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[sticky post] moving day and news

Short and sweet.... it's been in the works for a bit, but this blog is now moving over to a Wordpress install at http://arcaedia.wordpress.com/.

The archived entries from livejournal have been imported there, but will be left here with comments turned off for the forseeable future. Wordpress also attempted to import comments but it appears a few may have gone missing.

ETA: Through the kind assistance of matociquala, LJ feed for the new blog available at agent_j_jackson

If you link to this blog, please update with the new site.

This post continuing at the new site with some big news in 3... 2... 1...

Click here.
Dear Agent Manners:

I hear that going to conferences is a great way to meet agents and other authors, but I'm a little confused about how I should approach an agent. Should I tap dance my way to them and declare myself the new Stephen King of J.K. Rowling material, dazzle them with slideshows from my laptop, throw queries and synopses in their faces, babble while pretending to be timid and sweaty?

Thanks,

Befuddled Arkansan (with no shoes or shirt, obviously)


Dear Befuddled:

Agent Manners' first suggestion is to relax. Most agents of my acquaintance seem to be more comfortable with those attendees that act naturally. Instead of treating the agent as a target to be acquired and launching into a pitch, have an opening that will begin a conversation. Perhaps you might read Mary Robinette Kowal's excellent advice on that very topic: Schmoozing 101.

I suspect if you asked Agent Janet, she'd suggest that you offer to buy the agent a drink. That could work on Agent Manners too. But choose your moment carefully. Agents are often heavily-scheduled at conferences, so respect their commitments and offer to get together at their convenience -- if their schedule has an opening. If it doesn't, keep the moment graceful and wait for a different opportunity.

Keep it casual. Keep it low-key. Let the agent steer. Most of them will appreciate a few moments of low pressure in the hailstorm of workshops, pitches, and meetings.
# of queries read this week: 163
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 2
genres of partials/manuscripts requested: mystery (1), fantasy (1)

***

This came in for Agent Manners but seemed appropriate to answer in a query wars post (since it isn't really an etiquette question, per se):

Dear Agent Manners,
A delicate question, here--just how many truly painful manuscripts do you have to slog through before you find one worth requesting? I see your weekly tally and wonder; and I don't mean manuscripts that don't fit your particular market or need a bit of tweaking, I'm talking about full on disasters. 50%? 70%? 90%?
Just how big IS the competition out there for every publishing slot?
Most Sincerely,
The Boggled Bogwitch (who is neither a witch nor does she live in a bog, even if she is somewhat flummoxed.)


Dear Boggled:
Once upon a time, good manners included the saying: "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." So, one hesitates to speak ill of the quality of queries, particularly since any writer reading this may take it very much to heart. However, I would direct your attention once more to the timeless Slushkiller post, particularly section 3, in which famous (or infamous) editor Theresa Nielsen-Hayden details the context of rejection. Her rendition seems painfully accurate, specifically her endnote:

"Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14 [buy this book - for those that didn't click through to read the details]. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor."

Based on the current statistics that have been posted on this blog this year, 1% of the queries submitted have resulted in a submission request.

I have not broken down the other 99% into specific categories, and given the amount of time that would require, am unlikely to do so. But, to be desperately, perhaps brutally, honest, I would venture a guess that at least 50% fall into the category you term "painful" above. Of those remaining many fall into (a) completely wrong for the agent in question (e.g. poetry, children's picture books, other things I don't handle), (b) Theresa's category #4 (Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language), (c) with an idea that is overly familiar, or (d) some combination of a, b, and c.

To make another educated guess, based largely on instinct from reading queries over the years, probably only 10% of the queries received make it into the "second pass" pile for further consideration. While these numbers make it patently obvious that the query process is flawed and inefficient, it remains, nevertheless, a necessary evil, simply due to the volume of inquiries most agents and editors receive.

Please do keep in mind that your mileage may vary from agent to agent on the overall statistics. And remember that the ultimate test is in the writing, so if you are sending me a query, include those first five sample pages (not chapter 34 as someone did this week). Hopefully this question was as delicately answered as it was tendered.

Good night, and good luck.
Dear Miss Manners,

I've been invited to submit to some agents. Is it rude to submit to others as well as the ones I met?

Baffled in Buffalo


Dear Baffled:

Unless any agent has requested and been granted an exclusive, Agent Manners feels that there is no etiquette precluding multiple submissions. However, it is polite to inform the agents that others are also reviewing the materials. (Note: This is for requested partials and manuscripts; any agent who doesn't assume these days that queries are going out far and wide is living under a rock.)

Though it isn't spelled out in the question, Agent Manners presumes that the agents met were at a conference and the other agents would be approached via the query method, which resulted in requests for materials to be submitted. By all means, make the submissions. Just deal with everyone honestly and openly.
Dear Agent Manners,

To piggy-back on some of the Writer's Conference questions.

I would like to attend a my first Writer's Conference this summer. My two concerns are 1) I won't know anyone, and 2) I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about myself. I am neither shy nor gregarious and I've always enjoyed attending conferences but I worry it will be a lot of writers there with their buddies, and agents schmoozing with each other.

Are Writer's Conferences like sororities (fraternities)? Or, can the serious, unpublished writer benefit from such an event as a social outcast?

Any suggestions on how to maneuver through one's very first conference would be appreciated.

Thanks for your time,

Trying to Make it Work in the PNW


Dear Trying in PNW:

Conveniently, Agent Manners can point you to this excellent post from Mary Robinette Kowal about Schmoozing 101 in which she gives some great advice. In particular, per your point #2, Kowal recommends the art of schmoozing through the device of "the other person is more interesting than you are."

Conferences can be a great experience, and an informative one, as well as a way to spend time with other writers who may understand more about all the challenges of the writing life than your family pet (no matter how good a listener Spot or Mittens might be). Agent Manners also reminds you that everyone was new at one point - even agents have their first conference where they don't know anyone. Agent Manners also advocates volunteering to help out - the convention organizers will appreciate you and introduce you to people, and you may get an opportunity to escort an agent or editor or author guest.

Since you are in the PNW, Agent Manners recommends the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. Agent Manners has attended this one in the past and it's a great conference with much to offer, and has a very good reputation among agents.
Dear Agent Manners,

I'm preparing to send out my novel, which is complete, and I also have a query letter I'm pleased with. My problem, however, is the summary. I'm having difficulty writing a summary I'm happy with that is both contained on one page and also includes all of the pertinant information.

I'm wondering how crucial the summary is when an agent is considering a project. How much weight does it carry? Should I spend a lot of time on it and delay sending out the project? Or should I go with what I have or skip it altogether?

Thanks so much for your time.

Sincerely,
Stuck on the Summary


Dear Stuck:

Agent Manners sympathizes. The synopsis has seemed to generate an incomparable amount of dread among submitters. But Agent Manners fears it may be a necessary evil because it can also be a helpful tool. While many agents (including this one) may read sample pages or partials first, turning to the synopsis gives an opportunity for the author to communicate the balance of the story in a situation where the entire manuscript may not yet have been requested. Still, it seems that many find this laborious task of summarizing their novel even more difficult than finishing the manuscript to begin with. Step back and remember what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish. It should tell the conflict points of the story and relevant details about the characters and setting in such a way as to augment the pitch in a query letter and/or the hook of the sample pages.

Perhaps it might help to think of the synopsis as similar to the cover copy that compels the reader in the bookstore to take a further interest in the book rather than just taking a quick glimpse at the first few pages and putting it back on the shelf. Except for the fact that a synopsis should include all the spoilers. And definitely the ending. (A synopsis that ends with -- "but to find out what happens, you'll have to read the manuscript" -- is bad form.)

Agent Manners advocates against "skip[ping] it all together" -- it is one more lens with which to view your work and may give the agent valuable information in deciding whether they will request a submission. Give it your best effort and view it as one more piece of leverage in having your book stand out from the many.
Dear Miss Manners:
Thank you for your generosity in providing this question and answer session.

I recently sent a query to an agent who had rejected a previous manuscript a year ago but invited me to submit any future work. I'd met a NY editor at a small conference and she requested the first 100 pages of my new story, then asked for the complete manuscript. I was flying high.

I contacted the agent and told her. She asked for a partial. The editor passed on the full. I contacted the agent again and told her what the editor had said in the rejection and withdrew the submission with the intention of improving it. She thanked me for the heads-up and said re-submit whenever you're ready.

My big question is, does this make me look like a flake? Was the agent just being nice and do I have a big stinky red-flag next to my name that warns her that I'm one of the bothersome ones?

Thanks again.

Red-faced in California.


Dear Red-Faced:

Agent Manners can make this short and sweet. Very few agents are inclined to "just be nice" -- just read this venting thread over on BookEnds and you will have ample evidence of that (though one hopes that some of those are the horror stories similar in percentage to the occasional bad and rude query and not the normal measure of agents' behavior). In Agent Manners' experience, if an agent asks for a resubmission, they are sincere as the day is long. After all, with the continuing deluge of queries, partials, and manuscripts on a daily basis, there is no need to ask for something one does not truly want. Agent Manners encourages you to resubmit to the agent in question as soon as your revisions have been completed.
Dear Miss Manners,

An acquaintance from college with whom I am no longer in close contact is an assistant editor at an imprint that publishes the kind of books I wish to publish. I would love to send her a copy of my manuscript, but am unsure if this is a good idea, or how best to do so. Do you have any advice on how best to leverage this stroke of good fortune?

Thanks,

Hopeful in New York


Dear Hopeful:

One can certainly appreciate the temptation to use any advantage in the competitive world of publishing where submissions vastly outnumber available publishing spots, particularly for new writers.

Agent Manners has had this experience herself, and numbers among inquiries received: ex-boyfriends, former professors held in great esteem, childhood friends of siblings, and so on. In Agent Manners' experience, a professional letter which casually mentions the past connection in passing is the most considerate approach. This gives the other person the opportunity to respond without any awkward feelings with regard to expectation, and also the ability to judge the work on its own merits. To presume upon the relationship (former, or otherwise) can put unwanted and unwarranted pressure on the individual in question, and cause the opposite effect desired.
Dear Agent Manners,

I will be attending a conference soon where I have the opportunity to pitch my work to an agent. However, my manuscript is only in the second draft, so I don't feel comfortable pitching it as I've heard agents want to hear about books that are more complete. I do have several questions I would like to ask an agent about this genre so that when the manuscript is ready, I will be properly prepared. Are most agents open to this, or is it viewed as a waste of their time?

Thank you,
Questioning in Texas


Dear Questioning:

Agent Manners wishes to commend you on even thinking of this issue in the first place. Having been the recipient of pitch sessions in which the author not only did not have a draft version of their manuscript but was still in the idea stage, it's good to know that some people think ahead. While one can certainly understand your desire to be able to discuss your questions with an agent, there are two things you should perhaps first consider.

(1) An agent may be amenable to answering these questions in some other venue of the conference. If there is a way to contact them beforehand, you may wish to attempt it. You can always offer to buy them a drink in the hotel bar or a coffee in the cafe and see if their schedule will allow for that. They aren't necessarily under an obligation to comply but may be able to do so, which leaves the opportunity open for....

(2) Another writer at the conference to be able to make a pitch with a completed and ready-to-go manuscript. Agent Manners has often heard a lament at conferences that the available number of slots for pitch sessions go very quickly and there are many who do not get the opportunity afforded by them even though they are also attending the same conference.

Agent Manners does not personally view pitch sessions in which the author chooses to spend their time securing other valuable information which may help them in the pursuit of publication as a waste of time, but has heard other agents express dissatisfaction after meeting with those who are unprepared to send their work. Most agents of my acquaintance take pitch sessions at conferences because they are looking for new clients and, therefore, will request submissions from likely candidates. Since many agents' lists have changing circumstances in terms of what they are seeking, it is in the best interest of the author to be able to follow up on such requests as soon as possible, while the agent may still recall their impassioned presentation clearly.
Dear Agent Manners:

I am breaking up with my old agent and looking for new representation. Just not a good fit. I have a book coming out in 2009 from a major publisher and my contract has an option for a second book. With a new agent, how would the option thing work? Am I still required to have the first agent shop my second book? And what do I need to let prospective agents know about my situation while they're considering me for their client list?

Sincerely,
Moving On


Dear Moving On:

This is a situation to handle with delicacy and diplomacy. But, first, if there is an agent-author agreement, that needs to be reviewed to see if it addresses your question. In most cases, since the book contract is between the parties of the author and the publisher, the option language only applies to those parties who have counter-signed the agreement. Therefore, the prior agent does not have a continued interest, though they will continue to be the agent-of-record for the book they previously sold. The new book can be handled by a new representative, and, by all means, you should inform them that there is pending option language (and give them information as to the identity of your editor and publisher) as they will have to honor that before making any additional submissions. Hope that helps and best of luck!

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