Monday, December 12, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
"I’ve placed three first novels in the past few months, with good prospects for others." How do you find new authors, Agent S? Do you just stumble upon them in the 'slush pile'? If so, what makes them stand out from the crowd?
I have stumbled across some in the slush pile; others have come through referrals from existing clients or are writers I've met in the course of work.
Those who came from the slush pile have a few elements in common:
1. Fantastic query letter. You'd be surprised how often the covering letter says something like, 'Here is my novel. I hope you like it' and that's it. All the written communication from an author is an indication of how they write, from their cover letter to their emails and all points in between. I'm sure that often writers don't know that they shouldn't do this (hence one of the reasons for this blog - to shine a bit of light on what authors need to do), but they really shouldn't. Because a letter like that makes me think that the author can't articulate what their novel is about, they can't tell me who they are or what they want from their writing, and they certainly can't tell me why they approached my agency. Writing a query letter is a skill, and good writers refine their query letters several times. There are workshops on it in the US, and you may find the odd one at a writers' centre here too.
2. The author has taken their time with the manuscript before sending it in; it is usually the fourth or fifth draft or beyond by the time they send it in (and they say this in the query letter). They may also have done some courses, such as QWC's 'Year of the Novel' or a program at Varuna. This indicates that are realistic about how much work is involved in writing a novel and will therefore be more realistic about the publishing road ahead.
3. They are great writers. Their prose may shine like a jewel; or maybe it doesn't but they tell such a fantastic story that the prose is not the focus.
4. They are polite in their communication with the agency and respectful of the amount of time it may take us to make a decision about their manuscript. This point is actually quite important, because I, at least, feel that I'm 'auditioning' writers for publishers (and that does not mean that I think agents should be treated as if on a pedestal - although I do like my grapes peeled occasionally). Writers who are unreasonably difficult with their publishers often never get published again, because the Australian publishing culture is quite genteel and really doesn't take well to foot-stompers. So if someone is routinely shirty with me, I know exactly how they'll behave with their publisher and what that will mean for their book: usually, not much. It takes more effort to be angry than to be reasonable, and it's easier to be reasonable when you remember that agents and publishers aren't the enemy. We love books - that's why we work in publishing. We just don't have 24 hours a day to read submissions, so it will take us some time to get back to you. If you respect our request to give us three months to read your submission, we'll respect your writing. If you, instead, call after two weeks to complain that we're taking too much time, that doesn't really bode well.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Currently, I'm trying to get an internship over the summer holidays. There are very few literary agencies in Australia, but do you still think there would be a chance they'll accept an intern? If it's a yes or no, and why? I thought it would be a good time since many individuals would go on holiday with their kids.
Also, I've been reading on submission guidelines. And there seems to be very little agencies that represent Young Adult work. Is there a reason for that or are Australian agents just not interested at the moment? My favourite genre is YA, and I think there should be more Australian YA authors in the market. I'm honestly curious because I see so much potential.
I can't imagine how anyone would become an agent straight out of university unless she was going into a fairly large, established agency where she could be trained. Being an agent, like many jobs, depends on relationships. If I don't have relationships with any publishers, I can't place books with them. Certainly, when I started I didn't have as many relationships with publishers as I have now, but I had some. It would be very difficult to start with none, unless you work with an experienced agent who can take you around and introduce you to people. It also helps to have a fair amount of knowledge about how the publishing industry works, which you can learn on the job, but, again, you'd ideally have someone to teach you if you haven't learnt it from personal experience. So if you're intent on only working in an agency, make it a large one. But you can also get a lot of relevant experience working in a publishing company or as a bookseller. I actually think bookselling is the closest parallel to agenting: both booksellers and agents are trying to place stories they love with other people who may love them too.
Regarding an internship: again, it's probably only a large agency who can accommodate a trainee. Small agencies or agents who work for themselves would be less likely to take on an intern, simply because it would create a lot of work and not give them any help whatsoever. Small operators of all types are used to doing everything themselves. Trying to hand some work off to someone else requires a lot of time and probably creates a fair bit of stress. And that's if they even have somewhere to put you - they may only have one desk and one computer.
As to agents and young adult fiction: it's a matter of personal preference. It's very hard to effectively represent something if you don't love it. So if an agent doesn't naturally have an interest in young adult fiction, it's better if they leave it alone because at best they'll be making educated guesses about what's going to work, and then their heart won't be in it, and that's not the best result for the YA authors. There are certain genres I don't represent because I don't love them, don't know much about them and therefore shouldn't touch them with a ten-foot barge pole. There are other agents who love the genres I don't, and they are rightfully the ones who should represent them.
Friday, August 26, 2011
We'll vault past the initial querying stage to the point where your full manuscript has been requested by an agent or publisher (editor, if you're in the northern hemisphere). Let's call this agent Agent A. If another agent, Agent B, then requests the manuscript, the polite - and professional - thing to do is to email Agent A and let her or him know, so that Agent A is aware that there may come a point at which the author tells Agent A that he/she has been offered representation by someone else; plus it may cause Agent A to hurry up with the reading. It is also polite to let Agent B know that Agent A already has the manuscript, so Agent B, too, can hurry up with the reading.
If Agent B reads faster than Agent A - which can happen for various reasons - and comes back more quickly to the author with an offer of representation, the polite and professional thing for the author to do is to contact Agent A and say something like, 'Another agent has made an offer of representation, but I'd still really like to hear from you. It would be great if you could let me know what you think of the manuscript by X date [allow a week or so].' The incorrect thing to do is to contact Agent A and say, 'Another agent has offered to represent me - see ya.'
This is the incorrect thing for the following reasons:
1. No matter how excited you may be about Agent B's offer of representation, how do you know if Agent B is the better agent for you when you haven't given Agent A the opportunity to tell you what s/he thinks?
2. It's kinda rude, and publishing people value manners. Gods help you if you ever decide to leave Agent B and seek out Agent A again, because Agent A will remember you and will likely say 'no way'.
Agent B will not withdraw the offer of representation if you stall for a few days - not even if you say why you're stalling, because Agent B would expect the same if s/he was in Agent A's position.
In short: it costs nothing and takes very little time to be courteous to people whom you hope will support your career for years to come. This also applies to dealing with people you meet along the way in publishing - today's editorial assistant is tomorrow's agent or publisher. Why not behave in a professional manner towards people you expect to behave professionally towards you?
Monday, August 22, 2011
However I'm also not going into this blindly. I've researched who the copyright holder is (since the original author has long died) and although the literary rights has changed hands a few times in wills, it turns out that the current owner is living in Perth.
I've spoken to her (and exchanged some letters) and she originally had no idea that her great uncle had ever written a memoir. She is an elderly lady in a retirement village and, to put it bluntly, she has zero interest in the memoir.
She has given me verbal permission to adapt it in an extremely informal 'I don't care - do what you want with it' way - but as you can imagine that isn't exactly sufficient to move forward with development. Certainly if I was just going to dump the original text onto a blog I'd be happy enough ... but verbal permission certainly isn't good enough for a film project. (Nobody in their right mind is going to put money into a film where the original rights haven't been locked down)
So I am in a curious position - I want to give her money ... but she simply doesn't want to get paid!
From her position, of course, her reaction makes a lot of sense. We all hear about scam artists preying on elderly victims ... so would you really trust a chap on the other side of the country who tells you that he'll give you money just for signing a contract you don't really have the inclination to understand?
My question is this - instead of having a literary agent represent an author and search for buyers - is it possible to get some kind of 'reverse literary agent' involved? Basically someone who can sit down with the author (or copyright holder) and get a sale on behalf of an existing buyer ?
I have spoken with a producer and his suggestion was to simply ignore this particular memoir and work with the other accounts of the events. So I suspect that the market value for this particular account isn't very high.I'm in a position where I want to treat her fairly - and I also want to be in a position to adapt the memoir. What would you suggest someone in my position do? Obviously I can just wait another 15 years or so for the copyright to expire ... or 'file off the serial numbers' of the original story - but neither are satisfactory solutions.
**This question was quite a bit longer and contained some details about the proposed deal, which I've removed in the interest of brevity and also because it just didn't seem right to publish them.**
I believe the 'reverse literary agent' you seek is an intellectual property lawyer. This situation is already murky and could get murkier - the only way to make sure everything is clear to everyone is to get a lawyer involved and get it all in writing. The current rights owner may not be interested in the project but there's no telling who may turn up in future years, and you need to protect your interest in the project and any film that may result. And I know lawyers are expensive - but they're cheaper than lawsuits.
Alternatively, you could do as the producer suggests - you only need to option the rights to the memoir if you wish to adapt that account of the historical events. If there is primary evidence elsewhere, or there's another published account that you could option, that's a valid course of action. Just make sure you don't end up with a script that resembles the memoir.
As a last recourse, find another project. There's plenty of great stories out there.
Friday, August 19, 2011
My novel is about a teenager who was born with a genetic condition resulting in short stature and a sexually ambiguous body. It's written from a Christian perspective and based on ten years of answering inquiries on behalf of a support group for the parents of such children.
I've written to several agents who represent Christian authors and the replies have been fairly consistent: They don't know of any Christian publishing houses that will handle the subject material. A few of the smaller Christian publishers I've contacted directly have asked to read the manuscript, but even one of them said they wouldn't ordinarily consider the subject. They were offering to give feedback on the manuscript, not consider it.
I'm assuming that, because most of the novel is written from the teen's perspective, I should be approaching agents who represent YA. Is it a waste of time to ask them if they'll consider a book that is explicitly Christian in outlook? Should I look for agents who represent Christian fiction as well as YA?
For the reader's benefit I'll state that this question came from a writer in the USA, a land of many and varied publishing houses and agents; this variation in turn facilitates the allocation of very specific genres for fiction. Also, Christian fiction is not a big genre here in the land of widespread godless-convict ancestry and declared-atheist prime minister; accordingly, I'm answering this question without knowing much about the genre at all. First things first, however ...
I can understand why it's tempting to ask a question about subject matter/genre without doing a full submission, but here's why agents don't like it: first, everyone would do it and we'd spend most of the day answering these questions; second, it's a question asked out of context, because we really need to see your writing before we can say definitively whether or not we like a subject or genre. I could, in abstract, say I don't want to see stories about this or that, but if the manuscript was amazing, I'd change my mind. So for a writer to give him- or herself the best chance of getting an agent or publisher, you need to show us your writing.
Also, going through the submission-writing process can be very useful for your writing. It forces you to think about whether or not you have a clear storyline; whether or not there's a readership for your story. If you don't ask yourself these questions before you send off a submission, you can't expect an agent/publisher to answer them for you.
When it comes to [Kevin '07 reference there for those feeling nostalgic] who you should query: query as many people as possible. If you think your book could have three different genre labels attached to it, query agents who look after books in those genres. Let them work out if it's exactly right for them or not - by reading what you've written. Yes, it's a lot of work, but you've spent all that time writing the novel - don't you want to give it the best chance of finding the right agent?
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Unfortunately, I am cursed with a terrible affliction: I'm as easy to confuse as a drunk peacock at mardi gras.
Because I’m painfully aware of this flaw, I quadruple-check everything to make sure I don’t have my wires crossed. To that end, I caved and bought the ‘A Decent Proposal’ guide from the ASA, and though I found the advice and the examples therein to be an extremely helpful addition to my resources, I was struck by a clash of terminology that’s left me befuddled and chewing my nails in uncertainty.
The synopsis has always been the bane of my existence (isn’t it always?), and I felt that I had finally got a good handle on the stygian beast. All the advice and examples I’d read online pointed towards an abridged thematic summary of the story. However, the description of an ideal synopsis in the guide -- categorising the kind of information one would normally find in the query letter: word-count, genre and the long pitch with market information etc -- and the related successful examples have left me wondering if I’ve missed something important.
What I was hoping you might be able to clarify is, is this actually typical of what Australian agents want to see in the synopsis? Or is it acceptable to submit the typical query & author details cover letter + a summary-style synopsis that I’d been under the impression was the norm?
The guide also refers to things like chapter outlines and market rationales and series summaries. How important do you think these things are to a fiction -- specifically a YA fantasy series -- submission? I'm aware that YA fantasy is very competitive because there's a lot of hopefuls like me out there, so I feel the pressure is really on to stand out as best I can.
That's a long, somewhat complicated question that has a fairly simple, two-part answer.
First: what you need to put in a submission is what's in the submission guidelines. Yes, it's frustrating that there's not a universal code of submission guidelines but there's not a universal code for anything, including laws and recipes, so it's just the way it is. Follow the guidelines for each agent and publisher you submit to - they're likely to be similar, so you shouldn't have to do too much extra work for each submission.
Second: to my way of thinking a synopsis is closer to the 'abridged thematic summary' than the word count, market information etc, but I suspect the ASA is trying to give authors a hand by telling them that that information is important. Some authors won't know the term 'query letter' but they know 'synopsis', so the ASA has grouped that information under the latter.
One last point: I hope you're putting as much thought and energy into your writing as you did into this question. The writing is what's important. Your query letter and synopsis are an introduction to your writing, but if the writing itself isn't any good, it doesn't matter how much effort you put into the letter and synopsis.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Friday, May 6, 2011
I have written a fantasy (i think?) novel which is complete at 165,000 words and is also the beginning of an intended trilogy. I sent it to agents about 3 weeks ago and i only have two left to reply to me. There aren't an enormous amount of agencies who are looking for new clients in the fantasy genre, and i was wondering whether it would be a good idea to start trying to submit to international agents? I feel like there might be a better chance of an international agent - say, from America - picking up my manuscript because many seem to have far fewer clients and therefore potentially more time. I have also noticed that many agencies in America state that they offer editorial help, and most Australian agents say they do not offer any. It gives the impression that a manuscript will be rejected if the grammar isn't always perfect or there are sections which need to be cut out, but the novel itself could be very marketable. Does that make the chances higher for an American agent to accept a manuscript?
Lastly, can you give any advice on how to make sure your cover letter is good enough to not be rejected before they hit the "thank you"?
Here's some information about why American agents can offer those services and Australian agents can't: http://callmyagent.blogspot.com/2010/11/some-truths-about-being-australian.html
Here's me giving a whole lot of feedback on query letters that may help you craft your own: http://callmyagent.blogspot.com/search/label/query%20letter
Here's a post about submitting fantasy overseas: http://callmyagent.blogspot.com/2009/05/submitting-fantasy-novels-overseas.html
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
I notice another politician has come out with another book. One of the premises is that politics isn't interesting to mainstream Australia. If that is so how, do so many politicians get books published and how do so many other mildly interesting non-fiction ideas get up? Looking at some of the agents' websites and seeing the non-fiction titles they're boasting I can't believe enough people would read them. Is the market for fiction tiny and the market for non-fiction endless?
Politics aren't interesting to mainstream Australia but politicians are, because they've made themselves into celebrities. You may wish to read the book Things Bogans Like - or the website of the same name - to fully understand this rationale.
As for the other 'mildly interesting non-fiction ideas' - well, they're mildly interesting to you, but how do you not they're not very interesting to others? Non-fiction books can appeal to almost anyone, whereas fiction, sadly, cannot. Fiction reading is a habit, usually acquired in childhood; it requires patience and dedication to, first, become acquainted with a story and, second, stick with it, especially when there's a lot competing for your cultural attention. Non-fiction reading is often performed for the gleaning of information, and one doesn't need to have developed a habit for it - one just needs to want to know the information. Thus publishers are more prepared to take a risk that their non-fiction books will hit enough information-gleaning targets for the book to make its money back and, every once in a while, make a profit.
So to answer your last question more concisely: the fiction market is relatively tiny compared to the non-fiction market. And just because you wouldn't buy any of the non-fiction books you can't believe agents are displaying on their websites, it doesn't mean other people wouldn't. Books are for everyone, not just you.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Forgive me my ignorance but what submissionable form of manuscript are you able to accept?