Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chasya’s Question Corner is live!

Thanks to everyone who sent in their questions! As I mentioned in my post last week, I’ll be choosing one or two of your questions a week and answering them here. There were a lot of really good ones and I hope to answer as many of these as I can, so if you don’t see yours here today it doesn’t mean that we won’t be responding to it later. What I mean to say is, stay tuned!

If you have a question, please send it to news@dystel.com. All questions will remain anonymous:

One of our readers asks:

“I have a novel (debut) that was read by 6 editors 5 years ago (2004).
They praised it but were also consistent in why they didn't want it.
I have (after have children, etc. etc.) fully revised it, and in
effect it is a completely different narrative, but with the same
characters, setting, tone. The agent who shopped it left the agency
and we parted ways--we had no formal agreement (the deal was, if they
weren't successful placing my novel we'd have no contract). My
question is, when querying agents now, do I mention the novel's past
in the query, or wait until the agent has had a chance to read it and
connect to it? I am afraid of turning them off....concerned that they
won't read the novel with the same eye if they are aware someone else
rejected it, even if it was five years ago and quite different.”


A quandary, indeed. How much does one disclose when it’s tough enough getting any attention as a first-time author?

The answer is actually pretty simple: It’s very important that you are completely up front about the history of your project when approaching an agent. The surest way of “turning them off” is by not being honest about the manuscript. And you don’t want an agent to think that you are being dishonest.

If you’re waiting until an agent calls with interest in the project to inform them of the history behind it, they will want to know why this didn’t come up in your initial query. Even if you mean no harm and your intention is to let the work speak for itself, it comes off as underhanded. We’re not just assessing if we’re interested in or in love with a book--we’re reading it to figure out if we feel we can sell it. If it’s been seen before, that’s an important factor. In some cases, it may help to know that a project was strong enough to get an agent once before.

If you are, in fact, letting the work speak for itself, then disclosing this information shouldn’t really matter. We understand that fiction is very subjective, and we know that a manuscript that doesn’t necessarily speak to another person’s taste is not any reason to not give it due consideration. We also understand the business, and can tell you that if your manuscript has been to every fiction editor out there and hasn’t undergone any changes, they most definitely do not want to see it again. Editors are swamped--buried in reading and juggling more hats than ever before. If they’ve turned something down it’s usually for good reason, and they don’t have the luxury of giving something a second read. A prospective agent will have to make a judgment call about whether they think that the number of editors who have seen something (and the kinds of changes) make a difference in whether or not they think they can sell. However, if an agent truly does see your talent, even if they don’t think they can sell that book, they might recommend moving on to another project first, and if that succeeds, going back and trying to shop the original manuscript.

We must rely on our authors to be forthcoming about their work in order to serve them best. Being evasive or holding back really only leads to feelings of mistrust and can put an agent in an awkward position. It’s not a good way to start, so be sure to provide these details from the get-go.

Another reader asks:

“This is probably a no, but does anyone in your organization represent children's book authors?”


In fact, the answer is a yes. Michael Bourret represents young adult and middle grade, along with a very select group of author/illustrators. Jim McCarthy, Lauren Abramo and Stacey Glick all represent YA and middle grade, as well.



  1. Thanks! You answered a question I had, and I didn't even have to ask it!

  2. I disagree with the first answer. One of my projects has a long convoluted history. I didn't touch on that in a query letter--that'd be the touch of death. When an agent was interested, she called, we chatted, I mentioned the project's history, she didn't care, ta da.

    Maybe full disclosure works best for the agents, but the writer's goal at every step is simply to get to the next step. I'm not gonna write:

    "Dear Chasya: When Frank and Jerry discover a jar of sentient mayonnaise in their fridge, they're drawn into a global conspiracy of illegal gene-tech and condiments. My book, DEFROST, is 80,000 words, and in 1999 Jane Dystel said she loved the concept but preferred honey mustard to relish and Binky Rural suggested that I rework to the ending to highlight the Cabinet's evil plan. I made those changes in 2005, and was offered representation by Toad Knightly of Trident, who then left the business--and me without an agent. After another full edit in 2008, I hope you'll enjoy the enclosed."

    "Dear Sir: Due to the overwhelming number of queries ..."

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