Friday, August 7, 2015

Ask the Agent by Jim Hart

A while back one of my clients sent me some interview questions for her blog. Here is a portion of that exchange. I thought they could be helpful if you’re either looking for a literary agent, or just wondering what your agent does all day! 

Q: You get lots of emails, not just queries but from current clients, editors, etc... What tips or advice do you have for writers regarding queries?
A: Keep it brief and be professional. Don’t try to be all mysterious and cute (unless you’re a humor writer).  I want to see the title, genre and word count of your book. And then a brief synopsis of two, or three, paragraphs. Quickly tell me about yourself. Is this your first published book? Why did you write this book? Tell me something about your author platform.

If the book you are pitching has been previously self-published PLEASE indicate that first. In most cases a publisher will not be interested in a previously self-published book. It’s frustrating to find out on my own that the book being pitched has already been self-published and has been available on Amazon.

Q: What catches your eye?
A: Quick details. Author credentials. A plot or subject that is either somewhat original, or is handled or presented in a unique way.

Q: Is longer or shorter better?
A: I like a shorter e-mail. Just hit me with the details: what’s the book? Who are you? Any publishing history?

Q:What are some things you DON'T want to see in a query?
A: Poor writing. Desperation. I would prefer that the author does not copy and paste chapters from their book into the e-mail.

Q: What are you looking for in a proposal?
A: Honesty. I look for some sort of indication that the writer has good knowledge of the publishing industry. I need a good bio with only pertinent information. I look for a marketing plan that spells out what the author will do and has done, not just what they plan to do. Don’t plan on making a website for your book. You should already have one in place before sending proposals. I look strongly at the comparable/competitive titles section, so take the time to do research.

Q: You've requested a full manuscript. On the author side of things, it's a lot of waiting and nail biting and checking emails every five minutes. But what happens on the agent side of things?
A: I’m trying to find extended periods of time where I can read relatively uninterrupted. I like to try to get six to ten chapters reviewed in one sitting. Usually by that time I’ll know if I need to, or want to, continue. If the manuscript is really compelling I read it in one sitting.
I’ve read a manuscript that I loved while on vacation. Most of the time I also take notes – what I liked or did not like, what I thought worked well and what did not.

Q: Why can it take weeks to get back to authors on partials/ fulls?
A: Every day is a new adventure and I never know what is going to demand my attention at the moment. We could get contract offers from publishers that need immediate attention. There may be phone calls from clients and editors. These are some of the things that I do in the time that I’m reviewing a proposal or a manuscript:

  • ·         I’m also going through my contacts, doing some research on possible publishers and taking notes in order to get an idea if a particular manuscript has a decent chance at getting picked up by a publisher.
  • ·         I’m looking at their web page / blog / Facebook / twitter pages
  • ·         I’m looking them up on Amazon to see any publishing history

Q: When is appropriate for an author to follow up on a MS request?
A: Six weeks

Q:  So you love the MS, and the author and you really seem to do you decide to make that final step and offer representation? And, in the end, what makes you decide on sending a rejection?
A: As soon as I am convinced that:
1) The writing is excellent and there is little or minimal work to be done on the manuscript.
2) I have identified a suitable number of editors to send the proposal to
3) I have a clear understanding of the author’s expectations and their writing goals for the future.
4) I get the sense that the author will be professional and pleasant to work with, and they understand that we will need to work as a team.

And that would be same criteria when I make the decision to not represent an author.

Q: What do agents do all day?
A: Drink coffee and use eye-drops! I try to send proposals to editors every day. Sometimes dozens will be sent in one day. We always have multiple e-mail conversations going not only with clients, but with editors. In addition to reviewing proposals and manuscripts I am reading industry newsletters, updating my contacts, researching publishers, trying to stay abreast of industry changes.

Q: Any other tips or advice or insider info?
A: Show the agent, through your query and proposal, that you are a hard worker. Do your research before sending a query or proposal to an agent. Don’t send a query until you have a great proposal complete and ready to send when it’s requested. I personally don’t mind when the proposal is attached to the query. That saves me time, and it’s one lest e-mail to keep track of.
And be patient!

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