Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Debut Authors, Editorial Work, and Agents! Oh My!

I performed a mini-study on my current client list today. I color-coded according to percentage of new authors who are unpublished, percentage who were unpublished when they came to me, but are now in print, and then percentage of clients who came to me as already publishing authors. Now, keep in mind this is just my list—and the most current one, at that—but I thought the results would encourage all of you. 25% of my current clientele are currently unpublished, which means we’re either seeking a publishing contract, or the authors are writing/editing/revising. Another 25% were already published before they came to me. But a whopping 50% were unpublished when I signed them on, and are now published authors! And they say that agents are only looking for established authors!

Truthfully, my favorite part of this job is finding brand new talent. It’s the whole treasure hunting aspect of an agent’s life. The second favorite part is then hooking up that writer with just the right editor and publishing house. And this leads us to the question raised by our fine Lucy Stokes. She posted:

I asked another agent this recently at a conference and I'd be intertested in your response. If you have a submission that the idea interests you and you think the writing is "almost there," but needs some tweaks, would you possibly take on that write and work with him or her to make it even better for submission?

Such a good question. The truth of the matter is that ordinarily, for our agency to take the risk outlined above, i.e. sign on a brand new author and hope to find them a publishing deal, we’re looking for the most polished work we can possibly sign on. But every now and then a rare author comes along, one with a fantastic voice, but whose work may need some plot overhauling, and I’ll take a gamble. So I would say that there has to be something very special to the author’s material for us to take on an author who needs serious editorial revision. We almost always offer some suggestions, but to get in depth with our critiquing, we need a pretty strong feeling that we can sell the work.

Think of it this way—we don’t make a dime unless we sell an author’s work. It’s not that we’re mean and closed-minded that we don’t sign on a whole raft of unpublished authors. We’re talking simple economics. To make a living—any living at all in this game—we have to sell books and earn commissions. Any agent who tries to tell you otherwise is probably looking to free you up from some excess dollars. J There are unethical agencies out there who charge exorbitant reading fees, or packaging fees, or the like. Run! Flee! And find a good agent who wants to take a risk by potentially hanging with you for a long time until finding you a publishing deal.

I’m sure this will elicit a ton of great new questions, so lay them on us!


Blogger Edie Ramer said...

I don't have a question, but after reading your post I'm eager for you to take queries again. :)

Edie Ramer

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 12:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Edie, that's a great response! Thanks. Actually, I anticipate opening back up for general submissions after I return from my vacation on July 17th. I'm away July 10-17, and then want to open for general queries starting thereafter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 1:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Ellen said...

That's all very encouraging, Deidre. It's nice to know that you take on such a large percentage of unpublished authors and turn them into published authors! And it's great to know that new authors really are finding homes with publishers, too.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 8:42:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very encouraging!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 8:44:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Diedre ;) Great post!! I've been wondering for a while about something and this offers me the perfect opportunity to ask:

You mentioned that an author, who has a strong voice/style, could be taken on despite the need for revisions. Many authors get all tied up in knots when, after they submit, they realize there's a typo on page 7 and a missing word on page 12, and oh-my-gosh! why didn't anyone TELL me I used a homophone on page 22? I'll be rejected for sure!

So, basically what I'm asking, is if an author hasn't hired a pro to make thier work sparkle, but has OBVIOUSLY polished it to the best of their limited (only one pair of eyes) ability--is it all right not to worry themself into an ulcer over a few of these errors?

Not to say they wouldn't be rejected for other reasons--but on that issue by itself?


Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 10:16:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Deidre - and it's very encouraging to hear how many unpublished authors TKA takes a risk on. This is a tricky/difficult question, but when you sign an unpublished author, does the agency have a time frame in mind for when that author *should* sell? Ie. a year. Is there a certain point in time where an author might be cut loose because he/she hasn't yet sold? Or maybe not "cut loose", but strongly encouraged to seek representation elsewhere? I've known some authors to stay with their agents for years before selling, and I've known other writers, who, after a time frame of 6-12 months with no sale, basically find their agent losing interest in a major way. Thoughts?


Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 10:41:00 AM EDT  
Blogger wilddunz said...

Thanks for answering this question and so quickly!! I was eager for the answer when I saw it posed. I'm so glad you will be accepting general submissions soon! I'm putting the final pages on a YA paranormal that I can't wait to polish up so I can get off a proposal to you. It is so encouraging to see that you are excited to find new talent and fresh ideas.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 4:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

I'm going to jump in here and answer this. We're all human, so of course you shouldn't give yourself an ulcer if you discover a typo somewhere after sending the manuscript out into the universe. Just make sure you make your best effort to produce the cleanest copy possible. That's all anyone can ask. You want a professional presentation. When it starts to be a problem is when the mistakes start to really add up - several on a page, or numerous problems over the course of the manuscript. That's just frustrating to read; it jars the agent out of the story and also makes one question whether the writer is taking their craft seriously. I think it's pretty obvious what the difference is between a few errors that you missed because you're just too close to the work, and real negligence.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 5:14:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, after reading your RTB column, I have a comment/question in that regard. As someone who writes "different than what's out there" historical romance, I am growing frustrated by the responses I'm getting. When you sign someone who writes "different" or who pushes the envelope, how do you translate your excitement as an agent to the editors you're trying to sell to? Do you approach the pitch any different than you do another author who might write more traditionally?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 5:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Good question. There's no time limit, although a good gauge in my mind is that an agent should part ways with an author once they lose "belief." I have shopped authors for longer than two years before finding them a home. So long as the writer is continuing to generate terrific books for me to shop, there's not a problem. That said what sometimes DOES happen is that subsequent efforts on the part of the writer get sloppy. Not as good as that first book they worked so hard on before landing me as their agent. I think some writers, feeling discouraged, actually start slapping things together and become less effective--not more focused and determined. For us that might be a factor in parting ways after working to market for a while.

Or it might just be the sense that we're not quite the right fit. I have an agent friend (who has actually now gone back to editing--so he's an editor friend these days) who always said, "I'm not the agent for everyone." Sometimes with a new author, you sign them on, work to sell them, but you just have that sense that it's not the ideal fit for them.

So long as the fit works, and the manuscripts are quality--and our belief is there--we will hang for a long time with an author. But I'm sure the standard is different for everyone.

Hope that helps.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 6:43:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that does help, Deidre. Thanks. A very honest and logical response.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 7:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Anonymous Writing Historicals,
The answer to how we approach pitching someone writing a different kind of work is to use that as a positive. We work to find the elements that will strike a familiar chord, while playing up the unique and *especially* high concept elements. I think if something's going to take a risk, it does help if we can rap that uniqueness around a strong concept in the pitch.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005 at 9:11:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel so priviledged that you gave me advice and asked me to resub my partial of "Pulling Up the Blind" to you, even more so after reading you don't often offer so much help. Your statistics are exciting. Off to throw myself back into the almost finished first draft, and then to polish like mad. :-)

Thursday, June 23, 2005 at 11:36:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the response Nephele ;) I really appreciate it--and my ulcer-less tummy appreciates it too! *GRIN*


Thursday, June 23, 2005 at 1:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger PollyME said...

Usually I have a lot of questions, but not today. I just really need an agent and I'm starting to get discouraged.

Thursday, June 23, 2005 at 1:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Gena Showalter said...

I was one of those that wasn’t quite *there* yet. Deidre actually signed me on Pleasure Slave (which I wrote before Stone Prince) and it needed a LOT of revisions. But she believed in me and loved my voice and really helped me shape the book into something much stronger than it originally was. Same with Stone Prince. I wrote it, but again, it wasn’t there yet. Again she saw the potential and worked with me to pound it into a sellable book. Two years passed as I honed my craft. Then, boom! We sold 7 of my books. It can happen!

Friday, June 24, 2005 at 10:24:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Polly, I think there are a lot of us in the same boat :)

Friday, June 24, 2005 at 11:05:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to what you'd consider unethical fees. Do you charge your clients for things like photocopying, long-distance calls, etc.? Or do you consider those business expenses and they're part of the 15% you get from the commission?

Just wanted to know what's typical and what isn't . . .

Saturday, June 25, 2005 at 9:31:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about if an already published author has an unfinshed ms, but has editor interest from one house. Would you take that author on, and help them develop the ms and sell it to the "best " house, even if it isn't the one that has already shown interest in it?

If you like the authors voice, of course. I guess what I'm asking is would you consider taking on a published author based on the proposal of an unfinished ms?

Monday, June 27, 2005 at 10:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Helpful post. Quick question: I've spoken to a few editors, who say that some agents are submitting sloppy manuscripts lately. I know your agency wasn't one of them, but how do you know if the agent you pick is professional and has a great reputation with publishing houses?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 at 5:03:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for caring enough to start a weblog and to answer writers' questions. It so often seems that people are too busy to take time to help others.

Last March, I sent a partial and got a response from Nephele Tempest asking for the entire manuscript of my contemporary fantasy. I sent it and have so far heard nothing. I've decided that I'll e-mail her privately to see what the status of the book is, because I still believe very strongly in its salability. I realize that it does take a long time to make an important decision such as whether to represent an author, but now I'm wondering whether I've been rejected and simply missed it in all the mail that I receive. *wry grin*

My biggest concern is that I might be wasting my time writing. I write books that are like the ones I love. But I know I don't have "mainstream" tastes. Is being a novelist actually my destiny? Or is that just a pipe dream, as so many others have been? I could be putting all my creative efforts to better use, perhaps, if I went into some other field--teaching literacy, selling decoupaged toilet seats, or whatever. Yet I continue writing new books and occasionally submitting them, because I'm a dreamer. It's a good thing that I live in a fantasy world, because I fear the real world is not nearly as sparkly and idealistic. Or is it? I can't tell.

I find the current atmosphere in the marketplace very discouraging. It gives me hope, though, to note that typically the "next big thing" is something that everyone had said was "dead forever." For example, the epistolary goes in and out of fashion, as does the memoir; right now, the "diary of" books are big, and so are memoirs of "unknowns" who have had interesting lives. Most "blockbusters" that aren't action films have come out of nowhere--_Bridges of Madison County_ is the usual example, though the Harry Potter books' huge success was also a surprise to the industry. Maybe one of us will be as lucky as these authors have been.

Shalanna Collins



Monday, July 4, 2005 at 5:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Shalanna, we don't have any subsmissions going back anywhere near that far. We have a couple of completes that we've had for about six months, it looks like (though I need to verify that--it's from the log only), but otherwise that's it. Nothing from last year. So you should email me separately to find out status and what happened. Deidre

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 at 10:14:00 AM EDT  

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