Monday, November 29, 2010

Open Forum - Answered!


Michelle Merrill said...
I'm curious about the timeline on a debut novel that's in the first rounds of revision with a newly signed client. As an agent, do you typically shoot for a certain word count per week? 

There are no time lines for revisions. I think the instinct for most writers when they are asked for a revision is to get it done as quickly as possible to prove they are ON it and capable of doing it (at least, I know that’s how I used to feel!). But in reality, when I get a revised manuscript back within two or three days, if I wasn’t asking for minor things, I get wary. I don’t want a rushed revision; I want a thoughtful, TRUE revision.

Also, when you’re working with a new author on a second or third book, what's your timeline on getting that new book? Again, do you try to get the author to send a certain word count per week or do you wait until they've written a set number of chapters? 

That is completely up to my client. I don’t set goals for my clients’ work; that’s their job. If I were an editor or a publisher, then yes, there would be a deadline to turn in the next book under contract (same for revisions, too). These deadlines are stated in the contract; I’ve seen anywhere from 15-30 days for revisions, and 6 months to a year for the next book (it varies a lot by genre, too, what the deadlines are). I have clients who like to show me works in progress and get feedback, and I also have clients who like to wait until they have a finished manuscript to show me. Up to them; I’m open to any stage from my clients. That is something to discuss with your agent and decide how you will work best with him or her.

makenna.landes said...
I'm curious about the process involved once an author has been signed-more specifically, about what happens after an author's first book. 

Since a signed author already has an agent, he or she would not need to send out a query letter for subsequent books. Do these books, however, need to be approved by the agent? And how does this work?

No, an existing client does not need to pitch me (or query me) their new book. However, not all agents automatically represent the next work. Many agents sign clients on a book-by-book basis.

Typically, the client still doesn’t need to actually query again even in this situation; they just email or call and say “I have this new project…” and the agent will take a look.

Whether or not a next book is approved by an agent, well yes, whether the agent is book-by-book or career (represents all works), the agent still has to feel it’s something he or she can sell before going to market. I HAVE told clients, “no, I don’t think this idea is strongest; let’s move on.” You NEVER want an agent who will represent ANYTHING you write, regardless of what they think.

Would a signed author tell his/her agent an idea for the next book before the writing process even begins, once there is an outline, once the book is written, etc?

Again, up to the client, and often, up to the agent. For me, yes, I love when my clients run ideas by me – but it isn’t necessary.

Amie Kaufman said...
My question is about how you work with clients on second/third/later books. Do you look at their ideas together and choose a project, or brainstorm? Do you advise on what might work best for them or the market?

Since I’ve answered the ideas question, I’ll focus on what works best for the market. Yes, I do advise if I think a project won’t have market potential. However, what I usually say is: No, I don’t think I can sell this now, but if you want to write it, WRITE IT. I won’t EVER stop my client from writing what they want. I just may not take all of it to market. ;)


Cathy said...
Any advice/wisdom/enlightenment on how to determine a story's genre?

Hopefully you are reading in your genre, and so usually, the easiest way to determine what in the world you’ve written is to see what books out there resemble yours the most.

Andrea said...
What's the best thing to do if one queries you, and gets a request from office assistant T who has since begun taking on her own clients, and you're not sure your full was received (because you mailed it from another country), so you resend via email (as the agency has now gone to email), but you're still not sure it's been seen yet? Wait a month and then ask/nudge?

Well, to try and answer this as generally as possible… ;) Many agents don’t acknowledge receipt of a request. It’s not because we’re mean and rude people; honestly, it’s just that we don’t have the same perspective as the author. An agent will log in to 50 + new emails each day; letting an author know we got their email often isn’t priority! For me, usually it goes straight into my queue to be read.

That said, if you have a request, general protocol would be to wait at least two to three months before nudging (as gently as possible). And if your request was by a different agent in the office other than the one you initially queried – be flattered! It means your story wasn’t quite right for that agent, but it was still GOOD ENOUGH to be passed on to someone else.

Jenilyn Tolley said...
If an agent gives feedback (but ultimately passes) on a partial or full, is it all right to requery them after making major changes?

Yes, but always make sure to state that they’ve seen it before. You’d be surprised how good agent memories can be; since I’ve gone to email, for instance, I’ve gotten several repeat queries I saw on paper before. It annoys me. It does NOT annoy me if the person says, “I queried you a few months ago, but since then, I’ve re-written, and so just in case…” etc.

And, after making major changes, is it okay to requery other agents who passed on the query and sample pages alone?

I would say, as a general rule, unless you have MAJOR changes, I wouldn’t do it.

Joanna St. James said...
When you are successfully querying an agent, do you have to tell them what pub houses you are targeting with that manuscript or do they just look at it and think this will be good for Simon &Schuster or Harlequin?

You never need to specify what publishing houses would be perfect for your book. That’s the agent’s job to know.

However, if you write a book that you think WILL only fit in one publishing house (for example, a specific Harlequin line), you may have a problem, because agents want to represent novels they can pitch to more than one house. Because if that one perfect house rejects it…well, sh*t out of luck. You’d be better off sending directly to that house sans agent if that is the case (and you could always ask an agent to negotiate a deal for you later – though I’ll have a post on the pros and cons of this later!)

catdownunder said...
An agent says "I am not taking any more new writers at the present time." Is it the correct thing to write and ask them if they could let you know when they are going to take new clients because (a) you really want to be represented by them and (b) this is what you have to offer? Is this considered rude, too pushy, an indication that you do not listen to advice or just that you are determined to try?

NO. If an agent says they are not taking on new clients, they DO NOT want to be contacted. If you really want to be represented by them, you just have to wait it out until they are taking on new clients.

Michelle said...
What is a typical minimum word count that an agent will accept for a MG and for a YA novel?

Minimum for MG: 35,000 (on the low, low, low side; more often, 40,000).
For YA 50,000 (again on the low side, typically contemporaries more than any other genre).

Obviously, there are always exceptions, but honestly, I don’t know why anyone would TRY to be the exception. Exceptions are exceptions because they are HARD and near IMPOSSIBLE!


(Can I preface this topic with….nooooooo!? *deep breath* ok. Diving in!)

Ilima Loomis said...
Can you talk about historical fiction in the children's/middle grade market? I've heard this genre is very slow right now. Can a new author debut in this genre?

A new author can debut in ANY genre; nothing is closed. And yes, while certain genres are tougher to sell, if it’s amazing, it WILL sell. Personally, I think historical is slow only because it’s tough to do well, and tough to do in a new way.

More generally, do you think it's worthwhile for a writer to invest time in a project when the genre is supposedly "not selling"?

Yes. Never force yourself to write something just because you think it’s “hot”; it just won’t be as good of a book. Write what you’re passionate about; that’s the only way you stand a chance to make a tough sell amazing enough to sell!

Everything in publishing is cyclical. I like to use romance trends as an example: historical was out, contemporaries in, historicals were all the rage, contemporaries were dead, and now contemporaries are on the rise again – all within a 15 year time span.

Timing is the key when shopping a project – so even if you have a “slow” genre, just keep at it; eventually, it will pick up again.

Pam Harris said...
I know most agents hate the trend question, but are editors buzzing about any genre in particular right now? Something that they're just dying to have?

Honestly, the most I will say about this is that lighter books tend not to be doing so well, nor do angel and demon books (already a ton under contract at pub houses), mysteries, chick lit, or memoirs. I heard gods and goddesses and mermaids were next, but even those are already starting to glut in sales.

Again…focus on your passion, and the cyclical nature of publishing will eventually circle back your way.

:) said...
What do you think is the most important thing for fairy tale writers to know about the market?

That it is GLUTTED with spin-offs. It is VERY hard to do a fairy tale unique enough to stand out; look for more original sources than just Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast!

Is it different for writers of original fairy tales than for retellings/reimaginings/reperspectivisms?

Well yes, because original fairy tales won’t have to worry about competing with every other Cinderella and Anorexic Vegan Zombies out there! Typically, original fairy tales will appeal more to a younger crowd, however, and so the best thing for this type of writer to know is that it would have to be darker and less silly to appeal to an older audience.

I just saw a news story that said Disney is off of princesses after Tangled for the foreseeable future. Are princesses going out of style or are they timeless like vampires?

Princesses will NEVER go out of style, imho. ;) Disney is just being dumb, because they didn’t get the Russian and Fairy princess.

Michelle Merrill said…
Do you think paranormal romance will still be popular in five years? Maybe something with a fresh look on a topic that is totally new or so old it will seem new? 

Again, cyclical! I have no idea.


LTM said...
Some bleeps recently were approached by agents who'd read samples of their writing on their blogs. (Like they got full MS requests from samples.)

We were wondering:
#1-how common is this? (agents trolling blogs/reading writing samples)

Not common at all. Usually the agents who do this are newer and hungrier to build their list (and this is not telling of “good” or “bad” agents, rather, they are rising stars and real go-getters, if I don’t say so myself…!)

#2-are there any dangers? (self publishing concerns, etc.)

Yes; you don’t want to give the milk away for free, so to speak! SAMPLES are ok; anything more does indeed get into the self-publishing area.

Some agents will ask that their clients take down their samples once they go on submission. A big reason for this is that once a book sells, the publisher has the exclusive right to publish the material, and blogging is a form of publishing. Excerpts fall under “first serial” rights, and publishers will try to get these placed in magazines etc. You can still post samples, but you need to get permission first.

#3-any advice here? (if we do this, what should we post? First 250? The most exciting part?)

Post one to two sentences of description about what the book is about – your hook – and the first 250 words. The FIRST 250 words, not a random part, if it will be constant (you can participate in “teaser Tuesday” and post a random part, though usually these are snipped later so as not to build a collection of the entire book!).

Jaci said...
How important is a blog following for a fiction writer? Are blogs really seen as credible, or do you roll your eyes when someone says, "I blog!"

Not very credible at all, I’m afraid. The reason for this is that no matter HOW many followers you have, there is no guarantee they will all go out and buy your book. People with followings like SH*T MY DAD SAYS are credible because they’ve proven a very WIDE audience, and so there’s more of a probability that many people will buy the book.


Bluestocking said...
What, in particular, are you looking for in your historical romance submissions? Is there a particular time period or periods you especially enjoy?

I love Victorian romance novels. Not as much of a fan of anything too outside of those years. My favorite historical authors are Julia Quinn (earlier stuff), Lisa Kleypas, Johanna Lindsey, and Jude Deveraux.

Julie Hedlund said...
What are your favorite books right now in the young adult, middle grade and picture book genres? Just in general, not necessarily your own clients'

I like that you asked “right now,” because my favorites change the more I read! However, with that in mind, I think my classic favorites are really what continue to inspire my tastes, not anything recent.

Brief sample of all-time favorites/reading history:

YA/MG: ELLA ENCHANTED, CALLING ON DRAGONS, THE CHINA GARDEN, LIRAEL, Joan Lowery Nixon’s mysteries, Tamora Pierce’s books (all!), Caroline B. Cooney books, THE MEDIATOR series, I WAS A TEENAGE FAIRY, BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE, THE LAST VAMPIRE/Christopher Pike novels, MIRA, The Royal Diaries series


And I am SO going to think of a bazillion more I would want on this list…!

Marsha Sigman said...
What would you like to see in your slushpile right now?

Nothing. No really; I’m so swamped, if I had nothing in it it would mean I was caught up!
I’ll be honest: I had about 300 submissions to wade through when I left the office on Tuesday. The only thing that would catch my attention right now would be what any agent would want to see: something original and mind-blowing.

Ask me again when I’m less swamped, and I’ll be more optimistic. :)

Michelle Merrill said...
At writeoncon you mentioned that you like princess stories. What is your favorite thing about them?

They’re girly and underappreciated. I like princesses that kick butt, either by personality or literally. Many people think air-head when they think princess; I think rich spunky bitch who can care about her wardrobe and still save the day, and that appeals to me.

Candyland said...
If you like something about the story (voice, characters, etc), will you request a revise and re-submit or just pass? Also how long will you wait on said revision before moving on?

If I like the voice, but the plot just isn’t standing out to me, I may ask to see the next work. If I like the plot but not the voice, I’ll pass. The only time I ever ask for an R&R is if I think the story has BOTH, and they just need to be polished (maybe just some plot holes/twists that needs to be addressed). Then it’s a matter of whether or not the writer is capable of polishing!

As mentioned, I don’t have a time frame for revisions. If I liked it, I won’t ever move on; BUT, I may not be as jazzed about it in six months, say, as I would be a month later.

Makenna Landes said…
I was just wondering what your favorite fairy tale is.

Beauty and the Beast.

:) said…
How do you feel about made-up words like reperspectivisms?

Awesome in conversation, not so much in stories – unless they serve a purpose.


Beth said...
Do you ever get the impression that some writers look at publication a little like winning the lottery, in that they think it's not as much about skill and craft, but more about the luck of the draw?

Yes, and I agree to an extent, because of issues like timing (agent/editor already has a similar project, too many on the market, they’re in a transition, etc) and connections (who you know who will get your work into the hands of an agent or editor). Conferences help with connections, but timing is unpredictable.

Honestly, every author has the same chance as any other when it comes right down to it (once a manuscript is in an editor’s hands). Either the stars and planets are all in alignment with timing and the writing and voice are there, or they aren’t.

Bottom line: for most people, perseverance pays off. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t an exception or zipping down the easy road.


  1. Thanks, Natalie! Super helpful, great info~ :o)

  2. This was great! LOL. And now I've found yet another thing we have in common. BEAUTY and the BEAST! That is my absolutely favorite fairy tale. I just finished a retelling that was from Beast's perspective. BEASTLY. You should read it, once you get caught up with everything, that is.

  3. Thanks for the post Natalie! I have to agree, Beauty and the Beast is the best princess story. I could watch the Disney movie a thousand times every day (even though that's not possible... yet!) and still love it. :)

  4. Great questions, and very helpful answers. Thanks, Natalie! Good luck getting through the pile. :)

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful, informative answers that we all want to know!

  6. As usual, full of AWESOMENESS!!!!

  7. Thanks, Natalie! But it will be interesting to watch you follow your own act! That was quite the blowout. =)

  8. I appreciate you posting this information.

    On your feedback on new projects from the agent--I would hope the author and agent would have a great working relationship as it would be benefical to everyone.

  9. Thank you, Natalie!!! Speaking of Princess stories... Have you seen the movie, Another Cinderella Story with Selena Gomez? It's a musical and dance version of Cinderella. Think you might enjoy it!

  10. Very helpful post and I'm glad you opened up to questions

  11. Learned so much! Thanks for answering all these :)

  12. Thanks for answering all of the questions, Natalie. Good luck with that slush pile.

  13. Thanks for the really informative post. My favorite question was the one about your favorite books -- Ella Enchanted and Francesca Lia Block (I Was a Teenage Fairy) were my absolute favorites as a kid! :]

  14. Thanks for the revolutiamazy answers! I agree, made-up words are better in conversation than in stories, unless used sparingly and with purpose ("sparposely").

    I especially appreciate your consistent encouragement toward the long haul. The easy road, so I've heard, is for sissies only. Just kidding (or am I)?

    I would add to that -- enjoy the journey. "Enjourney".