Thursday, February 21, 2008

Things that make you go hmmm ...

This afternoon I sent aside some time to go through submissions, because they've been neglected for a while. Generally this is a 'nice' job because I can read different types of manuscripts and sometimes I'll find something I want to read more of. Every now and again I'll come across a submission that violates one of my What Not to Do When Submitting rules. Today is was No 2 that was flagrantly flouted - specifically, the writer in question not only declined to follow the submission rules but decided to tell me that I was an idiot for imposing them because they were clearly in existence just to make life difficult for him and easy for me. So what do you think happened to his submission? If you guessed 'auto-reject', you would be correct.

I understand that submission rules can be frustrating but they are there to help give agents and publishers points of comparison between writers. They are also there to gauge the professionalism of the writer - if you cannot write a cogent letter in support of your manuscript, how are you going to be able to survive the editing process, when you may be required to explain or defend your writing choices so that someone other than you can understand them? Instead of using his cover letter to tell me what I needed to know about his manuscript, this writer used the space to lambast me for having submission rules. So my initial impression wasn't good, and it would have cast a pall over his manuscript if I had had the inclination to read it - which, strangely, I didn't.

So in case you're tempted to not follow submission rules and then tell the agent that you're not following them just because they make the agent's job easier, please remember this: being an agent is not easy. The hours are long, the personalities involved often challenging - and that's just our clients. On top of that there are thousands of people a year wanting to be new clients and all asking why we haven't read their submission in two days. We do this job because we believe in books, we believe in writers, we believe in writing and, usually, we get to work with lovely people, and that's what keeps us going on the days when we want to hide in a cupboard because it seems like we'll never, ever get through our manuscript pile. So when someone has a go at me for trying to make life easier by imposing submission rules - well, I guess I write a rant. It's one of the many uses of the Internets.

Reasonable expenses

If dealing with an overseas-based literary agency is it normal to be charged for expenses incurred directly on the writer's behalf such as long-distance telephone calls, postage and handling, messengers, copying and approved legal expenses? And if so, how is it possible to gauge how many of these expenses are actually legitimate?

Agencies usually absorb the phone calls and postage & handling within the country; if they're incurring expenses such as messengers, overseas postage and legal reading on your behalf, they should be asking you first if you're happy to bear that cost. Most agencies will charge for photocopying but it should be clear in your agency agreement that this will happen. In fact, every possible charge to you should be contained in your agency agreement. If it's not, the agency really shouldn't be sending you a bill for anything you haven't requested or approved. And that's how you work out whether the expenses are legitimate or not.

There's a good checklist of what agents should and shouldn't be doing, plus a list of the top 20 dodgy US agents, on this website: You may also want to check out Preditors & Editors.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Asking questions

As I'm not moderating the comments on this blog, I won't notice if you post a question there - so please, dear readers, if you have a question, send it to me at

Merci beaucoup :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

YA genre fiction - or maybe not

I have written a YA romance which features a love quadrangle, and was wondering if this kind of book would have much of a market in Australia, or world-wide. To be honest, I have seen many books which have boy-girl relationships, but never any triangles or quadrangles (maybe I haven't looked far enough). Content-wise, the novel doesn't feature any sex, as I feel that under-aged sex had been done to death, and wanted to avoid this. It does, though, have some moments of eroticism, but, on the whole, the book is more pyschological in tone, with light humour interspersed.

A love quadrangle doesn't, I suspect, mean that this novel would be cast as 'genre fiction' - and, if it were, that kind of genre really only has clear markets in the US ('love quadrangle' would see it classified as 'romance novel') - so the story has to succeed or not based on the usual factors: plot, characters, quality of the writing. YA fiction in general is being published widely in Australia and elsewhere, and publishers who used to ignore it are now realising its potential (lots of grown-ups read YA too). So if the manuscript is good, regardless of the quadrangle, an agent and/or publisher will want to read it. The quadrangle wouldn't mean anyone is more likely to buy it, and probably that no one is less likely to buy it, although one can never tell. It's all just down to how you've written the story.

The name of the rose

I am preparing to send my novel manuscript to an agent. I have decided that the original title for my story does not really suit and have been thinking through another title that reflects the story and is evocative. I've noticed that many writers seem to like the paradoxical effect, often drawing on oxymorons in their title. My question is whether or not the title is a 'make or break' issue when an agent is considering a submission. I have read your comments regarding the synopsis and found that helpful. On one hand I don't want to agonise unnecessarily over the title but don't want to ruin my chances by overlooking this aspect of preparation. I found a title for my first novel that I loved and still love, so am probably approaching this task with high expectations!

Each agent and publisher has their own 'thing' that's important for them, but I don't think any of them would reject a submission based on the title, unless the author said, 'I ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT CHANGE THIS TITLE' (yes, probably in capital letters). Most authors are fairly flexible about their titles - particularly if a prospective publisher wants to change it and the author has not been published before - so agents and publishers won't assume a title is fixed unless they're told otherwise. Accordingly, the title won't really factor into a yes-or-no decision. Which is a roundabout way of saying: don't worry too much, just go with the title you like. And you can also say in your submission, if you wish, that you're not sure about the title and it may change. Anyone who rejects you simply because you haven't decided on a title is not really wanting to read submissions.

I'll let you in on a secret, though: there is something far more important than the title or the synopsis, and that is the first sentence of the manuscript. When someone like me is reading thousands of submissions a year, certain things become clear: a writer with a great first line and paragraph is likely to have a great manuscript, because they either have raw talent or they have crafted their text carefully or both. A dud first line usually always means a dud manuscript. So that lets you know how quickly we make up our minds about submissions, even if we do go on to read the rest of it. In the US there seem to be whole workshops on first lines and you don't really need one of those - you just need to be a reader, so you have lots of reference points.