Pub Rants

Category: submission

When It’s Okay To Call An Agent

STATUS: The morning was devoted to following up on contracts in process but I did, oddly enough, get to do some editing on client work this afternoon. That’s pretty rare for me to accomplish that while at the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ASK THE LONELY by Journey

As most of you know, agents don’t take phone queries. We simply don’t have enough time in the day to take 5 minutes and listen to a pitch for every writer who wanted to call.

Just thinking about that makes me shiver.

So when is it okay to call an agent? Well, the list is pretty short so I’ll be able to sum it up quickly.

1. You are a previously published author with a great track record that’s looking for new representation. Agents will be happy to take your call.

2. You have an offer on the table from a respectable publisher with real money involved (a least a couple thousand dollars) and you are looking for an agent to negotiate the deal. Agents are happy to discuss this possibility via phone.

3. You have been personally referred by a current client and would like to request permission to send sample pages. (Actually I’d still prefer an email first but it would be okay if you called.)

4. You have a full manuscript request from me and it’s been more than 2 months and you are simply following up on the status. (Once again, I prefer you email but I think it’s professional and reasonable to call and follow up.)

I love technology but it can go astray. I’ve only had this happen once (knock on wood) but I was mortified when I realized what had occurred. I read a full manuscript, sent a lovely letter by email mentioning that I was passing with regret, and the writer never received it. (I can’t remember if it got spam blocked or if the writer had changed email addresses or what). This person ended up emailing the agency months later with a request for the status. I keep all letters sent so it was easy to email it again but I felt terrible that the writer had waited all that time to hear the news. And then to get bad news…

That’s pretty much it.

When folks do call, Sara handles it. For the occasional times I’ve answered the phone, I’m very nice but I simply direct the caller to our website and the submission guidelines listed there.

Do Agents Make Clients Revise?

STATUS: Snowing again in Denver. I think I’m tired of snow (and I thought I would never say that). By the way folks, I said SOME agents keep blacklists. I didn’t say I keep one. And if you’d rather I not be honest with you… then I certainly don’t have to share what is the truth in this biz. But personally, I’d rather let you know the inside scoop—even if it’s not shiny.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL STAR by Smashmouth

Do agents ask their new clients to revise?

In short, yes.

Here’s how it works for me (and I certainly don’t speak for all agents). I don’t sign a client on unless I feel comfortable with sending out the manuscript as is. Why? Because if the client decides not to revise, and that’s his/her choice, I have to be game to submit it regardless.

Now lucky for me, every single one of my clients has been delighted to get feedback. And when I send my critique electronically in track changes, I say, “take what works and ignore what doesn’t.”

Ultimately it’s their story so a revision has to feel right.

This is why I often pass, with regret, on manuscripts that I like a lot but just need too much work before I could be comfortable sending it out. Now often I’ll write a detailed letter to those writers if I’ve read the full in an attempt to give helpful feedback. Often I’ll give them the option to resubmit if they do choose to revise. The manuscript has to be pretty close or in my mind, easily fixed via a large revision.

When I send my revision suggestions to my authors, my comments aren’t always 100% right but what they discover is that I usually put my thumb on what is problematic—even if my proposed solution isn’t quite right. It just gets the author thinking and analyzing and often he/she will come up with a new solution that makes sense to them and the manuscript.

They revise based on that. Now they always feel obligated to explain their reasoning for not making my suggested change, which mostly amuses me because they don’t have to. It’s their novel; their word goes.

It Takes A Freakin’ Village To Buy A Book

STATUS: TGIF! I’m feeling decent. Did I finish everything on my list for today? No but I came close and that’s always amazing since I usually have 10 things that have to be done and only one actually gets accomplished. I have two outstanding things that I’ll finish up (probably tomorrow) and email off to my clients. What’s that adage about all work and no play?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TUB THUMPING by Chumbawamba

When I stop to actually think about it, I’m generally amazed that any book gets bought at all. Why? Because think about the levels of difficulty involved in the process. Sometimes it’s hard enough to find that one editor who loves it and will champion it through the process but since books are bought by committee, it’s darn near a miracle when an editor gets the second reads and the editorial director in love with it as well (not to mention the marketing director and sometimes the publisher). In reality, it takes a village (of at least 5 or 6 publishing people) to buy a book.

So imagine how heartening it is to find not just one editor who loves a work on submission but three and then imagine how heartbreaking it is to have those editors go for second reads, get full support from those reads to take it to ed. Board, get folks excited there, but ultimately the offer gets squelched from a higher up like the editorial director or the publisher and boom, the project gets no offer.

Rejection is always painful but nothing compares to that. To know your book might not be bought solely because of market conditions and not because of lack of talent or because no editors felt the love.

Squashed by the bottom line.

In general, that tends to tick me off as an agent but as I’ve said before and will probably say again. Publishing is a business. P&L statements are the ultimate decision-makers.

End of story.

Was That Requested Material?

STATUS: I made quite a few editors excited with the submission I sent out today. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AND WHEN I DIE by Blood, Sweat, & Tears

I have to say that most of the writers I talk to and interact with are wonderful. They are interesting, engaging, ask smart questions, follow guidelines, and don’t waste an agent’s time.

I just had to chuckle when my agency received a full manuscript out of the blue via the mail two days ago. First off, we never ever ask for a full manuscript to be snail mailed to us. Ever. Even from day one of my agency, I’ve always allowed a writer to send it to me by email. It’s the only time I allow a submission via that medium. Mainly because I don’t ask for that many fulls (54 total last year if you read my statistics entry) and I can do an intense virus scan before allowing that sucker to download.

And as y’all know, even snail mailed paper submissions are a thing of the past here at the Nelson Agency. I’m launching the new electronic submission database this week. The first request emails are probably going out tomorrow. Now if something comes via snail mail, we’ll KNOW that it wasn’t requested.

But I highlight this simply as a gentle reminder that it doesn’t help you or pay to circumvent the system. We really don’t want to read your work unless we’ve asked for it via the query process. Most agents simply discard unrequested material—no response sent.

I know that sounds harsh but I’ve said it here numerous times and I’ll say it again, the sheer volume of what we receive (even when we have actually requested it) is so large, we haven’t got time for the unrequested stuff. And now for us, the unsolicited stuff will be pretty darn obvious and I’m warning you now, we plan to discard it.

It’s also a small test. Do you understand publishing, agenting, and how the submission process works? Can you follow directions, instructions, or guidelines? Even these annoying steps (and I know they are annoying because every agent has his/her own unique, jump through the silly hoops, guidelines) acts as a filter for those who are truly serious about writing and publishing. Only the really serious would take the time to learn the biz and navigate the submission process.

Right there that’s an indicator to us that you have the fortitude and fortitude is an essential quality to becoming a future client.

Weight Of An E-Credit?

STATUS: Today I got a first look at our new sample pages upload database. Totally cool but it won’t be live until January 2007. We still need to work out a few kinks. The idea of going completely paperless is pretty exciting!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL MY LOVE by Led Zeppelin

Speaking of paperless, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about e-publishing while doing internet interviews and chat loops lately. The biggest question seems to be whether an
e-publishing credit carries any weight with agents.

As always, this is going to vary depending on the agent. I tend to note them but the truth is they don’t impress very much. For some agents, not at all.

The only exception currently seems to be in the field of erotica where a lot of the erotic
e-publishers really paved the way for the genre to go more mainstream. A lot of e-authors are getting agents for the first time and deals with traditional publishers.

For erotica, it can carry some heft.

Does it hurt your chances? I don’t think so but as I like to remind writers, if you sell the e-rights to your project it can preclude a later print rights sale since most publishers often want to buy the print and electronic rights at the same time and if the electronic rights are tied up…

If you go the e-publishing route, be sure to get a reversion clause in your contract so the rights will revert back to you after a certain amount of time or volume of sales etc. You don’t want the e-rights held into forever. In a phrase, that would be bad.

Myth Buster #3—Out To Lunch

STATUS: Feeling a little despondent. It’s my last day in the tropics. I hear it’s going to snow in Denver on the day we return. How’s that for climate shock?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? No little iPod. Why I didn’t travel with it is a mystery to me.

So just what exactly to editors and agents do when out to lunch?

We eat of course—and the good stuff. After all, editors don’t get paid a ton of money (until they’ve been in the biz awhile, have a couple of big sellers on their rosters, and have worked up to being senior editors or higher). One of the editor perks is that they have expense accounts to take the agents out to lunch.

Yep. You heard that right. Publisher pays for lunch.

Nothing crazy exorbitant (unless you are the agent of one of the big sellers on the editor’s roster) but definitely nice. And editors have their favorite joints—usually within walking distance of the publishing house because as I mentioned yesterday, lunching is time-consuming and both parties pretty much want to jump right back into work. No wasting time in a cab or on the subway to hightail it back to the office.

What do we do?

We talk. I’d say, on average, 10 to 15 minutes of the lunch might actually be about business. It depends on whether the editor has a client of mine or not. If there is big business to discuss (like an issue, or a publicity/marketing campaign outline, or something along those lines, then that meeting is always done at the publishing house so all the key players can be involved—lunch or dinner then comes afterwards). Sometimes all the key players will come and other times, just the editor.

Publishing folks are busy. It took two months of scheduling to set up a meeting with me, my client, her editor, the editorial director, the head of publicity, and the head of marketing. The publisher just popped her head in to say hello. To get all these people together for lunch might take more than 2 months of scheduling. Big smile here. It happens though.

So lunches are usually just with the editor. What writers need to understand is that the business of publishing is all about who you know and your connection to the editors. If the editor is new to me, lunch isn’t about pushing business (how rude would that be) but about getting to know the editor, his or her tastes, what writers he or she has on the list. Can you send me copies of your list favorites? When the copies come, I read those books and take notes in my database regarding that editor so I’ll know what she likes and what submissions of mine might work for her.

Agenting is about relationships and that’s what is solidified over lunch. The agent is a person the editor wants to do business with and vice-versa.

If I have something in the submission hopper, I talk about it. I’ve certainly sent a project to an editor who wouldn’t have originally been on the submission list because of a lunch conversation. (But to be honest, the majority of sales don’t happen this way. I have better sales history when my submission list is carefully targeted but you never know. Sometimes an editor has a secret passion that is only revealed over lunch and boom, I’ve got a new submission where that passion is the main subplot or propels the story. Suddenly that editor is the perfect person to look at it. It happens.)

Often, I’ll give a copy of my client list to the editor so they can have it as a reference. Editors often request copies of my clients’ books. Maybe they have been hearing buzz and want to read what everybody is talking about. I’ll send Sara a quick note to get a copy out to the editor.

And yes, sometimes editors want to take you to lunch so they can casually chat about a client of mine published by another house. It’s their job to find out if that client is perfectly happy because if they are not…

But for the most part, we talk about life. What we are doing. Our hubbies, boyfriends, or girlfriends. A new baby. A recent trip. A fun movie we saw. Something crazy that happened on the subway literally on my way to this lunch (and for some reason, this happens a lot to me…). We create a powerful connection.

This is what lunch is actually all about.

Myth Buster #2—Lunching Is No Daily Event

STATUS: I’m heading to the beach in 5 minutes. What mood do you think I’m in?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? No little iPod.

Writers have a romantic view of agents dreamily heading out to lunch with editors on a daily basis. We dine and do business over yummy sushi or whatever.

Actually there are two myths involved here.

Myth #1—Daily lunches

Myth #2—Conducting deal business over lunch.

So let’s tackle Myth 1 to start.

If editors and agents actually lunched every day, they would never get enough work done. Lunches take a huge chunk out of the day—on average about 2 hours. We don’t lunch lightly. It has to be worth the time investment considering that both of us will have to stay late in order to finish what didn’t happen while we were out to lunch. We literally haven’t got time for daily lunches.

Since I’m out in Denver (but travel to New York often—as do all other non-NYC based agents), I decided to poll some of my New York-based agent friends to see how often they went to lunch with editors. After all, they are just right there. They should be lunching often. Once a week. Twice a week? What do you think?

Now obviously this will really vary per agent. Some might lunch more than others.

On average, my NYC-based agent friends went to lunch with editors about twice a month. That adds up to about 24 to 30 lunches in a year.

Guess how many lunches with editors I do in a year? You guessed it. About 24-30 lunches.

And here’s another aspect of this (and this is true for NYC-based agents as well as Non-NYC agents). A lot of these lunches are not done in New York City.


These lunches can occur at Book Expo (which is not always held in the Big Apple), at RWA, World Fantasy, World Con, BoucherCon, ThrillerFest, Children’s Book Fair, and gosh yes, even at the popular writers conferences.

Not in NYC.

And here’s another myth buster for you. It can happen but it happens rarely that an actual deal will be negotiated over lunch. That’s not the kind of business we do when eating (Deal making and digestion—two things that shouldn’t go together). So tomorrow, I’ll give you a little peek inside what actually does occur at the editor/agent lunch.

Myth Buster #1—Walk This Way

STATUS: Okay, I have a secret to divulge. I didn’t go to World Fantasy because I opted to be in the Caribbean with my hubby for his business trip. For me, it’s mostly vaca with a light smattering of reading work for current clients. Hence, it will probably be blog light all week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? No little iPod.

I just had to chuckle at one of the posted comments from Friday’s entry about agents walking the manuscript over to the editor. Because no agent, even if they live in the Big Apple, would ever walk a manuscript over to a publishing house therefore saving the messenger fee.

Why? Well, first, who wants to lug loads of paper around the subway? But here’s the real reason. Agents don’t mail manuscripts these days. I kid you not. We email it. There are some exceptions (and agents know the editors who will insist on a hard copy etc.).

It’s very rare that I’ll actually snail mail a manuscript. For the good majority of my projects, there’s not enough time. I’ll have an offer in within days and if an editor asked for a hard copy, he or she probably hasn’t even received it before the excitement gets going. I end up emailing it anyway.

And I want to be very clear that I’m not poking fun at this comment poster. In fact, I think the he or she is brilliant for bringing it up because this puts me in mind for a whole series of rants I could do this week about publishing misconceptions and the perceived advantages and disadvantages of being based in New Yor (or not) and how we actually work.

The “manuscript mailing costs” just being one of them.