Saturday, April 22, 2006

Boy, did I get emails!

Yesterday’s little “postscript” about my literary agent querying adventures generated quite a bit of interest, only SOME of which showed up in comments. Allow me to share a few thoughts.

Rule # 1: Publishing is all about money. Please forget any thoughts you might have had about “literary excellence” and/or “literary artistry.” If a book won't generate enough sales to make profits for the publisher, the publisher doesn’t want to publish it.

Likewise, literary agents are in business for one reason only. And what might that be? If you said, “To make money,” go to the head of the class!

Many (not all) publishers refuse submissions from un-agented authors, so an author who wants to sell his/her work almost HAS to be represented by a literary agent. Why are publishers so narrow-minded? (Remember the first rule; “It’s all about money!”) It’s cheaper for publishers to force authors to go through agents, than for the publisher to have to hire extra people to review all those darned bad submissions.

OK, so agents have to screen out all the schlock for the publishers, then go pitch the stuff they think will sell. If the agent makes a sale, then (and ONLY then) he/she gets paid 15% of what the publisher offers for the rights to the book. If he often pitches stuff to publishers they think is schlock, they won’t listen to him any more and he makes no money.

In defense of agents, they do a lot more than just act as a salesperson. Once the publisher is interested and offers to buy the rights for a book, the agent negotiates all the details of the contract (and most authors know NOTHING about these contracts). My opinion is that if I did NOT have an agent and yet got an offer from a publisher to print my book, I would immediately go HIRE an agent to negotiate for me the best deal possible.

Oh, and one thing agents are NOT in business to do is to offer a critique of an author’s submission or query. The vast majority of responses I’ve received from agents have been simple form letters. They are polite, bland, and tell me nothing except, “No, thanks.” My interpretation (remembering the first rule above), is that this agent has at least glanced at what I’ve sent and formed an opinion that he/she would likely NOT be able to sell that book to a publisher.

And that’s fine! If they feel they can’t sell it, they probably can’t!

I’d love a personal response with their reasons, but they don’t owe me that. And there are thousands and thousands of people out there like me who have written a novel and want to sell it. Most of them will never get published, unless they self-publish. They all are sending queries to agents every day.

I was lucky in that the agent I signed with (Lantz Powell) DID actually read and critique my early versions. He eventually thought I made it good enough that he could sell it. He signed me, and tried to pitch the book to several publishers. Four actually read the manuscript, said nice things about it, but passed.

I came THAT CLOSE!! *Gnashes teeth!*

Anyway, actual personal comments from agents who are declining a query are so rare that when I DO get one, it’s frustrating when I don’t understand it. And that agent has no email address (that I can find) to use to ask for clarification.

I assume (yes, I know what that means!) she meant the story was presented as fiction but sounded like a memoir. If that’s what she meant, she’s right! It’s autobiographical! But it is fiction in that about 15% was made up for added conflict and to keep interest.

Ah, well, doesn’t matter. Whatever her reasons were, she doesn’t think she can sell this to a publisher, so she passes.

Remember Rule # 1! (There IS no #2.)


Emmy Ellis said...

Now I see why I have no urge to get an agent at the moment. It all seems like too much hard work!

Shame that it's all about making money and not getting good writing out there for people to read.

Makes me wonder of the stuff that is out there that is poor - was the agent or publisher drunk when they agreed it would sell?



Duke_of_Earle said...


Yes, me too. I've posted before about either buying books or checking them out at the library that were TERRIBLE! And poorly written. How the **** did they get published? I'll never figure it out.

Based on this experience it is REALLY tempting to either self-publish or consider the e-book route. But I'm stubborn. When I first decided to try to get CHERISH IS THE WORD (my book) published, I pledged (to myself) that I would do my homework and give it my "best shot." That was three years and one agent ago. I'm not sure when my best shot will be over, but I fear it's not too far away. I have two other novels in partial right now, and plan to complete them and try again. Maybe this first one could sell if I'm successful with another one.

If not, I'll probably either e-publish, or just serialize one or more of them on my blog and let people read them online if they like. It's not the money for me; it's the challenge.


Karyn Lyndon said...

John, you have almost eighteen THOUSAND hits on your blog...obviously you're doing something right. Self publish and we'll all buy one!

Or finish the others...look how much you've learned in the last three years. You could almost teach a course on getting an agent.

OR turn your book into a screenplay. Hollywood appreciates historical romances and they don't have to worry about what genre they're shelved with in the book store. And the good news? A screenplay is only 120 pages...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Karyn. Congrats on the hits! Self publish! Yes, you can do it. OR a screenplay. Excellent idea - get famous in the movies. I'll pay good money to see your name on the big screen!

But, in the end, you will do what is right for you. It's your book. It's your life. And there is NO WAY that you are that age that you claim to be. (i still can't get over that)

Emmy Ellis said...

Ooooh what age?

Yes, John, agree with you. It isn't the money for me either, it's just the 'doing it' and getting it out there.


Nic said...

My extremely lovely friend. Just remember, JK Rowling and Stephen King both were rejected for a combined total of over 500 times I believe. Both were rejected for the first HP and Carrie respectively. Now look at them! They're GIANTS in the industry.

Keep at it my friend.

P.S. Thank you for your extremely kind comments over the past week! Your sweet wife is blessed to have you. :)

kenju said...

That must be extremely frustrating and discourageing - at least it would be to me. Hope you persevere!