Saturday, November 04, 2006


Apparently my last post was accidentally cross-posted in some alternate universe in which people are born without the mass of brain known for processing "rationality" and instead just have a giant impulse center that forces them to hit "Leave Your Comment" on every website they see.

Allow me to repost:

Question: "When your boss makes a sale, does expect her client to send her a gift?" [In other words, is the agent/client relationship a tipping situation?]

Answer: No, it is not a tipping situation. Gifts are not necessary. If you feel compelled to give one, it will be appreciated, but try not to send bulky or perishable items that will take up space in the office and/or go bad if the agent happens to be on vacation. Do not send food, as you don't know if the agent is vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, allergic to peanuts, allergic to gluten, diabetic, on TPN (intravenous feeding), or is fasting while sitting under a Bodhi tree to attain Enlightenment.

I hope this clears everything up.

(P.S. If your agent is sitting under a Bodhi tree to attain Enlightenment, he/she may be doing that for a while and you should probably seek literary representation elsewhere.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Giving of Gifts

When your boss makes a sale, does expect her client to send her a gift? Flowers, perhaps? A bottle of champagne? Something more expensive if it was a big sale?

No. We expect our fifteen percent. Actually we take it, because the publisher writes us a check and then we cut a smaller check to send to the author. It's part of the author/agent relationship and it's written into the publishing contract under the agency clause.

Gifts are actually sort of annoying. A lot usually come in at Christmas time, from authors on our client list who haven't written anything for a while and from publishing houses. This is a problem when they are gift baskets that contain fruit or something else that expires, because very often, the agent isn't in the office on Dember 24-25 and so the package might sit on the desk until January 2nd. Once I went in on December 23rd or so to handle the mail while my old boss was away, and I called her up because we'd gotten this huge gift package from some offer that contained a lot of different types of fruit and candy. She said, "Well, I'm not coming in to pick it up, so just take it home and eat it or whatever. Oh, and remember to tell me what it contained so I can write a thank you note." A lot of the items were unkosher and therefore went uneaten by me. Waste of money.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Sad Scam of Professional Editors

Every once in a while a writer comes along that I feel sorry for, not because I'm crushing their hopes and dreams by mailing them a rejection, but because they've clearly got no clue what they're doing.

Today we got an unrequested full manuscript. This happens from time to time - usually the author tries to make it seem in the query like it was requested by being vague. (We hate that) Today the manuscript was an especially long piece of historical fiction, something like 150K. That's not totally unacceptable for historical fiction if it's a sweeping epic, by the way (Shogun must be well over 200K), but the poor guy mailed it unrequested, and it obviously cost him a fortune to do so - especially because he sent it priority from Canada.

Rubbing salt in his own wounds was his mention of using a "profesional editor" for his manuscript. There are professional editors out there who are actually professionals, and you don't know who they are. They're usually individuals who get contract work from agencies and publishing house editors who know them and are willing to shell out the money for their services. It's sort of an in-industry thing - we only contact a professional editor if we know them personally and know their track record.

He even included the recommendation letter from the editor, who was from some scam editing company in Canada. I know the pain of being tricked into "professional" editing companies. When I was sixteen, after a slew of rejections for my terrible novel, I shelled out about $600 of my Bat Mitzvah money to use the services of a company. I think it was Edit Inc. Anyway, I got the manuscript back and all they had done was change around some punctuation. They didn't mention the obvious problems with the novel, which I had written when I was thirteen and actually made very little sense because, well, I was thirteen.

These companies usually charge by the page (I think the rate I got was 5 cents a page) or by every hundred words, so this author shelled out big for the editing, which clearly did nothing for his manuscript. I'm particularly tough on historical fiction, because I have a BA in history and about half the books I read for fun are history books, and historical fiction is really a genre that requires a lot of research and if you make a mistake, I probably have enough expertise to catch it. Well, I didn't get more than three paragraphs in before the first mistake.

The story took place in Roman Britain and the main character was a rather foul-mouthed Briton. He was so foul-mouthed that he apparently had gone forward in time to learn new curse words that hadn't been invented yet. Shit is legitimately a word that predates the Norman invasion (1066), but it probably originated the Germanic tribes who fought against the Romans and didn't make it to the isle of Britain until the Anglo-Saxon invasion, when it was scitte. It didn't become schītte until Middle English developed after the Norman invasion. (Chaucer wrote in Middle English)

Fuck is another word that probably wasn't in the regular vocabulary of a first-century Briton. It also only has origins back to the Anglo-Saxons, when it was probably a different word, because by the Norman invasion it was still fuken. In other words, having the main character say, "What is the fucking problem?" denotes a serious problem - lack of research.

This guy should have spent the probably thousand bucks he dropped on editing and mailing around his huge manuscript on some history books instead.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Living wage? Hahahahahahaha.

I'm interested in the publishing industry. I work for a small online publisher in the DC area but would like to be in the lit agency biz. That would mean, of course, doing some time in the trenches and doing that time in NYC. Like DC, New York isn't cheap. So, that leaves me wondering. What is the average salary for the entry-level agent? How much mac and cheese will I have to eat until moving up the ladder?

Standard pay for an assistant in NYC is $10/hour. Sub-agents make their money on commission, which is usually next-to-nothing when starting out. In other words, get ready to sell your plasma for cash if you want to stay financially afloat.

Me? I'm in grad school full time, so I'm supported by my parents, to be perfectly honest. My job at the agency is really more about gaining enough experience to get a full-time job at a publishing house once I graduate, where I'll get a salary plus maybe health and dental.

The Next Great Literary Genius and How I Hate Him

There's one local fanboy who fancies himself a Big Time SF/Fantasy/Horror Author. (He doesn't want to write -- too much like work -- he wants to Have Written.) All he sends out are "Proposals", never the finished stuff.

His latest "proposals" (besides the puff piece on himself he put in Wikipedia/Wikifur) are movie scripts -- to hear him motormouth at parties, he's Now A Major Playa (TM) In Hollywood (TM).

Rejecter, have you had to deal with the likes of him?

I don't know who this person is that you're referring to specifically, but there's certainly at least a dozen of them at every major gathering of unpublished writers (known as a Sci-fi Convention). I've met these people at cons, which I now avoid assiduously for that reason.

Me and My Boss

How often do read a partial and LOVE it, request the full and love that too, but end up not offering representation because your boss didn't like it as much as you did? I know every case is different, but what's a ballpark figure. 1 in 2? 1 in 5? 4 out of 5? Rarely, because you and your boss are mostly on the same page?

I have no idea what the figures would be if I was actually requesting partials and fulls myself, because I don't do that. The boss does that.

Either way, it's irrelevant. My job is not to find material that I like but material that is good and my boss would like. We have different literary tastes, but my tastes are my business and I leave them at the door. My job is to find material for her. There are some books on her list I don't care for at all. They're either not my genre (I don't care for autobiographies of courageous women escaping Iran, having read enough of them to last a lifetime) or my interest (my boss promotes a lot of political books and I have different views than her on certain things). We do have shared interests, but for the most part, the major crossover between us is being able to recognize quality writing.

Yet Another Clarification, This One Less Hilarious

You make it sound like you should leave this information out and just use a new query.

"Oh, THIS guy again."

I mean, give writer's a little credit--they are trying to improve, you supposedly encouraged them to make changes--why the apparent disdain? I know you have to deal with a lot of loser wanna-be's out there, but this type of comment/thinking is the kind of thing that makes agents appear bloodless, unless, of course, they "fall in LOVE" with your manuscript$$$. Some of us are not clowns. We take suggestions from agents and work hard to improve our manuscripts.

Again, clarification. It's our knee-jerk reaction based on years of experience. It does not necessarily refer to your novel. Most of the novels that are resubmitted with editing do not have significant changes in them, and/or the changes we were looking for. Sometimes the author just deletes a scene and adds a crazy sister or something. But we don't know that, so we read the re-submitted work, but it usually ends up being the case.

If your novel has improved to the point of being publishable, we will take it on.

Introducing Characters in a Query

Is it a good idea to introduce the main characters before giving the short synopsis in a query letter?

For example: “Sara, is nine feet tall, terrified of spiders and in love with a bald teenager etc…….”

If this is a bad idea, what is the best way to introduce main characters in a 250 word query?

This is a very bad idea. You are not required to introduce main characters at all, unless they are part of your novel description. In fact, listing characters and telling us unnecessary information about them is a terrible idea and a real turn-of. Don't do it. The characters mentioned in your introduction are enough.

The tendency to put character's names in bold is based on the old screenplay-writing standard where when a new character appears, their name is all in caps. This does not apply to prose.

This is the month in which I have no life

Once again, Rejector is embarking on the insanity known as National Novel Writing Month. For that reason, I may get a little behind on answering questions, or may miss a question that's embedded in an anonymous post. If you really want me to answer, email me.

Now, back to work.

Okay, I'll bite. When you write a query letter and leave the typos & other errors out, what are you basically looking for beyond the hook?

Good writing. Maybe some publishing credits. That's it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

How to Get Your Word Count

How do you count words? MS Word? Or something that will better equate to number of pages (for example, an average of words/per page of full pages multiplied by the number of pages)?

I find the difference in the two methods changes my wordcount by over 5,000 words.

I'm not sure why this is such an issue for everyone, but I've been flooded with emails about this. This is how to calculate word count:

1. Click on "Tools"
2. Click on "Word Count."

The old method of assuming there were 250 words on a double-spaced page and then multiplying that by the number of pages is a method that was used when we didn't have programs that did the counting for us, and we had to have some way to do it without actually counting all the words.

To be honest, we don't care about the exact count. (We certainly don't care about it in the hundreds and double-digit numbers) We care within a range of about 5 thousand words, which would be a couple printed pages. Don't lie, but 95k is not a big difference to us than 92K or 90K. Just use a word counter, round to a hundred (don't list the last two digits), and submit.

Chapter Length

I've got a question and since you've been talking about word count... I thought this fit in nicely. Is there a particular word count guideline for chapters? Does chapter length matter - either to agents, or to publishers (that half page for new chapter might take up space and add up to extra pages)...
I've seen some 300 word novels with 25 chapters and some with maybe on 19... People certainly say, "well, your chapter should be long enough to be interesting, carry the story, and end on a hook of some kind or be a logical break with point-of-view"... but that doesn't really tell you much... So, I'm curious if agents or agent assistance ever discuss chapter lengths.

We never discuss chapter length unless we've taken the author on as a client and we feel the manuscript needs revision in terms of structure and pacing.

Chapter length does not matter except in how they make the story flow.


Dear Rejecter:
In a recent posting you advised writers to change their query letter if they were requerying agents (after rewriting their manuscript.)
Any advice as to the best way to reapproach agents who were kind enough to give helpful criticism on a partial or full, but did not specifically invite the writer to resubmit, after an extensive rewrite incorporating all suggested changes? Most of the agents loved the story concept but felt the writing needed a bit more tweaking. Should the new query specifically address their suggestions and how the writer sought to remedy the problems?

We get these all the time. Not every day, but certainly once every few months. "You gave me suggestions, I followed them, I'd like to resubmit." Our first response is, "Who's this guy again?" and our second is, "Ugh, this guy again." But then we probably will read it, as long as you don't send the whole manuscript unsolicited. You can send a couple chapters, maybe, and the agent might read it depending on how much time they happen to have and how many new authors they're interested in taking on.

In other words, do it. You have nothing to lose.

In Which People Take Adverbs Too Seriously

You're an agent. You know the power of words. But now you want to play semantical twister? Fine then. Let’s play.

Quoting you exactly: "I am not referring to Christian inspiration,(sic) which is a legitimate genre that occasionally has good writers."

From Answers:

“oc•ca•sion•al•ly (ə-kā'zhə-nə-lē) pronunciation. The adverb ‘occasionally’ has one meaning: now and then or here and there

Synonyms: on occasion, once in a while, now and then, now and again, at times, from time to time”

Idioms: Once in a while ---- occasionally, NOT VERY OFTEN (emphasis mine), as in ‘Once in a while I enjoy going fishing.’ [Mid-1800s] Also see every now and then; from time to time.”
The use of ‘Occasionally,’ in the context of your sentence was as an insult whether you want to admit it or not. That said, here's the implied meaning:

"I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE.”

"I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers FROM TIME TO TIME.”

"I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers but NOT VERY OFTEN.”

Clear enough?

You wrote ‘Occasionally’— as opposed to: "I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers.” _PERIOD._

Just like any other 'legitimate' genre has good writers _PERIOD._

So why sandwich 'occasionally' in there at all? (Inquiring minds want to know) UNLESS it was meant as a backhanded compliment. UNLESS it was meant as a swipe. UNLESS you really do believe the Christian Inspirational (not inspiration) market has a shortage of quality writers, because that’s what ‘occasionally’ implies.

Your comment was condescending and offensive. I don’t write inspirational fiction, but if you were to substitute any other genre in your statement it would’ve been just as rude.

It is possible to make a point without insulting an entire group of writers. If you can’t see this—even after my admittedly long-winded (and yes, anal) explanation—any further clarification will be pointless.

Allow me to clarify, but thanks for the promotion to full agent. I'll let my boss know she should pay me more.

When I said:

"Christian inspiration, which is a legitimate genre that occasionally has good writers."

What I meant was:

"Christian inspiration, which is legitimate in that big chain stores seem to be stocking it, and probably has some good writers, but I'll be damned if I've ever read a piece of Christian inspirational fiction that wasn't terribly written and/or outright offensive to all other religions. But wait, I shouldn't say that on this blog, that might offend some people, so I'll just say 'occasionally.'"

In all fairness, Jewish fiction for the religious crowd (called "frum fiction" and not found in your average bookstore, unless you live in Boro Park) is pretty awful, too. It's not so much "inspirational" as it is "anxious and ridden with guilt."

Muslim religious fiction is rarely translated into English unless it has a larger political message.

I apologize for the confusion.