The Agent Game

A viewpoint on publishing

Archive for July 2008

Queries: The hard part

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In my last post about queries, I talked about some easy guidelines that any writer can follow to help improve the chances of their query getting a positive response.

Now it’s time to talk about the hard part. I’m going to start by assuming that you’ve already written a good book, because without one any request you garner for a partial or entire manuscript isn’t going to end up doing you much good. Once you’ve done that though, you still need to write a good query that will let the agents you’re querying know just how good your book is, and whether or not you’re someone with whom they want to have a working relationship. While it might be tempting to just toss off a quick letter the day after you finally finish your manuscript, taking the time to do it right will increase your chances of getting the agent you want.

The main thing you’re trying to do here is sell the book. While most every book is unique in ways that can’t be conveyed in just a paragraph or two, you’re going to have to try and at least capture the essence of your novel. The agent is going to be basically looking to see whether you’ve got an original idea (or at least an original take on a tried and true idea), and if you seem to have been able to build a good book around that idea. Ideally, you’ll also manage to convey something of your authorial voice while you’re summing up your novel. Sound like a tall order? Good, because it is. That’s why this is the hard part.

At the same time, you need to sell yourself along with the book. If the agent takes you on as a client it means that they are entering into a relationship that will likely span many years. No matter how brilliant a writer you might be, if you manage to give the agent the impression that you’re going to be demanding, needy, or outright obnoxious, they’re not going to want to work with you. On the other hand, you don’t really need to impress the agent with how cool you are. Mind you, it doesn’t hurt to be an interesting person, but it’s your work that’s the important thing.

As far as any writing credits go, all you want to include here are any previously published novels (and no, Publish America doesn’t count), short stories (if they were published in respected paying markets), and any writing awards you may have won. Everything else, whether it’s poetry, newspaper articles, marketing reports, or academic papers, is of little consequence unless it somehow demonstrates your expertise in a field that’s somehow involved in your book.

By this point you should have pretty much filled your target one page, so you won’t even have room for the sorts of things you should avoid having in your query letter. Things which include trying to explain the market for your book to your prospective agent, telling them how big the movie that might someday be made from your novel will be, and taking shots at the rest of your genre. All of those are just distractions that are more likely to annoy an agent than to sell them on you as a writer.

In short, take the time to lavish the same sort of energy and focus on your query letter that you used to write your novel. It may not be easy, but both you and your book deserve it.

Written by incognito

26 July 2008 at 8:44 am

Posted in Getting an agent

P&Ls

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Tor editor Anna Genoese has a piece she calls “P&Ls and how books make (or don’t) money” to her Livejournal. It sometimes gets a bit confusing, so you might want to read it through more than once, but overall it’s an excellent source of information about a part of publishing that often seems to be shrouded in secrecy.

Written by incognito

20 July 2008 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Publishing

The Twenty Worst Agents

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Victoria Strauss, author and the force behind the excellent Writer Beware site, has her list of the 20 worst agents, and I’m belatedly joining in with all of the other people who have linked to it, in hopes of pushing it up the Google rankings.

Below is a list of the 20 agents about which Writer Beware has received the greatest number of advisories/complaints during the past several years.

None of these agents has a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most have virtually no documented and verified sales at all (many sales claimed by these agents turn out to be vanity publishers). All charge clients before a sale is made, whether directly, by charging fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for “editing services.”

Writer Beware suggests that writers searching for agents avoid questionable agents, and instead query agents who have actual track records of sales to commercial publishing houses.

It’s people like these that give agents a bad name, and any aspiring writer should steer well clear of both them and anyone else who uses the same sorts of business practices.

Written by incognito

17 July 2008 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Getting an agent

Queries: The easy part

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The task of sending out a query that’s likely to garner a positive response can be divided into two parts: the easy part, which mainly has to do with form, and the not-so-easy part, which is about content. This post is about the former.

1) Make sure you have the correct current address for the agent you’re trying to query. Agents move, agencies relocate, and the information in the writing guide you have on your shelf becomes outdated. Take the time to check the agency’s webpage for their updated contact information.

2) While you’re on that webpage, make note of the agency’s policies regarding queries, such as whether they accept email queries and what should be included in any query that is sent to them. This can and will vary from agency to agency, and sometimes even from agent to agent within that agency.

3) Actually follow the guidelines.

4) Make sure you include a self-addressed stamped envelope (with the correct amount of postage) if querying via postal mail. If you’d like your materials returned, please both make note of it in your query letter and be certain that you’ve included enough postage (and a large enough SASE) to get it back to you. Often it will be cheaper for you to print out new copies than to get your materials sent back, but the choice is yours. Do not use mailers from UPS, FedEx or any shipping service other than the post office for your SASE.

5) Print your query on plain white paper in an easily readable font. Getting fancy with your stationary or your fonts might get you noticed, but it probably won’t be in the good way.

6) When starting your query, address the agent you’re querying as Ms./Mr. AgentLastName, unless you have a previous relationship with them that involves you addressing them by their first name. In other words, stick with the formalities unless you’ve got a good reason not to.

7) Get one or more people to proofread your query before you send it. There are plenty of mistakes that will slip past your spell checker unnoticed, and such mistakes will likely count against you. If you truly can’t find anyone else to proof your query for you, print out a copy of the final version, let it sit for a few days, and then check it yourself.

If anyone has any other suggestions to add, or any questions about any of these, please leave a comment.

Written by incognito

17 July 2008 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Getting an agent

Advice overload

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Agent Jennifer Jackson once wrote about how to decide which advice to listen to:

There is a simply dizzying amount of advice. I know. I’ve contributed to it. Most of that advice is going to be from people who are genuinely trying to be helpful. Here’s what you need to remember, though. While respecting these people for sharing and giving of their knowledge and experience, be aware that every person is only one reader and/or one writer. Some of them are more experienced than others (particularly agents and editors, one hopes) and may have a broader foundation upon which to base their suggestions. But you have to remember they are only that. Listen for what resonates, and take what works for you — throw the rest away. Temper this with as much common sense and courtesy as possible and be ready to not always take the path of least resistance. And that’s my #1 best piece of advice. In the end, the first writer/reader/critic to listen to is yourself.

I agree completely. Its hardly rare to see a writer who has tied themselves in knots trying to follow the varying advice given by editors, agents and other writers, and then there’s the challenge of weeding out the sometimes truly harmful advice that’s on offer. Like most of the worthwhile sources out there who are honestly trying to be helpful, I’m not going to suggest that everything I say on this blog holds true for every writer. Instead I’ll recommend that you take the time to learn from a variety of quality sources, take everything you read or hear with a grain of salt, and remember that most of what you find will be subjective. Most importantly though, listen to yourself.

Written by incognito

9 July 2008 at 6:12 pm

Posted in Elsewhere