice of reason. What makes sense - experience vs. enthusiasm, big-name authors vs. mid-list? I don't think there's really a formula to it, other than, hopefully, you know it when you find it. But with all of the above resources, you should be on your way to finding a good match. 

Good luck! Anyone else want to weigh in on valuable places to find an agent?



New vs. Old: Which Matters More?

Question of the day: Curious of your thoughts on the strategy of targeting a senior agent, with the expectation that, if they pass, your ms will be handed down to a junior agent. Does it often occur this way, or is the best strategy to target the newbie first?

Obviously I'm not an agent, but in my experience - and to the best of my knowledge - it doesn't work like this often at all. A senior agent likely has a reader: an assistant or someone else who vets the manuscripts and passes along the ones that the assistant thinks will strike a chord. If the assistant doesn't love it, you'll get a ding. Before the senior agent even lays eyes on it. So if you're counting on the senior agent passing it onto someone more junior, you already have to get through the first gate-keeper, and then you then have to take the leap of faith that said agent is going to like it enough (but not love it enough) to want to pass it along but not sign you. This requires a lot of time and energy from an agent, and to be honest, they're primary vested interest isn't in helping the aspiring writers whose work doesn't click. NOT that they don't wish you success, but they have a slew of other things on their plate.

Yes, from time to time (and I know my agent does this), he or she may recommend a different agent to pitch - say, a colleague at another firm who represents the genre or who is looking for this type of book. But again, this is the exception, not the rule. Nearly all of the time, if an agent is passing, you'll get a form letter indicating as much - and occasionally, you'll get a few personalized comments. 

So do you target the senior agent or the newbie from the get-go? I can't say because I'm sure that there are no universal blanket statements to be made. In my opinion, you should research them both and then see who best fits your needs - I'm guessing that seniority aside, there are going to be other differences too.

What say you, readers? Which agent do you target first? The newbie or the senior agent? Has your work ever been passed from one agent to the other?


Agent Flubs

Question of the day: How precisely should I follow an agent's guidelines?  For example, if an agent's requirements list "query letter and first 10 pages", does that mean exactly 10, even if that means it cuts off in the middle of a chapter or [gasp] the middle of a sentence or paragraph?  That might be a dumb question, I just know that sometimes if your query letter doesn't mean the exact specifications it is simply deleted, and I would hate to miss out on a chance because I included 9 pages or 11.5 or 13 in order to give them a completed chapter. 

I don't think this is a dumb question, so no worries. In fact, more aspiring authors worry about these things than you'd think.

BUT. The first thing I'd say is to take a deep breath and remember that agents are human too. They're really NOT going to toss your manuscript aside if you run over by a paragraph (or run under by a page) if yours is a manuscript that is really intriguing. What the agents are looking for is SOMETHING THEY CONNECT WITH, and truly, trust me, I promise you, they are not going to penalize you for a very, very small thing such as this.

That said, there are some big things they will penalize you for: adding attachments when they say they don't accept them, spelling errors in your query, getting his or her name wrong in your query (or worse, sending out an obviously generic query letter), not being respectful of his or her time, etc. These are red flags that demonstrate a lack of professionalism at worst and an inattention to detail at best. (I'm sure that there are plenty of other mistakes - anyone want to weigh in below?)

But as far as your exact question, the much more important thing is to end your page submission in a smart, savvy place. This does NOT mean the middle of a sentence. Finish up that paragraph, for sure! I'm not advocating that you run onto page 12, (in fact, don't), but somewhere between pages 9-11, there should be a fairly solid place to end. To that point, you should almost always submit the first pages of your ms. Don't pull something out of chapter five and expect the agent to have any idea what the hell is going on. Start at the beginning, intrigue them, and get out.

Again, I just want to reiterate: if an agent is interested in your work - I mean, if it really draws him or her in - a small page difference or what not, is not going to discourage them. So don't sweat those details. Just submit a great book, and the rest won't matter.

Anyone want to share some of the other flubs that might tick off agents during the query process?



Querying In-House

Question of the day: Is it advisable to submit to more than one agent from the same literary agency? Eg. Can I submit to Bob from C&C ltd AND Sheila from C&C ltd in separate letters?

While you can and SHOULD submit to multiple agents at once, the general rule is that you should NOT submit to more than one agent within the same agency at the same time. There are exceptions to this rule, but to play it safe, I would research the agents thoroughly and then decide which one is the best fit. If he or she subsequently rejects you, in most cases, you can then query your next choice within the agency, and so on. 

That said, there are a few exceptions to this rule, I believe. I want to say that Trident is one of the agencies who doesn't stick to this rule, but that's going from memory, and I may be wrong. I'm hopeful that blog readers who have been on the query wagon more recently than I have will chime in with the agencies who welcome multiple queries. Anyone want to help out this reader?


Setting Aside A Beloved Manuscript

Question of the day: I have spent five years and three major revisions on my first novel. I belong to two critique groups and I've been querying agents for the last six months and contacted about 30 of them. I've gotten 3 full requests, 3 partial requests, and 1 full request from an editor I met at a Writers Conference in April. The problem I'm facing is that everyone seems to have a different (and contradictory) reason for rejecting the novel. What do you think I should do? Should I continue to query agents or set this novel aside? (I'm already working on my second novel, but I'm having a hard time giving up on the first one.)

I can't tell you what to do in this specific circumstance, but I do think this opens up the much broader question of when is it time to set something aside. In your case, 30 agents isn't that many for a really in-depth agent hunt, and because reading is so subjective, you really are likely to get a wide variety of opinions in your rejections, so ultimately, whether or not you pursue this novel is up to you. Maybe it's your query letter, maybe it's timing, the agents you're contacting, the industry...there are so many different reasons as to why it might not be making its mark.

But yes, sometimes, it is just that the book isn't good enough. Writers, especially first-timers, often have a hard time accepting this, but it's the simple truth: just because a book has been completed, and even when a book has been revised - and revised again - it simply still isn't going to sell. If you've been reading this blog for long enough, you know that I speak from experience, and the reason I call out first-timers is because until you've written something that is a hell of a lot better, you really can't tell when a novel stinks. (Which isn't to say that the reader's manuscript in question stinks, only that it's very, very, very difficult to be objective when you have no basis for comparison.)

So how do you decide if you should set it aside? I think this is a really personal decision, but for me - beyond the fact that I was getting rejections from publishers (hee), I was also getting lukewarm feedback from readers I trusted, readers I was sure would rave about it. When they came back with "eh," I started to wonder if maybe I hadn't created the masterpiece I thought I had. (Yes, opinions are totally just that, but again, these were people whose opinions I valued, so I had to give them some weight.) I think also, sometimes you keep pushing a book because of the sunk costs - namely, how much time and effort you've put into them in the past, NOT because you're really so gung-ho on them for the future. Again, this certainly applied to me. After all of my blood, sweat and tears, I simply couldn't IMAGINE that this book wasn't going to be published. BUT, despite my agony, that didn't mean that it SHOULD be published. There's a big difference, and maybe that's not fair, maybe that's the really crappy part of our industry, but just because you THINK it's worthy doesn't mean that the marketplace will agree. And that's the gamble that you take in writing a manuscript in the first place.

I wish I had more concrete answers for you. I can only say that once you write something new - and better - then you really finally get clarity on why that other book didn't sell. It's nearly impossible to articulate the specifics behind this enlightenment (at least impossible for me to articulate them), but the good news is that you WILL finally get it, even if means that you have to write something else to do so.

Readers - I would LOVE to hear from you: have you ever decided to set a book aside, and if so, how did you reach this conclusion?


When It's Time to Move On (Or How I Got My Current Agent)

Question of the day: I'd love to hear what happened to that first novel that didn't "make it" with your initial agent. How did you part ways?

I was just about to write a long post detailing the journey of that first novel - which, thank the LORD, will never see the light of day - when I realized that I'd done just that for Meg Waite Clayton's blog a few months ago. So I've cut and pasted that post below. (Apologies for the few of you who will notice the crossover. I really don't think there's a better way of retelling the story of when I told it to Meg.) Here you go. If you have questions about the agent hunt/cutting ties/starting over once you've read it, feel free to post in the comments section, and I'll address them!


I had several starts and stops along my road to publication, and any of them, I have to say in retrospect, might have been enough to knock someone less bullheaded out of the race. Fortunately, stubbornness has always been my strong suit, and I was undeterred.

Prior to transitioning to fiction, I was a full-time freelance magazine writer, but had always felt that pull toward novels. So one day, about eight or nine years ago, I realized that all the day-dreaming in the world wasn’t going to get an actual manuscript written, and thus, sat down – with no clue what I was doing at all – and started writing. The manuscript took me three or four years to complete, mostly because I stopped halfway and had no idea what to do from there…getting started was easy, finishing it? Not so much.

Eventually, I put my head down, dug in and wrote those last 150 pages, and well, I’d be lying if I said that I thought they were anything less than brilliant. BRILLIANT! I had already envisioned the bestseller list, the movie soundtrack, the cover art when I started my agent search. I can’t remember now how many queries I fired off, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of average: more than twenty, less than fifty, when I got that sweet, sweet offer that every writer hopes for – representation for my novel.

My agent said that the book would require fairly extensive editing, and so we got to work, cutting exposition, axing unnecessary scenes (brilliant, as I was sure they were), fine-tuning until she deemed it ready for submission. Oh, those anxiety-filled days waiting for word from editors – every second passed like an hour, every email in my inbox a quick sign of hope (then deflation when it wasn’t from my agent) that I was about to transition from unpublished to published author. Alas, the rejections rolled in…and rolled in…and rolled in. Many of them were very gracious and a few were near-misses, but lo and behold, by the end of our process, not one had come in as a “yes.”

Devastation. Despair. What’s a gal to do?

Well, for me, ever that stubborn toddler, I refused to give in. Within a few days of mourning, I sat down at my computer and started fresh. This time, I actually had a vague idea of what I was doing, how to create a story arc, how to write the whole damn thing without a two year lag in the middle. So I did. I wrote frantically, completely the entire manuscript in three months. I passed it off to my agent with much euphoria. Unlike the first time around, when I blindly deemed myself brilliant, this time around, I actually had a basis for comparison, and I knew this one was good. At least much better than before.

My agent came back with edits, and I made them. And then….nothing. Silence. My phone calls stopped getting returned, my emails went unanswered. And very slowly, and then very quickly, I started feeling very, very sick to my stomach. My agent, I knew in my gut, had lost faith in me. Despite the fact that I loved this book, that this book, I was certain, was sellable.

A month or so of silence went by, and finally, we spoke. Yes, she admitted, she wasn’t gung-ho on this. She thought, and I’ll never forget this, “That going out with this manuscript will do more harm than good for my career.” And what did I want to do? She asked. Revise the original manuscript. (No.) Start an entire new one that she would take a look at. (No.) Or find someone else to represent the current one. (Yes.) To be fair, I hesitated and mulled it over for about two hours. And then, that was that. We parted ways amicably enough and that same afternoon (need I raise that stubborn toddler analogy again?), I started querying agents all over again.

Two major set-backs: 1) an unsellable completed manuscript, 2) an agent who didn’t think I was viable in the marketplace.

So what?

I queried my little heart out, and this time, I received several offers of representation within the first few weeks. I signed with my agent –Elisabeth Weed - who remains my agent to this day, and a few weeks later, she sold that manuscript, the one that would have done more harm than good for my career, in a four-way auction. Could it have gone a different way? Could my first agent have been right? Well…sure. Some stories will end like that. But mine didn’t. I refused to let it. I refused to let one person’s opinion – my original agent’s – dictate the course of my future AND refused to let it override my instinct that my book was a worthy one. Thank goodness for my gut. Thank goodness that I was born stubborn as a mule. Thank goodness that I connected with the right agent for me. That’s the story of how I became a published author. Was it easy? No chance. Was it worth it? Indeed. 


Making the Magazine Leap

Question of the day: How did you make the switch from magazines to books? Was it easier to find an agent via your magazine experience?

I made the switch in the most elemental way possible: I wrote a manuscript and shopped it around to agents while still juggling my freelance work. It really was that simple! I don't think there's a magic formula or anything to making this transition, though certainly, it requires discipline, as you're not getting paid to write your fiction, and without a deadline, it's very easy to let it lapse. Most magazine writers are excellent at meeting mandated deadlines, but when they're self-imposed deadlines - with no guarantee of publication - they're a lot easier to ignore.

Actually, let me rewind - it wasn't simple. That's probably not the right word to use. But in terms of overall formula, that's how it worked. The details though were a little trickier. My first manuscript took me four years to write, thanks partially to what I stated above: deadlines and motivation, but also partially thanks to the fact that I didn't know what I was doing. Once I finally completed the ms, I landed an agent but an agent who didn't end up selling the book. So I wrote another one. Which did sell. Albeit with a new agent after I parted ways with the old one. All the while, I was still freelancing at a very rapid pace to keep the checks coming and to keep my byline out there. I would work on magazine pieces in the morning - they had concrete deadlines after all, and I needed to be sure that I met them - and write fiction in the afternoons. I was crazy busy, too busy probably, but I didn't want to let that deter me: once I'd written fiction, I knew that I had to see it through. So I did. 

Again, both simple and not. I wrote a good query letter (which, yes, referenced my magazine experience) and cast a wide net in a blind agent search. I found one (after the first agent didn't work out) who I knew was right for me, and well, four books later, she still is. That's truly all I did - not much different than anyone else. Now, did my magazine experience help? It probably got my query letter read more frequently and also probably got me more requests for partials. But 100%, it did NOT land me representation. The manuscript has to stand on its own - I don't care if you have ever magazine credit known to man - without a strong manuscript, you're not going to land an agent. So again - and I've stressed this countless times here! - please be triple sure that your manuscript is ready to see the light of day.

So that's how I did it. There really isn't a secret handshake or magic formula. It's mostly about self-discipline and writing a good book. (Really! And that should come as good news to those of you who don't come from the writing world - it really is anyone's ball game.)


What Has She Done For You Lately?

Namely: your agent.

Yup, guess what? You're allowed to have certain criteria and expectations of your representation, and today, I'm over on Writer Unboxed talking about why these criteria are critical to your success and what, specifically, you have a right to expect from him or her.

Check it out here.

Also, I'm thrilled to be in this month's Women On Writing Ezine, in their 20 Questions Feature. As you guys know, I'm a big fan of supporting other women and other working moms, so I hope you'll take a second to click over to my interview. I enjoyed it a lot.


Fiction is So Subjective is the Agent's Equivalent of It's Not You, It's Me

Yay! Today we have a guest post from my fabulous agent, Elisabeth Weed, who will be chiming in here every month or so, whenever it strikes her fancy. For more info on Elisabeth and her agency, check out Weed Literary. And please feel free to reply in the comment section, so that she knows how much she's loved here. :)

We've all been there. We meet a guy who looks great on paper. He's got a great smile, a cool job and a full head of hair.   But we just aren't feeling it.  We don't want to go home with him and make out all night. We aren't imagining what our kids will look like. We don't want to call our best friend and our mother the next day and tell them just how fabulous he is.  Nope.  We are going to smile politely and decline the dinner. Drinks were great. We're glad we met, but we're pretty sure there's someone out there who's a much better fit for us...and him. There's nothing wrong with him, per se, but he's just not right for us.  

The same can be said about agents and authors in this similar dance of trying to find the perfect match.   I can't tell you how many times I've read something and thought, this is really good, but I am just not super excited about it. In lieu of the make out, I don't want to stay up all night reading it and  I don't want to call my favorite editors and tell them that I have found the one that is going to change my life. And theirs. 

So, for any of you out there who are going through the agent search, looking for the perfect match, please take heart when you get the rejection that "fiction is so subjective, I'm sure another agent will feel differently."  We agents use that line. A lot. But it's really not just a line.  Fiction IS so subjective.  And, to prove my point, I wanted to share a little publishing anecdote with you.

Recently, a fabulous agent and dear friend, who I will refer to here as Super Agent, called me close to tears. A novel she'd rejected about year ago had just sold for a big sum to a very tony house and to a very respected editor.  "What's wrong with me?"  Super Agent lamented. " I feel like such a loser, but I really didn't like the book at all.  Did I just miss an amazing opportunity? Do I suck? I suck, don't I? " Okay, maybe those weren't her words exactly, but having been in her shoes myself, I knew how she felt.  In fact,  I am not sure there's an agent out there who hasn't been in this situation, scrolling through Publishers Marketplace, only to see a deal announced about something they rejected.

But what I told Super Agent, after reminding her of her super-ness, is that fiction is subjective and if she didn't love it, she was very wise not to take it on because she wouldn't have sold it the way the other agent did.  In dating terms, she would have strung the guy along, not really feeling passionate about him, and wasted both of their time.  And, okay, I am stretching my metaphor here, but if the dating goal is to find the chapel/temple and priest/rabbi (Publisher! Editor!) It never would have happened because she just didn't like him enough.  Thank goodness for the author that she did reject it. 

So, in all seriousness,  when you do get those responses, try to remember that it's not just a form rejection. There is hope that someone else really will see your work differently.  And comfort yourself knowing that you are lucky that the agent who passed, did pass, because would you want that agent be telling her editors that you are great and all but you're just not in love?

One more anecdote that always makes me laugh. My first boss, an older gentleman who has great taste, actually likes to brag that he turned down The Perfect Storm, because, "Why the hell would anyone want to read about a storm that kills everyone on a fishing boat?"  Perhaps it's his age, or more likely his Y chromosome that gives him the confidence, but it all comes back to the fact that while we are all looking for that next great book, that next great book is different for everyone. So, take heart.  It's Not you. It's Us.