Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Random Questions

I get a lot of questions to the BookEnds blog and I thank you for each and every one of them. Trust me, they really help keep this blog running. Unfortunately, I have yet to get to them all and yes, some are a year old. But some of you ask some really tricky questions. Today is random question day. These are the questions that aren’t “big” enough for a full blog post, but still need to be answered.

Can memoirs be sold on proposal or do I need to finish the entire manuscript?

Memoirs fall in the area of narrative nonfiction and any time you’re doing research on how to submit your book you should treat narrative nonfiction as if it were fiction. In other words, debut writers always need to write, rewrite, edit, and proof the book before even querying. Once you’ve established yourself (sold) as a fiction or narrative nonfiction writer, you’ll have the luxury of being able to sell on proposal.


I’ve received requests from editors through conferences and contests and have sent material off to them. Should I mention this to agents when I query or will it turn agents off because the book is already out there?

Definitely mention it. It shows agents that others in the industry have already expressed interest in your work and gives you that little oomph that others might not have. Make sure you mention that Jane Editor from Publishers Anonymous has your work “by request.”


Is it okay to send thank-you notes for personalized rejections?

Even the reader acknowledged that this question has been done to death. So why ask? I don’t know, but go ahead. For personalized rejections I think it’s fine. The truth is, if someone is going to blacklist you for a thank-you note they have bigger problems, and are probably rude themselves. Just send the note; it can’t hurt and might keep your name at top of their mind.


I’ve been told that some popular magazines don't respond until after a year or more. And some don't ever respond, putting your work into limbo indefinitely. Is this true? If so, is there anyway to avoid casting one's labors into a black hole?

Well, I don’t work on magazines, but I imagine if it’s true in books it’s true in magazines. Just send it, check on it occasionally, and eventually forget it. Work on your next project. The only way to avoid the black hole is to never submit, and we certainly wouldn’t want that.


If a book has previously been published at a small press, would you still be willing to represent it? If, of course, it met your criteria for submission and representation.

If the book has sold well, really well, I would be willing to consider it (I’d have to read it before knowing if I’d be willing to represent it). Better yet though, I think I’d rather see your next book instead.


When applying for a job or internship would it be inappropriate to deliver my cover letter and resume to an agency in person?

Yes, I think almost every agent I know would be annoyed by this.


How does Bookends feel about applications from interns that have queried and had full manuscripts requested by the agency?

I never thought of it. I guess I would consider the application. It might be kind of odd, but there’s no harm trying.


Do you know of any university that offers MFAs in fantasy writing?

No, but maybe some of my readers do.


This is a rather silly question, but if someone is interested in working with an agent or editor as a slush pile reader, how would they go about finding such a position? Is it happenstance or are job postings used?

No silly questions here, but sometimes silly answers. I’ve never seen job postings for slush readers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I would advise you just randomly canvass agents with resumes and see what happens. We don’t use slush readers so I don’t have a great answer for you.


Are sales figures easily available? Some editors expect the writer to be educated about the sales of similar novels in their genre. How can a writer get access to this information?

Sales figures aren’t even easily available to authors (until royalty statements arrive). I don’t think editors expect you to have the exact information, they just want you to have knowledge of those books that seem to be the most successful, and for that you can easily look at what bookstores give the most attention to or how they rank on online bookstores.


Jessica

22 comments:

RCWriterGirl said...

Jessica,

Thanks for answering so many interesting questions in your post.

I was curious about your answer to the question from the person who had "received requests" from editors and agents. You said she should mention them.

I have not worked in book publishing but have worked in journalism in newspapers and trade media, and in that field, if people puffed in a press release (which I got lots of) about these unrealized requests, I would think it was a load of BS and puffery and it would not endear the letter writer to me. To me, only an actual contract with an agent or editor (something realized) would be of interest. Obviously news is a different business.

Do agents think it's good just to be requested by other agents/editors? They don't see the fact that the person wasn't signed by these people as an indication taht the person's work isn't that good. To me, saying, "I got looked at by 10 agents/editors" is like saying, "I've already been rejected by 10 agents/editors." This isn't the case?

Becke Davis said...

I've written for a lot of newspapers and magazines, and have submitted both completed articles and suggestions for articles without specific requests for them. I've found that it's easier to sell cold to newspapers, but maybe that was just in my field.

I spoke to the editor of a national magazine I was targeting about the odds of getting a cold submission accepted for publication. He said they received over 100,000 cold submissions a year, for a magazine that published eight times a year. The majority of the articles were written in-house, which meant they were only looking for fifty or so freelance articles a year.

If this is typical -- and I'm guessing it is -- that makes it easy to understand why it could take so long to get a response.

Dan Holloway said...

Jessica,

this is fascinating. Two initial points. Under the tahnk you note question you have:
"Even the reader acknowledged that this question has been done to death. So why ask? I don’t know, but go ahead."
Is this a case of over-zealous pasting you might want to remove?

Second, like RCWG I'm intrigued at your answer on the request subject. I have heard in several places that if your wok has been requested by a publisher, but subsequently turned down taht actually makes it less attractive because it demonstrates an unsaleability. My current novel was requested as a ful by Harper Collins (who still have it) from their website Authonomy, and a Random House editor has asked me to submit any books I write to her as a first point of call. I was led to believe that because I don't actually have a contract, just as RCWG says, this 1. sounds like puffery and 2. just says - the people who have looked aren't interested, why should I be?

Charlie said...

I enjoyed this post. With all the questions, I read it with a Rosanna Rosannadana voice in my head though.

M. Dunham said...

Regarding MFA's in fantasy writing... there are two places that currently offer MFA's with an emphasis in Popular Fiction - fantasy being an option. Here are the links:

Seton Hill University: http://www.setonhill.edu/academics/fiction/index.cfm

University of Southern Maine/Stonecoast MFA: http://usm.maine.edu/stonecoastmfa/

Anonymous said...

Jessica,

when agents ask for partials or fulls from an author, would they appreciate the author letting them know that other agents also have partials and fulls? Or is that considered a lame effort to pressure the agent?

Momo said...

"I don’t think editors expect you to have the exact information, they just want you to have knowledge of those books that seem to be the most successful,"

Really? But if you write YA urban fantasy? Wouldn't doing that get every such author writing Twilight-style vampire books or the like?

I guess that's one question I have...how much is originality rewarded in genre writing?

Annette Lyon said...

On the fantasy MFA question--

One of the first universities in the country to ever teach fantasy creative writing at all was Brigham Young University (alumni include big-time fantasy writers like Orson Scott Card, David Farland, Brandon Sanderson, and others).

I don't think they offer an MFA, but their MA creative writing program would be a great place to look for a strong fantasy base.

lynnrush said...

Great post! Thanks for answering all these questions.

Meg Spencer said...

@MoMo: I think there's a difference between being aware of what's going on in your area and copying what's going on in your area. In fact, I'd say the conclusion that because Twilight is popular one ought to write books like Twilight is probably the opposite of what I'd take away from that phenomenon. What one could conclude about urban fantasy (from that information and from reading various blogs) is that agents are drowning in vampire novels, so if you want yours to have a hope, it needs to have something really compelling distinguishing it from the rest of the field.

For people looking for some general genre sales information, http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/ is doing a series of eight posts (have done mystery, YA and fantasy so far) on genre specific sales.

Anonymous said...

Re how well your previous books have sold: Do agents and publishers take into account who the publisher of the previous books was, e.g., a publisher whose business is to distribute to libraries rather than book stores?

Bane of Anubis said...

Thanks!

Robena Grant said...

Food for thought. Thanks, I enjoyed the post.

Kim Lionetti said...

RCWriterGirl --

From the original question, I'm assuming this person is still on submission with those houses, not that they were considered and rejected.

In this case, an editor would have seen the partial in a contest and liked it enough to request the full manuscript. If the editor is still considering it, I think an agent would definitely want to know about it. If the manuscript has since been rejected by that editor, then no, you probably wouldn't want to tell an agent about it right off the bat.

in the deep end of the pool said...

i came here from pimpmynovel at blogspot. they are definitely talking sales. check it out.

Anonymous said...

Re how well your previous books have sold: Do agents and publishers take into account who the publisher of the previous books was, e.g., a publisher whose business is to distribute to libraries rather than book stores?

I'm so glad you asked this question. You're talking about Five Star, I bet. I was told by an agent at Folio Literary that yes, publishers and bookstores often just look at the numbers without taking into account who the publisher was. I was shocked. BookEnds, is this your experience too?

I'm considering approaching a mid-size indy publisher with a novel that was previously represented but didn't sell. But talk of numbers concerns me. I know distribution won't be as good as a major house. On the other hand, many authors of this indy pubilsher are repped by agents, so I have to assume they would be a good choice.

I would love it if BookEnds would consider discussing their thoughts on debuting with a smaller press. (I'm talking Poisoned Pen, Midnight Ink, etc.) My goal, like so many others, is to be pubbed by a major house.

BookEnds, LLC said...

To those who had questions about requests keep in mind the question was requests from editors and not editors and agents. I don't think you should tell agents of other agent requests. Editors however are a different story.

re: how well previous books have sold. yes, who the publisher is can make a difference. we have some idea of what strong sales are from various publishers and in various markets.

--jhf

Anonymous said...

to anon 5:42: I was talking about Avalon Books. Please don't misunderstand-I love them, they gave me my start. They sell primarily to libraries, however, and though I tried very hard to get my books in bookstores for signings, I had signings canceled b/c the store couldn't get the books, so there was very little I could do. I've been so worried that this sealed my fate, so thank you so much Jessica for giving me hope!

Anonymous said...

I have a random question. How do agents and publishers feel about an author who has never stopped writing but hasn't submitted anything for publication for a number of years? I spent about 7 years (after being quite ill for 3) just working to improve my writing even though I had already had books published? Will this hurt me when I submit something new?

Julie said...

I think there's a difference between being aware of what's going on in your area and copying what's going on in your area.
___________________
Julie

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Anonymous said...

"This is a rather silly question, but if someone is interested in working with an agent or editor as a slush pile reader, how would they go about finding such a position? Is it happenstance or are job postings used?

No silly questions here, but sometimes silly answers. I’ve never seen job postings for slush readers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I would advise you just randomly canvass agents with resumes and see what happens. We don’t use slush readers so I don’t have a great answer for you."

I was just reading the job postings on Publishers Lunch Job Board, which I've never done before but a link took me there, and I saw a listing for a Freelance Manuscript Reader. It made me think of this question.

Anica Lewis said...

Regarding MFAs in fantasy, I recently did big-time research on this. I contacted nearly every creative writing MFA in the country to ask whether they would consider accepting a serious, dedicated writer whose passion is YA fantasy. At least half said, "No chance," while the rest said, "Well, we mostly do literary and poetry, but maaaybe, if the work was reeeally goooood . . ."

The only real "yes" came from North Carolina State. One of the professors in their Creative Writing department is a fantasy author.