Friday, August 31, 2007

A Series of Risks

I have an idea for a book line. Is there a way to submit such an idea to a publisher and possibly obtain a contract to write some of the books for the line, and if so what are the usual protocols? I know the general guidelines for submitting a book and even a series of books, but I have never come across information regarding someone outside the publishing industry pitching a new line.

Send in an overview of the series and a sample of your writing in the form the publisher requests (eg, 3 chapters and a synopsis).

Series are harder to pitch because they require a significant commitment in money and time. Every acquisition decision is a bit of a gamble, so investing in developing a series is a BIG gamble. Acquisitions committees will only approve something that seems to have very solid market potential.

And you're asking the acquiring editor to plan to spend years ahead of her working on this series—so she'd better be looking forward to it that much more. If that enthusiasm and that surety of market response aren't there, it's easier to just reject it.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Editorial Shot Put

I get the feeling from your posts that you mostly work with picture books. However, if you work at all with MG/YA, I'm curious what the upper limit freak-out length is for you. Where you just say, "No way am I reading something that long!! Don't even send me the first page!" I know that contemporary is usually shorter than fantasy, and I've seen both long and short historical (but they seem mostly shorter than fantasy, at least in kidlit). I'm curious because I see some people say 75K, but bestselling MG/YA novels these days consistently include a huge percentage of longer books (closer to 100K--and this includes first novels).

You're right, middle grade and YA readers are showing a higher tolerance for longer fiction. Which is great.

I will read the beginning of absolutely anything. Neither topic nor word count nor author's background tells me what the writing is like. If the writing is awesome enough, heck, you can get away with This Is All. But if you're writing long, make sure you're appealing to the readers who want long. Some people say all of writing is knowing your audience. I say all of idiocy is generalizations. But remember that part of your audience is the editor who is going to throw your manuscript across the room if more than 20% of your manuscript needs to be cut.

The Good, the Bad, and the Marketing Director

Why are so many books published without any meaningful marketing? Enormous amounts of editorial time and trouble are lavished on projects whose covers won't feature in print ads, whose placement in chain stores won't be paid for, whose authors and illustrators won't be signing copies for the crowds at conferences. One standard response is that there isn't money, but that answer won't quite do: there is money; it's just allocated other places. All those people who micro-tweak covers in meetings are getting paid, after all, as are the designers, authors, illustrators and printers for all that future pulp. Another answer authors hear frequently is that it's their job to market their books. No question, this is partly true. Certainly no one is more motivated. But just as certainly, no individual has a publisher's resources, stature or integration into the book world's network of communication and distribution. The Internet is a good tool, but there are still only 24 hours in a day and the author is still only one person. Aside from my personal stake in the issue, I've never seen the business sense in it from the publishers' point of view. Care to elucidate?

Who are the publishers who are telling you the author has to be the main marketing force behind a book? Honestly, I'm curious.

Let's first assume you're being publishing at a publisher that does allocate marketing money (i.e., not rinky-dink). You're right, most of that money is not going to go into print ads or conference visits or endcaps at B&N. And that's because those investments only pay off if they're based on a known reaction. They are not ways to create a reaction.

The marketing money for your book will instead be spent on making your book available and visible in ways that lots of authors seem to take for granted—the catalogs we print thousands of copies of, the websites we must maintain, the copies of the book we'll send out for free to reviewers and editors of magazines and awards committees, the trade and consumer shows where we will pay to have a booth, etc, etc. These are meaningful marketing efforts.

Perhaps you'd rather publishers spent less money on editorial and design work—less investment in making a book the best it can be—and more money on pushing it at the consumer.

Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a "purity of the book" lecture. Editors and designers are in this business because they love books, but publishers are in this business to make money. So trust me, if it would sell more books to skip over the editorial and design side of things and just focus on shoving products down the public's throat, that's exactly what publishers would be doing.

Experience shows, however, that even on our own lists of carefully chosen and lovingly developed books, we can't always tell which books are going to get the reaction we're hoping for. And there's no building on a complete lack of interest from the market.

Once a book starts generating interest (if it generates interest), the marketing department will look for ways to encourage and nurture that interest, and it's at that point that you'll see the marketing pushes many lay people think of as actual "marketing."

Feel free to think of the publisher as a souless, mercenary behemoth that does not really care about your book. (Though this would obviously be a disservice to the underpaid, overworked, book-loving people who actually make books happen.) Just don't start thinking the publisher doesn't care about the tens of thousands of dollars it's invested to bring your book to market. It cares. It wants your book to earn back that investment. And it's doing what makes financial sense to help it sell, whether the author likes it or not.

Charming Things to Say to Editors

I love your piece on stalking editors! I know most of us really try to be respectful of an editor's personal space. Still, there are no doubt gray areas. I once attended a conference and enjoyed a particular editor's presentation immensely. It was a small group with lots of personal interaction. The session was right before a casual group lunch and I contemplated inviting the editor to sit at a table with other attendees that I knew. I chickened out, and later kicked myself when I saw her eating alone. What would the correct protocol be in this situation? I have since submitted manuscripts to this editor, and we have developed a lovely "no thanks, what else have you got?" relationship.

"Would you like to eat with us? I promise not to pitch you anything," would be a fantastic beginning.

Other nice ways to engage editors in social conversation include:

1. "What are you reading right now? I promise not to pitch you anything."
2. "Would you like another drink? I promise not to pitch you anything."
3. "What a lovely blouse. I promise not to pitch you anything."
4. "I'm a dangerous predator. I'm going to go wait in the back seat of your car with a knife, but I promise not to pitch you anything."

We like authors, remember. And we like being treated like normal people, because we are normal people. We just hate being put on the spot.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Finest Literary Sawdust

I know that the most important thing to get right when subbing is the writing. So I'm curious, when you receive manuscripts that are very strong, but not quite there (ie. not a beginner effort, but not quite publishable) what are the most common things that you ask for revisions on? In other words, what can a solid writer do, before sending their manuscript out, to elevate his/ her work to that next level?

When I ask for revisions, my requests are usually very specific to that manuscript. But you can trim.

And trim, and trim, and trim. How much of your manuscript will be conveyed in the illustrations? How much is just literary flourishes? Which parts build directly on the narrative's core ideas, and which are unnecessary branchings? Sometimes I get texts with a great deal of dead wood, and sometimes I get the literary equivalent of a bonsai. Make your manuscript something that only needs a snip here and there, rather than a chainsaw. Or worse, the chipper.

Now, If God Had Had a Book Trailer...

What in the world is up with these book trailers? How do you feel about them? I think some interpretation should be left up to the reader's own mind. I say that because I was interested in a certain book and I saw the trailer which was like one of those Japanese cartoons and immediately I was turned off. (Maybe I'm just fickle) However I saw one for Hallowmere and I can't wait to read it.

I've seen some pretty awkward ones. But this is a bit of a chicken-vs-egg problem. They aren't going to get as smooth as movie trailers until marketing departments invest real time and money in them, and no one's going to invest real time and money in them until there's proof that they sell piles of books. So I'm not crazy about them so far, but I'm crossing my fingers that they get better.
What is the longest amount of time you've ever heard of an unpublished writer attempting to be published? I once read of this lady who had been trying for 15 years. Whew! I used to think that she should get half a clue but now that I'm vested in writing, I can see how 15 years of unpublished time is doable.

It was 13 billion years before someone wandered up a mountain with some stone tablets and the bible had its first (abridged) release.
It's a tough universe.

How to Stalk an Editor (Handy tips!)

(or, How to Irritate, Alarm, and Creep Out the People You Hope to Work With)

1. Find out as much as you can about us personally. It's always impressive when an author already knows my age and astrological sign.

2. Call us up at work. We love having lengthy chats with strangers about their burgeoning careers. And god knows we've got nothing better to do. This tactic is especially memorable if our extension is not readily available in the company directory.

3. Do regular internet searches to discover what events / conferences we'll be attending. Start showing up at all of them—even if you don't approach us, we'll start wondering about that person who always looks so familiar.

4. Hang out outside our offices and attempt to follow us home. Editors have our defenses down and are more approachable if you can catch us in our apartments.

5. Public restrooms are even better. No one is as vulnerable as they are when they are struggling with their underclothes. This is a perfect chance to pass us your manuscript, or read it to us over the door.

6. Follow us to a bar and sneak a manuscript into our purses when we're distracted. When we find it later, we'll know just how committed you are. Or should be.

Introducing: The Editor Tan

Forehead, shoulders, arms, shins.

Pasty white:
Everything else.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


My query is, to what extent is the age of the author a factor in deciding to accept for publication? Is there a tendency to favour younger authors who may be perceived to have a longer career span?
A saleable manuscript in the hand is worth two in the tree (no matter how young the tree is).

I've been thinking a lot about branding in your career. Do you think it's best for a writer to stick with a particular genre and become known for that kind of work, or just write what comes to them? I'm noticing that most of the "successful" writers stick to one thing, and do it well - Stephanie Meyers, John Green, while a few others get away with writing many things, but become known for a particular genre - Megan McDonald, Jane Yolen. Do you have an opinion on the best way to go?

Write what you write well, and let the publisher worry about market placement.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Agents, Reviews, and Ipecac... sorry, I mean Disney

I've written a YA mystery novel and have been extremely fortunate in that (1) I met an agent at this year's BEA who asked to see the first 3 chapters before I even finished the book and (2) At a recent party, I met an executive producer for a series on the Disney Channel who heard about the book from a mutual friend and he asked if he could see the MS for a potential pitch to Disney as a series.

Man, you must have a good pitch.

First, do I dare show this guy my MS without having an agent? I've heard so many stories about people stealing ideas. Would it be insulting to ask him to sign a non-compete first? Next, if the book has not yet been published and Disney wants to make it a series, will I (as the creator of the character) lose all creative control? I keep thinking that I should get the book published first, then let Disney option it. (Hey, as long as I'm dreaming here ...)

I know enough about the entertainment industry to know they have some different rules than we do. I think mentioning this to your prospective agent might be a good idea. Perhaps one of my readers has some other insight?

And finally, I feel so ignorant of the business process behind the book game. I recently read that reviews can sell thousands of books so I should submit my book for review asap since I only have 8 months to build volume sales or it gets yanked from the shelves. How does one submit a book for review? Do you recommend this approach? What if it gets panned? I wasn't trying to write the great American novel when I wrote this. I had a fun set of characters and a story to tell and I wrote it down. It's not as awful as the Madison Fine or Clique series but it's no Harry Potter either...

What? Are we talking about the book that hasn't been published yet? Listen, get your book placed at any decent publisher, and the publisher will submit your book to reviewers, not you. Positive reviews can be a great boon to a book. Negative reviews, in my experience, have a lesser effect, curiously. Of course, if your book is really just for teachers, and SLJ hates it, that's bad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Agents to Smooth the Bumps, and Agents Who Are the Bumps

Besides handling money and contract issues, how else is a relationship with a publishing house different with an agent? Does an agent submit new ideas, or does the author, for instance?
An agent opens doors for you and will most likely represent all of your work. A publisher will not publish anything you write.

EA, what are the pros and cons from the editors side about working with agented or nonagented authors? What is different for you?

From my point of view:

Sometimes agents act as a buffer, and it's a good thing: For instance, the author has misunderstood something and is suddenly angry with the publisher. The agent, as an industry insider, explains the situation so that the author can understand the publisher's side of things. The agent can also advise what the author's next steps and options are. Agents are great for people who worry that publishers have devious agendas and will only treat an author well if it suits them to. They're also great for people with no social skills.

And sometimes an agent acts as a buffer and it's not so great. I like to start developing a relationship with the author as soon as I can—letting her know I'm friendly, that my door's open. That sort of groundwork heads off many misunderstandings later on. It' s difficult to do that passing messages through a third party. Some agents don't step out of that relationship as quickly as they might.

Of course, sometimes agents don't act as buffers, and that can be annoying. The agent who passes his primadonna's every little hissy fit along to me is not doing his job. The agent who doesn't point out to his author that this new manuscript is significantly similar to the last five manuscripts she's written and had rejected, especially when publishers are commenting on that similarity, is not doing his job.
If someone feels comfortable with negotiating and contracts, and has luck in finding a publisher - is there any other reason to deal with an agent? Especially in picture books?
If you're comfortable with negotiating and navigating a contract, and find a publisher you're happy with, then perhaps not. Plenty of people do without them. It's a matter of personal choice.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

You've Seen This Monkey Flinging Crap in the Movies... Now, Watch Him Fling Crap in Children's Books!

As an editor, you get a celebrity manuscript come across your desk, do you say behind closed doors "This is really bad but because it is written by Sally Sleezeball we'll publish it and our company will make a lot of money." Does that get discussed? Do you realize that it's bad when it gets published and nobody cares because it is going to make a lot of money, because it is after all a business and it will sell?

Yes, that's right.
We are told all along as writers that it's about the story. The writing has to be fantastic, the cover letter has to be marvelous, the query has to be wonderful. Why are celebrities not held to the standards that we are? And if in fact they aren't held to the same standards and it is ALL about a P & L statement why do editors just not fix the story and the bad rhyme so we don't know that Sally Sleezeball is as bad as she really is.

Oh, I wish. Celebrities come strapped with celebrity egos, however, and often cannot be told they need a ghostwriter. And the poor editor, who is already grinding her teeth to have to work on such drivel, has to deal with an author whose attitude is "Huh! Who are you to tell me how to make my story better?"

Your-goddamned-editor, is who.

I am a confirmed member of BACA, but it's worth noting that if a celebrity book brings in a bunch of money, it has the chance to bankroll other books that are higher quality but lower profile. If it gives us the chance to slip some not-so-sure-bets into the pipeline just because we love them, we're willing to be flexible. As I maintain, editors are not evil. But they can be all kinds of devious in the right cause.

Publishers: Crushing Your Aspirations Since 1440

So, my mg novel has gone from the editor (who couldn't put it down--her words), to the readers and on to the publisher. Now, I am told that a 'how do we publish discussion' will take place. Can you tell me about such discussions? I mean how often do these discussions turn out to be a big fat, No, and take your stinkin ms with you too?

Congratulations, it sounds like your novel is pretty close to accepted. The sequence of steps on the way to making an acquisition varies from house to house, however, so I can't say for sure. It sounds as though the editor, et al, are about to talk to marketing, to determine whether it should be a hardcover or release directly into paperback / what print run and price point it should have / what marketing budget should be allocated, etc. Because it's hard to guess just what will be discussed at this meeting, try not to torture yourself with speculation.

Oh, and tell the truth, do editors hate when an author brings in an agent at this stage of the party?

In absolute honesty, it would be wonderful to make a book in which there were no surprises anywhere in the process. How realistic is that, though? While the sudden appearance of an agent isn't going to make us happier, it isn't going to make us unhappy, either.

Lost in (the process of) Translation

I have some questions about how translations work. If I see a book I love and translate it into English, would I submit that manuscript the same way I would if it were an original work? Or does the publisher acquire the rights to a non-English title and then find a translator for the book?
The latter. Unless the book was originated in an out-of-the-way country where publishing is a tiny industry, chances are high that the book's publisher is seeking or has sought a U.S. publisher for English translation rights. The U.S. children's book market is the largest in the world, so there's motivation.

Foreign publishers send us their catalogs and we request any books we'd like to see. And of course we send representatives to the Bologna Book Fair, where many translation deals are made.

English is the international language of business, so getting a rough translation of a picture book from the foreign publisher is not hard. (That's assuming it's a language no one in the office speaks, in which case we might not bother to ask for one.) Often an editor in house will then smooth the translation from broken English to fluid, and send it back to the foreign publisher for approval.

Longer texts require a translator.
How would one go about getting on that translator list?
You would send a letter to the publisher, advancing yourself as a freelance translator of X language, and you would include your qualifications. "I speak French" is not a qualification you should bother with. We want assurance that you do indeed speak the language fluently, and more than that, can translate it into an English that respects the style and flow of both written languages.
Do publishers tend to keep the original illustrator?

We occasionally get slush submissions that are translations of books the submitters found on vacation and fell in love with. This shows a very feeble grasp of how foreign rights work. Essentially, they're asking: "Wouldn't you like to figure out how to contact this [Israeli, eg] publisher, figure out who's in charge of foreign rights there, and see whether the rights to this book are even available?" The answer is most likely no.

But if this describes you, you're still a step ahead of the person who sent us a translation of Bili Bili.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

You're Being Repesented by Whom?

EA, I have a question. Suppose I have a meeting with my editor, and he expresses admiration of my agent, saying "You're in good hands."

Should I take this to mean

(a) My agent is a patsy, which pleases my editor, since they're on opposite sides;
I sometimes fantasize about being this evil. But it's not in me. And it's not in any editor I've ever met.

(b) My editor is hoping I'll repeat the compliment to my agent;
There are really much more effective ways of buttering up agents. Alcohol, for instance.
(c) My editor is a polite person;
Well, if I were meeting with you face to face, and you announced that you'd just signed up with agent X, and paused... thereby requiring some response from me, I might burble something like this if my natural response was actually "Crap, this just got 5 times harder," or "That jackass?!"
or (d) I'm in good hands?
This is most likely. Or at least you're in good hands as far as the editor knows. There is a fantastic community of writers out there talking about their experiences with agents, so make sure you hear it from both sides.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Force Beyond the Scope of Man's Imagination

In looking for submissions info, most publishers say, "Check the website." I have found that many publishers don't keep their websites up-to-date --- some are featuring books from 2003 -2004! When I submit, using info acquired from some websites, the publisher informs me that they no longer have need for such a submission [picture books, for instance] , or in some cases don't even publish children's books any more. The Children's writer's guides seem to be inaccurate more often than not, because of this kind of out-of-date and self-contradicting information. Is there a good answer for this [and a real solution], or are many publishers just as clueless and hopeless as many authors are? Also, why would a publisher want a website that is three years behind?
I'm really curious about which publishers these are. While some of the usual suspects may not bother themselves with updating their online submission guidelines frequently enough, I can't guess which publishers don't have their frontlists up on their websites, or have suddenly decided not to publish kids' books.

Writer's Market (et al) tries to get publishers to update their listings, but answering CWIM is a low-priority job. Why? For the same reason updating the online guidelines is: the slush is a monster big enough to eat Tokyo, but too dumb to find it. Pound for pound, it isn't worth much of our time. You can't blame some people if they're secretly hoping that if they ignore the slush long enough, it'll get confused, wander over to the wrong coast, and eat L.A. instead.

Counting Pages, Words, and Advice

I have an interest in writing picture book texts and have heard mention of picture book formats that appear to be set in stone (8, 16 or 32 pages, no more than 500 words etc). Presently I am unpublished, but have a couple of manuscripts of this kind (~500 words) being evaluated (so far favorably). My question is, how hard and fast are these guidelines in today's printing houses? I recently submitted a third manuscript for evaluation (~900 words), to be told that it would be too long for a picture book. Now I don't even have to look past Dr Seuss in my son's book collection to come up with several -- of what I think of as -- successful picture books of even greater length than my MS. So have the rules changed recently, or are the longer style illustrated books (e.g. The Lorax etc) considered to be in a different genre? If so, which genre would that be?
Number of pages and number of words are not set in stone, but...

The number of pages:
Do you know what a signature is? It is the way printers bundle pages: there are 16 pages in a signature. Pick up a hardcover novel (they'll be easier to see in that binding). Look at the top or bottom of the spine. Do you see the faint separations between the bundles of pages? Those are signatures.
It is most economical to make your book's page count a multiple of 16, in order to avoid splitting signatures. It is slightly more expensive to halve a signature (8 pages), and a bit more expensive again to quarter a signature (4 pages). There is no eighth of a signature (2 pages), as far as I understand these things.
This is why most picture books are 32, 36, or 40 pages.

The number of words:
The first thing you should never do when comparing your manuscript to other books is using competition that's more than twenty years old. Come on.
That said, it makes an enormous difference how the text is formatted and what age group it is for. The Stinky Cheese Man is over 3,000 words long, but the text is broken up into short stories and the age group is mid-elementary. I can only guess that whoever offered you the feedback that your manuscript was too long meant that it was too long for the topic and age group. Alternatively, that person may have been wrong.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Misc Q&A

I've read over and over again that editors don't like to receive submissions in Priority Mail or Fed Ex packages. Do you think this is generally true? And why is that so?

Are you sure this is editors? Because most editors have other people to sign for the mail and open it for them (one of the small benefits of working at a big company).
Agents, I understand. Many of them work alone or with a very small staff, and may or may not feel the need to keep regular office hours. They do not appreciate it when you send them slush they have to sign for, and if the postal carrier doesn't find the agent's office open and takes your piece of mail back to the post office, you should realize that the agent is not going to go down to the post office to pick up your unsolicited package.

'If a book has a reliable hook'? Which types of hooks would you consider reliable?

A hook that isn't based on
  • how much I love the writing or illustration.
  • a passing fad.
  • something people do experience but about which they do not typically go looking for books.
  • something for which there are many, many, many books already—while I may feel it's being done differently in this case, there's no guarantee the market will feel the same way.
I received a handwritten note on a rejection letter from an editor which said, "There are many stories for children about being yourself. What can you do to this story to make it stand out?" Any thoughts? This is a picture book. Is this the hook you have been blogging about?

'Being yourself' was a hook in the early morning of children's books, but at this point there are so many books on this topic that it's just a theme, not a hook. If you can do any theme in a way that speaks to the way people think of it right now, you can alchemize it back into a hook. Before you can figure out this new way, though, I imagine you'd have to look at the old ways and find yourself bored with them.

Friday, August 3, 2007

What Rhymes with 'Misdemeanor'?

My question is one I see constantly debated for picture books: Is it a crime
to write in rhyme?

No, but it is a crime to think that rhyming is the same thing as writing poetry, or that poetry is easy.

Thinking that a picture book for any age can be rhymed is a misdemeanor. Letting the rhyme drive the content instead of the other way around is a felony, and sing-songy rhyme that teaches a lesson can be prosecuted as second-degree manslaughter.

Rhyme has serious ramifications, and should not be attempted by amateurs. Even if it doesn't result in jail time, it is often grounds for a restraining order, and certain particularly pernicious couplets have been outlawed in some states.

If you want to see some examples of rhyme done in a law-abiding and publishable way, simply visit your nearest bookstore.

The Short Demand and the Long Haul

I am a published author with Dutton and HarperCollins. I was very, very fortunate to sell three books in four years, with the last sale happening in 2002.
My books did okay---made a couple of lists, etc and sold in the high single/ low double digits, but with numbers like that I'm still looking for my breakout book, huh?
Since 2002, however, I've sold precisely---nada. I've circulated three really terrific books to some very nice rejections, a couple revision requests, etc.
So, my question is: after three books of middling sales and five years of no contracts, am I done?
I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that high single / low double digit sales (ie, between 9,000-12,000) are not middling sales. They're ok if you mean your books sold that many in their first years, perhaps.

A publisher prints what they hope they can sell in a single year—or, ideally, less. Some first printings will take longer than a year to sell completely, and we expect that. But every month stock we don't need in that month sits in our warehouse, we're wasting storage money on it. The stock in the warehouse should be stock in demand.

Compare your first print runs to your first 12 month's sales. Selling 10,000 copies of a 12,500 print run is fine. Selling 5,000 copies is not.

The good news is that you're not done until you're done. Your past books may not help you sell new ones, and you may need to try other publishers. But there's no reason to give up. Publishers will be more impressed with you, in fact, if you roll with these punches. If a past book just didn't grab the market, shrug your shoulders and keep loving the book yourself. Don't mourn or recriminate or whine.

You'll have plenty more chances because you're in the business for the long haul, right? You're a career writer, right? A professional. We like working with those.

Could You Change... Everything?

Dear Anonymous: I met an editor at a conference, subbed the first three chapters to her and waited eight months for a response. She “found it charming.” She said the main character of my chapter book is unique and my writing style is engaging. She said she was declining my submission because the words I used and my writing seemed too mature for the content and length of my text. She suggested making these parts more consistent and closed with, “I would be happy to look at a future draft if I decided to revise.”
I took her advice and I’m in the process of revising. How much editing is she expecting and how do I get a quicker response from her when I resubmit? Also, should this somewhat favorable response be an indicator that I should also look for an agent now?
It sounds like addressing the problem she perceives in your manuscript would take a fair amount of revision throughout the manuscript.
But she is not expecting you to make large changes you disagree with. This never improves a manuscript. If her criticism made sense to you, then do your best to revise the manuscript as you feel it should be revised. If her criticism didn't make you think, "Hmm, I suppose you're right," then send it along to other people.

This Manuscript Has Been Rejected Because

I have a question for you and your readers, do you think that the rejection process for unsolicited manuscripts could be standardised? I guess I am thinking about some sort of standard questionnaire form that is filled out and returned to the budding author. It may help to clear up some of the mystery with things like; am I being rejected because of the material or because I am a terrible writer - would they be interested in seeing the same story if I changed it a bit? and so on.If writers and publishers put their heads together then I'm sure they could come up with a sensible set of items that would satisfy both parties, it could be boiled down to just ticking a handful of boxes. Or am I missing something?

Well... it's never tough to let people know that you're open to a revision if they change the manuscript as suggested. And then there's the problem that there are a lot of different problems.

If there were to be a checklist... what would the choices be?
  • this is not a story; it's an anecdote.
  • this is not a story, it's a photo album of your stuffed animals. They seem to get out more than you do.
  • this subject material is inappropriate for the age group.
  • this subject material is inappropriate for children.
  • this subject material is inappropriate for farm animals.
  • a spoonful of sugar does not help nuclear winter go down.
  • your main character's reaction to the prostitute was interesting. I've passed your submission to another 'editor' at the FBI.
  • this is gobbledygook. I didn't understand a word.
  • god, how I wish I hadn't understood a word.
  • this has no hook.
  • this has no voice.
  • this has no grammar, and it's a blessing that punctuation has no feelings.
  • there are several books on this already, and you're not doing a better job.
  • there are no books on this, and they're all doing a better job.

Anyone else have suggestions?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Some Questions Regarding Agents

I know rejections are just that, regardless of how nicely they are phrased as a let down, but what about the way a book is rejected to an agent? Is that written any different? If you're not writing to the writer, are you more honest as to the reasons for rejection?

The reason we're not always up front about our reasons for rejection is simply that we're not sure how you'll react. This is true of any agent we don't have a relationship with, either. If we have a sense of how the agent (or the author) will respond to constructive criticism, we're more likely to offer it. We'd much rather help people than upset them. Telling where the line between those things are, though, is very difficult when dealing with strangers.

EA, I wonder if all editors respond that way to all agents from the agencies you mentioned in your post. I once had an offer from a young agent at one of those three agencies, and I turned it down because the clients he referred me to had not yet made sales, and described him as submitting to one or two publishers at a time, then waiting many months for a reply. I chose an agent who is not in NYC and not with one of those agencies, but who had an impressive list of recent sales in Publishers Marketplace. Was that a mistake?

Nope. Sounds like you made the right choice. Good for you for doing your research! Having an agent at a high-powered agency is not necessarily the same thing as having a high-powered agent.
Since, to stand a chance, we have to query agents just as widely as we submit to publishers, and there's all this talk about an agent/client relationship being like a marriage (there'd better be a LOT of Mr./Ms. Rights out there), how do we avoid landing with a dud?

Do just what the person above did—ask for client contacts, and talk to those people about the treatment they've had and the results they've seen.

My agent works at a great agency (though not one of the ones you've named), but I'm beginning to wonder about her as an individual. My ms has been out to six houses for five months, and we've only heard back from two (both rejections). Obviously she's not a "push this to the top of the pile" name. Now I just hope she's not a "trash it" name!

Don't assume this. The "trash" list is very short. Most agents have no chance of getting themselves on it.
Your agent shouldn't be letting your manuscripts sit, though. She should be able to get you a response in less than three months, or be able to tell you why. Part of an agent's job is keeping track of which editors have which manuscripts, and for how long, and if it's been a while it's their job to politely and professionally nag the editors. And maybe subtly imply that the editor is in danger of hurting their relationship with the agent.