Friday, September 5, 2008

Representation for poetry

I'm a 46-year-old poet living in hobart. I have had poems published since 1980 in numerous Australian, English and US literary magazines. I would like to find a lit agent covering this area (poetry) - do they exist and if so do they deal with emerging rather than established writers?

The bad news first: no agents accept poetry, that I know of. Mainly because very few publishers still publish poetry, so it's not a good business decision for an agent to take on a poet. Some agents' novel/non-fiction clients will write poetry and the agent will look after that, but I don't know of any who are looking for submissions of poetry.

The good news: the University of Queensland Press publishes poetry and, I believe, takes submissions. And if you see any other published volumes of Australian poetry, check who the publisher is and contact them.

The dead end

I'm trying to aquire a Literary Agent, but its just not happening. I'm following all the rules, reading up on their Websites, my Query Letter and Synopsis is of standard. My question is what happens when you have already contacted all the Agents that accept your Genre of Novel.

My blunt answer is that you have nowhere to go apart from self-publishing, either in print or online. But you should also have a close look at your manuscript and try to work out what's going on. Simply following the rules does not get an agent or publisher - you need to have an outstanding manuscript. Are you submitting a first draft? What is the standard of your manuscript like compared to published books in that genre? If you're writing crime, for example, you face a lot of competition. Have you ever tried entering a competition, or applied for a mentorship? Published writers have usually put quite a lot of time into the process of creating their novel - especially their first novel - and there is a lot of help available. Try the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Writers Marketplace.

Submitting an incomplete manuscript

On Friday, after a lot of intense internet research regarding Oz lit agencies and publishing a first-time novel, I read a post on the ALAA website that the agency I am very interested in working with is open to unsolicited MS being sent in. I am a published journalist, have 12 000 words of copy for a novel, I have a clear direction of where my novel is going, who my audience is and indeed its marketing capabilities.

So here is the question: is it completely naive, immature, unprofessional and downright primitive of me to send off a submission with only 12 000 words currently sitting in my laptop? My reasoning is I am working 7 days a week, unhindered, on this ms and figure if I receive a response from the agency in the 10 weeks to 3 months it may take for them to go through my query/submission, I will nearly have finished the full ms. What do you think? Am I showing my complete lack of knowledge of how this business works or indeed ''showing a bit of dash'', as an editor of mine once commented.

There are a few things I'd like to address in this answer ...

First, I am always intrigued by authors who say they have only picked one agency they want to submit to - presumably based on the client list, as there's not much else to go on, although the size of the agency is often a determinant ('the bigger, the better' seems to be the most common mantra). But the personality of the agent/s at the agency should actually be the determinant - and you can't know that unless you actually get to the stage of talking to them. One agency may have a client list you want to join, but what if you don't get on with the agent/s there? It's always worth submitting to more than one agency just in case.

Second, from a writing/editorial point of view: it is unwise to submit a novel before you've even finished your first draft. The first draft is never, ever the final - never even close - and there is a real chance that it will do yourself a disservice - I've never taken on a novel based on a first draft, and I wouldn't mind betting your 'dream agency' hasn't either. Even if you know where the novel is going, you will need to redraft.

Third, if you decide to proceed with the submission: you say you have published a book, so that means you're not approaching them as a first-time author - this gives you an advantage over other authors who are submitting. Also, you can send a query and just be honest, say you haven't finished it and ask if they mind that - they'll let you know.

Does this writer need an agent?

I am a newish writer of children’s books and I live in Sydney. I’ve had 3 trade titles published and a picture book contracted but I don’t have an agent. Could you please tell me the benefits of having an agent (other than negotiating contracts), and the likelihood of me being able to secure one. I ’d probably have 2 or 3 new manuscripts per year.

This ground has been covered a bit before on the blog (see this post) so I won't go into too much detail ...

Basically, if you've never felt the need for an agent, don't go looking for one. You do seem to be managing just fine on your own. However, if you feel that someone else should manage the business of your writing - dealing with publishers, negotiating contracts - then you should explore the idea of getting an agent. There's also the issue of 'creative support' - a lot of my time is spent just talking to my authors (on the phone or by email), sometimes about writing, often not; I think some authors have an agent more for this function than anything else. The agent understands what the writer is doing creatively but is not (hopefully!) competitive with them; they can offer advice and the writer can discuss things with them that they may not be able or wish to talk about with family and friends. But it's very much a personal decision - there is no absolute 'yes' or 'no' here.

I will say, though, that with your publishing record you would have no problem getting an agent if you wanted one.

Multiple authors for one novel

What would be your advice as an agent in regards to having novels authored by multiple writers? What would be the limit to the number of people involved? Would having more than two effect the chances of representation and publication?

Whether multiple writers can create one novel, and the number of writers involved, depends entirely on the writers. If you're a member of a five-person writing group and you all get along fantastically well and are on the same creative wavelength, then it could be fantastic. But from my experiences working with writers, they're not typically creatures who play well with others once they're in front of a keyboard. Also, there's the issue of consistency of narrative voice - it's very difficult to have a cohesive narrative voice if there are multiple writers - and if you're about to say 'But we'll all write in different voices', please don't ever send me that novel ... too many narrative voices just confuse most readers, including me. A novel is often a slow seduction - the reader is lured into the story, usually by the voice. If there are multiple suitors, we just give up.

On a practical note, it's rare, it seems, to see multiple authors listed on covers if the books aren't sci fi or fantasy. Unless all or some of the authors involved have a successful publishing history, it would be best to use a pseudonym - one name only - to represent all of you.