Monday, October 25, 2010

What You Need to Consider BEFORE you SELF-Publish

I was going to write up a big, fancy post on this topic, and then I found this site, which pretty much said everything I wanted to.

Ok I lied. I wrote up a big, fancy post anyway. ;)

You'll notice a LOT of references here -- and that's because there are a LOT of different things to consider about self-publishing. No one agent is going to be right about it (meaning, disclaimer: I do NOT claim to have the answer to or know everything about it!). Generally, it's a case-by-case basis whether or not someone should self-publish, and whether or not a self-published book can be picked up by an agent or bigger house.

But, some things to think about:

Why Agents are Cautious of Representing Them
Because it is a tough sell. A self-published author can no longer be listed as a debut author, which means that a publisher is going to have to base the advance they can offer (if any) on the author’s sales history. A publisher offers an advance based on a projection of how many copies they can expect to sell – and if the self-published book sold only 500 copies…

Why Publishers are Cautious of Acquiring Them
It’s all about numbers. The number of copies the self-published book sold, and the number of copies bookstores can expect to sell. Guess what? The latter is based on the former. What this means is that if your book sold 500 copies, bookstores aren’t going to expect large sales. Which means they won’t want to stock the book. Which means the publisher won’t make sales. Which means they won’t recoup their advance, or even enough to pay overhead for the aquiring editor’s time spent on that book.

So what if you self-publish and sell 10,000 copies? Awesome. Just keep the statistics in mind.

Why Reviewers are Cautious of Reviewing Them
There’s no indication of quality with a self-published book. A book that has gone through the traditional publishing route has made it’s way past an agent, an editor, an ed board, and a copyeditor (in the simplest example) before it reaches the reviewer’s hands. A self-published book never made it past an agent. With so many books to choose from…yeah, they’re going to review the ones they can expect will at least be free of typos.

Why Publicists are Cautious of Publicizing Them
It’s hard enough to publicize fiction from a traditional publisher. Fiction is so subjective; imagine saying to someone: read this. Why? Because I like it. Just trust me. If that book is self-published, that trust level goes way down, again, because you have no idea of the quality. A publicist is hired to promote a book – so just hearing “it’s good” from one isn’t enough to make reviewers or buyers trust that it is.

However, this IS different for non-fiction. Read more here.

Lastly, READ THIS POST by Nathan Bransford.

Finally, please keep in mind: if you self-publish, YOU ARE THE PUBLISHER. Period.

I think it’s incredibly arrogant to self-publish your book and then expect someone else to pick it up and do all the work for you. Simon and Schuster doesn’t acquire a book, design a pretty cover, send it to a few buddies, and then submit it to Random House to get sales. If you don’t think you can get the distribution and sales you want from self-publishing…it’s probably not the best option for you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

At last!

After scoffing, resisting, hesitating, and finally, giving in....

(yes, I made my own lolcat to celebrate).

(yes, that was the exact process I went through for Twitter, too).

Now, I can read submissions on my LUNCH break! Wait...uh oh. ;)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Exclusive Requests

I recently made a post on a forum at which I wanted to share and expand on.

There were quite a few heated opinions being tossed around, but what really raised my hackles was that EVERYONE seemed to think that an exclusive request=good/bad agent.

This is just not true. It is impossible to decide if an agent is reputable or not based on whether or not they ask for exclusive requests.

When I first started agenting, I asked for exclusives. Part of the reason I did this was because my reading period was incredibly fast, and so an exclusive wasn't something that meant "I have months to finally get to this!" to me. It was rather a sigh of relief because I knew that a project I was excited about wouldn't be snatched up before I had a chance to consider it!

However, the biggest reason I asked for exclusives was: I was trained to ask for them.

My boss loves exclusives. She is so incredibly busy that when she is excited by a manuscript, she wants to KNOW that the time she spends with it was worth it, especially because the time she spends with it is fairly in-depth. She types up notes and gets second (and third) reads on manuscripts to consider every angle. Her time isn't more valuable than the author's (as is a common perception of the exclusive request), just valuable, period. (And I think notes from Sandra Dijkstra are worth an exclusive!)

My style has evolved since then, however, and at this point, I don't ever ask for exclusives anymore. I'll be honest: I like the competition. I want to know an author is signing with me because they really connect with me, not because there were no other options. I've also only gotten busier and busier, so even manuscripts I'm excited about don't get read right away, and I hate to keep someone tied up because of that.

But is it possible to label either of us GOOD or BAD based on our preferences? No.

Don't worry about the agent quality when confronted with an exclusive request; you should have already done your research on them before submitting.

Worry instead about whether or not you'd feel comfortable granting it (if they're your dream agent, why the heck not, right?!) or whether or not you are ABLE to grant it (if you have other fulls out, say so; they're already excited, so you'll either hear back, "that's ok, send and notify me immediately if you get any other offers" or "thanks for letting me know; please send to me when available for an exclusive").

And then just get up and do a little happy dance because someone is excited about your work!

Monday, October 11, 2010

E-book killed the bookstore star?

There are plenty of articles to read on this subject (read a great summary of the e-book situation here, and about e-books and kidlit here).

However, despite the myriad of opinions and resources available, the subject still comes up in every single panel and conference I've attended. And the biggest reason for this is: no one REALLY knows what’s going to happen.

Oh sure, there are plenty of very true facts, both pro and con, to add weight to the speculation.

For example:

The epic novel might make a comeback due to cost of productivity going down. Smaller presses are blossoming. Unknown authors have a chance to build audience. The invention of the mass market was supposed to end the hardcover (or video killed the radio star, whichever you prefer), and it didn’t – different genres simply boomed. Kindles really suck for research – you can’t underline and highlight. Backlist or out of print titles are now brought back to life. People become more impulsive when it comes to buying books when available at the tip of their fingers – and at the same time, physical book sales are down, which means advances are down, and authors are making less money – but maybe that’s just the economy?

It is undeniable that the book industry is changing. Personally, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I like the fact that a smaller press will take a chance on a novel in e-book or trade paper that a Big Six won’t publish in hardcover, and, from our agency’s best-selling authors, I haven’t seen royalties decrease in the slightest due to e-books: they’ve only gone up.

But really, my personal take from my personal experience is: this is exciting – and depressing, all at the same time.

What really struck home for me this weekend was this:

I found it in a "free books" pile at my local library. I thought it was funny. I picked it up, but, instead of putting it back down, I took it home because of this page (which changes all the "he" pronouns to "she"):

I ADORE used books. The smell of them, the feel of them, the footprints left behind. I love to follow along and try and imagine the stories that go with the scribblings. And you can’t do that with a Kindle.

Libraries are closing; so are bookstores. I would be devastated by the loss of physical books. But maybe I’m just in the cassette generation of publishing; maybe it’s just time to move on. After all, there are clear advantages!


And so it goes on.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Pitch Session

After two conferences in a row, there are a few things I want to share from an agent’s perspective on this rite of passage.

I’ve met a few agents who are “tough love” types when you meet them (which I secretly wish I could be), but the majority of us really try our best to be encouraging and as helpful as possible no matter the outcome of the pitch.

However, the first thing to keep in mind is that despite the fact that you only get 10-15 minutes to try and sell us your story, WE are sitting in that room for hours at a time. Sometimes (hopefully) breaks are thrown in throughout the day, but generally, we are dealing with back to back to back face time all day long. Take the last conference I attended. It started at 8:30 in the morning and I met with someone every ten minutes until noon, and then every ten minutes from 1pm to 2pm.

Needless to say, despite how encouraging and helpful we try to be, sometimes, our patience snaps mighty thin.

So without further ado: what is pissing me off after the past two conferences (the true title of this post)

Lying to Agents

One of my fellow agents approached me last weekend and said, “You know, I had a funny thing happen the other day.”


“I got a submission from a man who then called me and explained that he’d been represented by you three years ago, and had left because you didn’t do anything with his book.”


She tilted her head sideways. “But the funny thing was, I’d seen your bio recently, since you were coming to this conference, and I said to him, ‘are you sure it was Natalie Fischer at Dijkstra? Because she’s only been agenting for a year.’ He assured me it was.”

Again. WTF?!

(As a side note, no sh**t nothing happened with your book if you thought I was representing you three years ago dude…)

I’ve said this many times. Most people just don’t get it: our community is smaller than you think. You lie to us, and guess what – we’ll know.

The most common things people lie about are:

-Worked with so and so agent
-They are sending a “requested” submission
-They have an offer from another agent
-Have x amount of fulls out with other agents
-met/spoke with me at so and so event (read here for THAT terrible story…)

It really sucks that people go and ruin the exciting truths for others, but honestly, when we see any of these things in your letter, red flags go up – especially if you’re cagey about who the agents you worked with or made the offer are. And yes – we will speak to each other to verify the truth.

Teens Writing for Teens

This subject holds a very special place in my heart. I absolutely adore teen writers – I was one myself – and I encourage and will give feedback as much as possible to them.

This weekend, I had a pitch session with a twelve year old girl. I was amazed. She told me she’d written a YA about 18 year-olds – and at that point, I was still on board to be blown away.

Then she told me it was 20,000 words long.

As gently as I could, I said to her, “You know, I think it’s just a little too short. Most YA novels are at least 50,000 words long (yeah, I shortened it for her – no need to give her a heart attack). But I’ll tell you what – why don’t you send it to me. I’d love to read it and give you some feedback on where it might be expanded.” I gave her my card, spoke with her some more on whether or not it might really be MG (b/c then it could be only 30,000 words), recommended some writing sites, and again, told her how amazing she was for being there.

Apparently, after the door shut from her session, she was hysterical. She was a sobbing mess – because I’d told her that her story was too short. Mama bear was livid; she wanted to march in and kick my ass.

I was heartbroken. I couldn’t have been more supportive. And yet, she’s twelve; of course she’s going to cry! Grown adults cry at feedback like that! And my mom would have wanted to tear the head off anyone who made me sob too.

No one’s actions, in my mind, were unjustified here; but the truth is: I would have either said it to her then, or in a rejection letter. So parents, please please please take your child’s emotional maturity into consideration before tossing them to the wolves. That girl should not have been in that pitch session – alone, no less! Yes, it is ok to be supportive, but this is a business; as much as we want to help cultivate talent, that’s not our job.

The Pushy Pitch

I consider it pushy when an author has a query or synopsis with them, sits down, pushes it forward, and says, “Here. Read this.”

Oh no no no. Honestly, I can’t focus on your written words; I’ve been bombarded with pitches all day – I have no idea what I’m reading! This is not in your favor, and definitely not a good use of the time.

I also really don’t like getting business cards from authors. I have your contact information in your submission (hopefully); pushing a card to me seems pre-mature (and annoying; I get so many, and they end up flying out everywhere, and I have to try and make sure they don’t get lost or separated from the submission, etc.).

Don’t try and shove your writing on me. It just pisses me off.

The Bitter Pitch

Generally these are made by people who have been pitching their manuscript for quite a while without favorable responses. I could also call this “the complaining pitch.”

My “favorite” was a person who made absolutely sure that I didn’t represent said person’s genre before proceeding to explain how another agent had had said person’s manuscript for over a year, and finally gotten back with a rather rude letter – and could I just comment on that situation?


I’m not going to bad-mouth my colleagues with you. And I’m not going to take kindly to you when you sit there and explain to me how stupid the pitch process is, and how really, publishers say you can’t get published without an agent, but agents don’t want to speak with you unless you’ve been published, so wtf?

Deep breath. Calm. Down. Drink some wine. Bash the world in your notebook. Then you can talk to me.

The Entitled Pitch

So far, I’ve seen this most often with romance and picture book authors, but only because these are two of the only genres left it is possible to be published without an agent in.

I once had a woman sit across from me and ask me to pitch myself to her – because she was agent shopping. I’ve also had authors inform me that they’ve been published so and so many times, and do I want to work with them or not?

Well…send me a sample, I’ll say. I really still need to see if I connect with your voice.

Blank, affronted looks will follow.

Sorry folks, but there aren’t any shortcuts here. Even a published author has to query like everybody else. They’ll get more attention, sure; the process may be faster, and far easier – but it’s still the same process.

I will absolutely never sign someone who thinks they are doing me a “favor” by doing so; I want to sign clients who are with me because they appreciate what I do and can do for them – and vice versa. Even published authors need agents to help build careers; we know how to move you from a small press to a big publisher, how to move you from a publisher with no marketing to a publisher who is going to back you with 1 million dollars in marketing support. So please, don’t act like you don’t need us; if that’s really what you think, don’t speak with me!

Lessons from all of this?
Avoid the above and you’ll be golden!

The Best Pitch

My absolute favorite pitch sessions happen when an author is prepared with questions. I love to chat. I can read any day; anyone can submit to me for free, any time. This is your chance to actually talk to me. Sure, I like to hear your pitch, but I remember the conversation a heck of a lot more if we had something to talk about! There seem to be plenty of things people ask on #askagent; why not in pitch sessions?

Above all, don’t worry about being nervous. It is VERY rare that someone sits down in front of me who is NOT shaking. Or talking so fast they barely breathe. Or mispronouncing words they’re so nervous.

Don’t worry about it. Just be yourself; ask me some questions, mention if you know something about me (I LOVE when people mention my blog or twitter), share your hook, smile…and breathe. No matter what happens, use what I say as constructively as possible…and move on.