books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Changing Role of Literary Agents and New Submission Guidelines: Read Before You Query (or Self-Publish)


This week I'm totally jazzed to host my agent, Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg. She's one of the new breed of agents at the cutting-edge literary agency, Foreword Literary, founded by "Agent Savant" Laurie McLean.

Pam represents the book I wrote with Catherine Ryan Hyde, How to Be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide. I can't tell you how great it's been to have somebody savvy (and kick-ass) in our corner shepherding the book through all its various stages and lifting much of the stress off our shoulders.

Bu-bu-but, say the more tech-savvy among you...


...do I even need a literary agent in the digital age?


Nope. Plenty of writers are doing fine on their own, self publishing or working with a small press. But the most HIGHLY PAID authors—most of whom are "hybrid" these days—generally have representation, whether they started out traditionally-published or self-published.

A lot of the big name "indies" like Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, and Hugh Howey have powerful, hard-working agents who earn every penny of their 15%. And most of the successful hybrids, like Catherine Ryan Hyde, also have representation from agents who understand the new publishing paradigm. (Catherine's novels are repped by Barry Eisler's wife Laura Rennert. The traditional publishing world is a small one.)

But self-publishing is growing fast. Some people say 50% of all books will be self-published by 2020, and others say it will be more like 75%.

So is the literary agent an endangered species?

Agents aren't going anywhere. But their role is changing.


UK Agent Andrew Lownie spoke at the London Author Fair about the role of agents in the digital age (quoted in Porter Anderson's Writing on the Ether):


"I think there will be much more partnership, much more like celebrity and sports agents, having to look at a much wider range of things that we do.…retainers, tapered commission, an a la carte menu for authors where agent will do some of their books, not all of their books." ...Agent Andrew Lownie

The most up-to-date agents not only represent their clients' work to traditional publishers (and keep them safe from bad contracts that don't allow them to indie publish as well.) They also give advice and aid in self-publishing.

Kristin Nelson, the super-agent who has propelled the careers of hybrid superstars like Hugh Howey and Barbara Freethy, has formed a self-publishing wing of her agency called NLA Digital, which she's eager to point out is NOT a publisher. This quote is also from Porter Anderson's blog.

"Our author clients do not grant us rights. They maintain full control of their rights and intellectual property. However, what we do offer is a platform that fully supports them in an endeavor to indie publish."
...Agent Kristin Nelson


That means NLA clients are self-publishing, but they have access to the top professional editors, designers, formatters, and publicists as well as the benefit of Kristen's industry savvy and clout guiding their careers.

Foreword Literary has launched a similar project, called Fast Foreword, which helped us self-publish How to Be a Writer in the E-Age when our small publisher, MWiDP had to close its doors.

(BTW, the head of MWiDP, Mark Williams, "Mr. International" is very ill, and has been airlifted from the African village where he was volunteering to a hospital in the UK. After a blood transfusion, he is on the mend, but I hope you'll send him healing thoughts and prayers.)

Our book was selling steadily, we both have big platforms, and Catherine Ryan Hyde is one of the top-selling novelists on Amazon, so Pam was willing to take us on. 

But we're the exception to the rule. Mostly Fast Foreword publishes shorter works that can't be placed with traditional publishers because of rigid trad-pub word count rules. (Submission guidelines on the Foreword Literary website.)

It's true that a handful of superstars have gone from self-publishing to landing huge traditional contracts—but again, they are the exceptions. The reason you've heard names like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey is their kind of success is rare, which makes them news.

Pam wants authors to understand what agents can and can't do for them in this new publishing world, and when it's a good idea to query and when it isn't.

Here's my take-away from what she's been telling me:

If you think you want a traditional or "hybrid" career, you should start by querying, not by self-publishing. Or query with a different book from the one you self-published.  

Yes, three years ago we were being told "the ebook is the new query", but that was back when Amazon's algorithms gave cheap indie books the same weight in calculating the bestseller lists as they did the big name, expensive trad titles. AND when the Big 5 weren't selling their backlists for 99c apiece through Bookbub. 

This industry is going through turn-on-a-dime changes right now. What I tell you today may not be true next week.

That's why you need to make sure you're querying an agent who keeps up. It's also a good idea to run any agent contract by an expert in contract law to make sure you're not signing with somebody who wants a piece of everything you publish for the rest of your life and your children's lives. Yeah. It happens. Be careful out there.

But even a cutting-edge agent has an eye on the traditional publishing world (which isn't going away, and we should be glad of it.) This means she's not going to take on a book that publishers won't buy. And she won't invest her time in something that has already been in the marketplace and failed to sell. Yes, even ebooks can become "shopworn."

Agents only take on what they think will grab the interest of the editors they know. They'll only choose a self-publishing route after they've tried the traditional one, and their self-publishing departments are usually reserved for authors who are already clients.

Like anybody else, agents can make mistakes. Sometimes they misjudge what editors will buy. Agents often fall in love with a book that goes on submission for years and doesn't find a home.

That's heartbreaking to the agent as well as the author.

But now, savvy agents can help clients self-publish when the big publishers won't take a risk—or have suddenly decided they won't publish anything but Steampunk Bigfoot erotica set in Oz for the next two years—or whatever the marketing department has deemed the "next big thing."

But as publishing's rules change, so do query rules. So Pam, take it away—
…Anne

Ch…Ch…Changes in Agent Submissions

by Pamela Van Hylckama Vlieg


I’ve been an agent for two years. I came in right at the start of the digital revolution.

I love that small presses and self-publishing create so many chances for authors. Whether you’re a debut author or a seasoned vet your world is wide open and there’s a myriad of ways you can make money creating the art you love.

I’m not a New York City agent. My husband is a manager at Yahoo. Tech rules our world. At Foreword Literary we strive to attract and manage hybrid authors. Of course we have authors that are interested in traditional only and that is still how we make the bulk of our income but we are committed to learning and kicking some major ass in digital.

Agents are evolving. We’re no longer the gatekeepers placed high atop Mt. Olympus peering down at the plebs of the written word deigning to take a look at your pittance of a novel.

I love this. I’m a helicopter mom in real life and I enjoy helicoptering my clients. I want to be involved in every aspect of your career (even if it’s stuff I don’t take/get my 15% on) so that together we can guide you to your goals in a timely manner.

Now that I’ve declared my love for all new cool things, here are 6 things that seriously drive me batty.

6 Mistakes New Authors Make When Dealing with Agents in Today's Marketplace 


1) Mistaking an Agent for a Publicist

When an author self-publishes badly and then writes me asking me to sign them so that I can market their book, I can't help.

I’m not a publicist and even though we do have an in-house publicist at Foreword that’s not what she’s for.

If you want to self-publish you have to think of it as a business. Rarely does cranking out a book, not having it edited, and not having a professional cover work for anyone.

You can’t just sling your book on the internet plate like a side of bacon and expect it to fly off the proverbial shelves. There is work involved and that work is not my job. (Unless you are already my client and then I make it my job.)

2) Submitting to an Agent and a Small Press at the Same Time

You submitted to me at the same time you submitted to a small press and you come back three days after I asked to look at your manuscript and tell me you have an offer of publication from Otters R Awesome Press.

I don’t have a staff of fifteen to read that fast. I’ve never heard of that press so I’m not going to read you before I read the other people that have been waiting.

Upon looking at that press I see they have predatory deals, no distribution other than that you can secure for yourself, and their covers look like they were made in Paint by my four-year-old.

All of that is fine if you that is what you want from your publishing journey. Just don’t expect me to sign you. You’ve effectively taken my work out of my hands and done it for me and I didn’t get a shot to see if I can do better.

3) Asking an Agent to Negotiate Foreign Rights for a Non-Client.


You’ve self-published and sold a few thousand copies. You now want me to do your foreign rights but have no plans to give me a book at some point in the future that I can sell.

I don’t do foreign rights. We have agency partners that do that for me.

I can’t help you here. You don’t want me to be your business partner in any way so an agent is not what you want. You want a foreign rights specialist. (Some agencies have these but they are generally for their own clients.)

4) Self-Publishing Because Your Book isn't Right for Me.

You reply to my passing on your material saying you will just self-publish.

That’s fine, but I worry: are you doing it for the right reason? Are you doing it because you believe in your book and you want to make a real go of it getting the editing help you need and a good cover...or is it because you’re getting rejected because you haven’t put the time and effort needed into creating a novel.

(Note from Anne: Self publishing because of a few rejections isn't wise if you'd prefer to have representation. Agents and editors reject books for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your book. Often rejections mean exactly what they say: this isn't right for that particular agent at this particular time.  For more on this, read Ruth Harris's post 11 Reasons Why Writers Get Rejected.  Ruth was an editor at several Big Five houses, so she knows what those meetings are like.) 

5) Self-Publishing a Book that's on Submission

I’ve signed you as a client! Yay! Then we go on sub to the Big Five publishers on the first round and you freak out over a few rejections. And self-publish the book.

Ouch!

You need to tell me first so I can pull the book off of submission. The editors reading the manuscript are not going to be happy with me.

Also this makes me have less faith in your motives. Do you really want traditional publishing? I have to reevaluate our relationship and decide whether we should go on together.

Trust and communication are key. I work hard for my clients. I expect them to work hard too. That means communicating and exercising patience.

6) Being Ambivalent about Whether you Really Want an Agent


If you want to publish yourself or only work with small presses that you can submit to on your own then…you don’t need me!

You need an entertainment lawyer to look over your offered contracts. Not an agent.

If you want someone who is available to brainstorm with you, or as contacts in the industry, or will fight for you like a mama bear, and you want to traditionally publish then you need me.

And I need you.

I do this job because I love it. I take 15% of the books I sell for you that you’ve given me to sell for you.

I don’t take 15% of your short stories or things you self-publish (unless you need my assistance in self-publishing).

I work at least 10 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m writing this on Saturday morning and when I’m done here I have a nonfiction book proposal to write and ready for Monday morning.

If I get done with that proposal today I’ll read queries and submissions. I think I deserve my 15%, which let us be honest doesn’t even amount to a living for a new agent. I’d break it down to what I made an hour this past year but I don’t want to depress myself (or you).

I love books, reading, and authors. I love that authors have choices. I love that those choices don’t have to include me. I’m not afraid of losing my job. I’m not afraid of big publishing going away. I’m excited for the change and want to meet it head on.

EFF YEAH REVOLUTION!

To read more about Pam you can follow her on Twitter or read her bio and submission guidelines on Foreword’s website.


What about you, Scriveners? Are you still hoping to "land" an agent? Did you self-publish hoping an agent would take you on afterward (I know 1000s of authors have been doing that, alas.) Do you hope for a "hybrid" career at some point? Do you have any questions for Pam? She's generously offered to reply to questions today and tomorrow.


WE HAVE A WINNER!! THE WINNER  OF LAST WEEK'S "DE-LURKER" CONTEST IS CORDIA PEARSON, who was selected by a random number generator at Random.org. So CORDIA, just send me your email address to annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com, and I will gift you a copy of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE from Amazon. 


BOOK OF THE WEEK

It's HERE: the new, improved, deluxe version of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: a Self Help Guide now published by Fast Foreword.

NOT JUST FOR INDIES: It's full of advice from NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde (and moi). There's a step-by-step guide to blogging, and self-help guidance for dealing with social media overload. Lots more on how to deal with rejection, bad critiques and troll reviewsas well as how to query, how to decide the right publishing path for you, and how to market without spamming. It's all in there! Do you know who the Big 5 are? What agent-assisted self-publishing is? How to tell if your book is ready to publish? We've got the answers!




You can pick it up for only $2.99 at Amazon US, and the equivalent at Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and all the other Amazons around the world! (Paper version to follow in about 6 weeks)

"Their prose is easy to read, warm, worldly, honest...instantly we are welcomed into their fold, and serious subjects (encompassing our dreams and livelihoods) become fun."...Joanna Celeste

"I so wish there had been a book like this back when I first started….The moment I started to read 'How to be a Writer in the E-Age' I knew it was a winner in every sense. The information is not only valuable to new authors, it's relevant to published authors." ...Ryan Field 
~
OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

The Golden Quill Awards: Entry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award. Entry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

The 11th Yeovil International Literary Prize now open for entries  Prize categories for novels, short fiction, poetry. Entry fee £11 for novels. 1st prize £1000. Deadline May 31st.

Flash Prose Contest $15 ENTRY FEE. WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight us. Finalists receive responses from all judges. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 18th.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

14th “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest for Middle Grade fiction. FREE! This is a recurring online contest with a different genre each time, with agent judges. Submit the first 150-200 words of your unpublished, book-length work of contemporary middle grade fiction. Prizes are agent critiques and a free subscription to Writer's Market. Please note: To be eligible to submit, you must mention this contest twice through any any social-media. Please provide a social media link or Twitter handle or screenshot or blog post URL, etc. Deadline is March 18.

78 comments:

  1. Wow, she does a lot of things I never knew an agent did.
    Someone self-publishing a book while you are trying to find a home for it sounds rude. And unprofessional.

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    1. Not every agent does all the things. The ones who want to stick around and have a job will learn to evolve and become more of a career manager :).

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  2. Pam, I've been querying my novel and getting rejections, though I'm pleased to say that a couple of them have been from two top NY agents, who've read my manuscript. I've considered self-publishing and have taken some steps towards that end, like getting my work edited. I've paid for both a macro editor and a copy editor and am pleased with the results. Still, I would prefer an agent, as I know the value of having representation, having been there before with my screenplays. My novel is a genre bending one, a romantic suspense. I am feeling stuck as to which way to turn. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

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    1. You're more than likely having a subjectivity problem. Because it IS art not everyone likes every piece of art. Hone your query and keep going. A friend of mine who is now a NYT bestseller has a folder of over 800 rejections. She found her love match and is super happy now and has had a long career. Query in batches of ten if you keep getting rejections change your letter and query another batch of ten. If you're serious about traditional publishing don't give up. If you want to self publish then you sound like you're going about it the right way. It is also possible that you're querying in a dead genre. If so trunk that one for a bit (it always comes back around) and work on your next novel.

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    3. Thanks, Pam for the thoughtful and encouraging words. It is a subjective business. There are many authors of works that were initially rejected but went on to great success. So, I'll keep trucking.

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  3. Pam, thanks so much for updating us on the current and ever-evolving role of agents—and the author-agent relationship—in the not-so-new-anymore world that embraces both TradPub and digital publishing. Thanks, also, for spelling out exactly what dedicated, hard-working agents do to earn their 15%.

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    1. Thank you, Ruth! And you're right. It's not new anymore but I feel like we're still treating it that way!

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  4. Excellent post and information presented here as always, Anne & co. I say over and over (and over...) again: modern authors need to approach their careers on a book-by-book, project-by-project basis. There's more than one viable path to finding a home for your work. Explore them all and make educated decisions.

    This is also why I think having an agent would be an ideal asset in this age, especially if they have Pam's perspectives. They can help you make those educated decisions, and the good ones are openminded and forthright about your options. (I'd want to know if my novel was a good fit for traditional publication before I self-published it if I had that option.)

    My ideal career path would definitely involve both traditional and self-publishing if I could somehow leverage those opportunities.

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    1. Keep working! I'm a firm believer in if that's what you truly want to strive for you should go for it!

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  5. I've been polishing my novel and hope to begin my query process by mid-spring. This blog as a whole, and posts like today's, have been invaluable in helping me better understand the business end of the world I'm stepping into, and I appreciate that. Obviously, writing the book is only the first step of a long journey of getting a book out there.

    I know I need to do even more research, but at this point, I think that I am leaning toward a hybrid career, and I'd prefer having an agent. Pamela's #6 point outlines what I envision wanting: someone to brainstorm with, share industry contacts, and fight for and alongside me.

    Thanks for the insight and for tips of what to do (and not do!)

    -Natalie Munroe

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    1. If you have a specific question about publishing and you type it into the Google Machine I promise you someone has covered it in great detail (make sure that someone is a reputable source) and will have all the answers you seek.

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  6. Wonderful, wonderful article. Anne, thanks for bringing us Pam. You and she answered a lot of my questions and I am NOW convinced that I should continue querying my novel (with sequel) and self pub my short story collection. I queried for about seven months and decided after wonderful (read between the lines-- constructive rejections that I needed to go back to the editing table). (I am embarrassed at the ms I originally sent out DOH!).

    Thank you so much for this post, I have been struggling with the agent/self pub decision. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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    1. Rejection sucks! Every time one of my authors gets a rejection from a pub I feel it too. It's a subjective business but worth it if you have persistence.

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  7. Loved this post. So glad to hear that Pam, like Kristin Nelson, is changing her role of agent with the change in the publishing world. And isn't afraid to do so. It's an exciting time for authors and we still need agents to help guide us. I'm guessing for some mid list authors that using a hybrid of traditional and self-publishing will become more of a common decision as they decide to take more control of their careers. Thanks for all the tips on what not to do when contacting an agent.

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    1. Natalie--Since you run Literary Rambles, a site with info for authors looking for agents, these new changes should affect your readers. It would be nice if agents would identify whether they are on board with a hybrid career or not. I know some old school ones don't want to go there. But I think new writers will do better with an agent who can help them with all aspects of their careers.

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  8. Thank you Anne and Pam for this post. I am reading and learning more as the publishing world is continually changing. I know a story I have written is meant to bring joy, encouragement and inspiration to others. That is the reason I am researching, and praying for the best way to get it out there. Your post is very helpful and giving me much to think about. I don't have a Kindle, but a Nook so I am waiting for HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: a Self Help Guide to come out in print.

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    1. Ann--There is a way to convert a Kindle book for your Nook. There's info on it at Catherine Ryan Hyde's website, here http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/nook-owners/

      But the paper book is nice to have as a reference, since you can flip through it. I find I still prefer to have my reference books in paper. I'll be announcing the launch here.

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  9. thanks for this Anne (as usual, prescient as in "you are reading my mind right now") and Pam. I am an author at a crossroads. After 5 years of fairly successful small press publication I want to "go hybrid" if you will and have 2 new projects both being professionally edited and literally swing between "DIY" (I'm a fairly savvy marketer and have built a decent platform) and "query agents" (I need bigger/better/more help and I know it). Now that I've read this I am firmly back in the "work the first project and prefect it for querying" camp. But I see that Pam is not seeking what I wrote (mainstream character driven thriller). Is it a laziness factor that makes me say "oh screw it I'm paying through the nose for excellent editing. I know a great cover artist. I'm doing this myself and will be the next Hugh Howey type of success?" Do I owe it to myself and my hard-won platform and my fairly lofty goals to get a hardworking, go-getter, tech-savvy, creative agent in on this with me? seriously. I don't know. but thanks for the posts (for the record, I have not done any of the things you say not to do). Happy March Madness!
    Liz

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    1. I just bought and downloaded How to Be a Writer in the e-Age because God knows I don't have enough "how to books"! However, now that I've been reading your blog long enough to realize you are BOTH a do-er and a helper I think it's money well spent. Cheers
      Liz

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    2. Liz--Thanks for letting me know you've bought our book. I think you'll find it's different from most of the books out there, because it's about self-care as much as writing and marketing. As far as whether you should get an agent for your thriller, remember you can self-publish and query an agent with another book. But if it's in the same series and the series hasn't done well, then it's not such a good idea.. BTW, I think Pam will back me up, but I'd just call it a "thriller" when you query. If you list a whole bunch of categories, the agent might think you're too much of a newbie.

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    3. thanks Anne. Problem is, I've been "in and around" this biz long enough to realize that none of my books fit a mold and calling it a thriller could possibly be misleading. Honest to goodness I just don't know. I have a lot of books that were called "romance" although I did not call them that which has caused me to have fans and some serious haters amongst hard core romance readers who claim I need to back away from "their books" and stop calling mine that. (I didn't but it's how they got categorized by some). It's tough. My series stuff does fine with the small publishers. I'm looking to get some stand alone novels picked up (or to just sell the dang things myself) but the challenge is to find the "new audience" who won't be all Oh She's a (sniff) Romance Author (which I'm not. lather rinse repeat this comment). I look forward to whatever insights you can offer me. (I also co-own and market my own craft brewery in Michigan which I thought would be a lot harder. it's not)

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    4. It sounds like you're asking yourself all the right questions! Keep doing that.

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  10. I'm still hoping to land a literary agent. I query slow, querying only one agent - or publisher - at a time. The appeal to getting an Agent is their story knowledge, as well as all the editing and connections to publishers.

    This was an informative post Pam and Anne. I'm glad I stopped by this afternoon.

    .......dhole

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    1. I like your term "story knowledge". That's a good phrase for what an agent has, who's been reading hundreds of stories a month. You don't have to query one agent at a time unless you don't have time. They usually suggest 10 at a time, because then that one rejection doesn't come in with such a thud. (I remember when they were literal "thuds" from that complete paper manuscript hitting my front porch. Ouch.) Great to see you here Donna!

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  11. Hey Anne,
    Thanks for asking.
    I'm still old school. You & other smart, informed authors have encouraged me to self publish, but whether it's s short story collection or a novel, I just can't seem to develop enough interest to make it happen. Though I know a bunch of good people doing well in self-publishing & I'm really happy they're doing well, I'm simply not motivated to be a self-published author. An element of my disinterest comes from the fact that I'm painfully aware that I'm not even slightly decent at promotion. So, I'm in still hanging onto the trad publishing dream, though it becomes less & less likely every minute. If I were to land an agent who was successful selling a MS, & that agent thought self-pubbing would be wise, I imagine my interest level would increase dramatically. As it is, I remain an old fogey with old fogey dreams.

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    1. You can always throw some money at a publicist! But you need to do what's right for you.

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  12. Anne and Pam, thank you very much for the post. I have a question concerning Mistake #2. I understand it's not a good idea to query a small press without researching it first to make sure it doesn't offer "predatory deals, etc." But if the small press looks good, why would it be a mistake to query agents and submit at the same time? Wouldn't it increase one's (slim) chances of publication? The response time can be quite long with both agencies and small presses, even though small presses, if I understood correctly, have more people to read submissions. Of course, a writer may sign up with a small press and lose a great agent and potentially a much bigger deal. But there's always an element of risk, and of luck, involved. Could you explain, please?
    Thank you again,
    Alexandra

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    1. That's the point. You need to figure out what you want to do. You're wasting my time if you take the small press offer and you wasted theirs if you listen to me and I say let go of that offer because we can possibly do better.

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    2. I thought that querying agents and submitting to small presses is treated in the same way as simultaneous submission to different agencies, but I now know that it is not. Thank you for the advice, Pam.

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  13. Thank you for this post. Very informative. I am querying agents. I want someone in my corner. My dream is to have an agent for my YA trilogy and self publish my women's fiction. I think that would be a perfect writer's world. Ha! Who knows what a perfect writer's world in the publishing industry looks like these days and then, two months later...these days and then, four months later... Pam, I am impressed with your willingness to bend with the ever changing winds. And to be happy doing it. I wish you much luck!

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    1. Christine--As Pam says, not all agents do everything she does. The thing is to find one who is dedicated to getting your work out there. It seems to me that finding an agent for the more popular genre and supplementing your income with your other work would make sense.

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  14. It was nice to get a behind the scenes look at things. I had no idea an agent was responsible for so many things. Eye-opener for sure. This also helps me know what I need in an agent and the work I'll need to put in to reach that bar.

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    1. Not every agent does all the things. Add these questions to your roster of questions for when you get 'the call'.

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  15. Anne and Pam, this is another can't do without post. Pam, I love what you said about a love match; that's exactly what I have with my publisher, JM Snyder of JMS Books, a small LGBT house in VA. I was lucky. I had a wonderful agent but my first book was very hard to place with a traditional publisher. At the time, I'd submitted my first novella to JMS Books. She liked my submission and sent me a contract. A month or so later, she knew I'd been trying to publish an anthology and decided she'd like to take a chance on it and did. So I guess what I'm saying is I know enough to consider myself very lucky and I'm staying put. Great post, Pam. And thank you as always, Anne, for all you do for us. Paul

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    1. That sounds like a fabulous place to be! I wish you continued good luck with your writing!

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  16. Hi Pam! I have a question about those "other factors" that will prevent an agent from taking on a new client. I self-published my debut novel in 2012, and it hasn't done well. I didn't do it because I thought e-books were the new query; at the time I thought self-publishing was really the best path for me. Now I've changed my mind. I'd like to find an agent and try the traditional route for my next novel, which is in a completely different genre and style than the previous one, but I've read that agents and publishers won't touch someone with a mediocre track record.

    It feels a bit like it's 1800, I had intimate relations with a man before marriage, and now I'm "tainted" and can't find a good husband. What would you suggest I do?

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    1. If you have a new novel the sales of your self published work shouldn't come into play.

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  17. I believe agents can be enormously helpful ... once you are successful enough to have foreign rights, audiobook rights, merchandising, and movie rights become relevant.

    Alex is right: self-publishing a book while you are trying to find a home for it is both rude and unprofessional.

    You sound diligent and intelligent. I know you work hard, and I wish you the very best in your efforts.

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    1. Or helpful from the beginning if you're wanting a traditional career from the start.

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  18. Pam: Thanks for the information, but, as you'll see, I'm not interested in finding an agent anymore. I've been writing and submitting for 35 years (and sold one book through an agent, most without, even to "name" publishers). I had an agent when they charged 10%, not 15% and I still resent that 50% raise they awarded temselves.

    Anne: Thanks for always offering information to writers. I'm thrilled you like your agent, but I've had five agents (and I never did any of the no-nos, but that was before self-publishing anyway) and was disappointed by all. (and you know me, I'm not hard to get along with). I no longer have time to look for a "good" agent and now I don't have to. It's a great time to be a writer.

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    1. You're right, Phyllis. 15% is ridiculous. Maybe I should charge by the hour for each book I work on. Then authors could just hand over the entire advance and probably still owe me money ;).

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  19. Great post. This is just chock-full of valuable information. I'll be posting the link on my blog this week. Thanks.

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  20. Anne, the subject today has inspired more introspection than any you've put up since I found you. Wherever it leads me, I thank you for that.
    Pam, your output on this page is more material than I've read from all 40 agents I queried combined. And googleplex-percent more useful, informative and inspiring- really, I'm indebted to you because a rethink on the whole agent thing was overdue.
    I do feel a bit betrayed by the pace of change here. The first thing I wrote was roundly rejected and has become my trunk novel (I put it on BookVetter to see if anyone takes the challenge of reading it through). I turned to self-pub in part because the advice back then (2011) was "if you write it, they will come- and rep you". Now it seems I've written myself into a corner; enough tales online to wreck me for trad-pub but not enough "class" to merit discovery.
    No regrets- if I didn't have self-pub e-pub I wouldn't have discovered the critical component to my writing- the autonomous deadline. But in the back of my mind, I was counting on the permanence of what I wrote as a platform and the hope that one day, my "prints" would come... gadzook, did I just write those words.

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  21. BTW, Pam, it seems to me that about half your no-nos are acts that should merit a swift kick in the pants, from across the internet. Lord, some writers, no common sense? If I had an agent I'd bring her home to meet Mom.

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  22. Thank you, Pam and Anne! Such great information. I've been querying for 3+ years. Partials, fulls, revisions, and in the end...nothing. I want an agent but am so close to just try a go at it myself. Isn't that better than manuscripts just sitting in drawers? Wouldn't it be better to hit publish rather than waiting to be picked?

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    1. That's all up to you. If you feel you should hit publish go for it. I'm cautioning only that you think hard about your career goals as a whole not just book by book. Book by book comes later after you've figured out your five or ten year plan. Rarely does hitting publish (it is so tempting) garner you any of the things you want or need. You'll need to pony up some cash to the machine to get editing (and everyone needs editing) and cover help at least. Then you have to think about publicity. The main takeaway here I hope is this: make good decisions that benefit you and your goals.

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  23. Just echoing what everyone else has already said--I really appreciate the information presented here. I like the idea of querying first, if only because the process of querying helps me gauge whether I have a decent mastery of craft.

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    1. Rosalyn--That's a perk of the query process that people forget. It's a great way to learn the ins and outs of the business. Not just how to write. Querying an agent teaches you a lot about writing blurb copy, querying reviewers and bloggers and most of all, taking criticism and rejection and learning it's all part of the process.

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  24. Great post, Anne. Looking forward to checking out your self-help guide.

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  25. Great advice. Thank you for sharing. Bookmarked!

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  27. Anne, I was away for the w/e and had no computer access. So here I am on a Monday to join in on the discussion. I don't have to tell you, but in case you forgot, I have always maintained that I prefer to go traditional. Will I become a hybrid? I think most of us will do that eventually. However, I want the security and the professionalism of the traditional route. I applaud those who go it on their own,but realize that is not the road for me.

    What I love that you have done is go in more than one direction with your career, you have selected the best partners on your blog and with your writing. Again, your traditional and professional background shines through :)

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    1. Fois--You're always welcome, no matter what day you stop by. :-) I do know that you've been on the trad-pub path, and I think your women's fiction/ romance books are the kind that will do well there. I do think that the most important thing in any business is partnerships, whether you're running a food truck, a huge tech company, or a writing career. You can't do it all by yourself. You need a support team. Most "indies" have a team of people they've hired: editors, formatters, cover designers, etc. Nobody goes it 100% alone. So I try to choose the best.

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  28. Like Julie said, great advice, also bookmarked. So grateful as I return to the world of writing and publishing after being gone for a few years to have access to all of this great information. And now that I know what's hot and trendy - Steampunk Bigfoot erotica set in Oz - I'll get busy getting sexy on that page. ;)

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    1. Kelly--Absolutely. The Next Big Thing. I think maybe it has to be Munchkinland, though, not the Emerald City. Although the EC could add an interesting urban twist. :-) Trends in publishing are so utterly baffling to me, because I never read trends, and I'm usually reading something from the last decade or maybe the last century. But they do matter to the Big 5, so our careers can be controlled by the luck factor in a major way.

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  29. Thanks Anne and Pam. I took several publishing workshops a few years ago, of varying quality. The best covered the many changes underway and was recommending a hybrid approach. It's interesting to see how what that means has changed, even in a couple of years.

    The last was offering free publishing for a cut and has now shifted more vanity with a rapidly increasing fee. Myself, representation would be cool but I write non-fiction to a small but growing niche. It has a couple of star authors, one of whom created their own publishing company. But most are self-published. I expect to follow that lead. But it's always good to understand something of the larger business.

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    1. fornow--The world of nonfiction is very different from fiction, and the seminars are too. Some of them are all "get rich quick" hype, and I think I know the "vanity press" types you're talking about. I agree that nonfiction is often best self published. And I think starting by building an audience with a blog is a good way to go about it. In nonfic, platform is all.

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  30. I have a wonderful agent. When I was thinking about self publishing, I had a nice long chat with her about it. She was so supportive! I sent her a signed copy of my print book and she read the story again. That's how amazing she is.

    I'd be fine with being a hybrid author. I'm not ruling anything out.

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    1. Julie--I know your wonderful agent, Karen, and I know she will continue to support you. Sometimes an agent just can't place a book, even though she's in love with it. When she can support you in self-publishing it you know you've got somebody who will be in your corner no matter what.

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  31. Thank you Anne for this blog post, and also Pam, for insight into the evolving work of an agent. My novel has gone through several batches of beta readers and revising and I'm getting ready to start querying agents. My question now is: Should I get a professional editor to before I send to agents, or wait and get the advise of the agent on this matter? I worry if I don't get the right editor the work could be harmed more than helped. Any thoughts?

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    1. Deborah--I think your instincts are right. If you've run your book by several beta readers and you've revised it to the point you feel it's polished, start querying and work on the next book. An agent will almost always ask for revisions, so you don't want anything set in stone. And editors are pricey. They're very necessary if you're self-publishing, but not if you're querying.

      Now, if you get feedback from agents saying it needs polishing, then you might consider it, but mostly agents don't give feedback and their rejections are polite and generic. A whole lot of the time the rejections have to do with market trends, not the quality of your book. I'll run this by Pam, but I think she'll agree with me. An agent doesn't want to get in a tug of war with an author's private editor.

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    2. I never advocate paying for an editor if you're going to query. Unless you know your work REALLY needs it.

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    3. Pam--
      You never advocate paying an editor in the situation you describe. OK, tell me what your advice would in the following instance (of course I'm talking about myself). Long ago, a writer gets commercially published. The book returns the advance and then some. But over time, his agent drops him. The writer sets about writing a series of mystery/thrillers for women. He gets a new agent who loves his work, etc., but fails in a year's time to get him a deal. He writes on, and he gets a new agent for a new novel in the series. The new agent loves his work, etc. but fails as well, this time in over a year, to get the writer a deal. There are just two plausible explanations: two agents in succession are not good at picking publishable material to represent, or neither has enough agenting savvy to know which editors to send the writer's stuff to. The writer can't do anything about agents being un-savvy, but he can buy an editor's services, to determine whether the agents who liked his work were in fact not good judges of saleable novels. The hired-gun editor admires the writer's work, and feels it has real publishing potential. But she provides a very plausible critique that seems to reveal why editors weren't interested. The writer acts on this solid advice, and reworks the manuscript.
      Sorry for all the words, but this brings us to my question to you: after such a history, would you encourage the writer to again enter the dreary time-suck known as seeking an agent, or would you encourage him to forget it and self-publish? Nothing in this question--including use of the word "dreary"-- should be construed as sarcasm. I am genuinely interested in learning your answer.

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    4. Barry--I'm going to jump in here, since Pam's got some personal tragedies she's dealing with right now, and she may not have time. My personal opinion is it's time to self-publish. You've paid for a great edit and you're ready to go.

      Generally the people who do best self-publishing are seasoned authors like you who have had a trad career and know the ropes. I say go for it! If you have the rights to your backlist, you can have a nice income stream happening within a couple of months. Agents are looking for fresh stuff, and a book that's been around a while may interest readers, but probably not the Big Five.

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  32. I read and reviewed How to Be a Writer in the E-Age and loved it. I still advise people who are newbies to read it.

    This post is interesting to me because one of my best friends of almost 20 years is a NY literary agent who has been around since the 1970's...he was very young when he started. He has a weekend home in New Hope, PA, where I live. However, he's never been my agent because we don't mix business with pleasure. But I do find myself asking his advice every now and then because it's not easy to manage a writing career alone. In fact, I find it more difficult now than ever before. Thanks to his off the record advice I've dodged a few proverbial bullets.

    I'm a career *writer* who works with several small presses in the US and Europe. I also work with e-presses and I indie publish as well. And there have been times I've needed an agent to discuss something for me with an e-publisher that would have made life far more easier. The relationships authors have with publishers is close sometimes, and because of that it's hard to be objective and discuss more practical matters.

    Great post. It's also good to see an agent talking about how things are changing and how they've evolved. I come from an old publishing background where hard copy ruled. But I've embraced the digital age and love all the changes.

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    1. Ryan--We very much appreciate that review! Like you, I've been with a number of small publishers. This new version of How to Be a Writer is my second step into self-publishing. Ruth and I also self-pubbed a two-fer of our comedies: "Chanel and Gatsby", but I have to admit Ruth did all the heavy lifting on that.

      That's why I was so grateful when Pam agreed to take on How to be a Writer. Catherine has done some "agent-assisted" self-publishing, too, but neither of us knew how to handle the nuts and bolts. Pam's help has been so valuable. And we just love our new cover!

      She's definitely a new breed of agent. But your New York friend may have been providing the kind of consulting services that all agents will offer in the future for a fee. (I think you were wise not to sign with him as an agent, though. Barry Eisler has an agent other than his wife. I think mixing the two relationships would make life way too complicated.)

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    2. I agree about the consulting. And I think we've been good friends for so pong because we keep business separate from social.

      I will admit, though, that as much as I enjoy indie publishing I find challenges...like going over copy edits a million times with the copy editor I use for indie books. With publishers I don't get that paranoid :)

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  33. This is a fantastic and intelligent post -- and wonderful information for writers at any stage in their career (prior to the JK Rowling stage, of course).

    Do some authors REALLY self-publish a book while their agents have it out on submission? Yikes! *cringes in shame for all authors as a specied*

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    1. Dianne--I'm glad to hear you had a martini. I think I might have one tonight. It's been quite a week. :-)

      I was shocked when I read what Pam said about authors self-publishing while they're on submission. Impatience is probably the biggest problem new writers face. They keep getting in their own way.

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  34. *species*

    It is late at night. My eyesight is poor. I may have had a martini.

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  35. Good stuff. Thanks for an excellent post.

    I have suggested (see http://www.crowhill.net/crowhill-publishing/a-new-type-of-literary-agent-for-self-publishers/) that there might be room in the modern publishing industry for a new kind of literary agent.

    It's hard to be good at everything -- writing, cover design, promotions, keeping up with all the technology and changing rules on Amazon, etc.

    ISTM there may be room in the world for a new type of literary agent who manages some portion of those things on behalf of a group of authors in exchange for a cut of the revenues.

    For example, let's say some person really gets how to manipulate the amazon rankings, is really good at picking just the right cover, knows how to submit books to the right sites for free days and how to play games with the price to maximize sales -- but might not be the greatest writer, or maybe isn't all that interested in writing.

    That person would be a tremendous asset to self-published authors who don't want to bother with all that stuff.

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    1. Crowhill--I just read your post. Good suggestions there. In fact, it seems as if agents like Pam are already implementing some of them, like keeping a stable of great cover designers, formatters, and publicists. People who understand how to manipulate Amazon rankings would be worth a lot, but they'd have to keep up with the ever-changing algos. Kind of playing cat and mouse with the Zon elves. But I agree we need all the help we can get. I for one would be very happy to pay 15% for all that stuff.

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    2. Yes, 15% would be a great deal, since somebody who really knows that stuff should be able to increase sales by way more than that.

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