Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Michael Bourret tackles some more questions

Annie said...

No burning questions, but would be interested to read your thoughts on either of the following...the influence (or lack thereof) of movies on contemporary fiction. Or, in the kids world, the seeming division between school/library and commercial markets...

The influence of movies on contemporary fiction is as strong as the influence of movies in any other area of our culture. Film (or the motion picture, I should say) is our preferred method of communication. That's why authors have moved on from simple blogs to using things like Flash and YouTube to connect with readers. I also think that authors now have film in mind when they write, which is something Jane Austen certainly wasn't thinking about, though her books are made into movies more often than anyone else's! I won't decry the influence of film on writing, as I think it's inevitable that one medium will affect another, but I think authors would benefit themselves by writing a good book first and letting the movie thing follow.

As for the second question, there certainly are books that work better in one than the other. It's just that the needs of the markets are quite different. Nonfiction, for instance, is a staple in the school/library market -- kids have to write reports, and they need sources, but there isn't a desire, for the most part, to own those books. The library is the perfect place for them. In fiction, there's much more overlap, and I'm sure that Stephenie Meyer's library sales are pretty darn good. But what I love about libraries is that they'll buy quiet books, the books that kids can't find on their own, and give them a chance to flourish. While big commercial success doesn't necessarily follow, it can, and it's great that the libraries are there to expose kids to new kinds of books.

Anonymous said...

I read on another lit agent blog that, while he is open to queries, he has in his entire career only picked up two authors out of his slush pile. This made me wonder is the problem isn't that he has a full slate of books to take out at all times and is rarely hungry for someone/something new. Sort of like having 3 square meals before heading out to the buffet. Might this mean that perhaps someone starting at a new agency, who states he or she is looking to build their list, might be more receptive to slush pile queries?

I definitely think it's smart to go after young, hungry agents. While it's nice to have that big-shot agent, they’re tougher to get. As the agent you mention exemplifies, a lot of very established agents aren't as interested in sorting through all of the queries to find the next big thing. Perhaps there's a young agent at the same company who is more open to new authors -- that's the person I'd target. That said, there are established agents who look to the slush pile to find new talent, and you should be looking into those agencies, as well (ahem, DGLM).

Anonymous said...

This summer I've begun to query my big, serious literary novel, got a dozen requests. Most have come back with personal notes: "beautiful poetic prose" "I think it's very good" "I like the voice" but they always reject it. Some hate the voice, some say the plot is too thin. I know it's not your average book, it's old-fashioned and big and not like anything that's out there. At this point is it advisable to keep querying for that right agent, or is it time for something else?

It sounds to me like you need to keep querying. Since what you're writing is unconventional and not on most agent's "I do this, this, and this" list, you're going to have to keep trying until you find someone whose sensibilities are right for your work. It may be a long, hard road, but if you believe in the work (and I'm making that assumption), you should keep knocking on doors.

Rikitikitavi said...

How often does a publisher change the title of a book, and do you try and lobby for the author's original title so that the publisher won't change it? I had that done to me, and my agent at the time didn't care.

I would certainly try to lobby for the original title if that's what the author wants, and I think most publishers want their authors to be happy with the title. That said, the publisher has a lot of people giving feedback on what works and what doesn't: sales, marketing, publicity, and even feedback from buyers. If Barnes & Noble won't buy kids' books with the word "sucks" in the title, you're going to have to change it if you want your book to sell. The publishing process includes a lot of give and take, and you have to pick your battles. Sometimes the title is one you have to choose not to fight.

Also, what about the "last minute" calls, where the editor attempts to make changes hours before your book goes to the printer. I know two authors that threatened retraction if the changes were made. Only then did the editor back off.

This isn't something that's ever happened on one of my books, if I'm remembering correctly. The author, however, should always have a chance to review and approve changes. Nothing should go in without your knowledge. But, when production schedules are compressed and everyone is rushing, things slip through. This is why it's important for all people in the publishing process, authors included, to do their work on time. There's a reason books take a long time to get published, and oversight is a big part of it.

In my case error was added to my nonfiction book despite my protest (and some things added without my review that were wrong).
That's a very odd situation. I hope they fixed the problems in subsequent printings, and I hope you chose not to work with them again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A few more of your questions answered by Jim McCarthy

I think we’re about 25 down, 15 to go on the open call for questions. We’ll keep plugging along, and we hope that our answers are helpful!

Athena said...

My questions are:

1. Since it's been over 8 weeks, should I send the agent a "hey, haven't heard from you about that late Roman Empire novel set in North Africa"? Or should I assume that because I was a big dork and queried with a (not perfect) partial, the answer's going to be no anyhow?

--If eight weeks is the amount of time they say they need to respond to a submission, then by all means, send a follow-up to check in.

2. Since I haven't done diddly-squat on that MS since I queried (because I'm a neurotic little scrivener and I've been immobilized by my angst about the opinion of the agent), am I totally screwed if the agent comes back and says, "I would like to represent this--where's the rest of it, dear?"

--Well, it wouldn’t be the best of situations. The reason you want the entire manuscript ready to go is that you should be able to strike while the iron is hot. If the agent wants to read the rest of your manuscript now, you want to be able to give it to them. If they have to wait for you to finish, they’ll most likely be willing to look whenever you’re done, but their enthusiasm could have a chance to wane.

3. Does the fact that I even asked question #2 mean that my ego has reached megalomaniacal proportions, and that I am not able to recognize the simple and salient fact that my writing does, in fact, suck?


Kidding! Nah, the querying process is neuroses inducing for the sanest of authors. It’s tough to get a handle on, but you’re clearly trying to learn, so good for you. In the meantime, do what’s most important—keep writing! The ins and outs of submissions will get clearer and clearer, but if you’re not actively working on your craft, then who knows if you’ll ever have a book ready to send?

Aimless Writer said...

Pitching at conferences:
If you are at an RWA conference is it okay to pitch a mystery if you know the agent your interviewing with handles mysteries?

My book is a little of both but heavier on the mystery/suspense part. I do belong to RWA but this book fell out of my head more toward the mystery genre.

--That should be fine. And maybe that particular agent might be thrilled to have a break from romance pitches for a moment! Long story short, if they represent what you do, you’re welcome to pitch it. And if you’re going to RWA this weekend, have a blast!

Anonymous said...

I am in the unfortunate circumstance of finding another agent. In the query process, should I mention that I had an agent but it didn't work out, or leave it out all together?

On one hand, it shows that another agent thought my work was good enough to offer representation (assume I'm talking about a good agent, well known, not one new to the biz) but on the other, the prospective agent could wonder 'why' it didn't work out.

I don't want to hurt my chances, but I'd like to help them, if possible. My dream agent is out there!!

--It does help to let us know you had another agent and how far along you got in the process. If a project has been submitted or editors have said they want to see more of your work in the future, these are things we should know. If the information will be necessary when it comes time for us to submit, that’s likely something we should have up front. It shouldn’t hurt your chances if you’ve had another agent. We realize that the agent/client relationship can be a very close one. Sometimes you and your agent just aren’t the right fit. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be.

Linda said...

Is a historic setting for a first book (in this case, it's a thriller) an automatic minus?

--Historical fiction can be tricky, but not really any more so than other fiction. If it works, it works. Sure, if we’re positively drowning in Civil War novels, maybe we won’t feel like we can fit another one on the list. But that can be said of any setting, topic, style, etc.

Anonymous said...

I just read on another blog that no manuscripts sell during the summer months because all the decision-makers are on vacation. Is that true, even for agented submissions?

--This is one of those publishing myths that everyone seems to believe. In fact, a lot of people in publishing do take their vacations in the summer months, so sometimes things can slow down. That said, we’ve had numerous successful sales during the summer months (even in the dead of August). It can just take a little more planning and making sure the right people are around when you submit.

Rachel said...

How did you discover the Kushiel books? Was it a gem in the slush, or is there some grand series of coincidences?

I really love Ms. Carey's books, and I'm interested to know if she had to go through the slush pile too, or if things just happen when you've got something that good.

--We love Jacqueline Carey’s books too! If memory serves, she did come across the transom and was discovered in the slush pile by Todd Keithley, a former agent here who changed career paths a few years back. It is the possibility of finding books like hers that make the query pile such a strange and wonderful thing. You never know when you’ll strike gold!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lauren Abramo answers (some of) your burning questions:

In lieu of thinking up my own topic—that audible sigh of relief you’re hearing is coming from my desk—I thought I’d take a crack at some of your questions this week. Thanks for so many interesting and thoughtful ones! If we haven’t gotten to yours yet, check back because we’ll continue to cover as many as possible.

xoxochristine said...

What is the difference between chick lit, women's fiction and literary fiction that is from a woman's perspective? For example, would Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible be considered woman's fiction? And what about Susan Minot's Evening?

--To be honest, there isn’t a ton of difference. And it comes down not so much to what is written as to how it is written. Let’s say this: if you have doubts about where something falls in these categories, just call it women’s fiction. It’s such an insanely broad category that just about anything written from a female perspective or about female characters will fall in. Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Minot are generally considered to be more “literary” than commercial, although their books sell well enough to be both.

May said...

What would you do if you got a query letter that asks you to email the writer if it's a request? Or should I be focusing only on agents who accept e-queries?

--If we want the material, we’ll request it. Just make a note at the end of your letter that because you’re writing from overseas, SASE’s are cost-prohibitive. And, of course, e-query when it’s an option.

Eliza said...

How does an emerging fiction writer create a market for her work? What should we do to create a sales base even before we've been picked up?

--We talk a lot about market and platform, but that’s quite a bit more important with nonfiction than it is with fiction. If you happen to have access to a mailing list of thousands, or if you have a dedicated readership somewhere, by all means let us know. But it really will come down to how we (and ultimately book buyers) feel about the work. Honest.

Anonymous said...

What are questions for your agent, and what are questions for your editor? I don't want to step on my agent's toes by circumventing her, but at the same time, I don't want to make her work harder for her 15% than I have to. If, for example, I want to know whether a book will be released as a hardback or a trade paperback, to whom do I direct that question?

--Knowing what to ask, when, and to whom can be tough—especially for a first time author. As a general rule, if it’s a business question, it should go through your agent, and if it’s an editorial one, your editor is probably your best bet. When in doubt, especially if it relates in some way to the publisher’s contractual obligations to you, you can ask your agent. And if someone needs to be the bad guy, you should definitely let your agent take care of that. Don’t be afraid to get in touch when you have questions—that’s why you got an agent in the first place!

Anonymous said...

In response to Jane Dystel's just previous post: why do so many agents seem to object to authors querying multiple agents? I queried 10 agents all of whom represent work in my genre. I researched them all and tried to personalize every query. I got six form rejections, one request for a partial which immediately turned itno a request for a full (which I am still waiting to hear about)and 3 non-responses. Are we authors supposed to put all our eggs in one basket?

--Here’s some clarification on that point from our response in the comments to that post: It isn't that we turn things down just because a few other agents have seen it. But if names are switched, other agents are listed on the same e-mail, or you make mention of how many people have turned you down (why do people do that??), then it becomes apparent that you're applying to any and every agent just because they're agents. We'll take more time with someone who has chosen us because we might actually be the right fit.

David said...

Why is this latest post displayed in Times while the preceding ones are displayed in Arial?

(It's a question!)

And Anonymous said...

Not a question but a request: do you mind having all the fonts in your posts the same size? That will make the articles easier to read. Thanks.

--Sadly, Blogger hates us. We’ll keep trying to make posts show up in the same font and same size, but every once in awhile, things go all wonky.

Anonymous said...

How long, on average, do you take to read a full? Reading comments about your agency, I have heard that some agents have responded within a week, but what is the longest you have ever taken to read a full?

And Anonymous said...

Let's say one of your agents is considering a full manuscript. How often do you prefer for the writer to contact the agent to check the status (obviously not after a week, but...)? Does the writer receive any notification if months go by, but the full is still under consideration?

--It can really vary depending on how backed up we are. We say six-to-eight weeks for our response time, but it is often a much shorter wait. If you haven’t heard from us by the end of eight weeks, something has gone wrong, and you should definitely get in touch. If you have offers from other agents or an editor, please do get in touch right away to check in with us and let us know that we don’t have much time. Otherwise, please do wait for two months to go by before you check in—we want to read your work and give it serious consideration and that takes time. Remember that we don’t sit around at our desks reading all day—we’re on the phone and on email with editors and our existing clients, so it’s in the evening and on weekends that we’re reading the material we’ve requested.

Anonymous said...

What would happen if you had a really catchy title for a non-fiction book (as catchy as "He's Just Not That Into You") but found that an obsure blog in another country had the same title? Would you still use it? Could you still use it?

--Titles can’t be copyrighted, so you’re in the clear. You don’t want to go with something too familiar only because of any potential confusion, but that’s the only thing to consider.

Anonymous also said...

Also, have any D&G agents ever had to choose a project between a client and a potential client?

Meaning if the projects are competitive? It depends how close they are and in what category (it matters less if two novels have some common ideas than if two prescriptive nonfiction books do), but if we receive a query we think is promising that sounds too much like something one of our clients is already working on, we’ll usually pass it on to a colleague.

Anonymous said...

If you're rejected by an agent at DGLM, can you query another DGLM agent with the same project or is it not allowed?

--You shouldn’t. Most of us have been working together for long enough that we know each other’s taste very well, so we pass material among each other regularly. Ultimately, it doesn’t pay off to submit twice.

And while we’re on that subject—please don’t query each agent at the agency simultaneously either. As it says on the submissions page on our website, if we notice that a query has come to multiple agents here, we’re not going to read it.

Anonymous said...

Two questions:

1) When dealing with editors for a clients manuscript, is the time it takes them to get back to you any indication to the MS's quality?

In other words, does a manuscript that they know they wouldn't want get a quick no, to clear their desk, and one they might want get kept for 3 months (even if they pass)?

2) Does the agent's personality have more pull than we all realized -- I heard at a writer's conference recently that editor's pay close attention to what their favorite agents send them and have a tendency to be very critical of an abrasive agents's submissions.

--A lot of writers do seem to think that response time has a lot to do with manuscript quality or interest, both for agents and editors, but it’s usually not an indicator of much at all. There are too many variables, and there’s no reason to believe that the letter passing on a project is written the same day that decision is made. In fact, though, it’s much easier to pass on something you know you don’t want to handle quickly and move on to the next thing. It’s those in-between projects that require mulling over that tend to sit on our (and editors’) desks for a while.

Re: the agent’s personality—it’s a business, and everyone in it deals with people they don’t necessarily like. But of course, it’s a business full of human beings and some are more sensitive than others. Most editors and agents are professional enough to consider the work and not the person submitting it. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the projects an agent handles that will make editors take notice when they receive a submission, not whether the agent is everyone’s best friend.

Mary Witzl said...

I love memoirs, particularly when they are about ordinary (or rather non-celebrity, for lack of a better term) people who have led extraordinary lives, or when they include interesting travel or cross-cultural experiences. Am I in a minority here? And how extraordinary does a memoir have to be to be marketable, in your opinion?

--Certainly not. Memoirs will always be a popular publishing category and one that has experienced a real explosion in recent years. That said, there’s actually so much out there that it is an extremely crowded category, so new memoirs must, indeed, feature either an extraordinary story or extraordinary writing for it to have a chance in this marketplace.

Ryan Field said...

I've been receiving a great deal of hints from editors lately regarding fiction with "crossover potential". Is this a trend that will last, or is it just another marketing tool that will come and go?

Your guess is as good as ours! It’s really hard to predict future trends much as we try, but for now genre crossing is working really well in certain markets—for example, paranormal stories can easily be shelved in romance, fantasy, or mystery these days. Of course, it’s important to have an idea of where exactly your book would fit in a bookstore and to know that however appropriate something may be for multiple categories, it’s only going to be shelved in one in the majority of stores.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in hearing an agent's take on working with an intentionally non-prolific author. I know for many writers, the hope is to write book after book after book and hopefully publish all of them. I look at Harper Lee and the value and reach of To Kill a Mockingbird and think I might feel finished as a book writer and choose to focus my future creativity towards other art forms. As an agent, when you hear this are you inclined to seek other clients instead, or are you intrigued? Do you find my approach to be unusual or surprisingly common among the "literary" writers you encounter?

Some authors have only one book in them, and I think we’d all agree that writing one fantastic novel is better than writing one fantastic one and then writing terrible failures just to keep going. Of course, the odds are stacked against you, so writing only one novel is putting all your eggs in one basket. The reality is that agents and editors would prefer to work with authors who are going to write multiple phenomenal books, but if a book is amazing we won’t turn it down because the author has no current plans to write another.

Anonymous said...

Tell us the truth (as you always do) please:

What differences do age and looks make for a novelist?

The work is what matters first and foremost. Are a disproportionate number of big buzz debut novels written by attractive 20-somethings? Sure. But in the end it’s so much more about the work than it is about the author’s promotability where fiction is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think the US publishing industry doesn't care as much about West Coast lifestyles or Midwestern ones. Over 75% of fiction I see takes place on the East Coast, mostly in New York. Am I imagining this, or is it real? And if the latter, is there anything we can all do to improve the situation and make the industry more realistic/representative?

I don’t think it’s quite as dire as that figure would suggest, but since so much of the US publishing industry is based in New York, there is going to be an unintentional bias sometimes. And, if fact, it’s all about supply and demand. Those New York books are being bought by a large audience or they wouldn’t continue to be published. If Wichita, KS, suddenly became a bestselling destination, you’d be surprised at how many books would suddenly be set there. Plenty of people who work in publishing are not actually from the East Coast and we are all conscious that we need to find books for the broadest possible readership.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of your authors and would like to know if you think it's possible to plan a career in publishing (as an author, that is!). I've just had my seventh book published and as the years pass, it seems like it's getting harder to map out any kind of career path. Do you think it's possible?

Sure. It does depend on the author and the category—and certainly paths aren’t always going to go as planned, since a big success, a book that just doesn’t perform, or significant life change can alter that path—but part of what we good agents and editors do is to help build authors’ careers. It’s important to have goals in mind and to think about the big picture, as well as to be open to changes and opportunities.

JDuncan said...

I'm curious about how you all are as agents in relation to your clients. Are you all the hands on type of agent that gets into the editing process, helping with book ideas, etc. or are you a more hands off sort that likes to just deal with the business end of things and leave all the writing stuff to the writer? If you have different approaches, does this have any effect on how you interact amongst each other when dealing with client issues?

You can read more about it on the About Us page of our website, but here’s the gist of our philosophy: “Being involved in every stage of putting together a non-fiction book proposal, offering substantial editing on fiction manuscripts, and coming up with book ideas for authors looking for their next project is as much a part of our work as selling, negotiating contracts, and collecting monies for our clients. We follow a book from its inception through its sale to a publisher, its publication, and beyond. Our commitment to our writers does not, by any means, end when we have collected our commission. This is one of the many things that makes us unique in a very competitive business.

Rose Green said...

I see a lot of internet commentary on what a writer should NEVER do (usually along the lines of bad formatting, sending bribes and/or threats along with the query, not knowing how to use the English language--or possibly any written language--etc). I'm more interested in that top 5 percent who all get full requests. Some make it and some don't. Are there any systematic characteristics you see that clearly cut off a ms from the running, once you've read the whole thing?

Ah, see, that’s because it’s easier to tell people what not to do then to tell them what they should actually do. But if we actually read an entire manuscript and turn it down, chances are that we either really liked it but don’t believe we can sell it (because the market is especially crowded, or it has some fatal flaw that can’t be fixed with some editing) or because that elusive spark just isn’t there.

Kanani said...

Actually, I much prefer to hear all of you spout out. You're funny, you can be wise, you can be direct, and you do it all very nicely. So this? We have to ask you? As in what Miss Snark did so well?

So you've driven me to ask the basics.

Boxers or briefs?

Hipsters, bikinis or thongs?

Clooney or Jolie?

Thank you—finally someone’s asking the critical stuff! Boxer-briefs. Anything but thongs. And we’re a bit divided on the Clooney/Jolie issue (quick insight into the dynamics of the DGLM workplace: we fight about nothing more than trivial things related to celebrities—the Jake Gyllenhaal: Hot or Ugly debate rears its head far more often than we should probably admit) but if Jim gets his wish, Angelina’ll be co-hosting The View any day now!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

An open call for questions

Though we’re of the opinion that any random thing we chatter about is endlessly fascinating, it occurred to us recently that it might be time to find out if there is anything in particular that you, our delightful readers, want to know from us. Or about us.

So here’s your chance: ask anything at all that you’d like an answer to. Feel free to direct questions to us en masse or individually (though this isn’t your chance to pitch us, natch). Keep in mind that with the holiday, summer vacations, and general busyness, responses will come in a bit sporadically, but you can keep an eye on this space, and we’ll try to answer as many questions as possible!