Thursday, August 23, 2007

Q&A Thursday

Yet another Thursday has rolled around, and here I am to answer your questions! I don't have any fun themes to offer like last week, I'm afraid, but then it's a tad early on the west coast, and I'm still waiting for my first cup of coffee to kick in. However, I'm sure all will be properly functional by the time I need to come up with some witty replies for you.

So? What'll it be? First five questions get an answer. I'll try to keep an eye out and let you know when we've reached quota for the day. Meanwhile, put your thinking caps on and come up with those things you really want to know, the ones that have you scratching your head in confusion or frustrated beyond measure. I'm here to help!

~Nephele

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen a lot of discussion about what to do and what not to do when approaching an agent as a new author, but I wanted to go beyond the query process.

What are some social gaffes new authors should try to avoid once they have signed with a new agent? What is the best way to get the professional relationship off on the right foot? And what sorts of things should you never do as a new client?

Chessie

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 11:24:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I've been looking for a publisher/agent for a chapter book series, I keep hearing that although they like the books, publishing houses don't want to take any risks with either a new author or the chapter book series. (Granted, this is in the Christian publishing world that seems to be floundering when it comes to fiction anyway.)

Have you noticed this reluctance to take on chapter books for 7-10 year olds, even as there seems to be more demand for MidGrade and YA work?

~ Monika

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 11:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi Chessie,

Great question! I think a great thing to do when you're first signing with an agent is discuss expectations regarding frequency of communication and what methods, times, etc. work best for both writer and agent. Do you work a day job where you can't respond to personal e-mail? Do you only answer your cell phone? Does the agent typically like phone calls or prefer questions be e-mailed? What's the fastest way each of you can contact the other if there's a major decision to be made?

Beyond communication, what are your working styles? These are the types of things you should probably consider before even signing on the dotted line. Do you want a hands-on agent who will give you some editorial help, or do you prefer one that only deals with the business end of things? How does the agent handle the submissions process, and how much can you expect to be kept in the loop?

Once you have these things straightened out, the early stages of your writer/agent relationship will go much more smoothly. Many agents tailor their levels of communication with their clients based on what the writer prefers, so it certainly is good to talk it all out.

A few other things to remember:

1. Your agent has other clients, and so if you email a small question that's not time sensitive, don't be alarmed if it takes them a day to get back to you. Sometimes they might shoot an answer off, but other times they might be in the middle of reading a contract or negotiating a deal, and therefore unable to get back to you if it's not an emergency. Keep in mind that other clients will have to wait at some point while your agent works for you. It all balances out.

2. Don't expect things to happen overnight. Signing with an agent is the next step toward publication (or ramping up your career, if you're already published), but it's not like you've waved a magic wand. Your agent may ask for revisions on your manuscript, and will probably have mentioned that during your initial conversation. But they may want another round beyond whatever you've discussed. And once submissions go out, while editorial response will be faster than if you go it alone, it is still not an instant process. There are many, many agents funneling manuscripts to editors, and editors still need time to read the material. So don't hound your agent, expecting a sale the first week of submissions. Give it time, and trust that you'll be the first to know if something happens.

3. Ask what you can do to give your career a boost. Agents sell manuscripts, but they often have plenty of thoughts as to what you can do to make yourself and your work stand out--both during the submission process, and later on, when books hit the shelves. Talk to them about web sites, blogs, and other types of publicity. It's great to get an early start on some of these things so you can brainstorm a to-do list before you need it, rather than rushing around a month before your pub date.

Hope this helps!

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 11:39:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jeff said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 11:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi Monika,

I'm afraid we don't represent chapter books, so I don't have a good feel for that market. However, a series is generally a harder sell in all areas of publishing, particularly for an unknown author. Publishers don't want to commit to two unknowns: A new writer, and a multi-book contract for an unproven idea. You might want to try breaking in with a stand-alone title first, and see if that is a bit easier. Once you've published and have some sales numbers behind you, it might be easier to convince a publisher to risk your series.

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 11:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi Jeff,

Please don't use questions here for personal queries. In future, just shoot me an e-mail. I'll respond to you off the blog.

For everyone else, this question won't count as one of the five, so three more to go!

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 11:47:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Katie said...

Thanks for your answer a couple of weeks ago. I've got another question...

If an author sends you a query, and the query is rejected... is it ever okay to send you another query?

I'd like to start sending query letters to agents, but I'm scared that I'll ruin my chances with my dream agents (you're one of them) by sending them what I later find out was a rotten query letter... and then, when I finally get the hang of the query letter thing, they won't want to give me a second chance.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 2:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi Katie,

Of course you can query again. In fact, we encourage it. There are so many writers out there that persistence is key, and it's great if you exhibit that from the start of your career. And I'll let you in on a secret: if we banned every writer who ever sent us a bad query letter, or even just one that didn't quite click for us, we'd have a really small pool of people left to choose from. So take a breath and dive in. Good luck!

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 2:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger James Aach said...

Accepting questions is a dangerous business….

I've asked this question of a number of agents and authors and have gotten some interesting answers:

In the descriptions that agents (and editors) give of their work, they frequently note they have to "fall in love with" or "believe in" a book to pursue it's publication. That makes sense, considering it's hard work and the money doesn't just pour in.

Also from what I read, it appears most fiction agents and editors have roughly the same educational background (liberal arts, literature) and live and work in a few central locations - mostly NY. Again, this makes sense.

Question: Does the above mean that some types of fiction are more likely to be published than others, because agents/editors will find it corresponds more to their own interests --so they will "love it" more? A reading list established by Doctors would certainly be different than one established by Lawyers or Painters. Even if an agent or editor fights this tendency (if it exists) by watching the fiction book market, they would be looking at projects approved by others coming from the same outlook.

My particular concern has been with the integration of science and technology within fiction (not SF). This doesn't seem to interest agents much - judging by the bookshelves and my own experiences. I get the impression, though, that those deeply interested in literature seem to have given up on sci/tech in high school and never want to go anywhere near it again, whether it's wrapped in a good human interest story or otherwise. Perhaps one could make the same argument for other key issues like agriculture (e.coli, anyone?), water policy (a huge deal in the West) and so on.

Any thoughts on the above?

FYI: Here's my own tale in this regard -- which is hilarious and fascinating of course, but doesn't need to be read to understand the question: http://www.LabLit.com/article/83
The LabLit.com site in general frequently looks at similar topics.

It's possible this is a repeat of a post sent earlier today which did not appear to go through. If so, my apoligies and please delete.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 2:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Katie said...

Cool! Thanks so much... that sets my mind at rest. I guess I will dive in and send you one... once I write it! :-)

(Why am I so intimidated by writing these things, when I enjoy churning out 90,000 words and editing them ruthlessly so much? Oh well.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 2:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi James,

Very interesting question, and a good point as well. I can't speak for all agents or editors, of course, but I'll admit despite being a book worm and an English major, I'm also something of a geek. I love computers, math problems, and all sorts of scientific subjects. That doesn't mean I'm great at all of these things in an academic sense, of course, but I'm still interested in them. I'm fascinated by time travel in stories where the author has attempted a scientific justification instead of just a fictional "because we figured out how to do it." When I read thrillers, they tend toward the bio-hazard, computer, global-emergency type thing over the political/military sub-genres. And one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, has written some wonderful speculative fiction that incorporates science into her storytelling, and those books are considered far more literary than sf.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all editors and agents handle just fiction. While some specialize in nonfiction, there are many who are interested in both, and therefore their likes and passions regarding nonfiction subjects often bleed into what they like on the fiction side.

So, I think there's plenty of room for science in fiction without it being a true science fiction novel. Science and technology make for some great narrative hooks, and plenty of people in the industry enjoy reading those types of stories. After all, there's a big difference between reading a novel and reading a science text book, even discounting the lack of a final exam.

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 3:38:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Jen said...

I think there were only four questions when I looked, so I'm going to post this, if it comes in as a six question, I apologize.

Okay, I recently got a website and I posted some of my work online. I've been asking if this is a good idea and I keep getting different answers. At first, I hear this is a great thing to do. But then someone else will turn around and tell me I shouldn't, that I should run to my website and take down those pages FAST.

I'm super confused.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 4:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger James Aach said...

Nephele,

Thanks for your honest answer. There's quite a few examples at LabLit.com of authors being told by agents and editors that "there's too much science in it", as well as a lot of examples of "techno" novels where the total amount of tech info could be summarized in one paragraph. (The rest of these books is angst, sex and explosions.) But obviously it there have been a few success stories too - meaning someone out there isn't turning off to it completely. (Though frankly, you're of the few examples I've found, and unfortunately this interest seems to be well outside the scope of your agency.)

On a personal level it sounds like you might enjoy my book, as it's a biohazard thriller by an expert. See my site RadDecision.blogspot.com for details. It's free online, or it's in paperback.

Thanks again for being willing to answer questions. JA

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 4:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Hi Jen,

You counted correctly, you're question number five for the day.

Regarding the posting of material on your web site, this is one of those questions that really depends on the situation. As an unpublished author, posting entire stories on your site pretty much guarantees you won't be able to sell those stories anywhere, as they've technically already been "published" for free--meaning they're out there where anyone can access and read them, and so publishers are unlikely to want something readers won't pay to purchase in another format.

That said, there are, of course, exceptions. John Scalzi, a science fiction writer with a popular blog at http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/ posted a couple of his books on his site a while back and ended up getting publishing contracts out of it, simply because they were so popular, it appeared likely that word would spread and plenty of people would be interested in buying a permanent, hard copy of the books. But I'd have to say this was an unusual situation, prompted in part by novelty, timing, and the fact that science fiction readers are probably the most tuned in to the internet of all genre readers (though that last is, of course, just my personal speculation).

When it comes to excerpts or teasers of your work, you should be careful posting them online when you've yet to sold the work. Are we talking about a couple of pages or a chapter? That can be fine, particularly if you have a lot of readership and can point to statistics that show a lot of readers interested in finding out what comes next. But even writers whose books have sold can only post so much of the book online--most contracts actually stipulate either a percentage of the word count or a set number of words--because publishers don't want to give it away for free.

Another approach is to post a project you don't think has much chance of getting published. This is a double-edged sword. You get your work out there, but if it's not publishable, or not your best effort, then it might work against you in the long run, since agents and editors can visit your web site too, and it might affect their impression in a negative way.

Ultimately, I think your best bet with web sites is to write original content specifically for the site. Meaning, don't try to sell it elsewhere--just look at it as audience-building or good public relations. This is one of the reasons blogs have become so popular, since they provide a writing outlet without you essentially competing against yourself. While there are pros and cons for both sides, I think the safest decision is to keep work you plan to submit off of your web site.

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 6:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Thanks for the great questions, everyone. I hope you found the answers helpful. If you had a question but tuned in too late to post as one of the five for the day, come back next Thursday, as we'll be answering more questions then. Enjoy the rest of your week, and happy writing.

~Nephele

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 6:14:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing such thoughtful answers!

Chessie

Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 6:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diana Peterfreund said...

Katie, count me as someone who sent TKA a submission that was rejected before I sent them another project and signed with an agent there...

Sometimes it's just a matter of finding the RIGHT property to work with.

Friday, August 24, 2007 at 10:17:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Jen said...

Nephele -

Thanks so much for your answer to my question. I've decided to take your advise and write content designed for the site. Thanks again!

- Jen

Friday, August 24, 2007 at 5:55:00 PM EDT  

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