Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Querying publishers and agents at the same time

I understand it’s not necessarily bad form to query more than one agent simultaneously, but if an agent, having read a submission, decides to represent someone, how might s/he then react to the news that the submission currently sits on the slush pile of one or more publishing houses?

Most Australian agents would probably expect that authors are sending things to publishers at the same time as they send them to us, since some publishers do accept submissions from the public. The kosher thing to do is mention in your query letter - to all parties - that you are submitting the manuscript to other agents and publishers, just so there are no surprises. If the agent doesn't like that, then they don't, but it doesn't really make sense for authors not to take advantage of publishers' open submissions if they're offered. Having said that, if all the publishers have said no, it makes it less likely that I'll offer to represent the author because I won't have as many options for submission.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jonathan Lyons Q&A

I missed posting this in time to encourage any of you to submit a question (I blame the Sydney Writers Festival) but here 'tis anyway ...

US agent Jonathan Lyons just had a marathon Q&A session on his blog, and all the goodies can be found here:


Monday, May 12, 2008

Rules for submitting to awards

A question that comes up amongst writers (after an honest dose of vino), is whether or not they should enter competitions, such as the Australian/Vogel, and still submit the same work to either other competitions or publishers at the same time. With the Australian/Vogel, for example, it says,'It cannot be under consideration to any other publisher or award.' Whilst it is pretty clear what publishers would prefer, is it realistic to tie your work up for so long with only a snowflake’s chance in hell of actually winning that competition or otherwise being taken up commercially? In my case, it’s my last shot at the Vogel before I turn the dreaded 35. I did have a big publishing house editor ask for my novel when it was finished, but I get the gist from other posts on your blog that this isn’t necessarily a ticket to ride either (and it could take some time to find that out). If, at the time of submission, the entry isn’t under [serious] consideration (under offer, as opposed to sitting on a slush pile) anywhere else, is that sufficient? After all, if it looks like it might win a comp, one could withdraw the submission from other places, surely? The goody-goody in me says don’t do it, but the aging realist would like a second opinion.

Entry requirements like that are very restrictive for writers. My inclination would be to say that you should submit it to an award even if it's under consideration elsewhere, and if it makes the shortlist then you should withdraw it from the other place/s. Of course, there's a conundrum there too: if you don't win the award then you miss out on it being considered at the other place/s, with no chance of resubmission unless someone in-house really wants to champion it.

Award rules favour the ruling body - whether that's an award committee or a publishing company - so you should really use your conscience about what serves you best. If you're about to turn 35 then enter the Vogel, leave it at the other publisher for the time being and just see what happens. If you make the shortlist and whisk it away from the other publisher, it's unlikely that anyone at Vogel headquarters will ever find out it had been there all that time. Of course, if you get an offer from the other publishing house, you can withdraw it from the Vogel - and you don't have to say why.

Why assessors and agents should never live in the same body

I recently received my fiction MS back from an assessor. The assessment was favourable, and the assessor has offered to act as agent for my MS. I'm elated in one sense, but cautious in the other. Should I be wary of a 'part-time' agent, who, as far as I can tell, makes most of their living from MS assessments? A part of me wants to accept the offer, because I know that if I begin submitting to agents now, it might take up to 6 months to have my MS accepted - at least this person has read my MS and is enthusiastic about it.

You are right to be cautious - the agents who appear on Writer Beware's 'worst agents' are usually trying some combination of assessing, editing and agenting. These functions should never be contained in the one person or company - in your case, the assessor has taken money from you and is now offering to agent your book, which is tantamount to taking a fee for their agenting services. This is in violation of the ALAA guidelines. As tempting as it may be for agents to take money for manuscript assessment - it would help us cover the costs of the hours spent reading - we just don't do it, because it's too ethically tricky. How do you know if the assessor really loves your writing or is only offering to agent the book because you've paid them for the assessment? And are they a member of the ALAA? How many published authors are on their list? If they have none or only one published author, plus they're not known as an agent, it's unlikely they can do much for you anyway. You could spend the next six months - time you would spend waiting to hear from proper agents - believing that this assessor can help you, only to find out that they can't.

Certainly, it takes a long time to hear from agents - that's because we have clients, which means we're bona fide. Although I can understand that you're impatient to get things going, six months is really not much in the scheme of publishing cycles. But if you do want to go with this assessor, ask for their credentials - which publishers they deal with, which other authors they look after. If they're legitimate, you'll be given this information. You're about to make an important business decision, so treat it accordingly.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Do I or don't I?

I have been absent from the blog due to an eye-watering amount of reading - which I'm still trying to get through - but this question came in so I felt duty bound to answer it ...

Q: While I was finishing Version Two of My Tome, I was fortunate enough to attend a pitching panel where a senior editor at a prominent publisher said she would read it when it was finished. Fortunately she acknowledged that it might take me a while to get back to her. It did. I engaged a professional editor to do a structural report and consequently wrote Version Three. The editor reread My Tome and declared it ready. Okay, so it's now one the desk of an editor at a prominent publisher. They've had it for about two and a half months. I am waiting patiently. Yeah okay, not so patiently, though I don't even want to imagine what their workload looks like. So my question is this: should I be looking for an agent? No offence, but I considered that if a publisher said 'Yes!' that they would have a standard contract and therefore there wouldn't be much for an agent to do. Reading your blog, however, alerted me to the fact that perhaps this is not the case and give the time frames involved in these endeavours that perhaps I should begin my agent search sooner rather than later.

First things first: you did the right thing in finding an editor for your manuscript, as it increased your chances of a publisher paying attention - you'd be surprised how many authors do not take such a step and it usually means they don't ever get published.

Now to the agent thing. There are a few little issues here ...
1. In my experience the contracts offered to agented authors are substantially different to those offered to unagented authors at most (not all) publishing companies. You could ask an intellectual property lawyer to look over your contract if you're concerned, although that may end up costing more than an agent's commission. You may also feel that you're really happy to manage the business side of writing as well as the creative - some authors love doing it. Those who don't usually have agents.

2. If your novel is fantastic, maybe more than one publisher would be interested in it. Just because this particular publisher is keen, are they necessarily the right publisher for your book? The right publisher is not always the first publisher who says, 'I love it!' or the publisher who offers you the most money. If you've written historical romance, say, and the editor you've been dealing with personally loves it enough to persuade everyone else at the Acquisitions meeting to publish it but the company has never done historical romance before - they specialise in thrillers and crime novels - are they really going to do the right thing by you? What happens if the editor leaves and your champion is gone? (This does happen and can have a huge effect on some authors.) There may be another publisher who is better for you.

3. For me, at least, taking on a new client means managing their career, not just one book. If you're a first-time novelist, it's crucial to get things right - or as right as possible - for that first book or your career can be over before it begins. (If you don't intend to write more than one book, though, you can ignore this bit ...) You may be able to get advice from someone you trust and that person can play the same sort of role I do for my authors - which is, truthfully, more about giving advice on career/writing/life than negotiating contracts - so you wouldn't need an agent. It is important, though, to have someone to talk to about the business of writing and things that come up in the creative process, regardless of whether that person is an agent or not.

Fundamentally, it can't hurt you to submit to agents at this stage - and in your cover letter you should mention that your manuscript is being seriously considered at a publishing company (name the company). If an agent wants to take you on then you can still say 'no' if you ultimately decide you don't need one. The one thing I will stress is that you need to put aside the excitement of thinking you may get published and look down the long road of your potential writing career. Think about what you need to do to have a career - what will be required to keep you happily productive for years to come. If handling the business side of things seems like it would be too much work and would distract you from your writing, you need an agent. If not, you don't.