Monday, November 23, 2015

Ask the Agent!

From 11AM to 4PM ET I am taking your questions about the industry, what an Agent does etc. etc. Please see my last post below for all the details!

Please ask your questions in the comments section of this post.

I look forward to answering your questions!

46 comments:

  1. I'm wondering how you find an agent or editor who likes your particular style of picture books. For example, I'm trying to write quiet books to help direct children to appreciate, observe, respect nature and the environment. It seems hard to track that detailed kind of information.

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    1. I will say that "quiet" picture books can be tough right now, but it sounds like you looking to appeal to more of an educational market, so I'd look for agents who represent educational projects. Most agents have specifics for what they're looking for in their bios on their agency website or their blog. You can also look to Pub. Marketplace and look at their sales. That will give you a good sense of what they like.

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  2. Thank you for hosting an "ask the agent." I have two questions: I'd love to know your thoughts regarding submitting a heavily revised manuscript to an agent who may have seen an earlier version. Second: I'd love to know if you think it is okay to send paginated PB manuscripts to agents (some like it, some don't) if you aren't sure of their preference. Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. Did this agent ask for a revision or ask to see future work? Typically if an agent did not say either of these things they might not be interested, but you can always ask if they're open to it. Explain that you did a complete overhaul. I think it's fine to send paginated picture books. I can't imagine an agent passing based on that, so it shouldn't be a problem, even if it's not their preference!

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    2. Thank you for your response and for hosting this helpful "ask the agent."

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  3. I have been to two conferences recently where editors from two publishing houses have given their "top wish list items" and I felt like they were describing my MS. I have yet to find an agent that is looking for my type of MS, but starting the querying process. Is it worth mentioning these conference findings in my query letter, or a total NO! I've heard it go both ways. Opinions?

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    1. Meaning you have queried widely and haven't had any agent interest or you haven't started querying and aren't seeing any great fits based on agents' wish lists? I wouldn't mention those conference findings. Agents are going to be on top of what editors are looking for, so I don't think it would affect their decision to look at your work.

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  4. Have you felt any "writerly jealousy" about a book or client another agent has picked up? Tell us about it.

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    1. I wouldn't say jealousy, but more of "the one that got away" type of feeling. It happens to every agent at some point or another where a project we offered on lands with another agent. I'm always happy for the author no matter what they chose and often end up buying it when it comes out. I support books and authors whether or not they're a client of mine :)

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  5. Hi there. Thanks for doing this. When submitting and R & R to an agent who has requested it, should an author red line the changes or mark them with a comment bubble? Or maybe give an overview in the email? Do most agents read straight through the whole ms. again or just look at the updated sections? Thanks!

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    1. I can't speak for all agents, but I find a redlined manuscript distracting for an R&R in earlier stages (when it's big picture revising). When it comes down to later revisions for a client and we're working on smaller sections I liked red lining and comment bubbles, but this is just my preference. I'd ask the agent how they'd prefer the revision!

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    2. Oh and I read the entire revision when I ask for one, unless it's really not working and I feel it would be best to pass.

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  6. Hi,

    I have a few questions in regard to agent queries:

    1) If a writer is working with an editor on a revision but does not yet have an offer from the publisher, should that be mentioned in an agent query for a different manuscript?

    2) Do most publishers deem it acceptable for a writer to seek representation to help with a contract after a deal is offered?

    3) How do the chances differ for a writer seeking representation for the first time vs. someone who had an agent in the past?

    Thank you for your time and for hosting this "Ask the Agent" post. I look forward to reading your answers to everyone's questions.

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    1. Yes, I'd mention you're going through an edit with an editor. Generally, I'd say find an agent first before doing any submitting to editors (unless it's a special circumstance--an editor critiqued you at a conference and requested the manuscript etc.). Part of an agent's job is matching a project with the perfect editor. This is not to say that you can't get an agent after you have an offer from a publisher. It works out that way sometimes and most publishers are ok with giving you the time to find an Agent after making an offer. As far as 3), that probably depends on the Agent. I am looking at the quality of the writing and strength/uniqueness of the premise and voice. If you have that, it doesn't matter to me if you were agented or not. The only time I really see it as an issue is if you bounce from agent to agent and don't part ways amicably...or that agent sent out your work widely. If that's the case, my options for submission are very limited.

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    2. Thank you! It was wonderful to get an agent's insight into my questions as well as those posted by others. (Yes, there was a special circumstance in regard to the manuscript mentioned and only one house has it.)

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  7. Christa: Thanks for soliciting questions. What do you look for in a query letter?

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    1. I look that you follow our submission guidelines and did your research. Tell me why you're querying me. Why is your work a fit for me? I actually have a post on query letters on my blog. Check it out!

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  8. Hi Christa! If I might ask, what's your communication style with clients, as far as frequency and preferences (email vs. phone, etc.)? Thanks!

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    1. Frequency varies but communication is important to me so I'm never going to disappear and always try to be very responsive when a client emails me. I check in even if there's nothing pending at the moment. As far as preference, that depends on the author. Some are more comfortable with email, others prefer phone. But there definitely are certain conversations that are better suited for the phone such as the always exciting "we have an offer on your book" call and more in depth editorial revision discussion.

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  9. I got one!
    How important is it to have proper formatting in query letters and "the first 10 pages"? I use gmail and when I cut and paste my 10 pages it takes out all the tabs and splits the paragraphs into double spaced lines.
    Thanks for your time!

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    1. Good question! This happens to me with cutting and pasting into gmail too. I always wonder how much time I should put into reformating in gmail.

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    2. As long as the formatting isn't all over the place it should be fine. It should look neat and uniform.

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  10. Hi Christa, Thanks for taking questions!

    The other day at the Scholastic Book Fair I noticed a new book that is set in the same time and place (Berlin at the time of the Berlin Wall being erected) as that of my latest manuscript. I had been excited about sending the MS out, as I've just completed lengthy edits on it, but now I'm feeling less-than-enthusiastic. Depressed, even. Can you shed some light on whether my manuscript is still worth sending out, or should I shelve it and devote energy into the next project? I've spent so much time on the Berlin book, I'm hoping you say it's not a lost cause. Thank you for all advice, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. First things I'd do is read this book you saw. How similar is it really to yours? You often will see multiple books on similar topics or dealing with similar subject matter especially when it comes to history. There are many books set in WWII for example. So unless the characters and story are very similar, you should be fine! Likely this author went in a different direction than you!

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    2. Thanks Christa! I took your advice and ordered the book.

      Thankfully the MC is a German girl, whereas my MC is an American boy. Unfortunately both stories involve having family divided by the wall, and a heroic struggle to get people over to the West.

      Hopefully the other differences I find will be broad enough the differentiate between the two books.

      Fingers crossed!

      Thanks again,

      HP

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  11. PS: The Berlin book is YA. I should have mentioned that! HP

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  12. Since picture books are so short do you always read the manuscript even if the query was just so so? And how important do you feel the query letter is given you have the whole story? Obviously writers should still put care into crafting it, but if the letter doesn't make you the excited, but the story really hooks you does the story always win out? Thank you for doing this!

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    1. I almost always read both the query and the sample pages unless the project is similar to something I already rep or is in a genre I don't represent. I think a lot of people focus too much on the query being perfect and sometimes don't revise as much or send their strongest writing to accompany it. The writing is the most important part, but make sure the query letter is professional and know your hook! If the story hooks me that's what matters. I wouldn't reject a story I liked based on a lackluster query.

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  13. I have a contemp rom on sub under review. I am almost done with a YA that I want to sub in a month. There are some agents that I want to sub it to that rejected the romance. What is the right thing to do etiquette-wise? Do I need to let the people reviewing the rom know about the YA? I know nothing is a sure thing at this point. Thanks.
    Thanks, Jenn

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    1. And do these agents that saw your Adult Romance, also rep YA? Make sure they do! I generally wouldn't suggest submitting two different projects to a different set of agents at the same time. It can complicate things. I'd send to agents who look for both YA and romance. Send out your strongest project first and mention the other one in the query. If they like your writing they very well may ask to see your other project even if the first wasn't quite a fit.

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  14. Is it a pro or con to mention a self-published work when querying an agent?

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    1. Did it sell well? If so mention it, if not, you don't need to at the querying stage in my opinion .

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  15. Hi Christa,

    I see a lot of agents exclusively specify "author-illustrators only", but as an author-illustrator trying to break into the field -- even with that exclusivity it still isn't working for me. Can you decode this bit of agent language?

    And also (randomly) have you ever had people mail you strange gifts as an attempt to get their manuscript read? I'm not mailing you one, but was curious about the creep factor that agents go through as a part of their job.

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    1. Meaning these agents only rep author/illustrators and no one else? Have you tried just submitting your picture book text on it's own and seeing if you get any bites? Breaking in as an author illustrator is tricky as you need to be really good at not only writing but illustrating too. If you're good at one but not as good at the other you might get rejections as that agent might think that you aren't open to doing just one or the other but are only a package deal. I think almost every agent has gotten a strange gift or note at some point. Definitely do NOT send gifts. Let your writing speak for itself.

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    2. To go with sending out your text alone, there are plenty of agents who represent picture book texts on their own and don't expect that person to also illustrate. Most of my picture book authors only do the text.

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    3. Thank you for the response. I haven't tried submitting my text alone, in part because I love to illustrate. People who write think you have an ultimate "in" if you illustrate too, but it's just not worked out that way in my case.

      Again, thank you for the feedback, I'll test our you suggestion and see what happens!

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  16. Hi Christa!

    How long should we spend on revisions before querying? My MS involves social media, and I'm worried if I wait too long it could become dated by the time it hits shelves.

    Also, does identifying a novel as upper MG instead of MG hurt our chances?

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    1. I don't think social media is going anywhere anytime soon, but also be mindful of a manuscript that relies too much on pop culture and current trends. It will feel dated quickly as a result and most agents and editors want something that can stand the test of time so a kid 10 years from now can still relate to it.

      As for how long to spend on revisions...it's different for everyone, but never send a first draft. Join a critique group and get other writers who write for your age group to give you their honest feedback and apply what feels right to you. You're likely going to go through a few revisions before the manuscript is ready to go out. Don't send a manuscript that you know is rough and needs more work, but at the same time it also doesn't need to be perfect. Make sure there aren't gaping plot holes or major character issues.

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    2. And labeling a project as upper MG doesn't hurt your chances. As soon as we start reading it we'll be able to tell what part of the MG audience it would fit with.

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  17. Hi, thanks for answering our questions! I subbed to an agent who I believe would be a good fit about a month ago. I just read that she is closing to queries this week, and I'd really love to send her my newest book (not the original query). If I haven't heard back, is it okay to send her the new manuscript before it's too late? Thanks!!!

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    1. So this agent already has a project from you? She didn't reject it? If she is still considering the first project I wouldn't send her a second. Most agents want one at a time unless we specify otherwise or ask you for more work.

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  18. How many picture books do you typically like to see (or need to like) from a writer before signing them. Thanks.

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