Thursday, September 17, 2009

Established vs. Less Experienced Agents

The subject line should really be something like, "Less Experienced vs. Established Agents" but here's the question.

A lot of never-published writers, myself included, think maybe I'm more likely to get a hearing -- a reading, really -- from a younger, less experienced agent, that someone still building their list is more likely to take a chance on an unestablished talent than a well-established agent with a big backlist who can pick and choose very selectively who he/she takes on.

But then we think, a more established agent is more likely to have better contacts among editors, more likely to know which editors can be persuaded to buy the book.

The question really boils down to this. Since agents are to some extent competing with each other, how collaborative are agents in one firm with another? Is the young and inexperienced agent who takes on my book going to get a lot of help and advice from senior agents in the firm or will they be reluctant to be too helpful in steering the young agent towards the right editors, since that might make it more difficult for them to sell a potential project of their own to the same editor (siincd there's a limited number of books any publishing house can buy). Do the agents within a firm really work as a team towards the overall success of the firm, or are they really lone wolves who do enough, but just enough and no more, to help the overall effort?

To break down a couple different issues here:

(1) Older agents do take new work if their old work isn't selling. Agents who have some huge estate and aren't actively agenting don't accept new submissions and sometimes don't bother to appear on agent rolls, except when someone hunts them down and puts their email up on a website. If an agent is accepting new material, send them new material.

(2) I can't speak for every agent team that has younger members, but my agent (my agent agent, not my boss who is an agent) is part of a team, and she is very young in the field, but the senior agent clearly has a hand in the financials of the business and hired her because he trusts her judgment and would help her out if she needed it. I used to work for an agent who had two sub-agents, and one was more independent than the other, but both could ask the top agent for advice.

Then there's groups of agents and there's agents with sub-agents. An agent with a sub-agent takes a cut of the sub-agent's earnings while the sub-agent learns the trade and uses the head agent's resources, so the head agent has a huge stake in the success of her sub-agent. My boss used to be a sub-agent, and when she had enough clients she split off and now has her own successful agency, but some older business still goes through the old agency she worked for because of contractual issues. For multiple agents working together, they do tend to share things - that's why they're working together. That or to save on rent on office space, which is a huge deal and a good reason to join a large agency in NYC. Either way, people in the same office have a vested interest in seeing the others thrive, so if you are applying to a sub-agent or a new agent under an older, more experienced one, I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over their age or experience.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A page count? Really?

Dear Rejecter,
I've gotten past the query letter stage and now they want a book proposal package. This is my first so when they ask for a projected page count, are they asking for the manuscript page count, or the final, bound book page count which I assume (yikes) will be standard 8x5 paperback?

Also they don't ask for autobiographical information, but most resources on proposal packages say to include this Do most publishers assume this is standard and I'll include one or should I eave it off?

(1) I'm not 100% sure here what they're asking, but I'm going to have to assume that they mean word count, and an estimated page count of the manuscript based on assuming 250 words a page. I wouldn't ask for page count myself, as it varies wildly based on layout, but that's their thing. It's not a huge deal. Guesstimate.

(2) In the standard proposal laid out on tons of websites, it says to include autobiographical information. That's why they didn't ask specifically for it. They expect it to be in the standard proposal.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Authors and Publicity

Dear Rejecter,

My manuscript has made it to the desk of a large NY house. Not one of the big 5 (or is it 3 or 4 now?) but still a large and well-known house.

I have no agent and followed up with the editor’s assistant after 3 months with an email. He informed me he has given the ms and a “report” to the editor and I should hear from her when a decision has been made.

Obviously, this is exciting since I’ve made it through the query and first full review stage.

Now it’s on the editor’s desk I am wondering if I should follow up and let them know a couple of things.

From what I understand this house encourages its writers to publicize their books and take ownership of pushing the book.

I work in the software industry, have a degree in computer science, develop web sites and have a good idea on internet promotion and using the internet as a useful sales channel.

My question (finally!) is this: should I follow up with the assistant and let him know I have this background and am willing to throw myself 100% into helping promote the book using my skills?

Would this sound desperate or amateurish? Or would it help possibly sway a 50/50 decision?

Amateurish. If you made it this far I don't think they would toss the book just on that, but they will laugh at you behind your back.

Many authors put this sort of thing into their initial query, and unless you have big media connections, it's irrelevant. Yes, you're willing to do publicity. Yes, we want you to do publicity. Guess what? If minimal publicity is actually budgeted for a first author, we expect the author to participate in publicizing their book. I think there's a line in the contract about how the publisher will do all it can and the author will do all they can to promote the book. Today, in the world of tight publication budgets, this generally means the author being asked to make a website and write up guest blog posts. Publishers will help the author do this if they are inept. I was recently offered web space for my books on the publisher's site, and I told them thank you, I already had a site. Then they made recommendations for mine.

Publishing companies expect that the author, if required, will be part of the publicity. They often won't contractually require it, especially if it involves traveling a lot, and the author can always turn it down, but authors generally don't. I did everything my publisher asked of me, and then some, but they don't expect you to go door-to-door with copies of your book. At most that would sell a couple dozen out of guilt, and publishers think in the thousands, or tens of thousands.

Also, while it really helps if you can launch some national media campaign, it doesn't mean that the book is good. And, at least on principle, we don't accept books that suck, even if Oprah is on your speed dial.