Monday, October 12, 2009

Beaucoup de questions

I've targeted certain agents, mainly from information on, and checked out all I can find about their tastes before I approach them. Some of the sample query letters they display are puzzling - some want "personal", some want "professionally objective" and some don't tell you! Many of them, however, seem to have a fairly long response time, e.g. 3-6 weeks for responding to an e-mail query of maximum 250 words (and it was difficult to be informative in such a short query, believe me!). Is it considered reasonable to query multiple agents at the same time, or perhaps send to two, wait a couple of weeks, try a couple more etc.? I know my chances of attracting interest are slim, so I don't want inadvertently to annoy anyone. Also, if I have been rejected by a certain agent, can I query someone else in the same office? AND (sorry to be so profuse!) for the ones who say they will only respond if interested, how long should I wait generally before assuming that they were indeed not interested?

My current other question concerns a publisher whose advertised response time is 9-12 months (and yes, they have been around a long time and are no doubt very popular). If I haven't heard from them at all (apart from receipt of submission) and 12 months have passed, how long should I wait before asking politely what the current status of the submission is? (In the past, I've assumed about a month more, but this could be bad form, for all I know.) And is it generally true that silence indicates they haven't yet chucked it, or should I read no meaning into this at all?

On the question of multiple submissions, please see this post. Also, since you're querying in the US, multiple submissions are completely acceptable there.

If an agent in one office has said no, take it as a 'no' for the whole office. Multiple-agent offices are a rarity in Australia so we don't tend to face this issue too often, however in an agency with several agents an individual agent may well pass on queries to other agents in the office if they think it's a better fit for them. If you've had a 'no', you can presume that either hasn't happened or happened and it was a no there too.

If you haven't heard from them within eight weeks - if it's only a 250-word query (geee, wonder if I can get away with asking for that ...) - then move on.

As to the publishing company: you're right, give them a month over the time limit and then make contact. Do not read anything into the silence other than the fact that they haven't responded to you yet. I go silent on submissions for weeks - months - at a time and it's because I haven't read it yet. Everyone gets a lot of submissions. We all make promises about time frames but can only keep them if we have minions to help us. Agencies and publishers aren't that flush with cash, ergo, no minions and no timely response.

Agents and editing

Once a writer has feedback from the Editorial Department of a publishing house, to what extent do literary agents involve themselves, or make themselves available during the editing/rewriting process?

Presently, I’m an unsigned writer, with a dozen pages of detailed chapter by chapter comments and an invitation to rewrite and return, from a Senior Editor at one of the big houses. I’ve started the rewrite, but wonder whether I ought to seek out an agent to oversee the process of getting the best book possible out of this pile of pages before resubmitting (and hopefully, negotiating a contract). I realise that there are plenty of reasons for working with an agent, but I’d particularly like to know how the editing stage is managed. Many thanks.

I can't speak for all agents on this issue, as I don't know what they all do. So I'll just speak for myself, and I have as little or as much editorial involvement as the author wants me to have. Sometimes I'll read part of a first draft and give feedback on that; sometimes I'll read the full first draft; other authors don't want to show me until draft three or six or whatever number it is when they feel ready.

Once the authors have received editorial notes from their editor/publisher, again, it depends how much they want me to be involved, but usually they'll send me the notes and ask me for my opinion, especially on contentious points. And it's just that: an opinion. As is everything with editing. One thing I never want to do is come between them and their editor - that is a very intense relationship that should not have a third party inserted into it, unless there is a fundamental problem with communciation between author and editor. Happily, that doesn't happen very often.

Foreign etiquette

I've discovered that once I've had a story published in an Australian magazine I can try to sell it to overseas publishers. I know I need to specify what rights I'm selling (eg. First British serial rights), but is it necessary to mention it has been published here in Australia?

First you need to check which rights you've sold in Australia - if you gave them world rights, then you have nothing to sell. I'm presuming you've done that, so if you're submitting overseas you should mention that it's been published in Australia, because it's a good thing - someone else thought the story worthy of publication. But, given that we're a former colony partly populated by former Britons - a fact they conveniently forget, damn overlords, just because the aforementioned former Britons were criminals - don't expect anyone in the UK to actually care. I could spend two hours ranting about British publishers and their cavalier behaviour in respect of Australian rights, but I'm already en couleur and I should really calm down before trying to eat my lunch.

In an existential black hole

I was wondering if you might be able to offer some advice. I have recently completed my first work - a short work of fiction of about 80 000 words. I took the step of approaching someone who is the director of a small publishing house. This is what I received by way of feedback:

'I've had a quick look at the ms and, while it's very fluent and has some very interesting things to say, its fictional form would, I think, make sales too difficult to find for someone with as few marketing resources as I have. It would need the muscle of a better-resourced publisher.'

As I am new to 'the game', and understanding that without a personal contact with an appropriate (well-resourced) publisher, the ms is likely to sit on a 'slush pile' for years, my question is: where to from here?

Are you sure you realised what sort of blog this is? That an agent writes it? The question where to from here? suggests that you didn't, so now I'm in some kind of post-structuralist existential black hole - do I exist? Does my job exist? Arrrrghhhh. This is why I'm so slow at answering questions - I can't take the angst.

So I'll make it simple:

1. Personal contacts only get you so far, and most published writers don't have them. If the manuscript isn't any good, the contacts certainly won't help you get published and, in fact, may be wishing they didn't know you.

2. Agents help you avoid the slush pile - try submitting your manuscript to a few of them. (Of course, if I don't really exist - if agents aren't real - then my head just exploded while writing that.) And just so you know, agents don't count as 'personal contacts'.

3. If you don't want to try agents, there are several novel competitions around - your local writers centre would be able to advise you.

FYI: 80 000 words is not a short work of fiction. That's a slightly-longer-than-average work of fiction.