Friday, May 23, 2008

That was a great game of golf, fellers.

And with those last words from Bing Crosby, the No Holds Barred Q&A Session is officially over. Thanks to everyone who wrote in, and I hope you all have a wonderful long weekend!

How much do I share with a writer about their submission?

After you send a book out on submission, how much do you let the writer know of what's going on?
It depends on the author. Some want an update each time I hear something from an editor, others don't want to know anything until I sell the book. I usually update my clients once every few weeks unless I have instructions to the contrary. As for the actual editorial letters, I typically will only share them if my client specifically asks or if they say something substantive.

Do editors call you up out of the blue with an offer, like a bolt from above, or do they generally keep you posted at each stage of the process?
Most of the time I'm kept in the loop, but on occasion I've gotten an offer in out of the blue. I definitely prefer being posted as things progress though, because I can then keep other editors who are reviewing the book in the loop.

Is there anything the writer can do - or not do - at this point that will make any difference?
Sometimes I'll have my client speak with an editor to make sure they share the same editorial vision, but usually there's nothing a writer can do. I suggest deep breaths.

Also, we all know when a book is on submission the writer is a nervous wreck, but what's it like for you? Just another day at the office, or does the anticipation get to you as well?
It's certainly not as nerve-wracking as it used to be, but I still get excited when I'm submitting a new project and I'm absolutely ecstatic when an offer comes in and I get to call my client.

Since this is the last question, I'll elaborate a bit more on that last point. In my opinion, the best part of my job is that phone call to a client telling them that they have an offer, and it's even sweeter when it's my client's first book. The second best part of the job is reading that project for the first time and falling in love and making an offer of representation. A close third is seeing that book in the store after years of sweat and labor.

I doubt these three events are ever as emotionally satisfying for me as they are for a writer, but because I have so many clients I get to feel these things over and over again. It's pretty amazing.

How long from initial submission does it take to sell a book?

How long does it usually take for a book you're submitting to make the rounds to all the editors you plan on sending them to -- meaning, do you send it out to one editor at a time and the process can take a few years? Do you send them out five at a time, and the process take months? What's the average turnaround time until a book gets sold or probably isn't going to be?

There are two ways to submit projects - either exclusively to one editor at a time or simultaneously to various editors at different publishing houses. Fifteen years ago the industry standard was exclusive submissions, but that has since changed and multiple submissions are considered the norm (though certainly not the rule).

How many and which editors I submit to at any given time is a true trade secret. I determine a strategy based on the individual book and the potential publishers, and then I discuss this strategy with my client before submitting. I will say though that I almost always submit to at least three editors at any given time and have also submitted to up to twenty at once.

If or when I get a pass from an editor I may immediately send it out to another editor, or I may wait for more responses to see if they all describe the same problems about the project. If I submit a book to eight editors and they all pass with the same concern, then I might ask my client to revise before submitting elsewhere.

As for the average turnaround time before a book gets sold, there are too many factors for me to give an accurate answer. It depends on how many editors you can submit the project to (which depends on the genre), how long each editor takes to respond, whether the author decided to revise, how many editors express interest, whether I can conduct an auction, etc. I've sold some books just a few weeks after first submitting to editors, but I also once sold a book two and a half years after my initial submission.

Why Fulham?

Okay, you like championships, so you like the Spurs. What's the attraction with Fulham, then?

I started tracking them years ago, when Eddie Lewis was on the team. Over time they've become my favorite club.

Why the Spurs?

Why the Spurs?

I was born and raised in San Antonio. Also, I appreciate teamwork, discipline, sharing, professionalism, and championships.

is 425,000 words too long?

You receive a submission letter that excites you. Gripping story, interesting characters—the works. A “new voice” story. As you read the letter, you conclude that you’ve got to see a partial.

Until. You note that it is a debut novel and it’s 425,000 words long. What do you do?

250 words per page is generally considered to be standard. This means that your novel is 1,700 pages long. I would have to love this letter like a blanket in freezing weather and no shelter to even consider asking to see it.

When should you mention your age, if ever?

My partial manuscript is under consideration with a wonderful agent (actually, my #1 choice), and I'm wondering when in the process it might be a good idea to reveal the fact that I'm only 18 years old. My thought is not until we're actually discussing representation and publicity plans. I'm not sure if my age is detrimental to me or a cool little gimmick. Either way, it has nothing at all to do with the writing, and I don't want it to color her perception of the book.

What to do? Tell her now, tell her if representation comes up, never mention it? It seems like a small thing, but it's bugging me.

Ultimately a good book is a good book, and hopefully an agent will represent you regardless of age. In my own opinion, it can only help to know how old you are, as it means you have a long career ahead of you.

What is the average percentage of personalized rejections my clients recieve from editors?

Is a gestating baby considered a parasite? I asked a colleague who teaches science and he was flummoxed.
Well, maybe I won't answer every question.

Also, what is the average percentage of personalized rejections that your clients receive from editors? Do you have an inkling on how much they read or how far they get into a book, based on the rejections?
I'd say 99% of the rejections my clients get from editors are at least somewhat personalized, though there are certainly times where I can tell that the editor didn't read all of the book.

Will Greg Oden win an NBA Championship in Portland?
Greg Oden is like David Robinson fifteen years ago. He's going to be great, but will need a Tim Duncan to win championships.

Friday Musings

Summer is finally upon us! My weekend will be spent reading partials and watching basketball, and so sadly Maynard and Jennica will just have to wait a bit longer. What about you? Any good books picked out for some beach reading this weekend?

Jennifer Jackson's Agent Manners series is ongoing, so pop over and ask her a question. Make sure you follow the rules though.

Salon book reviewers discuss whether literary criticism is dead.

Writer's Digest reviews the best publishing websites, including the top agency blogs. I like almost all of the sites mentioned.

And via Litkicks and the Chicago Tribune, here is an article about two guys fighting the battle against bad grammar.

Finally, don't forget that my No Holds Barred Q&A session is still open. Any questions received before 3:00pm EST will be answered, no matter what.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Neon Lights Are Out On Broadway

As of next Wednesday, the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group will be called the Doubleday Publishing Group. They have a new logo and enhanced website too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is it appropriate to send a follow-up email?

I've just begun my search for representation and have run into a few questions. Many internet sources indicate most agents won't respond to email queries if uninterested. If that's the case, I would prefer to continue my search rather than wait for responses that will never come. With that in mind:

1) Is it appropriate to send a follow-up email?
It depends on if the agent says they respond to email queries. If they do and you haven't heard back then it's ok to follow up.

2) If so, how long should I wait before sending the follow-up email? Would 3 weeks be too soon?

I suggest four to eight weeks, depending on how long that agent says they take to respond to queries (check their website for more information).

3) In the follow-up, is it appropriate to mention that this will be my final unsolicited email?

No. Just follow up.

How did I get started as an agent?

How did you get started as an agent? I read your biography on the Lyons Literary website and I'm wondering why and how you left the litigation law firm and went to work for Curtis Brown. I'm a law student and I would really love to go into agenting - so I'd particularly like to hear your story as a lawyer turned agent.

Here's the short version.

I had looked into agenting when I was in law school, but I decided against it initially for more pay at a firm. But within just a few months of practicing I realized I wasn't happy. I didn't feel good about myself or my life, and I certainly couldn't imagine doing this for the next fifty years.

Once I realized that I needed to switch jobs, I reconsidering agenting. My brother is an author, and his agent at the time was kind enough to let me intern for him in my spare time to see if agenting was up my alley. Within five minutes of working there I knew that it was what I was meant to do with my life.

I sent out a bunch of resumes and got an interview at Curtis Brown. I ended up meeting with two of the younger agents at the agency, and they appreciated my hunger and desire, likely because they feel the same way about agenting as I do. I got the job and the rest is history.

Agenting isn't for everyone. Like any entertainment industry profession there is a certain amount of dues you must pay, and real success takes time and patience. I wouldn't suggest it as a profession for anyone unless you're truly passionate about books.

What if you have two projects to pitch?

I'm currently shopping novel number one. Two agents are reading completes (slowly!) and one has a partial. 39 other agents -- including you -- have passed on it. Meantime, novel number two is close to completion, and purely from a one-line pitch perspective, seems like a far more salable premise. So I'm wondering what happens when I have two projects I'm pitching. Do I put the first one in the drawer, and try to sell it after I've sold the second? (I know I'm being optimistic.) Do I pitch them simultaneously?

This is a very hard call, and a very subjective one. Hopefully readers will chip in with their opinions, but my own is that you pitch the one you think is most marketable first.

What do I expect from an author?

When you sign a new author, what do you expect from that relationship?
Here you go.

Obviously the answers to some of these will vary, but for example, at what point do they cross the "Becoming annoying" line as far as emailing you with questions?
It takes a lot for me to get annoyed, but I'll get frustrated when I get too many questions asking me to predict the future, or questions that I've already answered before.

What sorts of things do you like to be kept updated on, as far as new projects they may be working on or whatever?
I'm an advocate of full disclosure, though I try to limit comments or edits on works in progress to avoid suffocating my client's writing voice.

How patient are you/do you normally expect to be with authors new to the game?
I'd like to think I am very patient.

When do I give up?

How long does it usually take for you to send a manuscript around to editors, and how many people do you send it to before you give up?

Once I sign up a client it will often take a few rounds of edits before the manuscript or proposal is ready for submission, which can take a few months. But once the project is ready I'll start pitching it almost immediately unless there's a really good reason to wait (such as an approaching book fair or holiday).

I agree with my buddy Edward Necarsulmer IV about when to give up on submissions.

Should you mention a mentor program?

When I finish my present edit, I plan to use a mentor program at a well known university. It isn't cheap. When it comes time to query, would it be good or bad to mention the program and mentoring author?

Absolutely mention it, but don't hype it too much.

What do you do when an agent pulls a disappearing act?

What do you do when an agent from a respectable agency personally responds to a query an hour after you sent it, raves about your publishing credits because he's actually read a few books you're in, discusses editors you both have in common, asks if he can call you, does call you and you speak for almost an hour, requests a partial, and then never contacts you again?

I've had some peculiar things happen to me over the years, but this tops them all. I sent him the partial, with a SASE, well over a month ago and I haven't heard a thing. This was the first agent I contacted with a brand new book I've just started to pitch this month.

This is a little strange, but normally a month isn't that long of a time to read a partial. I've often taken longer, even when I'm really excited about a potential project, because unfortunately there are other things that must take a higher priority (my current clients always come first). I suggest following up gently from time to time while you query other agents.

When is a book "damaged goods"?

Okay, this is a little complicated so please bear with me. I had an agent with whom I recently split (amicably). She submitted a thriller of mine to a total of six publishers, including a well-known paperback publisher who sells most of their books on-line but does place some of their books in the bricks & mortar stores. The paperback publisher (after sitting on the book forever) eventually made an offer. After discussing the offer with my agent we both felt the book was good enough to find a larger publisher. But after a couple more submissions and rejections, she seemed to give up on the book. Ergo, the main reason I decided to split the sheets. Question: is this book now 'damaged goods' and would it make sense to attempt seeking representation for it with another agent? And if so, how would I handle that?

I can't say without reading the book and seeing where and to whom your project has been submitted to. If there are still a number of publishers to try (or even retry if the editor has left) then it might make sense to seek representation for it with another agent. Unfortunately, if your former agent isn't willing to give you referrals or if you don't have any to exploit through other means, you'll just have to query again.

Do I write?

Do you handle/look for potential for film when handling certain fiction?
I don't go out of my way to look for a book with film potential, but it certainly is a positive.

Do you write?
I write, though not well.

What inspired you to be an agent?
I love books.

What kinds of authors would you love or dream of having?
Talented, professional, and prolific!

I write novellas. I know you don't handle these. I understand they are a specialty, but also seem to be growing in popularity. Why don't you handle these? Can you recommend agents who do?
I don't read a lot of novellas, and so I don't feel comfortable representing them at this point. Also, they are not an easy sale because the market for them isn't huge, and the advances and royalties are typically not high. I unfortunately have to do a cost-benefit analysis regarding anything I represent, and right now novellas don't add up for me. As for agents who handle novellas, I suggest looking on Publishers Marketplace for novella and short story collection deals.

What is the likelihood of obtaining representation?

If you cannot get a referral from another author and haven't met an agent at a convention, how likely is it to actually get representation through the query-synopsis-sample route?

Also, how many agents should one plug away at before becoming discouraged with reasonable cause? Assume all agents queried have been researched and represent the category of fiction in question. In this case: Literary Fiction.

Regarding your first question, I unfortunately don't know and I'm unaware of any survey conducted about this type of thing. However, in my opinion I do believe that if you write a book that has publishing viability and you query properly and thoroughly that you will eventually secure representation.

Regarding your second question, I saw somewhere that there are probably about 400-450 reputable literary agents in the United States. While it may not make sense or be cost effective to query all of them, I certainly think that you should be as thorough as possible in your submissions without actually driving yourself crazy. What that specific number is will depend on you.

What is a "new voice"?

I’m a newbie. I have written for money all my life, but have just “finished” my first novel. It’s now in its sixth edit/proofing cycle (three trips to Kinko's) and in the hands of a group of trusted friends. So, while I’m waiting, I’m learning about the agent/ publisher business. I have read a number of agents’ web sites. Many (most?) say they are looking for a “new voice”. What is that? Does it have to do with a writer’s style, with the dominant issues in a story, with the attitude of the characters? What?

When people say voice, they mean how your words sound on the page. Voice is a combination of a number of elements, including the tone, the word choice, your characters' personality, and your descriptions. With such a variety of factors you'd think that no two voices would sound the same, but unfortunately that's just not the case. I suspect this is at least partially a result of people reading and emulating the same published authors, whether knowingly or not.

No Holds Barred

I know some of you have asked me questions in the comments section of previous posts, and I likely didn't respond. Here's your chance to ask again, and this time I guarentee in answer. Either post a comment with the question or email directly at with "Blog Question" in the subject line before the end of the day on Friday.

All questions will be answered, no matter what.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Olson Out

Random House made it official this morning. Long-standing chairman Peter Olson will step down at the end of the month. Markus Dohle, the head of Bertselsmann's printing division, will replace him.

Monday, May 19, 2008

No Clubs Allowed in the Stores

Courtesy of Shelf Awareness, here is a link to some great advice on how to place your book at local and independent book stores.

Also via SA, The Economist provides an interesting review of international book clubs.