Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Random Questions

I get a ton of questions emailed to me for the blog and I appreciate each and every one. I apologize if I haven’t yet gotten to yours, but I’m working on it. Some are hard and I haven’t figured out how to answer them yet, while others are too short and don’t necessarily warrant a full post. So today’s blog is dedicated to those that are just too short.

Here’s a collection of random blog questions and answers.

How long should women’s fiction be? Is 270,000 words too long?

In the author’s own words, “yikes!” 200,000 words is too long. Women’s fiction is general fiction, mainstream, whatever you want to call it, it should be like most novels, in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words. Of course there’s always some leeway in there, but keep in mind in this crazy economy, publishers are really not happy to see longer books. They’re more expensive for everyone.

If an agent’s Web site doesn’t specifically mention to send snail mail or email queries, but provides both addresses, how should the query be sent? How can I ensure my query gets more face time?

However you want to send it, and as for guaranteeing more face time, that’s on your shoulders. Write a really great query.

When you (or another agent) ask for a chapter or pages to be pasted into the body of an email, does it need to be in any certain format? When I paste from Word into my email program, all formatting is lost. I've tried plain text and rich text with negligible results.

First let me clarify that I would never ask for material to be pasted into the email (other than the query itself). If I did, though, and even with queries, I want it to read as if it were the email. Maybe the best thing to do is paste it in and then reformat it using your email program? I don’t have an answer to this, but maybe other readers have some advice?

Earlier this year you mentioned that an editor was looking for “strong, poignant, commercial women’s fiction, not chick lit.” Can you elaborate a little on what type of stories we're talking about? What sort of heroines? What are the editors looking for?

What do you have? They would like to see older, younger, married, single, divorced, widowed, grandmothers, mothers, childless. . . . The key to these types of books isn’t necessarily that editors are looking for a particular story, but they want a story and characters that evoke certain feelings. How that’s done is up to the writer, that’s the beauty of a book.

Can you interpret the phrase: "I didn't make a strong enough connection with the manuscript in order to offer representation." I've had three agents respond in this way after reading my full manuscript and one agent respond this way after reading fifty pages. Is there some revision work I should be considering based on this information?

You’ve been rejected with a form rejection. Make revisions if you see the need, otherwise simply continue to plug away.

I have completed 41,00 words of my manuscript, which is approximately 50% of my book. At what point should I begin to contact literary agents?

When the book is done.

Several of us were comparing agent responses and noticed a weird trend . . . or lack of trend . . . with some agents and wonder if there was a rationale behind it. A group of us use the same query tracking system and have noticed that there will be huge gaps on no-response and we'll never hear back (we're talking 12+ months). But scattered in there will be a couple of rejections. When checked, these rejections are form letters that state nothing more than the typical "not for me" rejection. I'm all for the form letter. Is there a reason a very small number receive the rejection but the majority receive nothing? Is there something going on we don't know as writers?

I want so bad to say something really funny and snarky here, but I don’t think I’ve got it in me. What I will say is quit over-analyzing. Agents just don’t have that much time to plan elaborate ruses. I’m sure it’s just a fluke.

I have finished writing my first fiction novel. However, when I typed it out it ended up being about 75 pages. Is it me or does that seem a bit short? Of course, I haven't gone through and edited but the point of the story is completely in there. Can anyone give me any advice on this?

Let me clarify first that “fiction novel” is redundant. Learn to erase that phrase from your vocabulary. Second, even if you still need to double-space, 75 pages is far too short. I think the best advice I can give you is keep writing and join a writer’s group. You have about 250 pages to go before you have a book.

My professors keep telling me that student publications count as a publication, but I was wondering if they were worth mentioning in a query letter? What about writing articles for internships?

I’d definitely mention them, but only if you are newly out of school. Ten years later they aren’t going to have the same significance.

I have a question regarding query etiquette. Is it appropriate to mention, in a query letter, work that has not been published yet if the author has it on good authority that their work will be featured in a future magazine publication?

If by good authority you mean a contract, then yes, go ahead and mention it. Otherwise I would just be patient.



Nicole O'Dell said...

Great questions and awesome answers!


Martin Willoughby said...

If you have more of these questions that just require short answers, keep 'blogging' them.

Have you enough of them to do this for the rest of this week?

Rick Daley said...

Thanks Jessica!

In regard to inserting sample pages into emails, this is the best way to ensure the agent's email client preserves your formatting. I even do this with the query itself:

If you send using Outlook, format the email as Plain Text, not Rich Text or HTML.

Copy and paste your text from Word into Notepad. If you have a Windows PC, go to Start-Run and type in Notepad, or go to Start-Programs-Accessories-Notepad.

Pasting into Notepad will strip out all formatting (MS Word has a lot of code that you can't see when you copy & paste, and it can really muck up the formatting for the recipient).

You will probably need to re-format a lot of the line breaks when you paste it into your email, but it is worth the time.

The agent will read the text as you intend them to read it, not as a disorganized mess with line breaks where you don't want them, and missing line breaks where you do want them.

Anonymous said...

Great Q & A. Very helpful.

The Writers Canvas, Author Elaine Calloway said...

Thanks as always for the great blog posts, Jessica!

I also wanted to add, particularly for the form rejection portion of your post, that Nathan Bransford is doing a great blog series this week called "Be an Agent for a Day." It's in response to the many comments on AgentFail; go to his blog for more info.

I'll definitely say one thing: reviewing 50 queries and giving personal feedback (or anything beyond a form rejection) takes more time than I had originally imagined. I'm going to go back and thank all those agents who took the time to mention something--anything--about why the book was not for them. It may not be the best news in the world, but Nathan's blog this week proves that time is short; it's difficult to respond personally to everyone.


Jay Montville said...

Re: Putting text into an email-- when I was submitting I used "Internet formatting" for the text in the email. It has double- spacing between the paragraphs, single-spacing in the paragraphs, and no indenting...just like you see in this blog and many others. FWIW, none of the agents commented negatively on it, and a few agents have stated that this is their preference for text in an email.


Anita said...

I love Rick's info...also, I think it's a good idea to send the email to yourself before sending it to agents...I've caught a lot of formatting goofs that way.

Anonymous said...

On the "fiction novel" redundancy, I'm beginning to feel weird typing science-fiction novel in my query letters. Can somebody tell me if I'm overanalyzing?

Lauren Hunter said...

For yet more advice on formatting sample pages, this post by Colleen Lindsay is very helpful.

Bryan Russell said...

Answer: "When the book is done."

I was thinking you might want to add something like "And that includes multiple drafts of revisions." I just have the sneaking suspicion that many people who ask that question in mid first draft aren't thinking much about revision... though I could be wrong (and so I hope).

My best,
Bryan Russell

Kristin Laughtin said...

Thanks for answering the question re: pasting into the email (and thank you to all the commenters who elaborated with further insight and advice).

Wow, a lot of questions about appropriate length and completeness this week!

Diana Peterfreund said...

Anon SF writer, you are overanalyzing. "science-fiction" is a genre. It's like saying "romance."

So you can have a science fiction novel or a romance novel. No one will look at you askance for saying SF novel.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

Great questions and terrific answers. However, I am not clear about what you meant by "fiction novel" redundancy.


Jenna said...

"fiction novel" is a redundant term because all novels are fiction by definition.

Alexis Grant said...

Catching up on your posts... And I just noticed you answered one of my questions here. Thanks!