Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mailbox Grab Bag

What's the sloppiest dummy book you've ever seen?
I got a dummy about magical spaghetti once that had been painted in tomato sauce.
I’ve been told that student publications count but are they worth mentioning in query letters? What about articles you wrote as an intern?
If any of these publications were in magazines / newspapers / etc that people in publishing might reasonably read, then yes, include them. Otherwise, I don't care.
In my limited research I’ve so far discovered that having a book published seems to be about (other than descent writing) timing, submitting a piece when the publisher is looking for that format, genre etc. Is it acceptable to resubmit a manuscript to the same publisher and if so how often? Yearly? Or is no a no forever?
Publishers will tell you a no is a no forever, but between you and me, yearly is fine. Most publishers get so many submissions that the chances of your manuscript being read by the same person next year are pretty small. Staff changes; times change; tastes change; and most importantly, your writing gets better. Right?

When seeking an agent, to whom do you address a query if the company doesn’t specify? For example, I recently queried a literary agency seeking representation for my children’s picture book. I thought I did all my research. I read all the information on their website, researched and read books they’d represented and had published and followed their query guidelines to the letter. However there are more than a few agents at this agency and they didn’t specify to address a specific agent… so I did the not so professional opener of “Dear Sir or Madame” because I was unsure of what to do. A few days later I happened upon an online interview with the lead agent. To my horror, in the interview they stated that they throw away any query or submission that starts “Dear Sir” because it shows the author didn’t do their due research. I’m now hoping the lead agent isn’t the one to review my query. What should I have done?
First of all, subscribe to Publisher's Lunch. Daily reporting on the deals made by agents in the book world.

Secondly, Google. Go on, do some research.

I know many agencies (and publishers, for that matter) make it difficult to submit to them. Here's the industry secret: They're doing it on purpose. And not because they're elitist jerks.

It's because there is a heaving ocean of rank newbies who all want to submit their work to every agent and every publishing house.

Agents and publishing houses cannot deal with that kind of influx. If we did, all we'd ever do is deal with slush when in reality we have big, complicated jobs to do.

Some of those newbies will quit out of frustration. That's good, because publishing is not an endeavor for the faint of heart or lightly-endowed of stubbornness.

Some of those newbies will be put off long enough for them to educate themselves further in the book business. That's good, because publishing is not for the mildy-interested or the ignorant.

If you want to be in the club, you have to be serious about books and writing: seriously interested, and seriously committed. Welcome to the club!


Sabina E. said...

thanks for writing this, because I too, was wondering about the whole "Dear Sir/Madam" when a literary agency WON'T specify which agent is in charge of particular books. So they're assholes. Go figure.

Marian Perera said...

Painted in tomato sauce? Good grief, I can only imagine what that looked (and smelled) like.

About the discouragement of the newbies... some of them will also go to vanity presses which assure them that their writing is great and most deserving of publication. Or they'll self-publish. I sometimes wonder what percentage of newbies do this rather than educating themselves about the industry, honing their talent and their work, and trying again.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea if you can't tell which agent to send to...just pick one. If your query is good enough and ends up in the wrong agent's hands, they often pass it to a colleague.This happened to me and the other agent contacted me for a partial. That said, I was a newbie then and didn't really know how to find out what EA is telling you to do. It can be done and should be done...I even wrote an article about how to find the "right" agent (as opposed to just any agent) which will be coming out in a future SCBWI bulletin, but here are a few tips... look in books you like to read to see if the author thanked their agent. Query their agent. Subscribe to PM as EA suggests and when an agent sells something that sounds like your type of writing, send to them. The web is your friend and so are author blogs.

Hope said...

Ah, thank you for the Publisher's Lunch link!

I'm too vain to vanity-publish. The way I see it, if I can't get a single publisher to be interested in my manuscript, then I need to reassess my work, not the publisher.

Of course, one of my goals is to have enough rejection slips to paper an entire wall of my office, so maybe I'm a glutton for punishment in the guise of learning experiences.

Laurie said...

This was a really great post, sometimes I think I'm crazy because I just keep plugging along, stubbornly thinking that maybe I'll get somewhere, but ya know what? Maybe I will someday!

José Iriarte said...

I have a question related to the second one you answered--something I've been wondering for years. A thousand years ago when I was in college I entered and happened to win a literary competition at my (tiny) university. The prize was publication in the university's literary magazine. The circulation of the magazine has got to be under a thousand, and it only came out annually. (Or, at least, this was true then and I assume it still is.) There was no payment, nor was there ever any discussion of what rights they had and what rights I retained. No mention of anything like copyright was made in the fine print of the "magazine" itself.

I'm not asking whether I can claim this as a publication credit. I know better than to try that. But for years, I've never done anything with this story again, even though I think it's a pretty good one, because I'm not sure what I can actually offer, and I'm afraid that trying to convey the situation will make me come off as amateurish. Can I safely submit the story without ever mentioning its "publication" history, tacitly selling first North American rights or whatever? Will mentioning that it's previously "published" make it undesirable because it's a reprint? Worse, will it make me look like I'm trying to pass off my small time college lit mag as a real credit?

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