Pub Rants

Category: new clients

Why Agents Need Full Manuscripts

STATUS: I can’t believe it’s 6 pm and I’m now starting what was on my actual TO DO list for the day. It’s just been one of those.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GRAPE FRUIT- JUICY FRUIT by Jimmy Buffett

If you are a debut author, agents sell your first novel based on a complete manuscript. There are certainly some rare exceptions where a novel might sell on a partial but usually because the author has some kind of strong background in the arena (say as an established screenwriter or prestigious short story credits) that gives the publisher assurance that the writer can pull it off.

Once published and established, lots of authors simply submit a synopsis and the first three chapters to sell the next project.

But for debut authors, why do agents need fulls?

For one very basic reason, I’ve read several requested full manuscripts that were excellent for about 150 pages and then went totally south. And in such a way that I believed the revision to be so large, I wasn’t willing to commit to it with the author.

This happens. Often.

I have to know that a brand new author can carry the novel to a satisfying conclusion. That all the elements will fall into place in a masterful way. Usually a novel’s climax happens two-thirds of the way in the work (not in the first 150 pages), so a full becomes crucial so as to evaluate it.

Just lately, I’ve read two full manuscripts all the way till their conclusions—only to ultimately pass on offering representation. This is rather rare. I can usually tell 100 to 150 pages in whether something is going to work for me or not.

So what was up with these two? I loved certain aspects of the novels. For one, I loved the writing but the story just wasn’t being compelling for me. I read all the way to the end in the hopes that I could finally put my finger on what was bothering me so I could have something useful to say to the writer. I actually never was able to articulate it. Despite really strong writing, I just didn’t feel passionately about it.

For the other, I read to the end because I wanted to see how the work ended and whether the conclusion would give me insight into whether this author could revise enough to make it worth offering an editorial letter with an eye to revising.

As you can imagine, fully editing a manuscript and writing up an editorial letter is really time consuming so I have to be convinced that it might be worth my time. If the ending really wows me, that can be the clincher. Unfortunately for this title, the ending didn’t sway me and I passed altogether. I did write up some of my concerns in my one-page response but it certainly wasn’t a whole editorial letter. (Just FYI—a good editorial letter on my part can easily take 2 hours to write.) If I’m not won over, I won’t commit to the time needed to create it.

Had I not had the full for either, I would have definitely passed. Now I passed anyway with these two fulls but I was looking for a reason to be swayed the other direction. That wouldn’t have happened without the complete work. And I can name two current clients who I asked to revise a full novel significantly before I offered representation. Similar circumstance to the above but in these two instances, I swayed to the side of accepting rather than rejecting.

5 In 4 Weeks

STATUS: Feeling a bit better today. The next day is always the real test with this cold.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CONSTANT CRAVING by k.d. lang

At the beginning of the year, I think most of us in publishing, especially agents, were assuming there was going to be a big slow down in the deals done, books bought, new authors breaking in etc. At the very least, one assumed that any submission might take a few more weeks or a few more months to place.

And all of the above may be end up being true but here’s some good news. In the last four weeks, we’ve done 5 book deals.

For the stats, four of those deals were for already established clients but one of the deals was for a spanking new writer. A debut.

So hey, if you’ve been feeling the pinch, sensing the negativity in the air, worried about whether you’ve got a shot at getting your dang novel published, I’m here to say that business is happening.

And on top of that, I signed a new client last week. Never-before-published writer and
this new novel is brilliant. I can’t wait to shop it.

I’m feeling very optimistic and so should you.

Pets In Space

STATUS: Getting an early start on today’s blog as I know the event is probably going to go late again tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ONE FLIGHT DOWN by Norah Jones

A couple of weeks ago, one of my new authors, Gail Carriger, was blogging about why SF & F novels don’t have pets in them. After all, they are an essential part of life in the twenty-first century. It would follow that they’d still be important in the future.

Of course I started laughing because I honestly hadn’t thought about that but then I emailed her and said, “well obviously you have not read Linnea Sinclair.”

Linnea has pets in space.

In fact, there is a pet in her latest SF novel entitled HOPE’S FOLLY that, speak of the devil, releases today. It’s one of the reasons why I love her stuff so much. Her worlds always feel effortlessly fully developed.

Happy Release Day Linnea!

With this electrifying new novel, RITA® award-winning author Linnea Sinclair delivers her most intensely romantic interstellar thriller yet. This time a woman and a rebel leader join forces—and fates—on an impossible mission of romance and revolution that’ll turn them into the galaxy’s most wanted fugitives…


Rya Bennton has been in love with Admiral Philip Guthrie since she was a girl. But can her childhood fantasies survive a hazardous encounter with the newly minted rebel leader? Not much can rattle Philip’s legendary cool—but Rya does. She’s the daughter of his best friend and first commander—a man whose death is still on Philip’s conscience. Now aboard his command ship Hope’s Folly, this man who feels he can’t love and this woman who believes she’s unloveable will put their hearts and lives at risk. Not just with each other…but against an enemy that will stop at nothing to crush them both.

Two Clients For The Year 2008

STATUS: Gotta love the Denver weather forecasts. Yesterday a weather person mentioned that there might be a slight chance of flurries during the morning commute. Yeah, it started snowing at 5 a.m. and by the time rush hour hit, there was close to a half of foot of snow on the ground. Snowstorm didn’t end until 10 this morning. Slight flurries turned into about 7 inches worth of snow in downtown Denver—probably more near the foothills. Still, I’m cheery. I like a good snow—otherwise I wouldn’t live here!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD by Van Morrison

When I posted my end of year stats, there were a lot of comments on that fact that I had only taken on 2 clients for all of last year. Why only 2? It’s a good question so I did a little ruminating on the subject. I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share.

1. Yes, I took on only 2 clients for the year of 2008. But take a moment to look at the end of year stats for 2007. I took on 8 clients. That was a huge spit of growth in a short period of time. I’m only one person and there’s only so much I can do in my day to service my client list. Yes, I delegate to Sara, to my contracts manager, to my subrights people, to my foreign rights representative, to my film co-agents but all of that still needs oversight. I’ve gotten a real sense of what I can manage and still be a good agent to my clients. Two makes complete sense in that context.

2. No, my client list is not “full.” I’m still reading fulls and looking at projects but I have to say that how I look at them has shifted. I’ve got a great list. I really have to love the project to take it on.

Please note here that my loving the project is not the same as the project being salable.
I can pass on a project that another agent takes on and then sells. I know for a fact that this happened several times in 2008 so obviously I passed on some worthy projects. And yet, I didn’t sigh in regret when I saw the deals posted [except for one project and I blogged about that].

I’m not the final arbitrator on a novel’s sell ability. My NO really means very little if you think about it in this context.

3. Sara and I looked at 88 manuscripts. Several were close calls for us but ultimately, when all the factors came down to it, we were only passionate about two of them to make the full commitment.

Now I know that writers often perceive agents as gatekeepers but in my situation, it’s really wasn’t a question of gate-keeping so much as time commitment. Think of it this way; it takes just as much time for me to take on, work on, and then submit a novel that sells for 5k as it does for 500k. In this light, I should only take on the novels that will sell for big money, right? Seems cost effective … and yet I, and other agents take on “small” projects all the time—projects we know aren’t necessarily going to go to auction or sell for big money but yet we love the story; we see the author’s potential. They might not get the big money out of the gate but we believe in the growth. But you gotta have the passion for the project and the author to wait for the big pay off which, by the way, may never come. Not all authors break out.

So yes, I took on only 2 authors last year but I gave those two my absolute all without (hopefully!) neglecting other clients.

And no, don’t ask me when my client list will be “full” as I don’t have an answer to that. It balances and changes on so many factors.

Agent Stages

STATUS: Feeling pretty good about what I accomplished today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FEVER by Michael Bublé

I’m in a philosophical mood tonight. I’ve been thinking about agents and the different places we can be in our careers. I’ve been chatting with agent friends who are starting to build their lists. I’m chatting with agent friends who have been around for 25 years. I’ve been chatting with agent friends who are in what I would call mid-career—right around 10 to 15 years.

And what’s clear to me is that there are agent stages.

Stage 1: The new agent who is building his or her list. What’s most important to this person are these things: a) finding projects that will sell, b) establishing one’s taste, c) teaching editors that one’s opinion can be trusted.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this stage. After all, every agent I know has a story of an author they took on but probably shouldn’t have. We also have a story of the author we sold for little money and then the client exploded and did well.

Stage 2: The building agent. This is an agent with a few years under his or her belt. Some success. Is really building into a player. Now this to me is the most interesting stage to contemplate. Everything is crucial in this phase of the agent’s career.

And nothing strikes me as more crucial than an understanding of how many clients a given agent can take on and represent well. This number will obviously vary for different people and for different reasons.

For me, I’ve always been careful (and pretty picky) about what I’ve taken on but I can feel a shift happening. I have 30 clients currently. I’m not convinced that I’m “full” per se. There is always room for that project that just sweeps me off my feet and I’m really excited about. Or there’s room for a project in a field I’m looking to continue building my reputation in (such as SF&F which has been a slow build at my agency).

But there’s not room for just any project I know that will sell. It really has to blow me away to have me contemplate taking on a new writer because I know that the time I give to this new writer must balance with the time given to current clients.

So what’s interesting to me as of late is that I’m passing on a lot of projects that when I respond to the writer, I tell them I’m pretty sure this is going to sell but I’m not going to be the agent doing that sale. And a bit about why.

Is there a point to this entry? Not sure actually. The point might be that newer (and often times younger) agents have lists to build. Your odds of landing an agent as a debut author might be a little higher when an agent is hungry.

But let me tell you, even established agents, agents with “full” client lists love the day when they read a full manuscript they can’t live without. That feeling, that discovery desire, never goes away. There’s always room for that magic project—which is why writers shouldn’t give up on established agents either.

More about a couple of other stages tomorrow.

Aloha from Kauai

STATUS: Off to hike the Na Poli coastline!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Some lovely Hawaiian music

If you hadn’t figured it out, I’m on vacation this week. After flying to Honolulu for the Maui Writers Conference (on the road), Brian and I couldn’t resist a little vacation time.

But it hasn’t been all play and no work so a few pictures to keep you entertained.

Here is Sarah Rees Brennan and I having our first official client/agent meeting at the Outrigger Reef Hotel.

Secret agent meeting at the Puka Dog on Wakiki! As featured on the Travel channel I am told.
Pictured: Holly Root (Waxman Agency), Cathy Fowler (Redwood Agency), my husband Brian. Not pictured but there is Jeff Kleinman (Folio Literary).

And while dashing into the Kauai Walmart to buy more sunscreen, I couldn’t resist a quick peek at the bookshelves. Lo and behold, DELICIOUS has prime real estate.

Have a great rest of your week and I’ll be back and blogging normally on Monday!

Agent Matchmaker

STATUS: I’ve been working on queries tonight. Honestly, that’s what I’ve been reading for the past hour. I’m going to need another 2 hours at least to complete what’s in my inbox but haven’t you ever notice that sometimes it’s the thought of starting the task that keeps you from diving in? Once started, it never seems as bad…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT HAD TO BE YOU by Harry Connick, Jr.

Writers often want to know if agents ever recommend other agents for a project they might be passing on.

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Just this week I played matchmaker for a well-established author who had amicably parted with her agent of many years (like 18—it was a long time). She was going in a new direction and hadn’t felt supported so it was time to move on.

One of my authors actually sent her my way so of course I read her sample pages with alacrity.

And it was obvious by page four that she was a fabulous author but I was so not the right agent for her. The genre she was working in was a bit of a stretch for me but sometimes that can be invigorating. I like to take on projects that stretch the boundaries but this was just a mis-fit.

So, I asked her permission to share her query with several agent friends who I thought would be a good fit. Of those agents who responded with a “yes, would love for her to contact me,” I compiled a list and sent to her.

And today I found out she signed with a very dear friend of mine. So fun! I’m thrilled that she kept me in the loop and as she was so lovely to work with, I had begun to wonder if I was a bit daft to not be snatching up this talent. Still, I find that it rarely works out when agents take on projects that aren’t a good fit but they try anyway.

So yes, agents do recommend other agents. I must admit that this doesn’t happen as often for projects I pass on from unpublished authors but it does occasionally happen there as well.

What’s In An Edit (Manuscript before Submission)

STATUS: Today was about working out the glitches in the new software. But I think we are finally done with that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CHICKENMAN by Indigo Girls

This weekend I was working on editing for current clients. I know this has been a question that I’ve received a couple of times at conferences. Do all agents edit their client manuscripts and how does that work?

Well, I can’t speak to all agents but this is how it works at my agency. This answer has several components and I actually only have time to handle one aspect of it in today’s entry. Tomorrow I’ll try and go into a bit more depth.

Let’s say I take on a brand new client who has never been published. When I read their full manuscript that I’ve offered representation for, I will usually do an edit with the client before it goes on submission.

Sometimes the manuscript is in great shape and just needs a few tweaks here and there. Sometimes it needs a bit more work (in plot or character—never in voice or in the quality of the writing) and I have that revision conversation while I’m offering representation so the client can have a good idea of what might be involved if they sign with me.

Seems only fair to know the scope…

Now, there are different approaches to editing as well. I have to be honest and say I’m not much of a line editor. I’m more of a big picture kind of gal, and I concentrate my edits on fixing plot issues, building character development, or just forcing the author to dig deeper into the writing and pull out all the stops their talent allows.

I do all my editing electronically in track changes in Word, so the manuscript can be sent by email. I add my comments directly into the scenes so the author can know and understand what I was thinking the moment I thought a revision point needed to be done.

Now, it’s always the author’s call if my editorial note is on target or not. I’ve been told that I will often highlight the problem but not necessarily the best solution and the author comes up with a better way to handle whatever I’ve pointed out.

And that’s just fine with me. It is the author’s work after all and he/she will always have final say.

I also edit obvious grammar and punctuation issues.

Calling All Conference Organizers

STATUS: It’s suppose to snow later today so I’m working a bit from home, then walking Chutney early while on my way to the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEY THERE DELILAH by Plain White T’s

Considering I just finished attending the Northern Colorado Writers Conference (and a big shout out to Kerrie who single-handedly pulled off a terrific, well-organized conference up there), I found Jessica’s comments on Conferences over there at Bookends to be pretty spot-on.

I strongly recommend any conference organizer to hop over there and take some notes.

But Kerrie of NCW and I got into another great conversation over the weekend when I was in Fort Collins and I’d love it if conference organizers can add this to their list as well.

When agents attend conferences and participate in pitch session, our basic hope is to potentially find a new client in the mix. It doesn’t happen too often but I have found two of my clients from conferences so I’m always optimistic. After all, what are pitch sessions for if not to hook up a writer with an agent?

Now for a pitch session to work, the writer needs to have a completed full manuscript. Why? Because if an agent likes the sound of the project, she’ll ask for sample pages (probably the first 30 or 50 pages). If the agent likes what she reads, she’ll want to request the full novel (and that can happen just a couple of weeks after sample pages are requested so a writer needs to be ready).

If there is no full manuscript, therein lies the problem.

As a writer, you always want to put your absolutely best writing foot forward—so you shouldn’t need to rush or send in a novel prematurely just because an agent requested it and the full wasn’t ready.

It’s a good way of getting a rather prompt rejection and then that avenue is closed (as you only get one shot at an agent) until you either do a significant revision and resubmit (but an agent is always going to be slightly hesitant about a resubmit—see my previous blog post on Love The Second Time Around) or you have a new novel to shop. Which can take a year or more to prepare.

But most new writers don’t realize this. They see “pitch session with Agent” and sign right up because who wouldn’t want to talk with an agent, right?

But ultimately, a writer can’t pitch a project that doesn’t exist or is unfinished because there is nothing for me to see at this point in time. Out of my 12 appointments at NCW, I only requested sample pages from 4 participants as all the others either had just started a project, were in the middle, or had only an idea for a novel.

I hate to say it but that made these pitch sessions a waste of my time because I ONLY want to talk to authors who have project ready to be read. Sorry if that sounds heartless but it is the truth. Writers with “ideas” for a great novel are a dime a dozen. It’s that one in a hundred writer who actually has the perseverance and stamina to sit down and write the entire thing (which is a huge achievement all in itself since the majority of aspiring writers never even make it that far).

Not to mention, how many great writers did I miss who did have a completed novel because my pitch slots were full? Ack.

So here’s what I’d like to add to Jessica’s list. I know it makes more work for the conference organizers but it would make a HUGE difference in the power of the pitch sessions.

Please don’t allow just anyone to sign up for a pitch with an agent. All interested writers should submit a mini application to pitch that includes the following:

1. Title of project
2. Genre
3. Word count
4. Is the manuscript complete? Yes or No.
5. previous publications if any
6. Why is this agent the right fit for your project?

If the writer checkmarked NO for number 4, then the pitch session is denied. If the manuscript is finished, then the conference organizer can check the project next to the agent’s bio (which should include a list of what they are currently looking for) and make sure it is a match. Then sign the writer up for the pitch.

Most conferences right now assume that writers will do their homework (because heck, that would only be to their advantage) and sign up with the appropriate agent.

I find that this is rarely true. In fact, I’ve even had authors pitch me projects my agency clearly doesn’t represent and when I ask why, they will often say that the other agent slots were full and they just wanted to practice the agent pitch.

Argh! I’m always polite but I don’t want to be somebody’s practice session! I only want to hear about projects that might get me a new client whose project I can sell!

Calling all conference organizers! I beseech you to take this extra step. All agents will thank you.

My 8 New Clients And Where They Came From

STATUS: Oh baby. Ally Carter is still on! This week, CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY is at #5 on the New York Times hardcover list and I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU is #2 on the NYT paperback list. Do I see #1 in our future? I’m praying for it!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU GOT LUCKY by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

I’m really starting this year on a roll. I just took on a new client today. With that in mind, it occurred to me that I didn’t really explain how I found the 8 new clients from last year and that info might make for an interesting blog. Or not. Let me know.

If the client has already sold, I used his/her name.

Brooke Taylor—young adult
Brooke is an interesting story. I actually met her in person at an RWA chapter conference a year before she queried me with her novel UNDONE. She knew a couple of my authors and had mentioned that info as well as our previous meeting in her query letter. That certainly made me pay more attention to it when it came in.

Sarah Rees Brennan—young adult fantasy
Sarah simply sent a query letter by email—going through our standard email query submission process.

Jamie Ford—literary fiction
Jamie did the same.
Helen Stringer—middle grade fantasy
Helen came to me via an agent friend recommendation. My agent friend doesn’t rep middle-grade so she asked me if she could send this author my way. So glad she did!

Client 5—young adult
This client is a currently published author who had left her previous agent. She knew several of my clients and asked if they would give me a heads up that she would query me about new representation.

Client 6—young adult fantasy
I met this client at the Surrey International Writers Conference in Vancouver, B.C. She had a pitch appointment with me. I loved her title right off so was eager to see sample pages just based on that. She didn’t disappoint!

Client 7—young adult
This client was a direct referral from one of my current clients. She is previously published in the adult world but her agent didn’t want to handle children’s on her behalf so I took her on.

Client 8—women’s fiction
This client was also a direct referral from one of my current clients.

I’m so glad my clients know really great authors who are looking for representation. It certainly helps to have that referral to help you get the agent’s attention, but it’s not the only way. A really good or intriguing query letter or pitch can do the trick as well.