Today is “Ask An Agent A Question Day!” (ALL DONE FOR TODAY…)

urlHello! *knocks from the inside of your computer screen* HELLO!! Sheesh! *peers out of your computer and looks around the empty room* Where’d everybody go?! And I thought I had a little following going here. I thought folks were kind of interested in what I had to say. I thought some of my posts were even a bit informative and helpful. So where is everyone? *folds arms over chest* And how come my WordPress stats are so unbelievably sucky? *raises one eyebrow in a very sassy way*

Oh yeah. It wasn’t you, it was me. I stopped posting. I didn’t show up. I did one little plug for the Women’s National Book Association at the beginning of January and then…. nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. No pearls of publishing wisdom. No amazing agent advice. No insightful writing tips or even rants about my publishing pet peeves. “What up, Linda?!” you might ask.

I have no good excuses. I’m like every other writer who has to find the time, MAKE the time, to get the words out. Even the words to you, my loyal, lovely, fantastic followers. *knocks from the inside of your computer screen again* HELLO! I’m talking to you!

To make it up to you, I’m running an “Ask Your Favorite Agent (me) A Question” day today, January 30th. I’ll be answering questions from 9am to 5pm EST. All you have to do is ask a question in the comments section of this blog post, and I’ll answer it. But it has to be general questions about publishing, writing, querying, etc… not something specific to only your manuscript, query or situation… Then be patient awaiting your question being posted and being answered. I do have other work to do, too, you know. 

I AM NOW CLOSED TO QUESTIONS FOR TODAY, BUT I’LL DO ANOTHER “ASK THE AGENT” SOON! Thanks for reading!

 

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71 Comments

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71 responses to “Today is “Ask An Agent A Question Day!” (ALL DONE FOR TODAY…)

  1. Loved reading your post. Loved reading the questions and your answers to them. I learn so much just through reading good blogs.

    Now back to the rewriting…

  2. Cacy

    Generally speaking, what is the publishing industry’s perception of the “sci-fantasy” genre? If one were to categorize that as their novel’s genre in a query, is the reaction more likely to be, “Ah, yes. That is a viable and acceptable genre” or is it more like, “Get off the fence and pick a genre, waffler!” Thanks! You’re awesome for doing this.

  3. Kris Mehigan

    Hi! Hope this question is general enough… I’ve just started querying and hope to go the “traditional” publishing route. An editor from an indie press has asked me to query as well. Is there any downside? Even if the press is interested, I would still hope to first sign with an agent.
    Thanks!

    • Indie publishers are great and are considered “traditional publishing.” If you already have interest from a publisher, indie or not, just include that in your query. It makes agents all hot and bothered and interested to hear that there’s already an offer on the table. If the publisher merely suggested you query them though, don’t include it in your query to agents. It’s not as significant as you might think.

  4. Valerie H. Bowman

    Not sure if you’d know the answer, but, I’m a college student in Indiana and am wanting to gain experience in the publishing field, but not sure where to start. I’ve sent emails to a few places but haven’t heard back. Any suggestions? Also, I do some writing on the side, mostly short stories, what are some websites I can submit to that you suggest? Thank you!

    • The best way for you to gain experience in the publishing field is to find an internship at a publishing company or literary agency. Most of that is in NY though. Re: short stories, I don’t represent short stories, so I can’t make a good recommendation. Sorry.

  5. Hi there, I’m an Australian author, are you interested in international submissions?

  6. Maria

    Thank you for your time Linda. My question is what do you look for or what makes a well written query?

    • If you read through some of my past posts, you’ll see all my rants and raves about do’s and don’ts. Just remember this is a business letter. And follow each individual agent’s submission guidelines. And get their name right.

  7. I have two questions. You’ve talked a bit about how much to use marketing strategies in the query, but I’m still a bit unclear. For example, I have a friend who’s query leads with a comparison to other books, then goes into a short plot description, a section on why his book is distinct from others in his genre, who his specific markets and sub markets are, and who could write his cover quotes (he has a couple good names). My query, on the other hand, is mostly description, a tiny paragraph on books of which my MS might be reminiscent, and a short bio. of previous works. I don’t want to be a female writer who’s afraid to market herself. How much of the letter should be dedicated to marketing? Could there even be a percentage?

    Second question: If a writer who’s a client of the agent is recommending you to the agent, should you send the query with their name in the subject bar to catch the agent’s attention, or is that obnoxious?

    This is great, btw. I saw this on Twitter (@Corpsewander). Thank you so much!

    • I like queries short and sweet: an intro, a 1-paragraph synopsis that reads like back flap copy, a 1 paragraph bio. If you have famous people who will blurb you, mention that. If you’ve won awards, include it. Ultimately though, it comes down to good writing. Re: recommendations by clients, yes, I like to know if you’re a friend of my client or they recommend you. But if that’s not really true, please don’t fabricate a relationship that’s not there, because you know I’m going to ask them… I’d say to include it in the subject bar, so it’s flagged for me.

  8. Forgive me if this question is too specific to my situation!

    Under your submissions section you mentioned an interest in work that has a spiritual “undercurrent.” I have been wondering about how to approach this very topic with agents. My WiP is allegorical in concept but the reader could very easily miss that and/or choose to ignore it. I don’t want to control the way anyone relates to my work, so is this something I should mention in queries and pitches (ie: calling it a YA allegorical fantasy) or just let the chips fall where they may?

    Thanks in advance!

  9. Hi Linda,
    Thanks for doing this! Great writing/story aside, can you descirbe your perfect author to hear from and work with?
    Thanks!
    Luke

    • No. I can’t. It’s like describing the perfect spouse, but then you marry who you marry because they are who they are and you just love them even though they don’t necessarily fit your pre-determined thoughts about what would make a perfect spouse. But obviously, great writing and great story IS the place I start.

  10. I am brand new at this, found you on Twitter. Let’s say I’m ready to take the very first step. I’ve written a chick lit novel that I’m proud of, I’ve torn it apart with editing and rewrites, and now…? Am I writing letters to agents? Am I e-mailing people? Is there a current book about getting published that I should read that would tell me step by step what to do? I’m ready to get rejected…I just don’t know how.

    • There are so many places to look on the internet that will give you the basics, but you can start by looking at some of the websites I’ve listed on my blog roll. The first thing to know is to do your RESEARCH when trying to find agents to submit to. I’d sign up for Publisher’s Lunch which is free, to see who’s buying what and who their agent is; I’d also sign up for Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents (Wow, I plugged him twice today!) to get info there; and I’d check out some good sites like querytracker.net.

  11. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I’m without an agent, but have a contract for my current novel. When I have my next project complete and ready to submit, am I looking at the query process all over again since I don’t have an agent?

  12. Marissa

    How did you become an agent?

    • You can read the “About” tab for the condensed story. Suffice to say that after years of doing a bunch of other stuff I told myself, “now or never” regarding chasing my dreams. Then I went for it.

  13. How worthwhile do you find attending a writers’ conference? If you plan on attending one, should you hold off on querying agents before going (specifically those agents you know you’ll have an opportunity to meet)? I completed my manuscript a month ago and queried a very few agents, but am considering the Writers Digest Conference in early April. That seems like a lot of time to wait if I’m ready to query now, but I don’t want to lose an opportunity for face-to-face pitches, either.

    • I think Writer’s Conferences are useful for many things. There are courses where you can hone your skills; panel discussions to be inspired and educated; opportunities to get to know other writers and perhaps find beta readers or critique partners; and of course the opportunity to network with agents and editors and pitch your manuscript. So yes, I think Writer’s Conferences can be great. If you feel ready to query now, then query. If you meet an agent who you’ve queried and haven’t heard back from, then you can give them a nudge after the conference, reminding them of who you are. But it’s 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable and empowered, is the right answer for you. This isn’t one of those things that has a correct answer, just a correct answer for you.

  14. ghartmore

    When submitting an excerpt of 20 pages or whatever is appropriate, what format should they be in? Double spaced, single spaced, etc.?

    • My submission guidelines ask for the first 20 pages in the body of the email, so I’d say just cut and paste from your manuscript. That being said, I always ask my clients to format their manuscripts in a standard way (i.e. font is Times New Roman, 1″ margins, double spaced with indents for new paragraphs). I don’t know about other agents, but as long as it’s readable, I’m not that concerned with how it’s formatted in a query. It’s the content not the format that’s going to get my attention. I think most agents are forgiving of messed up formatting, too. We know how things get messed up with various email programs.

  15. When you talk with editors of book publishers or with other literary agents, do you hear that book publishers are looking for novels set, at least partly, in foreign countries? Can you post the names of some of these foreign countries? Thanks for answering so many questions so far.

    • We all want good characters, good plots, good writing. Some people like things set in exotic locales. Some people like things set right here. Write the story you want to write. There’s no formula to follow that will get you a book deal.

  16. Kay

    Should you reference comparable novels and/or authors in a query? Or is that cheesy? (“‘The Great Gatsby’ meets ‘Pride and Prejudice’…)

    • I don’t mind people referencing novels and authors, but when people say, “My writing is like Jane Austen’s” or “This will be the next Great Gatsby,” it doesn’t do anything but make me roll my eyes. One of my clients wrote an amazing manuscript that I pitch as “Like Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone written with the sensibility of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.” (It happens to be fantastic, BTW!) But I’m not saying my client IS Wally Lamb or that the story is BETTER THAN Twin Peaks. I’m just giving editors a place to stand when they read it. That’s what you should be doing when you name drop authors or other novels.

  17. Glad to see you back on my computer screen, too! My question comes down to the Bird in the Hand proverb. I submitted my ms to a publishing house with only two titles on the market and three in production, because I liked one of their books and saw cross-promotion opportunities. They want it, and are threatenoing me with a contract. The very next day, an agent for a pretty large agency (you’d recognize the name immediately) asked for a full, apologizing for the delay between my query and their request. I’m leaning toward waiting for the agent, but I was hoping that I’d have the chance to ask someone!!! How would you think about making this decision, were you me?

    • You should alert the agent that asked for your full that you have an offer. They’ll hurry up and read it and if they like it they’ll be able to negotiate the contract with the publishing house for you. I don’t recommend writers negotiating their own contracts (no matter how smart or savvy they are) because there’s a whole world of literary contracts that most people don’t know about. You want someone with experience to be in your corner. Also, if you let the publishers know that you’re figuring stuff out, they should be able to wait a little while. Publishing is a “hurry up and wait” industry, where contract negotiation can take quite a while sometimes.

  18. kyoske

    How many pages of a query do you read on average? You request 20. Do you usually read all 20? Or do you stop once you realize the writing is not up to standards/not engaging?

    • Sometimes I read all 20 and I’m hungry for more; Sometimes I read the first paragraph and clutch my head in agony while my eyes bleed; Sometimes I don’t read any, if the query itself doesn’t captivate me.

  19. Hi, Linda!
    What do you look for in a query regarding a non-fiction humor book aside from quality of writing? Many humor books other than those by known authors tend to be “gimmicky” (i.e. “How to Raise a Jewish Dog,” “Go the Fuck to Sleep,”etc.) rather than exhibiting an overall approach to humor that might characterize a better known writer or celebrity. In other words, do agents tend to look for one-shot quirky concepts from unknowns or a humor writing style which might take a bit of time to build and develop?

    Now that I’ve thoroughly confused myself, I await your answer. And thanks!

    • I do very little non-fiction and for someone who’s kind of funny (at least I think I am) and who likes a good laugh, I’m not really drawn to “funny” books. That being said, I think ALL non-fiction authors need a good platform. For info on how to build a platform, go get Chuck Sambuchino’s new book How To Create Your Writer Platform and look through his blog to see which agents are interested in non-fiction humor boooks.

  20. My question/comment follows the one by Emily P. Some of the recent mega best sellers like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY are not known for their writing or storyline, but for their filling a gap in the marketplace .. giving many readers a book that they yearn to read. But still, literary agents and editors in book publishers have a bias toward books with “literary” writing. Both agents and editors do well financially selling books that readers want to read, so I don’t understand the practice of wanting more “literary” novels. I understand that most agents and editors grew up reading and studying literature so they “fall in love” with “beautifully written” novel. But there seems to be a gap between what agents and editors love and what millions of readers love.

    • Not all agents and editors are interested in literary fiction. I happen to love literary fiction, but I also love other, less “literary” styles of writing. If you do your research, you’ll find there are plenty of agents who are looking for other things. Genre fiction (romance, mystery, thriller, etc…) is hot and marketable and many agents (and editors) are looking for that.

  21. I wanted to know about informing Agents about fulls as well. Thanks.

  22. I recently read a blog article about “Adapting Your Novel for Hollywood.” I’d always assumed that if a writer was very lucky, their book was optioned and that was that. How common is it for a writer to adapt his or her own book as a screenplay? Is that something that is handled by most literary agencies or is some other representation, i.e., a different agent, an entertainment attorney, etc. required? Thanks!

  23. Emily P.

    Thanks Linda! My question, which has been bugging me for a while, is: Why do agents emphasise falling in love with a fiction manuscript so much, rather than its marketability? I feel like a lot of agents don’t even want to hear about that stuff in a query and are turned off if you mention that your book is unique, etc. Can you explain why an agent would reject an extremely marketable manuscript if they weren’t “in love” with it?

    • Because agents aren’t shoe salesmen. We don’t just sell stuff because we can sell it. I work hands on with my clients, for a very long time, and read their manuscripts multiple times. If I don’t love it, how can I do that? If I don’t love it, how can I express the enthusiasm needed to have an editor fall in love with it?

      • Linda, welcome back. To Emily, I also have received countless rejection letters that all say that the agent is looking for something that they can get stoked about representing, because that’s why they do what they do. I think that Linda will be the first to say that there are books that found great homes that she passed on the query because she didn’t feel like representing, say a YA time-travel novel with a portal that would start a war (The Obsidian Blade) or a book that asked what would happen if the Greek Gods were real, and they were trying to climb back into history (I’m beta-reading that one). We know there are great books that take twenty agents to recognize, even if the query is tight and the book will be someone’s passion

      • Emily P.

        Thanks for the insight. I work in academic/business publishing and it’s a very different mentality so I have a hard time wrapping my head around that way of thinking. I edit and sell books that I dislike with a passion, and yet they often do well. This is going to sound sarcastic and I don’t mean it to, but it must so wonderful to work with authors on projects that you do love.

      • It is. I feel like I have the best job in the whole world.

  24. Hi there. I am a member of the FB writers group but tend to be rather quiet. Here is my question – if an author has one previously published book, by a small publisher (a contract he could likely get out of cheaply), and would like to pitch a sequel…what is the best approach to finding the right agent (or getting any agent to take a look) and pitching the book. eg – would sending a copy of Book I and three chapters and an outline of Book II be a good approach, and if so….where to begin in approaching an agent? Oh – and the genre is broadly fantasy, not hyper specific YA subgenre or what have you. It is YA friendly “grown up” fantasy in the tradition of the Inklings and Madeleine L’Engle.

    • Here’s the thing: how’s that first book doing? If it’s doing well, I think agents would be interested in seeing a sequel. But if it’s not doing well, agents (and publishers) aren’t going to be interested in a sequel. So if it’s doing well, give the info about the first book, send some sales figures, pitch the sequel, and see what happens. But if not, the sequel’s probably just not going to sell so my recommendation is for you to move on to your next manuscript.

      • Thank you for your response Linda. the answer is, I am a bit stuck because I published with an editor-turned publisher who did a heroic feat of editing and helped me arrive at a great book, but then dropped the ball and essentially quit and moved on to other things (outside of publishing) So those who are reading it have passionately embraced it and want a sequel, but they are a small crew. So maybe my question should have been, are agents ever open to re-pitching a book that has been previously published – to seek a wider audience and more proper release?

      • Probably not. But you could mount a publicity campaign on your own for your little orphan, and get those sales figures up, and then you’d have some leverage on a sequel.

      • I was afraid you’d say that! Yes, I suppose I will. In the meantime, the sequel will be written so that it can be read as a stand alone, so I may aim to pitch that on its own merits while I do the best I can for my beloved “orphan.”

  25. Hi Linda. Thank-you for doing this. M.E. Girard said I should check this out and when M.E. Girard says “Check this out”, I check this out.

    With all the hand-wringing and hair-pulling about the state of the publishing industry and the mounting frustration felt by writers trying to crack that egg, it’s refreshing to hear honesty from someone on the inside. For that matter, it’s refreshing to hear anything at all.
    Too many times a publishing house or a literary agent will be open to submissions and yet don’t feel the need to respond to the queries they don’t want or deem not a fit for their imprint. I find this more prevalent with larger imprints and agencies. I also feel it is counter productive. Writers need feedback in order to improve. While I don’t agree with writing for the market, if we don’t know why we were rejected, how can we move onward and upward.
    Do you see that mentality changing anytime soon?

    • Unfortunately, there’s only so much time in a day. What’s an agent supposed to do when they get 150-200 queries a day? I’m not even getting that number (yet) daily and I’m horribly behind in answering my queries. How can agents possibly respond to that and still do their other work? And then writers want feedback about why they’re being rejected? It’s not really the job of an agent to tell you why they’re rejecting you. I mean, I get it, and it would be useful and nice and all, but… Email submissions have streamlined so much for agents and writers seeking representation but on this end, it’s overwhelming trying to keep up with the sheer volume of queries. So my answer is no, Dale, I don’t see that mentality changing anytime soon.

  26. Debra Lynn Lazar

    When you get a query, do you like to know if other agents have already requested partials &/or fulls?

    • I don’t really care if other agents have requested partials, since my submission requirements (and many other agents’) include a partial. I do appreciate knowing right off the bat when other agents have requested fulls though. Also, if you’ve queried me and I haven’t yet responded and then you get a full request from someone else, I do appreciate an email letting me know.

  27. Susan

    You have been missed.

  28. I’m glad to see you back in my computer screen ;)