Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Shop 'til You Drop

When I was in junior high school a friend gave me an atrocious T-shirt (I thought it was very cool at the time) that said “shop 'til you drop” and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I? I loved to shop. And I still do, but not in the way many of you are thinking. Now my shopping is almost purely for business (and shoes of course).

When I say I’m shopping something these days it’s usually a book that I’m shopping around to publishers. And hopefully they’re the ones spending the money and not me. When I'm asked how agents shop books, the question that most frequently comes up is how many publishers should an author expect her agent to submit to. The answer is that there is no answer.

Every agent works differently and every book should be treated differently. Recently I had two very unique experiences. One book was shopped extensively to nine different publishers, some within the same conglomerates—Bantam and Ballantine for example (both divisions/houses of Random House). For the other book I narrowed my list to just five publishers and did not shop it to any houses within the same conglomerate. Why? I felt the second book had a very distinct market and feel and that it needed to be seen by only a few elite editors. Places that I felt really wanted this kind of book would pay a lot for it, and had a knack for publishing similar titles successfully.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Houses Divided, often when you submit to two houses in the same conglomerate only one will be able to join in the auction. And often this does play into how I submit to those houses. If I think one is better suited for an author or book I will often submit to that house first, leaving the other out. This way I can have a little bit of a say in who might be publishing the book and how it might be published.

I can’t say definitively how a book should be shopped or how I shop a book. What I can tell you is that I will shop 'til I drop, and sometimes that means five houses, sometimes ten, and sometimes twenty or more. It depends on the project, it depends on the kind of feedback we’re getting, and it depends on what I know the houses are looking for and what they are actively not buying at that moment.



Anonymous said...

Is this something an author should ask an agent before signing with them -- in terms of how many submissions the agent believes their book would have? Is it valid to consider an agency based on the fact they'd submit to more publishers? And how do you feel about going to small publishers after the big publishers have said no?

Anonymous said...

Just shoot me now. After all the work to get an agent, it comes down to five or maybe eight submissions?

kris said...

Anonymous, better 5 or 8 well-researched, high-probability submissions that will go to people who WANT to read what you've written than 20 or 30 scattershot submissions that do nothing but placate the client while making the agent look unprofessional to the receiving editors.

Michael S. Hugh said...

The more I read you blog, the more I appreciate the hard work and dedication that is involved.

Assuming a sucess ration of 10-20%, I don't envy you your job.

On the other hand, as an upblished write, I begin to appreciate your delectiveness in choosing which masterpiece to represent

All the best


Anonymous said...

It has happened to me. It has happened to many of my friends. An agent takes on a novel, sends it to four or five editors (basically all the editors that agent knows), the editors say no, and the agent falls out of love with the book. Then the agent sends it back to the author, breaking the agency agreement with the words, "This novel is unsalable." Of course, what the agent really means is "I can't sell this," which is not the same thing.

I like the "shop 'til you drop" philosophy muuuuch better. In fact, I signed on with my current agent simply because her track record indicated that attitude. My agent has shopped certain novels for two years--novels which went on to sell very well and win awards.

Shop 'til you drop is where it's at.

Anonymous said...

This sounds a lot like what I do for a living, which is Grant Writing. You point your client to the funders that they fit with the best, and try to set up a relationship. Success rates of 50% are considered pretty darned good.

Naturally, everyone on the outside of the process says, "Ooooh, free money!". It don't work dat way.

David Ebright said...

DITTO what Michael Hugh said. To add to it - The more I read your blog & get a sense of how you handle your business & your clients, the more I wish y'all handled YA fiction (big sigh!!!) Thanks for the great help & guidance anyway.

Keri Ford said...

I have to know if that t-shirt has any relation to the tv game show? I loved that show.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I think it is something worth asking, but remember it's not always about the highest number. I think kris fletcher said it best when it's better that the publishers and just as importantly, editors, are targeted for a reason and that an agent is open to your questions or suggestions.

I will go to small publishers depending on the project, the publisher and the author. It's something I'm open to discussing though.