Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Twenty-Something Writers

Hello Rejecter,

So tell me, what's it like being a young person in a field where it seems no one is under the age of thirty-five?

By "no one" I mean authors, of course. Aside from that Harvard student who plagiarized her novel and ended up being dropped by her publisher, I haven't heard of any other cases of young adults in America writing books.

Do you think there is a bias against young people? Are publishers or agents particularly worried about things like plagiarism -- especially after the incident I described above? Do you feel that your age was a factor (be it positive or negative) in your own path to publication?

I'm still young and delusional enough to think that my novel is going to sell and do very well. However the only case I can find of someone under the age of twenty-five who had a big hit was Brett Easton Ellis w/ "Less Than Zero" and later "American Psycho."

When I'm published I will be twenty-seven by only a few days. For the record. I wrote it when I was twenty-five.

In an earlier post I discussed writers in high school and gave some controversial advice about them submitting their writing. I didn't say that they shouldn't write - they should - but they're probably not going to have much success in publication and it's probably for the best.

This advice does not apply when people enter adulthood, which is a different age for everyone, but seems to happen between the ages of 18 and 25. When people become an adult they start writing like one (hopefully), and YA even takes some serious sophistication in thought. So why don't see you see more twenty-something writers?

(1) Generally people are not published on the first novel they write. The industry lore is that it's the third book you submit for publication that is the one that gets published. For me it was true, though I would say that was the ... I don't know, 10th manuscript I'd written. Something like that. And this is not including any writing I did in junior high or high school. Except for the occasional literary genius, writing a novel is a bit like driving: it takes some hours behind the wheel before you're good enough for a license.

(2) Many young authors are published, but in the form of short stories. There's probably two main reasons for this. One, a short story simply isn't as long, so you can get more practice in less time, though I could easily argue that a ten-page short story is as hard to perfect as a full-length novel. Two, most writing workshops (especially at the college and graduate level) are geared towards short stories, so that's what people are going to be encouraged to write.

(3) Many novelists do not report their age on the back cover. You usually have to go look it up somewhere, if it is to be found at all. Just because they haven't announced that they're twenty doesn't mean that they aren't.

Monday, February 04, 2008

More Questions from the Email Back-up

Of the queries I’ve sent out, 2 agents requested the full MS and one recently asked for a partial. My question: What is a reasonable or accepted length of time to wait before asking for feedback?

For a full or a partial, it's fair to give them an email after 3 months.

Do agents get turned off if they get queries from other countries? I live in Brazil and I'll be seeking representation at some point. I did live in the US for five years and came back a year ago to Brazil, so I do speak English fluently.

No. In fact, my boss particularly likes foreign writers, because she does a lot of work in foreign rights, and she's very interested in the international situation. In general, agents don't care where the manuscript came from so long as it's written in English.

I read somewhere that a huge novel like Shogun wouldn't even get published today, which I have a hard time believing. Do you think that's true?

No. In general, we give historical fiction and sweeping epics a much larger acceptable word count than we do with a mystery or click-lit, just as historical movies tend to be longer in running time than romantic comedies. It's mainly about the public and their attention span, which is tuned to certain expectations of time/length and it's our business to know them.

In general, it's not wise to go over 200,000 words on your first novel. That's really quite long and it would take us a massive effort to consider it, accept it, edit it, and sell it to a publisher. Then again, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Knocking off questions...

I've got a lot of questions to go through from the backup at my Yahoo account. Here we go!

Hello! I'm curious about P.O.D books, such as from iUniverse or Lulu. If a book does well, are agents usually interested in considering the book for representation in order to submit it to large publishing houses? Best regards.

As POD technology becomes better and easy and cheaper, more people head straight to self-publishing and then submit their manuscript to us, so we see it all the time. Sometimes they send us the whole book.

In general, unless your book has sold over 3000 copies (which means you didn't sell them all to family and friends or by hand at conventions), it doesn't mean much to us that it was previously published. We will review it like we review any other submission - as potential new material to be weighed on its own merit.

Hello Rejecter,
If you could represent a book today that would be your dream-come-true novel, a book that you knew would go to bid with so much excitement that a large print order was initiated, a book that would be sought after by reviewers and written by an author, who was saavy about the promotional end of the business, committed to a writing life; an author who would promote his or her work extensively while working on several additional novels what would that book be? A James Patterson novel? Nicholas Sparks? Jodi Picoult? Or does it no longer exist today in a culture with so many diverse forms of media?

First let me clarify that I'm just an assistant, and don't represent anything myself. I'm not sure what your question is because of how it's worded, but I'm fairly sure that the answer is your guess at the end.

Recently I began a blog about being a waiter, and because I write fiction, I also posted stories on the blog from time to time. I thought it might be a great idea to start a blog that serializes a novel I've written but never worked on getting published. Several readers of my blog advised that if I posted the whole novel, it would be near impossible to then get it traditionally published. Is this true and if so why? I have since published it to a password protected blog that only a handful of people can access. Do I still run the risk of hurting my chances of publication by posting it in this way?

Not really. Chances are no one is going to steal your unpublished novel. Many writers are nervous about this, and go through the trouble of registering the manuscript at the copyright office (which under the new copyright laws, you don't even have to do) and including the form indicating it's registered with their submission, just in case we were thinking of stealing it and publishing it ourselves. Novels are not worth anything until they're published, and it's very difficult to get published. I would not lose any sleep over having your novel on the internet prior to signing a contract with a publishing company. After you sign, if they've bought the digital rights, you have to take it down.

My agent just informed me that he would start querying editors about my novel, but that most wouldn't be looking at new work until the start of the new year. Do you find that's true, too? Also, what kind of query do agents send? Does it include the whole ms... or is it the same as a writer would send an agent? My agent is a junior agent at a small firm and has made just a few non-fiction sales so far. Mine would be his first fiction sale.

(Obviously this question came in a while ago, when I was not getting my mail delivered) First of all, it's fairly standard to not submit new things in December. (The email is dated December 8th) The first three weeks of December are generally spent trying to finish up everything that needs to get finished up before the end of the year, for tax or press deadline purposes. The last week is vacation. Your agent is wise to wait.

As to your second question, it varies from agency to agency, but everyone has their own style of submitting and sometimes will not submit the same way to different editors. Good agents know editors personally, so they go out to lunch and the agent talks up this new manuscript they've got, and the editor says, "Send it over and I'll take a look." Or sometimes agents simply mail out the manuscript to as many editors as they know who they know are looking for your sort of novel, hoping for at least a few hits. It depends on the agent, their connections, and their style. The only thing that matters for you is if they make a sale and for how much money.

My email address died ... three months ago

Normally my Rejector account forwards to my main account so that I don't have to log in to two accounts. I woke up thinking today, "Gee, it's been a long time since I got email as the Rejector," and individually logged into that account, only to discover - to my horror -that there were 669 messages for me.

Apparently Yahoo!Plus didn't auto-renew the forwarding at the end of the year, i.e. late October. So you may get a really, really, really delayed response to your email. Sorry.