Long time, no write
Well, I’ve been writing. Just not here.
I’ve been writing to what has felt like millions and millions of literary agents. I think the actual total is somewhere around 140, but who’s counting?
I had every intention of keeping this blog going while I began the querying process, but the end of the semester (150 essays to grade) as well as querying proved to be the most I could handle at one time. In addition, I’m just not very good at keeping up a blog during the summer. Even though I don’t have to go in to work every day, I end up with less free time to write than I have during the fall/winter months. So, there you go. Those are the best excuses I can come up with for being a lazy asshole and not updating this blog for three months.
I started querying literary agents towards the end of March.
It took a significant amount of time to work my way through the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents. I researched every agency that represented women’s fiction, commercial fiction, and romance. I ranked agents as first tier, second tier, and so on. I read their Publishers Marketplace profiles, searched for their names on the Absolute Write Water Cooler, and did basic Google searches which included visiting the agency’s websites (if they had one). I was really surprised to find that not all agents within the 2013 Guide were necessarily “good” agents. None of them were scam artists (charging fees, etc), but there were a few with no sales or sales to small presses (even vanity or self-pub, which technically isn’t even a “sale”).
I feel like I’ve learned sooooooooooo much over the last few months. While I was editing the manuscript, I spent a lot of time downloading and reading e-books about agents, publishing, etc. I think I wrote about a few of those books early on. They were invaluable, but not nearly as invaluable as what I learned while in the thick of research/querying. There were a few things I’d already learned from my experience shopping my non-fic project in 2010, but this time I am much more committed.
So here are a few things that I think are extremely important for any newbie writer to know when throwing themselves to the wolves of publishing:
1) No reputable literary agent charges fees. Let me repeat that, NO REPUTABLE LITERARY AGENT CHARGES FEES. Simply following this one rule will save you so much heartache. I can’t even begin to recount the horror stories I’ve heard and read about scam agents swindling naive writers out of thousands of dollars. That means if an agent asks you for an upfront fee before submitting a manuscript OR asks for money upon signing a contract they are NOT a reputable agent and most likely WILL NOT sell your book. And this non-service is going to cost you money. Lots of money.
2) The forum I mentioned above, the Absolute Write Water Cooler is absolutely one of the best sources a writer can have when researching agents, agencies, publishers, and pretty much every aspect of the publishing industry. It is free to join. You can search thousands of threads, and it is really the best source for finding out the dirt on the agents/agencies that you’re thinking of querying. Writers can talk about their experiences, and the moderators of the site have lots of experience in the industry and really do their research. Some of the moderators such as Victoria Strauss also write for Writer Beware, which is another excellent source and is a division of SFWA. I realize I’m throwing a lot of links at you at once, but if you haven’t visited these sites it is about time that you did.
3) Preditors & Editors is also another great source.
4) No literary agent at all is certainly better than being represented by a scam agent, but it is also better than being represented by a mediocre agent. What is a mediocre agent? Well, sometimes it can be REALLY hard to tell. I have to admit, I queried a few of them because I failed to do the proper research beforehand. A mediocre agent is the kind of agent who is really trying to be a good agent, but doesn’t have the connections or skill to be a good agent. It is extremely important that agents have contacts with major publishing houses, and it is preferable that they have multiple sales to these publishing houses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being published by a reputable smaller press or even an e-publisher. However, 99.9% of the time, you don’t need an agent to submit to these smaller presses. Therefore, you don’t need an agent who can only get you published this way. It doesn’t matter how nice they are. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned they are. Your work is worthy of a great agent with great contacts. Don’t settle for anything less. Period.
5)One way to know if an agent is reputable is to find out if they are a member of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives). There are plenty of great agents that aren’t members of the AAR, but they will generally follow their code of conduct anyway.
6) Should you decide to remain agentless, there are plenty of reputable publishers and e-publishers out there. How will you know which ones are reputable? Well, check out their websites, check where they sell their books, check out the books they’ve published, send them an email, and FOR SURE check out the forums and websites I mentioned previously. Sometimes these publishers will even send you a sample contract so you can get an idea of royalty rates, copyright info, etc. Just as with agents, no reputible publisher will ask you for money. Ever. If you’re paying to have your book published then you’re A) self-publishing, B) working with a vanity press, or C) working with a disreputable publisher who is going to take your money and in return give you a shoddy product (or no product at all). Some independent and reputable publishers that I like are Belle Books (e-book and print), Kensington Publishing (e-book and print), and Samhain Publishing (primarily e-book). Although these publishers accept agented submissions, you don’t need an agent to submit to them.
7) Even though you can’t submit to the major commercial publishing houses without an agent, many of these publishers have tried to cash in on the e-pub business by creating their own e-pub imprints. Some even have print imprints (are you confused yet? Learn more about imprints HERE) that writers can submit to without needing an agent. One of these such imprints is Avon, which is a romance imprint of Harper Collins. And while we’re talking about romance, there are a few e-pub imprints of the major houses that accept unagented submissions. Some of them are Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt, which are all romance imprints of Random House. And if you’re really looking to submit to the mother of all romance publishers, you don’t need an agent to submit to most of the print or e-pub imprints of Harlequin, either. Of course there are other e-pubs and imprints of big houses that cater to different genres like TOR, a sci-fi imprint of Macmillan/McGraw Hill. So it is possible to become published by one of the major houses without having an agent. Some even pay an advance. Should you get an offer from one of these houses (or one of the independent publishers mentioned above) and you are unagented, it is SUPER important that you have a lawyer who is well-versed in intellectual property law look over the contract. Just because the publisher is reputable doesn’t mean they won’t try to screw you. I know that sounds terrible, but it is the truth. They’re in the business to sell books, not coddle writers, and you are especially vulnerable without the protection of a good literary agent.
7) There is a difference between an advance and royalties, and not all publishers pay an advance. An advance is simply an “advance against royalites”, which means that the publisher is paying you the royalties they think you’re going to earn, which also means you won’t begin seeing royalties until you’ve sold enough books that the advance you were given is paid off. If you have an agent, he/she will generally receive a standard 15% of the advance (an agent who asks for more is probably not an agent you want to work with). Many e-pubs don’t pay an advance, but the writer will generally get a larger portion of the royalties than with traditional publishing. It really just depends on what your goals are. To learn more about advances and royalties, go HERE.
8) The query letter is all-important. Write a bad query letter and write your ticket to obscurity. There are several awesome e-books about writing a query letter that I know I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Another great online resource is Query Shark. I can’t tell you what to say in your query letter, but I can say again that the query letter is so so so so important. It can be the reason a door opens or the reason a door slams shut.
9) Make a list of the agents/agencies you’ve queried. Write down the date you queried, the date you were rejected, or gasp! the date a partial or full manuscript was requested. This will save you a lot of time and keep you from querying an agent twice, querying an agent who has already rejected you, or forgetting which agents and agencies you’ve already queried.
10) When in doubt, ask questions! That’s what half of the forums, websites, and books for writers are for.
11) You don’t have to listen to every. single. piece. of. advice. given.
12) Stop obsessing. Get some sleep. Play with your kid. Go shopping. Do whatever it was that you did before you got yourself caught up in the nausea inducing merry-go-round that is finding an agent/becoming published. Trust me, nobody finds the process as fascinating as you do (unless you only speak to fellow writer-nerds) and everyone will appreciate not having to hear the word “query” every five seconds.
13) Lastly, don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake or two. Or five. Or ten. It is bound to happen. If you screw up and don’t research an agent or publisher as thoroughly as you should have, just make sure that you do it before you accept an offer. If you screw up and query an agent you’ve already queried or query two agents from the same agency, own up to it and send a polite apology (I had to do this at least twice). You can’t possibly know everything before you begin to search for representation, so just do the best you can. Half of the learning is in the doing, anyhow.
So, what were my end results? Well, I mentioned querying well over 100 agents. Of the agents I queried, I was probably rejected by 40% after the initial query. I’d say 30% have yet to respond to my initial query, and another 30% requested a partial or full manuscript. As of last week, I’d been offered representation by one of the agents that was in my top ten list of agents I’d like to work with. I’m so pumped. I want to stand on a cliff Lion King style and shout at the top of my lungs that I’m represented by Agent P, but I won’t list any names until I have signed a contract.
Obviously, I’m no expert. I’m still a novice in many ways. I’ve got so much yet to learn! But I hope that this post will help some of you trying to muddle through the vast landscape of publishing.
Maybe we can muddle through together. 🙂