Thursday, August 9, 2007

Question: Exactly what is acceptable when it comes to submissions?

Exactly what is acceptable and what isn't when it comes to submissions? It seems this business is so incredibly subjective there is a different answer from any one you ask.

You're right - it really is subjective, and so it's hard for me to give an accurate answer to this. Does your agent submit exclusively? Is it in a genre that has less options in terms of publishers? Is it children's or adult? Nonfiction or fiction? Is it the summer or fall?

Still, I do think there are some general guidelines that apply regardless. Your agent must have a submission plan. The agent should be willing to discuss the plan with you and get your agreement before proceeding. And your agent should update you on the submission whenever you ask.

I've had projects that have sold in a week, and others that have sold after three years. Sometimes I've submitted to only a few editors initially, while other times I've submitted to over twenty at once. The one constant for each of my submissions is that I had a strategy for sale - and I've shared that plan with my client and we are in agreement.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Question: How long does it all take?

How long should it take from "we'd like to offer you representation" to "we're pitching your proposal"?

The most significant factor affecting the time it takes to pitch a proposal after an offer of representation is made by an agent is the proposal itself. I don't think I've ever signed up a client without having at least a few editorial suggestions. In extreme cases its taken six months or more to get the proposal ready, and at other times it's only taken a few weeks. Sometimes the delay is a result of something out of our control - perhaps you need an interview from someone for the sample chapter but they're out of town for a few months. Other times it's simply because the author has yet to really nail it.

It's a different story if the agent is the cause of the delay - whether by not getting back to you quickly enough with edits or simply not submitting. We're busy people, but truthfully our clients come before anything else we have going on, so an extended delay is really not acceptable. Before reacting too hastily though, make sure to bring up the issue with your agent and get their response. In any situation there can be unforeseen and unusual problems that can cause a delay that might be excusable. And even if there's nothing like that going on, a bit of leeway is fair. But if your agent (or their assistant) can't get back to you within a week or so - even if it's to say I'm still working on getting you an answer - than I think you should be concerned.

Another possibility is that the agent proscribes to the dead summer theory - i.e. not submitting in July and August because lots of editors are on vacation. I personally don't follow this rule and have sold plenty of books in those months, but I know quite a few good agents who do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's not just me...

Check out what Jennifer Jackson has to say about how to proceed when you receive an offer from an agent.

Question: Commercial vs. literary question?

What's your personal take on the commercial vs. literary question? Some people seem to think the distinction is hard and fast, although they don't necessarily agree on where to draw the line; others see some gray area between the two.

Everyone I know recognizes the gray area between the two, though different names for it are used. The two most common I've heard are "upmarket" or "smart" fiction or nonfiction. I don't really like the "smart" classification, so I use "upmarket."

Question: Designating a category for a novel in an agent query

How important is it to designate a category for a novel in an agent query? If you mention more than one possible category (e.g. "women's/literary"), does it look like you don't know what you're talking about, or does it make the book seem more versatile? Do agents care about the professed category beyond the simple determination of whether or not it's one they represent?

I prefer an author to try to categorize their book to the best of their ability, and I imagine most agents feel the same way. The bottom line is that this saves us time when evaluating queries, especially since many can then be dismissed easily if they are in a category we don't handle. It also allows us more time to then evaluate the queries that are in the categories that we do represent and are actively looking for material.

I don't think there's anything wrong with mentioning more than one category, since the reality is that most books could fit in multiple genres. I wouldn't say it makes the book seem more versatile though, since multiple category classification is commonplace.

I also can honestly say that while numerous categories are of interest to me, their are only a few that really get me excited right now. This could be because I think the market for this category is hot right now, or I just read an article on a similar subject, or in what little spare time I've had I've been reading books in that genre. As a result, I'll look at those queries immediately, as compared to perhaps putting them off until later (i.e. end of the day or end of the week).

Oh, and I also like to hear who you think your work compares favorably to, for the same reasons as above. For example, I'm more inclined to be excited if you say your mystery is comparable to Lehane than Martini.

Term of the Week: Reserve for Returns

You just got your royalty statement, and you look down and see that the publisher has withheld a portion of your royalty payments as a reserve for returns. What does this mean?

Basically, the publisher is holding back what is hopefully a small percentage of your royalties in case any of your books are returned by the booksellers during the next royalty period (and there are always going to be a few books returned). In another weird quirk of publishing, booksellers aren't actually buying books outright from publishers, but instead on consignment on a fully returnable basis.

There's a lot more to this, but the things to remember in negotiating your contract are to try to limit this reserve to a percentage of the gross amount of royalties payable to you, and/or to limit the publisher from holding such reserves for more than a few accounting periods.


A new "Word of the Week" will be posted in the next few days, but in the meantime I wanted to open up the blog to publishing questions.

From now until Friday you can email me with a question at Make sure to put in the subject line "Blog Question". I promise to respond to every question I receive, unless it's too specific to your book and not helpful to other readers, or requires me to call out other agents or editors, or I get deluged with emails.

Clarification on electronic submissions

I will continue to respond to all queries sent via my agency website (this was not a one week special). A few things to remember:
  • If you do not get a response within a few days it's most likely because you did not provide an accurate email address or you have a spam blocker set up that requires registration.
  • My answers will be brief, and I will not respond to follow up emails requesting referrals or more detailed comments.
  • Unless it's a referral, I will not respond to email queries that were not sent via the agency website (i.e. directly to one of my email addresses).