Agents

When to follow up with a literary agent

30 April 2018

From former literary agent Nathan Bransford:

Contrary to popular belief among some fearful authors, literary agents will not be scared off and disappear into an angry puff of smoke the moment you send them a follow-up email.

An agent’s inbox looks like the electronic equivalent of Niagara Falls, and at any given time they will have literally thousands of pages in their to-be-read pile.

As a result, most agents will appreciate a timely and extremely polite nudge. (And if they would get annoyed by one, would you really want to work with them anyway?)

But when do you follow up with an agent and how often? In this post I’ll give you some guidelines on when and when not to follow up with an agent based on different stages in the publishing process.

Bear in mind that the below are just rules of thumb and different agents are always going to feel differently. And an individual agent’s stated preferences always wins for that agent.

. . . .

Unless otherwise specified by the agent, it’s not customary to follow up on query letters. Many agents have “no reply means no” policies and they will get annoyed pretty fast if you start chasing after a query that they didn’t reply to.

Yes, I know, it’s really scary to think your query got lost in the ether and was never seen by your dream agent, but that’s the way the e-cookie crumbles.

The only exception to this is if the agent specifically requested a query letter from you, as in a referral situation or where there’s some sort of a personal connection. In that case, I’d wait a few weeks and check again.

. . . .

If an agent requests a partial or full manuscript from you, they will expect you to follow up at some point if they haven’t gotten back to you in a timely fashion.

So how long do you wait? I’ve seen everything from a month to two and a half months recommended, but I personally would split the difference and follow-up once after six weeks and thereafter once a month until you get tired of following up.

. . . .

If you receive an offer of representation, it’s customary to then follow up with all of the agents who are currently considering your manuscript, whether a partial or a full. Give them a reasonable timeframe (7-14 days) to get back to you so you don’t leave the agent who offered you representation hanging.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG has seen prior posts from Nathan (who is now an author) and he seems like an intelligent and pleasant individual.

While PG has no doubt that the recommendations in the OP accurately reflect the world of agents and their expectations, while he was reading them, he was reminded of the rules of court (not the legal types of courts, although they can also be a bit strange, but the rules of royal courts).

As illustrations, here are some Rules of Etiquette as followed at Versailles:

Those wanting to speak to the king were not to knock on his door. Instead, using the left little finger, they had to gently scratch on the door until they were granted the permission to enter the room. Many courtiers grew that fingernail longer than the others for that purpose.

Continuing the rules of court.

. . . .

During the 17th century, in France, manners became a political issue. King Louis XIV and his predecessors, in collecting together the nobility of France to live with the sovereign at Versailles, instituted a sort of school of manners. At the palace, the courtiers lived under the despotic surveillance of the king, and upon their good behavior, their deference, and their observance of etiquette their whole careers depended. If you displeased a Louis, he would simply “not see you” the following day; his gaze would pass over you as he surveyed the people before him. And not being “seen” by the king was tantamount to ceasing to count, at Versailles.

A whole timetable of ceremonies was followed, much of it revolving around the King’s own person. Intimacy with Louis meant power, and power was symbolically expressed in attending to certain of the king’s most private and physical needs: handing him his stockings to put on in the morning, being present as he used to chaise percée, rushing when the signal sounded to be present as he got ready for bed. It mattered desperately what closeness the king allowed you – whether he spoke to you, in front of whom, and for how long.

The point about Versailles was that there was no escape: the courtiers had to “make it” where they were. The stage was Louis’s, and the roles that could be played were designed by him. It was up to each courtier to fit him- or herself into one of the slots provided. The leaders of all the other towns and villages of France were made, largely through the use of etiquette, and more specifically through rudeness and judicious slighting by the tax-collecting intendants, to feel their subordination, the distance from the court.

. . . .

The French court imposed elaborate codes of etiquette on the aristocracy, among them the way to use a napkin, when to use it, and how far to unfold it in the lap. A French treatise dating from 1729 stated that “It is ungentlemanly to use a napkin for wiping the face or scraping the teeth, and a most vulgar error to wipe one’s nose with it.” And a rule of decorum from the same year laid out the protocol:

“The person of highest rank in the company should unfold his napkin first, all others waiting till he has done so before they unfold theirs. When all of those present are social equals, all unfold together, with no ceremony.”
Fashionable men of the time wore stiffly starched ruffled collars, a style protected while dining with a napkin tied around the neck. Hence the expression “to make ends meet.” When shirts with lace fronts came into vogue, napkins were tucked into the neck or buttonhole or were attached with a pin. In 1774, a French treatise declared, “the napkin covered the front of the body down to the knees, starting from below the collar and not tucked into said collar.”

Link to the rest at Etiquipedia

PG (sort of) remembers a saying to the effect that officials with the least power require the most punctilious respect for their position.

What is the position of a literary agent in 2018? Will that position change by 2028?

Traditionally, agents provided a valuable service for publishers. They strained away the worst of manuscripts thereby saving the employees of publishers untold hours of work wading through large stacks of paper to find the occasional pearl.

And, even better, agents were paid for their services by authors, not publishers.

An agent’s life is easier if all manuscripts must pass through his/her hands.

Let’s assume, for discussion purposes, that one in one thousand random manuscripts that a literary agency receives will interest a publisher. Expanding the pool of manuscripts should be good news for the agent. 5,000 manuscripts equals 5 published books, 10,000 manuscripts equals 10 published books, etc.

Yes, there’s more work involved if more manuscripts come into an agency, but a skilled agent (or a less-skilled intern) can usually discern within a few paragraphs that the author has not submitted a commercially viable manuscript. Dealing with a large number of incoming manuscripts is generally more efficient if the losers are rapidly culled. If an agent finds one reason to reject a manuscript she/he should probably not continue reading to discover whether there may be other reasons to reject the manuscript. Better to start on a fresh manuscript that may not include a reason to reject.

However, if a disturbance in the Force reduces the number of manuscripts coming in the door, that’s bad news for the agent. If one in one thousand manuscripts is going to be published and the monthly flow drops from 1,000 to 500, the agent’s income is cut in half.

Since not all manuscripts are created equal, even worse news arrives if the creators of publishable manuscripts begin to do something else with their manuscripts instead of submitting them to agents. If the ratio of publishable to received manuscripts changes from one in 1,000 to one in 2,000, the agent’s income is again cut in half.

PG is over-simplifying the situation, but the bottom line for agents is that every successful indie author represents a loss of potential income for agents as a group and one agency in particular. And it’s likely not just a loss of a single book. While some successful indie authors do go into traditional publishing exclusively or on a hybrid basis, most don’t, so an indie author with the talent to support a successful career takes many books out of an agent’s pile of money-makers.

PG suspects that documents like the OP will seem very strange to authors in future years.

Publishing’s Greatest Challenge Might Surprise You

5 December 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

In the October 2 issue of Publishers Weekly, the publication revealed the results of its annual salary and jobs survey. One of the questions the 442 respondents answered was, What is the #1 issue facing the industry in 2017?

. . . .

The #1 challenge publishing faces is the limited number of online retailers

Although only 5 percent of responders named this as the prime problem, PW reported,

“…A number of publishers who commented on industry issues named Amazon–in one way or another–as the greatest challenge to book publishers.”

The relationship with Amazon has been fraught from the beginning. Yes, we hate Amazon because it is monopolistic–and more so every day. But where do many (most?) readers buy their books? Uh, Amazon.

In terms of creatively finding ways to drive the price down on individual titles, no other entity can surpass Amazon. This year we had the challenge of which seller will get the sale when the buyer clicks on the buy button. Book sellers other than the publisher received a boon from Amazon when the buy button went to the lowest bidder–the seller with the lowest price. Publishers have been inventively working to hold (or regain) that prime real estate. But that’s just the most recent challenge to publishing’s well-being that Amazon has either benignly or calculatingly posed. 2018 will doubtless add to Amazon’s list of ways to create publishing mayhem. (Not that publishing is being targeted; Amazon functions in the same cutthroat manner with every industry.)

The  #1 challenge to publishing is too many books being published

Publishing looks to the Bowker Report to collect these numbers, and it takes some time for Bowker to assemble them, but this is how the stats stood in September 2016: More than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an increase of 375% since 2010! The number of traditionally published books climbed to over 300,000. The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available.

In 2016, the U.S. population was reported at 323.1 million. Think about how many avid readers would be needed to sustain the present explosion of available books. Is it any wonder that a new title has a few weeks at a retail outlet to sell through to a customer? And how is the reader supposed to ferret through this vast selection to find the books that interest him or her? The problem is staggering.

. . . .

The greatest challenge seen by publishers is flat sales

Twenty-five percent of the respondents are concerned about a publishing variable that is easy for each publisher to track–how many books sold this year? The sobering fact publishers picked this as their primary concern is that it’s core to the industry. Publishing’s function boils down to selling books. If it doesn’t succeed at this, it won’t succeed at all. And it isn’t like 2017 is the exception. No growth has occurred for five years.

As the PW article reports, “According to the Association of American Publishers’ recent StatShot report, total industry sales fell to $26.24 billon in 2016, down 5.1% from 2015. Between 2012 and 2016, sales fell every year except 2014, and over the five-year period sales dropped 5.2%. Within the trade segment, sales rose 1.5% in 2016 over 2015 and were up 1.3% in 2016 over 2012.”

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management and thanks to David for the tip.

If only Amazon would just go away, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only Amazon would increase its prices a lot, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only there weren’t so many books, mostly sold from Amazon, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only publishers could sell more books, everything would be so much better in the world of Books & Such.

If only we could return to the good old days.

.

.

The simple fact is that the best way to make money in the book business in 2017 is to sell ebooks. All an indie author or a publisher needs to do is create an electronic book file, upload it to Amazon, etc., (or maybe just Amazon) and wait for the monthly checks to arrive.

PG suspects the math is pretty much the same for small and large publishers.

You can run a very lean publishing organization selling ebooks. (PG suspects most indie authors are a one-person publishing organization.)

No printing costs, no inventory management, no Ingram fees, no shipping fees, no returns and nobody needed to manage the whole printed book mess.

If you must have printed books, PG suspects that a print-on-demand operation like CreateSpace is probably the most profitable way of doing that if you track down the fully-loaded costs of all the various people and operations in creating, maintaining and managing an inventory of printed books.

It’s no wonder that traditional publishing is such a low-wage/low-profit business.

The underlying problem for Books & Such and a lot of other agents and publishers is that the reason authors pay them so much is that they are gatekeepers – gatekeepers to publishers who don’t want to spend time reading submissions from authors, gatekeepers to printed book sales via Barnes & Noble and other traditional bookstores.

Gatekeepers make their money by charging people who want to go through their gate. And gatekeepers in the book business don’t just charge a toll one time. The book deal that is closed to day will pay the large majority of the money the book generates to the gatekeepers that permitted the book to enter the traditional stream of book commerce.

And, to add insult to injury, the gatekeepers will continue to receive the same toll for the rest of the author’s life. Plus 70 years. The author will be dead and the agent will be dead and everybody who worked for the publisher when the book was released will be dead. But the tolls will continue.

Some time, PG needs to calculate the total payments made to gatekeepers during the hundred-odd years before the copyright expires on a book.

If the current US copyright laws had been place when Ernest Hemingway wrote, given that Hemingway died in 1961, his agent and publishers would continue to receive their gatekeeper tolls until 2031. Gatekeeping tolls in the form of agents’ fees and publisher’s share of book sales would still be payable for The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1926.

PG says fewer and fewer authors are interested in walking through those particular gates.

The simple reason is that there is an alternative and that alternative pays better than traditional publishing does for most authors. More and more writers are realizing that if they want to be professional authors and earn their living by writing, they are much more likely to reach their goal by self-publishing ebooks and selling them online.

A few facts from Author Earnings (emphasis is PG’s):

  • In 2016, two-thirds of traditionally-published fiction and non-fiction books were sold online.
  • About 75% of adult fiction and non-fiction books (including both traditional and indie published) were sold online (77% of fiction, 72% of non-fiction) in 2016.
  • In early 2017, Big Five publisher sales on Amazon were 20.8%–or barely one fifth–of all Amazon US consumer ebook purchases.
  • As far as the earnings of individual authors who have debuted in the last three years:
    • 250 Big Five authors are annually earning $25,000 or more from Amazon sales
    • 200 recent small or medium publisher authors earn $25,000 or more from their Amazon sales annually
    • Over 1,000 indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years are earning more than $25,000 per year from Amazon sales
  • Looking at earnings of debut authors from the past five years, more indie authors are now earning a $50K-or-better living wage from Amazon than all of their Big Five and Small/Medium publisher peers put together.
  • Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authors and 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.

PG suggests that traditional publishing’s greatest challenge is demonstrated by numbers like this.

10 Novels Agents Have Already Seen a Billion Times

9 November 2017

From Electric Lit:

As a literary agent, I receive roughly 500 queries, or book pitches, a month. After 11 years of doing this job, I have seen a lot of book ideas. Obviously I’ve noticed trends (did you know all vampires live in Seattle now?) but there are other similarities outside of pop culture or critical mass made evident by the slush pile. When an agent or editor says they are looking for something they’ve never seen before, these are the things we don’t mean.

. . . .

1. The Axe To Grind Novel

This book sure will show your stupid boss/girlfriend/teacher/parent they were an idiot for firing/dumping/failing/not loving you! Unfortunately, your personal injustices are your own, and it’s hard for the reader to generate enough sympathy for the infallible “protagonist” when everyone else is 100% horrible and wrong. If your life was The Glass Castle, then yeah, write that, but I sure hope it wasn’t.

A subcategory of The Axe To Grind Book of Non-Fiction is the Stunning Work from a Fearless Whistleblower that will Set the World of [Industry] on Fire.Maybe it will! But I usually learn about these stories from the news, as they are genuine news, and not in the query pile.

. . . .

8. Eat, Pray, Whatever

These stories of enlightenment in the face of illness/divorce/loss/grief as an important personal journey, most often written by women, are heartbreaking and profound. These issues are serious and so is the self-actualization (of women. Sorry dudes, we’ve heard enough about your self-actualization). But this formula of illness etc. leading to radical life change has crossed my desk so many times that it no longer holds any meaning. It’s a familiar jumble of medical jargon, empty white wine bottles, and taillights in the mist.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

John Grisham reveals his biggest money mistake

25 October 2017

From MarketWatch:

It’s of little surprise that the consistently best-selling John Grisham regularly lands on lists of the highest paid authors. But the feat becomes particularly impressive when you consider he probably could have earned millions more if not for an early career decision to listen to his agent instead of his instincts.

“Oh huge, huge, huge mistake,” Grisham said of the decision in a recent interview with MarketWatch on the occasion of the release of his latest book, “The Rooster Bar.”

After Grisham’s second book, “The Firm,” debuted to much acclaim in 1991, fans began searching for his first novel “A Time To Kill.” Grisham and his reps begged his small publisher at the time to print more copies, but the company was on the precipice of bankruptcy and so couldn’t afford to pump more out.

They offered to sell the rights to “A Time To Kill” back to Grisham for what he described as “almost nothing.”

. . . .

Grisham said he wanted to buy the rights, but got talked out of the decision by his agent at the time. Though that agent had consistently given him good advice, Grisham said “I knew in my gut it was not the right decision.”

His publisher, Doubleday, bought the rights instead a few months later and started printing paperback, hardback and other versions of the book, Grisham said. “They’re still printing ‘A Time To Kill,’” he said. “I don’t even want to think about how much money that cost me, but it was millions and millions.”

Link to the rest at MarketWatch and thanks to Al for the tip.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero ‘was originally black’

14 September 2017

From The Guardian:

Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day on Wednesday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

Asked why it was changed, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”

Her husband’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who was also being interviewed, said the change to a white character was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers.

“I can tell you that it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” said Sturrock. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Broken Query System

21 August 2017

From Books & Such Literary Management:

Broken things drive me crazy. Just call me the Fix-it Fairy. If something is broken–be it an object, a person, or a system–I have trouble accepting the state of brokenness. I want it fixed.

Last week I talked about the correct way to submit queries. Today I want to vent about the query system agents currently use to screen potential clients. Here’s a news flash: the system is broken.

Let me tell you why.

Queries are not necessarily representative. Some of the finest writers are some of the worst query writers and vice versa. We’re making seat-of-the-pants decisions on a bit of promotional-type writing.

Scarcity of Slots. Truth be told, most established agents carry a very full client list. That’s not to say that we don’t take on a new client if we fall in love with the book or the writer, but I struggle to find new clients through the query system. I often wonder if it is counter-productive. So how do we find clients? Each agent is different and I know, even in our agency, some agents have found a good number of their clients through the query system. But I tend to find clients two different ways: through referrals from editors, clients or published authors; and through meeting writers in person at a conference. As I write this I’m in Minneapolis for a the Northwest Christian Writer’s Conference. I always look forward to meeting writers in the flesh. Some writers I’ll be meeting for the second or third time.

So. . . can the broken query system be fixed?

I’m not sure it can be fixed. In a dream world I would say that the tsunami of queries needs to be stemmed but no matter how many times we stress research and matching the project to the agent we can’t make a dent because query spammers never assume it applies to them. The only writers who take heed are the very writers we most like to represent– writers who invest their time in research and follow all the guidelines.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management

Curtis Brown buys Ed Victor Ltd

3 July 2017

From The Bookseller:

Curtis Brown has bought Ed Victor Ltd, following the passing of agent Ed Victor, aged 78, last month.

The shareholders of Ed Victor Ltd agreed terms to move their business to Curtis Brown and all rights will be handled by Curtis Brown from now on. Ed Victor Ltd’s client list includes former prime minister David Cameron, Andrew Marr, Nigella Lawson and Sophie Dahl, among others.

According to Ed Victor’s widow Carol Victor, the sale of the agency to Curtis Brown was Victor’s wish in such an eventuality. Victor was represented by Curtis Brown’s Jonathan Lloyd when he published The Obvious Diet with Vermilion in 2013, as Lloyd recently recalled in an obituary for The Bookseller.

Carol Victor said: “We are very pleased that Curtis Brown will assume the care of our distinguished clients and continue the work of servicing their back lists and looking after their future interests. I discussed this eventuality with Ed and it was his advice to turn to Curtis Brown, the oldest and most highly respected of agencies and the one he had chosen for himself, when he wrote his own book.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

In case you wondered what happens when your agent dies.

The Entitled Writer

2 June 2017

From agent Wendy Lawton:

We talk a lot about the kinds of writers we love to work with but when we agents get together the talk often turns to the writers we hate representing.

And there is always one standout– one writer we all cite as the writer we’d most hate to represent. The entitled writer.

This is a tough business and it takes a team to make a project work these days. It takes a hardworking writer who has a “servant attitude.” That’s a hard term to define. It doesn’t mean the writer is low man on the totem pole. Some of our greatest leaders of all time had a servant attitude. It means that you will selflessly serve others.

My own job requires a servant attitude. My place in this industry is to serve my clients and to serve the publishers. I can think of no better work.

. . . .

It’s the writer who refuses to edit, claiming his first draft was good enough. After all, what’s an editor for?

It’s the author who won’t do his share of marketing. He doesn’t have time and besides, the publisher has a whole department to do this.

It’s the wannabe writer who can’t be bothered to read publishing blogs, work on the craft, or attend conferences. He just calls an agent on the phone and says he plans to get his book published and wants to know how.

It’s the person with a story who comes up to an author at a signing and tells her that he has a great idea for a book. Can she write it? They can split the profits.

Link to the rest at Books & Such Literary Management

PG wants to nominate “a hardworking writer who has a ‘servant attitude’” for some award somewhere.

Maybe  “The Best Reason Not to Call this Agent” award or the “If the Author is the Servant, Who is the Master?” award.

Or visitors to TPV can decide if a different award is more appropriate.

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