Ask the Agent: An Offer in Hand

If a writer sends you a query, even a few sample chapters, and you turn it down, but think the writing is good, and then the writer is offered a publishing contract with a large CBA publisher, would you reconsider your rejection? Should a writer reapproach an agent if offered a contract? I don’t think there’s any harm in sending a quick email to the agent of your choice, telling them of your offer and asking if they’d reconsider representing you. The worst the agent can do is say no. And most would appreciate being given the opportunity. You can also ask the same question of an agent you haven’t queried yet, or one you’ve queried but they haven’t responded. Just tell them, “I have an offer on the table, are you interested in representing...
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Ask the Agent: Banking on Potential

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_5cLmD8GqnKY/SJ_EXvBevUI/AAAAAAAABho/fj4JJWGVaUM/s320/olympics+swimming.jpg I was so tempted to blog about the Olympics today… I can’t help it, I’m watching it as I write this! I loved all your comments on Friday, bringing out all the ways the Olympic journey can be compared to writing and publishing… or anything we work hard at and strive for. BUT… I’m not going to comment further. Um… I’ll try not to. Today I want to address a question that came in a couple of weeks ago from Sheri Boeyink: How does an agent assess potential? Let’s say an agent reads some work from an unpublished author and loves the story; however, the writing is a little rough around the edges. I’ve heard that some agents sometimes work with authors (suggesting rewrites, etc.) because they see the potential. Is that...
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Ask the Agent: Colorful Language

I’d like to discuss the taboo of cursing in Christian fiction. It seems that many writers and publishers are willing to include rape and murder, but shy away from the occasional well chosen curse word. Personally, I think it can be a great literary tool. I do understand that it is often overdone and that many people are offended by cussing. Yet I tend to think that sexual violence is much more disturbing. Forgive me if this seems naive (I’m still learning), but isn’t it better writing to have a character throw out a foul word than to say, “David cussed?” You know, the whole showing vs telling thing. Why is it ok to push the envelope with violence but not with language in Christian fiction?Okay, I have to laugh, considering how I was called on the carpet last...
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Ask the Agent: Writing by Committee

I’ve seen lots of published novels that read like they were written by committee. This doesn’t surprise me, because those immature in the craft (or just with less gift/ability, whatever you want to call it), DO write their novels by committee. Over a very long period of time, they take so many good suggestions that they cobble together something that meets the pattern. Then they network like crazy until it sells. My question is: how many published authors out there do you think are writing by committee, and how many are truly writers of their own work? I don’t mean to imply that anyone can do it without a good editor, or a critique group. The distinction I’m making is between natural ability to produce a good first draft vs. endless revising to compensate for lack...
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Ask the Agent: Having It Made

How about shedding some light on whether getting published and “having it made” are synonymous. It seems to be the feeling among writers that once you get a contract and have a book or two published, all you have to do is run up a decent proposal and your publisher will buy it. I hear rumors that some successfully published authors have had subsequent proposals turned down. Does this happen often? And when it does, what is the most common reason? Hahahahaha….. I bet a number of our published Rants & Ramblings readers would LOVE to take on this question! Speak up, those of you who are published. Do you “have it made”? Clearly the answer to this question depends on your definition of having it made. If you mean “my lifelong goal of being published...
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Ask the Agent: Strategizing a Conference

The Teensy Weensy Challenge is officially closed! Many thanks to the 123 courageous authors who entered. Stay tuned for results! Question: “I am focusing my efforts on finding an agent. However, I will be attending a conference where I will have the opportunity to meet with agents and editors. If I have not yet signed with an agent by the time of that conference, would it be wise to make appointments with editors?” There has been a bit of confusion about this lately, because it’s hard to know what to do in every situation. I’ve written about this before (see this post) but let me try to help a little more. If you are unpublished, unrepresented by an agent, and uncontracted with a publisher, you should use any and all possible methods to get your work seen by the...
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Ask the Agent: Rejecting Bestsellers

“How many bestsellers have slipped through reputable agents’ hands? I am curious to know how an agent deals with such a loss when a bestseller was in their hands and they rejected it.” This is an interesting question, because most editors and agents have passed on books that went on to success (if not bestseller lists), and most don’t lose any sleep over it. In fact, most stand by their original impression of the book. If it was a huge bestseller, they might regret losing all that money for the sake of their company’s bottom line. But they didn’t change their opinion of the book just because it was profitable. It’s probably more common for an agent to “lose” a bestselling book not because they didn’t want it, but because there...
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Ask the Agent: Questions on Queries

Phew! Wasn’t that a fun contest? You all wore me out. But I’m already thinking about what we’ll do in May. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming… answering your questions on queries. You said “don’t pitch a novel unless it’s complete.” Do you feel the same about query letters? Do we only query completed works, or are ideas fair game? If you are sending a query to an agent, only pitch projects that are ready to go. If it’s a novel and you are not previously published with a mainstream commercial publisher, this means a completed manuscript. For non-fiction, a complete book proposal and two sample chapters will do. (But more and more, publishers are asking for complete manuscripts on non-fiction, too. Especially with unproven...
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Ask the Agent: Earning Our Keep

How do agents earn their 15% commission? Ah, how do we earn it… let us count the ways. 4 An agent can often use their negotiating skills and knowledge of the marketplace to secure an advance that’s at least 15% higher than you could have gotten on your own. It’s nice when they pay for themselves right up front. 4 Agents have access to the publishing houses through their relationships with the editors and publishers, something that most unagented writers don’t have. Agented proposals generally go to the top of the slush pile. Or circumvent the slush pile altogether. 4 Some publishers don’t accept unagented manuscripts; so if you want to submit to them, an agent’s your hot ticket. 4 Most agents edit, revise, critique and otherwise help shape and polish...
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Ask the Agent: Christian Worldview

“You’ve said you’re looking for books with a Christian Worldview. Why do you say that, and what does it mean?” First, almost all agents specialize in a particular type of book they represent. (I am talking about the entire universe of U.S. literary agents, both ABA & CBA.) Some represent mostly romance. Some specialize in mystery, thriller and suspense. Some agents specialize in healthcare and self-help titles. Others might be a little wider and represent all genres of fiction, or many different categories of non-fiction. This makes sense because there are so many publishers, and within them, so many editors handling different kinds of books, that any single agent can only get to know so many at one time. Specialization allows agents to become experts in their...
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ASK THE AGENT: How I Get Clients

“How do you get most of your clients?” As you know, I’m in a “building” phase of this agenting gig, actively looking for clients. It’s been about three months and I’ve brought 16 writers into the agency. I thought you might find it interesting to know how I got each one. Obviously a great deal of my time is spent culling through queries and searching for that one special book. But percentage-wise, only about a third of my business (so far) has come in over the transom. The rest came through referrals from people I know in the business. Here’s a rundown so far: Client #1: This is the first project I sold, a two-book deal on a women’s self-help project. She queried my colleague Greg Johnson and he passed it on to me. So it was over the...
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Ask the Agent: Decisions, Decisions

If you have a bunch of book ideas, how do you decide which ones are viable? FOR NON-FICTION: Spend some time on each idea, one by one. First work on a rough outline of what the book would be. List the themes and topics you’d want to cover. Ask yourself: is there enough material here for a whole book? Consider whether you’ll be able to gather the information needed to fill a book on this topic. Is there enough to say? Marketplace: Are there other books on this topic? Too many? Is there room or need for another one? Can you identify a hole in the market that needs to be filled? If there are no books on this topic, consider why. Is there a need but no one has filled it yet? Or is this something that people don’t want to read a book about? You: Consider whether you’re...
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ASK THE AGENT: Paying Back Your Advance

Do authors ever have to pay back their advance? I mean, what if the advance is $5,000 but I only sell 2,000 books? Do I have to pay that back, or is that just the gamble that the publisher takes? No, you don’t have to pay back your advance for lack of sales, or at least I’ve never seen such a case. Of course, everything is outlined in the author contract and I suppose it’s possible for a publisher to work that in (and the way things are going these days, it wouldn’t surprise me). You’re right, it’s part of the risk the publisher takes on you. I say “part” because in actuality, your book is costing them a lot more than your advance. (See “How Much Does It Cost…“) Just FYI, there are cases in which you have to pay back your...
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ASK THE AGENT: Client-Agent Communication

“How much communication should you expect from your agent? Is it unrealistic to ask them to let you know to which publishers they’ve sent a proposal? Should they give you periodic updates (perhaps quarterly?) or are agents generally so busy that it’s unfair to expect them to contact you unless they receive a ‘pass’ or someone shows interest?” Sheesh, you clients are so demanding! Okay, just kidding. As you know, I’m just getting my feet wet here on the agenting side of the fence, but of course I’ve been working with agents my whole career, including when I worked in Hollywood and let me tell you, those agents are a whole different ballgame. But I digress. Here’s the deal. Every agent has a different style. That’s why it’s...
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