Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Questions for a literary agent

As you regular readers know, I’ve been sending out query letters to literary agents in an attempt to interest them in my edited, polished, ready-to-sell novel. This is the second time I’ve gone through this exercise, and I find I have many of the same questions as three years ago.

For a host of reasons, publishing fiction is tough today. Many publishers will not accept an unsolicited query or manuscript from an unpublished author. They prefer to let agents do the screening for them. I understand that. But here are a few of my questions:

1. Why do some agents, in their current, updated listings and web sites, state that they are “actively seeking unpublished authors with the following...”, and then state that their response time will be 2-3 months? Somehow that fails to meet my definition of “active.”

2. Why do some agents require email or electronic submissions, while most agents refuse to accept them? Personal preference? Many who refuse e-submissions claim they just don’t have time to respond to the vast number they receive. How long does it take to scan through an emailed letter and make a judgment? It’s either no or maybe. If no, click “reply” and paste in your form “no thanks” letter. If maybe, hit “reply” and paste in your form “send me a synopsis, three chapters and a SASE” letter. If I send them a letter by USPS it’s going to be the very same letter, formatted the very same way as the email one. And it’s much easier to respond to the email.

3. For those who say to allow up to several months to reply, what are they doing for that time? If they’re off at writers’ conferences or meeting with publishers, etc., when they get back they’re going to have a whole pile of those e-queries to go through, and guess how fast they’ll be pasting in the “no thanks” letter then! To me, two to maybe three weeks ought to be plenty of time to browse through the pile of mail or email and get SOME kind of a response back to the sender. Any longer than that and the pile WILL get insurmountable!

4. Do agents not understand about antivirus software? They invariably require “No attachments,” and cite the dangers of viruses. The current versions of Norton and McAfee will protect from viruses in both emails AND attachments. But who needs attachments anyway? If you use Word to format the document and paste it into Outlook to email it, the formatting will be retained. So when I send an email query I append the synopsis to the letter (after a page break), and then append the first 50 pages to the synopsis. No dreaded attachments, and the agent can read as much or as little as he/she likes. Elegant.

I guess that’s enough of a rant for today.

By the way, you ought to check out one particular agency web site and the agent’s blog. This lady sounds like she’s really got her head screwed on straight. She seems to speak “common sense,” which is a language I can understand. I’d sure love to have her represent me!

Here’s the web site: It’s The Nelson Agency in Denver, owned by Kristin Nelson. Check out her Common Sense Speak at her blog while you’re at it.

9 comments:

kenju said...

All good questions and concerns, John. I have never written anything worthy of publishing, so that world escapes me.

I do have my own questions today, though. Why does a doctor drop you as a patient when you are hardly ever sick and just reached Medicare age? I got a letter from my doc of 3 years today, telling me he would no longer be my doc as of the end of Feb. I am sad, mad and shocked.

Heather said...

If you use Word to format the document and paste it into Outlook to email it, the formatting will be retained.

That is so much work. Why aren't you just emailing from Word? File > send to > Mail Recipient

Duke_of_Earle said...

Heather,

Thanks for stopping by! Maybe I'm just anal, but I like to actually see the email in Outlook to make SURE the formatting is the way I want it. I do email from Word sometimes. Appreciate the tip!

John

Michelle said...

The agent's are similar to companies asking for a resume iro a job. They never get back to you, even sometimes simply ignore you.

I like Kristin's philosophy. You never know, she just may take an interest in your book and if not this one, the next (which you have already started writing *wink*).

Ivy said...

Good luck.. I hate the run around.. Email is so much easier now days.. and its quicker..

Common sense is something a good many people lack these days..

Duke_of_Earle said...

Heather,

I'm lobbying to change the term to UN-common sense in recognition of that point!

John

Kirsten said...

1. Why do some agents, in their current, updated listings and web sites, state that they are “actively seeking unpublished authors with the following...”, and then state that their response time will be 2-3 months? Somehow that fails to meet my definition of “active.”

That's response time on manuscripts, right? Most agents seem to promise a turnaround time of a couple of weeks on queries.

Anyway, here's my $.02 on this -- if you're advertising that you're "actively seeking" new authors, if anything, you're going to be beset by even more people, clamoring for your attention. You're going to get more stuff, and the stuff you get is going to have a high percentage of klunkers.

And when you do agree to read a manuscript, you're not necessarily going to breeze through it once & make a decision on whether to represent, right? You're going to study it, think about it, consider how much work will be needed to get it ready to submit to editors. You'll probably read it through at least twice. Meanwhile, you're also supporting your existing list, sorting incoming queries, reading other manuscripts, helping your authors prep their work --

So no, I don't think the 2-3 month TAT is unreasonable . . .

Duke_of_Earle said...

Kirsten, thanks for the 2 cents worth! I'd value it as quite a bit higher than that, but you're a modest New York upstater.

No, actually I was referring to response time on a simple query letter. And I know it's not the norm, but I've seen it in the last two weeks.

For manuscript review and consideration, I have no problem with that kind of time. Heck, I would HOPE that an agent to whom I'd submitted my magnum opus would do exactly what you said and spend enough time to see if it had selling potential.

And I guess agents do have to sleep occasionally.

(Nice blog, btw.)

John

Candace said...

Thanks for giving us those agent's sites, John.
I hope you're keeping a log of response times, just for your own records and possibly for our amusement, too, when you're published!