Saturday, July 19, 2014

Query Question: diverging paths

Awhile ago my agent broke the news that she had reached the end of the road with my middle grade manuscript. It has been rejected by all of the big New York houses and their imprints, and when I asked about smaller presses she essentially said that they weren’t worth the effort (in terms of the financial payout and level of promotion), and that I’d be better off to self-publish it. Knowing myself, I’m fairly sure that the legitimacy that even a small press would give my novel would make me much more comfortable with the self-promotion I know is necessary for a book to sell. So I don’t think the self-publishing route is right for me.

I’m considering next steps at the moment. A friend suggested I query new agents. Obviously I’d have to tell them up front that the manuscript has already been rejected by the large publishers, which it seems would make 99.9% of them reject it outright (understandably so) (1). Or, I could simply go it alone and query smaller presses that accept unagented manuscripts?(2)

I've reached this point with a couple of my clients too. It's one of the worst conversations in the world to initiate let me tell you (and it's no picnic on your side of the phone either, I know.)

You're right (1) to assume most agents aren't actively looking for a used, albeit good, manuscript.  We are in business to make money and we prefer to sell to places that will give us lots of it.  Finding a new agent might not be step one here.

However, you might ask  your agent if she'll look at the contract if you sell it yourself to a small publisher.  This is what I do for my guys who've been in this situation.  (In fact, I insist on looking at every publishing contract my clients sign because I want to avoid problems down the road and some of these small publishers have contracts that make strong women weep.)

If she will, then (2) shop this puppy yourself.  You clearly know you're in for a lot of promotion and marketing work, but you are with a big publisher too.

The problem with self-publishing a middle grade book is that the buyers of these books are not the readers. Parents and teachers buy the books and it's hard to get a review in Library Journal if you're not a publisher.  It's REALLY hard to get your books in Barnes & Noble (where parents shop) if you're self-pubbed too.

If your agent won't help you with the contract you might consult this book for short term remedies.

For longer term remedies, this one is the place to start


Lance said...

This is great information. Thank you. In the situation you discussed in yesterday's post, where the person had queried everyone he could find, would shopping the ms to small presses be a reasonable step before consigning it to the trunk? Of course, with a copy of the book you linked to in this post as a long-term solution.

stacy said...

What's sad is that I added both books to my wishlist. :)

Joyce Tremel said...

My first thought reading this was what was the author working on while his/her agent was shopping the book? It often takes many months, and if the writer wasn't working on something new all that time, it's a problem.

I'd suggest not rushing into anything--whether small press or self-publish and wait and see what happens with the new book you should have been working on while your agent was busy sending out the old one.

Colin Smith said...

My thoughts kind of run along the same lines as Joyce's--what's the writer been working on while the agent's been trying to sell the novel? In theory, the writer's been working on something since s/he was querying agents, so maybe there's a new novel close to completion? While the advice to go to small publishers is good and certainly worth trying, there's always the possibility Book 2 is more marketable and will get picked up by the Big Guns. If Book 2 makes the author a household name, won't that give the Big Guns reason to think again about publishing Book 1?

Anonymous said...

Just want to mention one thing:

"A friend suggested I query new agents."

You can't ethically do this without breaking up with your current agent first. It's an uncomfortable rule for writers, in that it requires letting go of the airplane wing. But it's still the rule.

It's not what I'd suggest doing, though. I'd suggest staying with the agent and writing something else. We all have good manuscripts that didn't sell. Sometimes I look at mine and sigh.

french sojourn said...

The posts you write, and the comments are so helpful.

I was thinking earlier today... too bad there was not a book that incorporated all your posts. If there were some way to organize the matrix of information you have provided.

oh, if only you had access to a literary agent.

50 shades of Spaulding Grey...swimming with Sharko's.

cheers Hank

BPatterson said...

I just bought the longer term solution. Thank you for the recommendation!

(Also, I eventually found the answer in the archives. Once I figured out I was looking at the wrong tags. Mea culpa maxima.)