Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Query question: will an agent be willing to work with me on developmental things?

I have a three book (so far) fiction series published through (book one) Amazon Encore and (books twos two and three) Booktrope Editions. I also have a novella with Booktrope as well as another one which I've self published. All have excellent and predominantly verified reviews on Amazon and sell well. I also edit fiction and nonfiction and am a published freelance writer.

My question is, given my writing experience (I am not bragging. I realize there are many more authors with more experience) would an agent (in general) be willing to work with me with a piece of fiction I'm working on but is not finished? I'd like to present a story synopsis and wonder an agent would be willing provide insight etc. to create a mutually beneficial fiction piece to then have that agent submit to publishers.

I suspect the answer is some version of, "Absolutely not", but I've had many peers send in manuscripts an agent has turned down because they weren't the right story. I thought maybe it would be advantageous for both to work on a concept together.


Here's why: a query letter (regardless of publication credits) that says "here's some of a novel, can you give me some insight on how to finish this to make it something publishers will snap right up" demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of what my job actually is.

My job is to sell your work.  It's NOT to edit, proofread, copy edit, fact check, develop, bounce ideas off of, or anything other than sell, and then advocate for you during the publishing process.

Yes, I do all those other things, but they're generally for books that were sent to me as full, finished books.  Books I loved and wanted to sell, and thus wanted to spruce up a bit before going out.

It sounds like what you want is for an agent to help you figure out what will sell.

If we knew, we'd tell you.

Well, no we wouldn't. We'd look for it, sign it and sell it and keep our mouths shut.

The best thing I can tell you here is write the book that only you can write. Write the book that you're passionate about, that if someone tells you it's not the right story, you know they're wrong.


AJ Blythe said...

I remember being told early on in my writing days you don't know what "the next big thing" will be, so make your book the best it can be.

Write well, follow guidelines and the rest is out of your hands.

S.D.King said...

I wish it worked like that.

I wish that candy had the same calories as celery.

I wish that turning pages built health the way a trip to the gym does.

I wish Scotty could beam me over to my failing parents to help them every day.

(While he is at it beam me to see my adorable grandson.)

I wish people would stop shooting each other.

I wish. . .

mhleader said...

Well, there's another option: Hire a STORY DEVELOPMENT EDITOR to work with you on your project. The downside of this is that you'll spend a LOT of money to get a good one (probably in the $2000 or higher range), and there's no guarantee that the work will be salable once you're done because the editor is not the person selling or acquiring books. All the editor can do is help you write a quality story.

And you have to find a really GOOD editor, who will not impose his/her story on you. For that, check around with author groups to make a short list and CHECK REFERENCES.

Price (either low or high) is NOT an indicator of quality, so do your research before you consider sending money.

Best of luck.

Oh, yeah, there's another option that's free. Set this story aside and write something different. When you come back to this one, you may be able to see for yourself how to make it better.

Julia said...

SD - And I wish I had a Bugatti. I tell my kids this a lot.

If (and I don't mean to be wise, really) one isn't writing a story they really and truly love, then I suspect they are maybe in the wrong business. I don't think you can throw your passion into someone else's story.

But that's me.

Morning, everyone.

Hope to finish today!

Jamie Kress said...

Perhaps I'm doing it wrong, but I've always used my beta readers and critique groups to get the kind of feedback the letter writer wants.

No one can tell you write x and it will be a best seller, but getting a broad base of commentary can show what is and is not working.

Of course, to use that method you do have to write the book first.

W.R. Gingell said...

I think OP's best bet is with trusted beta readers. They're great for bouncing ideas off.

It should also help a lot to read many, many books in the genre you're writing. That should give you some idea of what there is around, and maybe for how you should proceed.

Kitty said...

QUESTION: Where to you find your beta readers? And how to you choose them? I would think you'd nix your friends and family for this job. (At least I would.)

Amanda Capper said...

I wish I had a successful agent living next door to me and absolutely LOVED it when I came over for tea and wanted to talk writing. Hell, let's go all out and pretend she'd offer to read my stuff.

Do I sound snide? I don't mean to, I really wish for this.

Or a 1965 candy apple red convertible mustang with a 289 cu inch engine and big fat tires.

Best advice is beta readers.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

You might consider a workshop or ask for a manu'script' analysis. Something like Save The Cat

Amanda Capper said...

I found my beta readers at the local library. They have a mystery reader group and they were actually flattered I wanted their opinion on my writing. Could they be brutal? they asked. By all means, I answered.

But they weren't. Older ladies for the most part, and sharp. Picky about grammar, not really sure about POV's, but dead on about content.

Colin Smith said...

Of course this question is different to the "I'm a published author, can I query you for my incomplete novel" to which (correct me if I'm wrong) Janet answered "Yes!" Opie--sorry, OP--here is asking for help, ideas, and direction for his/her incomplete novel. That's a whole different ball of fish. Certainly the domain of beta readers, critique partners, writing groups, and magic 8-balls. Not literary agents. Unless you're already a client of the agent. Then it's a completely different kettle of wax.

Carkoon summer is starting so forgive the sanity of my comments. :)

PS: DEATH EX MACHINA is lovely to hold. I'm now galloping to the end of THE MALTESE FALCON so I can read it. Do you have your copy of the latest Gary Corby yet??

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Janet's last line--"Write the book that you're passionate about, that if someone tells you it's not the right story, you know they're wrong."

That's it. Writing our best stories is so contextual, so grounded in who we are, what we've experienced, and how we pull that all together to tell a story. Our particular slant on life.

Kitty: I found my crit partners and beta readers online through blogs I follow.

I don't use family and friends. Not yet. I'll ask them once my novel is past the worst of its revisions and is ready to be read as a whole rather than chapter by chapter or section by section.

Matt Adams said...

I find my betas on Elance. I write a job posting, offer $20 bucks or so and get a hundred responses. Then I see who sends samples and who's response to me I like, and I hire them. It's worth #20 bucks to get honesty from them. One of them turned out to be a pretty good coach, and I hired another to do a quick copy edit for me once, too (those were more expensive, but worth it).

I often leave it open so I can get two or three consecutively,

I don't like asking pals because I don't know how much of what they say I can really believe, and I don't like using writer's groups because often they consider critique a blood sport. But Elance seems to have worked pretty well, at least in terms of getting what I felt was good feedback on the story. And paying for it seems to make them a little kinder. Not less honest, in my experience, but a little kinder. With new work, that's a good thing.

As for the OP, why stop there? Why not ask the agent to wash your dog? If you want to be a writer, the onus is on you to come up with those things you're asking the agent to do for you.

Neil Gaiman says it much better than I can:

"Every published writer has had it - the people who come up to you and tell you that they've Got An Idea. And boy, is it a Doozy. It's such a Doozy that they want to Cut You In On It. The proposal is always the same - they'll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty.

I'm reasonably gracious with these people. I tell them, truly, that I have far too many ideas for things as it is, and far too little time. And I wish them the best of luck.

The Ideas aren't the hard bit. They're a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you're trying to build: making it interesting, making it new."

Look, having story ideas makes you're a human being. Being able to take them and write them down to completion makes you a writer. And being able to take what you've written and present it in a way that makes someone else want to give you money for it, that makes you an author. No one else can do it for you.

Take Janet's advice and write the damn book yourself. If you're concerned about marketability, read the hell out of your genre to see what has been selling, and then write the damn book.

You seem to have done that a few times already, so trust your instincts and your story, get some feedback on it and good luck.

Susan Bonifant said...

In On Writing, Stephen King refers to "writing with the door closed," an observation that stayed with me.

Writing creatively is lovely and solitary but lonely too, at times. I wonder if writers seek collaboration when what they might crave is company.

So I'm with the others who say seek and accept input and slide your ego from the center of things to make the work its best, but write alone first.

W.R. Gingell said...

Finding a writer's group is a good start for beta readers, so long as you're willing to do quid pro quo for them. If you don't have any close writer friends, a group is a great place to start.
Beta reading for other people will also be invaluable for you as a writer. I find that once I start noticing bad stuff in other people's writing, I start being able to notice it in my own.


Susan Bonifant said...

Matt Adams, I can't tell you how many men-never-women have said something like this to me: "You need a good conspiracy story. How about have this insurance conglomerate okay? And for decades they have been illegally (something or other and so on and so forth)," and I want to say, "It's a great idea and I can write that kind of fiction as well as you can."

stacy said...

We all have our bad times when trying to complete a novel is the scariest thing in the world. I suspect the questioner is in that part of the novel, where it seems like you're never going to make it out of the morass you created. Don't quit. Part of being a writer is coming up with the concept, planning and executing the novel. It's not just hitting a word count. What makes hitting the word count hard is knowing how to prevent straying too far off the path.

I'm pretty sure every writer has to learn that over and over again.

Lizzie said...

It sounds like the OP might want to write for a book packager. My vague understanding is that they're looking to pair writers with the stories they want to sell. Some packagers are usurious, some give writers okay terms.

Donnaeve said...

Ha Colin, Opie! Andy and Barney too!

This was a strange question. With all of the completed work listed, it sort of surprised me. It's almost like the OP is realizing with the relative success they've had, they've now got a book partially done, and maybe they can envision several ways to go with the story. BUT. What if they chose storyline A? And what if it's really storyline B? And what if they spend all this time writing it the WRONG WAY? What they want is an agent to help steer them towards the book deal story.

Nobody can do that. Nobody has a crystal ball. Nobody knows what will strike the heart of an agent or editor on any given day, even during a Mercury Retrograde.

The thing that struck me is even if the book is acquired, there will be MORE changes anyway. More editing. The only time a book isn't undergoing some metamorphosis is when it's on a bookshelf in a bookstore.

All a writer can do is what others are saying. Read heavily in the genre. Find beta's, CP's, writing groups, whoever to help identify story problems, or to say what we all love hearing, "I couldn't put it down."


Dena Pawling said...

I think this question boils down to this line -

"I've had many peers send in manuscripts an agent has turned down because they weren't the right story."

You mean it wasn't the right story for THAT agent at THAT time.

If you google "manuscript wish list", you'll get a long list of links of things that agents are looking for right now. The caveat is that by the time you finish your book, the time may have passed on THAT story. But I think publishing is sort of like fashion. What's in style this year won't be in style next year, but eventually it will come around again.

Finish your book the way YOU want to finish it. Send it out. If all you get are rejections, then you can choose to self-publish it, since you've done that before, or set it aside and work on something else. The time for that type of story will come around again, and you'll be ahead of the game because you'll have already written it.

Elissa M said...

My thoughts match Dena's. What is the "right" story anyway? It's going to be different for everyone. I also thought, "Who cares what experience your 'peers' had? They aren't you, and their stories aren't yours."

The best advice is Janet's:
"Write the book that you're passionate about, that if someone tells you it's not the right story, you know they're wrong."

LynnRodz said...

To me, it sounds like the OP is saying, look, I'm no newbie here. I've written 3 books so far, I'm doing all right with reviews, and I'm selling well. So maybe I don't have to go the way the rest of you do. I can find an agent before I'm even finished and we'll sell this baby together. The OP already knew the answer by saying, I suspect the answer is some version of, "Absolutely not..." and it's the rest of the sentence that makes me think this. "I've had many peers send in manuscripts an agent has turned down because they weren't the right story." So you don't want to waste your time finishing and then find out no agent is interested, is that it?

Sorry for being so blunt, but you were right. Janet said, No. So, you'll just have to do what the rest of us are doing, finish a manuscript first and then send out queries. Many of us here are trying to publish our first novel. It doesn't mean this is the first thing we've ever written, it means this WIP is something we believe in enough to put it out there for everyone to see.

I better go take my meds.

Anonymous said...

Today is one of those days that I just sit back in awe of the advice and insight and twiddle my thumbs.

You've put more brilliantly what I would have attempted to say, so my work here is done. Time to get back to my leaky faucet in my Carkoonian cave. Trouble is, I can't seem to find the dang drip.

-Captain BS

Julia said...

I realized something else this morning whilst packing for the library. There was a physics (maybe calculus?) professor whom my friends and I used to make fun of for this fun phrase - "It is inherently obvious that...". It never was inherently obvious, of course, but he'd make these insane leaps, and we'd all stare at the green chalk boards that they don't use any more, and then look at one another to be sure that we weren't the only ones with that dumbfounded expressions on our faces.

Anyway. It probably in this case actually is inherently obvious to everyone else what I'm about to say, but still, it struck me this morning, and it made me pack a little faster, and it will affect my word choice and throw my heart into my work a little more once I start this morning (after I finish this).

And it is this.

Presumably we do this insane thing of exposing our hearts and souls to the world because we are absolutely passionate about it. And yet there is this, too.

Readers depend upon us to transport us into our passions. Without us literally shoving doubt out the door in favor of bringing readers in, there is simply no point. We have to show them what we see and why we care; we have to paint the scene, feel the feelings with the characters; make them love the characters as much as we do and for exactly the same reasons; touch every rock and feel each waft of mist that passes; smell the antiseptic in the patient's room and understand why the heck we care - or they won't.

And someone else simply cannot do this for us, because they don't feel what we do. Their passion isn't ours.

Which sort of ties into the whole FanFic debate of a couple of weeks ago and the "is it or isn't it lazy" thing - you can't feel someone else's passion for them. You can write about your own and paint it the best you can, and then take the dive and hope to God that the readers feel your terror and your hope when they pick up the work - but no one can do it for you.

Which is why, I think, that Janet's answer is absolutely and unequivocally and permanently 'no.'

My daughter once said to me about poetry, "I can't write poetry. I don't have the passion."

My reply was, "You have the passion. You absolutely have the passion. You just have to find it."

She said, "I'm afraid."

To which I said, (and I was gentle), "Find the fear, honey. The passion is behind it."

And I think all art is like that. You find your fear; you find whatever you love and whatever you really deeply care about. And if you can expose it for public consumption and clean it up to make it understandable - then it becomes art. Writing, drama, what we call "fine art," dance, music, whatever. It all has emotion behind it. But it can't be faked, and it can't be done by one person for another, because one person cannot ever accurately substitute another's passion.

And so.

Back to it. :)


Julia said...

Kitty - I got fantastic betas from Goodreads, on the "looking for betas" thread.

Captcha is feeding me again today. Got ice cream and now bread. It must think I'm gonna post a lot.

Anonymous said...

I only know of two people who were accepted by agents on unfinished novels. One had a 28-page synopsis and some chunks of writing that didn't even tie together yet and the other had a very, very long work that wasn't even close to done.

You hear these stories, but it's like finding a 150 gold nugget. For the rest of us, we need to keep grinding away and putting the tiny flakes into a bottle until we have an acceptable amount of gold.

I've always thought writing is a bit like panning gold. Fools gold is very shiny, but it's brittle and inflexible. If you press it with a pin, it will break. Real gold is more malleable. You can shape it. It gives when you press it.

I'm always surprised at how a work improves dramatically with the layers of reading and shaping and poking. Then there are others who ask for advice and fight on everything anyone says. Eventually a person figures out where not to waste their time on fools gold.

Finding good beta readers is the first step. Then you need to decide which advice improves the work and apply it.

I had some advice once to remove something to help word count. Well, it did, but lo and behold that was the lynch pin for a later scene that then made no sense. Oops.

And I'm rambling. I haven't had coffee yet.

Jenz said...

I have nothing relevant to add, except that I get to go see the GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE--Casablanca--at the historic Paramount Theater in Austin on Friday. You should all be jealous.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

At work, no time, skimmed comments.

I asked almost this exact question about four years ago and I got the same answer. Agents take on the book, not the project, the idea, not even the author. Unless you are a mega-author and all you have to do is publish your grocery list to rake in the bucks - actually I bet it's still no.

I used to drag race a '65 cherry red baracuda. Wish I still had that car. It was hot, so was I and I always won.

REJourneys said...

I don't think I saw this, but I tend to skip words when reading - by accident of course. It's like my mind tricks my eyes to believe the word isn't even there.

Anyway, I don't think anyone mentioned "significant other" (s/o) for this as well. I know some people don't like being bothered or are afraid to give honest opinions, but there are some that would be truthful, love to have ideas bounced off them, and really just want to see you smile without feeling like a liar.

In the credits of books, authors usually thank their s/o. Some go so far as to explain the extent of the torture their s/o endured, like hearing bits and pieces of the story without it being in order.

Some people have this relationship, for others, there's always the internet.

Yes! reCAPTCHA timed out. Second time around it asked me to "Select all the food." Yes, please!

Anonymous said...

There goes 2n's again in her secret FBI job... ;)

REJourneys: I can speak from experience. When it comes to my books, my wife is a complete jerk. Which is brilliant. She's got a great eye for it (though I don't go to her when I need a pick-me-up).

And Jenz... are you from Austin Minnesota?!?! WHAAAA?!?!!

As a fellow Minnesotan, I wish you good luck in the long winter to come... :)

Craig said...

Sounds to me like this OP blew his load on the first trilogy. Now he can find a way to sink his/her teeth into a new story line.

I can't think of a way to help with that. Maybe find a struggling lunatic with a bucketful of ideas and offer to co-write with them.

Some forums, like Query Tracker let you send personal messages. Maybe work it out with someone with a local critique group. Maybe you should take a week in the mountains or at the beach and just contemplate it.

The hardest part of being a writer is coming up with a cohesive new plot. I know you can't force empathy so let the idea build however it does.

Good luck.

Julia said...

@Julie - So agree on the flex/malleable. As "Nell" said in the eponymous movie... "Like a tree in the wind..." (Although it came out more like, "Tay in da weee..." but you get the picture because Jodie Foster's standing there bending and waving her arms all over the place. :) )

Aren't we all Tays in da wee?

We bend, we flex, we get molded by da wee, we grow new branches and become new tays... we bend in da wee some more and as time goes on, we're all gnarly but beautiful individual tays. All our own. :)



Donnaeve said...

Have mercy, these comments are all over the place, sort a like trying to nail down a first draft.

I spent the rest of the morning after commenting fixing Firefox. I got so ticked off yesterday, if I'd had a hammer and enough money to buy a new laptop, I'd have taken care of my problem that way.

Instead, I went to FF Help page, and I figured it out, something to do with unchecking "use hardware acceleration when available." Who knew that would cause pages to load up so slow while scrolling and typing comments had become so tedious I'd have preferred to clean out my closets.

Now I feel all IT'ish again. And less ornery.

Geez, reCAPTCHA had a Spongebob Squarepants cake.

Anonymous said...


Well, as I said, you have to know when to stand your ground, but you need to be willing to look at suggestions.

We were just discussing feedback amongst the crew. One gentleman came to B&W and said he wanted feedback on his work. He was willing to give others feedback, but his time was valuable, so he would only be commenting on the top writers in his opinion.

No one said anything, but a few were taken aback by this. Quite a few if the truth be known. No one is required to comment on anything except in the workshop.

He posted his prologue which was liberally sprinkled with passages in another language and then translated in English. Agents were passing on his prologue. We made some honest suggestions. Most of us felt it wasn't needed as the opening scene went right on into what was in the prologue.

Apparently, we did not give the correct suggestions. It was like a game show where you're supposed to give the correct question to the answer. Disgruntled with our complete lack of understanding the author departed.

The last concert Will took me to was at Dos Amigos in Odessa, Tx. Reckless Kelly was playing. Dos has a small bullriding arena also, makes great fajitas, and has a small cobbled dance floor. It used to be a stable and not much has changed.

This one dandy was whirling around with all his fancy dance moves, dipping and hopping, jigging like a whirling dervish. Women were vying for his attention, hoping he would ask them to dance. Will asked me if I'd like to dance with him.

"Not in this lifetime. That peacock only wants a woman to dance with to make himself look good."

So it goes with writing partners. Maybe they are a lot better dancers than you are, but they should care enough to make the dance fun for both of you. It has to be an exchange of ideas and you should be able to help them also.

Karen McCoy said...

Kitty: I've gotten betas in a variety of ways: social media, referrals, conferences.

Susan: Great quote from Stephen King (I love "On Writing"). It also reminded me of something Sandra Cisneros said during a talk: "Write like you're inside an empty house where you can say whatever you want."

When I heard that, I realized how tightly I was holding myself in my writing. And when I finally let loose, the words came out in ways I didn't expect.

To our lovely OP: Feel free to color outside the lines. Let yourself go. Your writing will thank you for it!

Julia said...

Donna - I swear, Captcha gets cakes from Which, if you havent seen it, is to baking what Janet is to writing. Seriously.

Karen McCoy said...

Julia: Yes, indeed! Here are some of my favorite Cake Wreck fails:

Cake Wrecks LOLs Part 1

Cake Wrecks LOLs Part 2

Julia said...

So in the interests of being vague to protect the innocent. I do generally prefer kindness and such.

Does anyone here at all remember the issue that initially caused my panic that brought me out of lurkdom four or so weeks ago? It was related to getting professional assistance on a Query Letter and why I did or did not just ask here first (the answer being that I had been lurking all along).

Library Fish

Anonymous said...


Agreed. Sometimes you just have to write like someone left the gate open.

I read Patrick Rothfuss' robe burning scene in A WISE MAN'S FEAR and sat back and just stared at the pages. It was absolutely brilliant. The scene, the way it was written, the building of the characters, the humor, the conflict, plot, everything in just a small space. I sat there and thought, "Now that's the way it's done."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Capt. BS,

CIA thank you very much

Donnaeve said...

Julia - Cake Wrecks. Ha! Those were GREAT.

I still think the question is odd. Maybe with all the other successes (from the sound of it) the OP was hoping that one day yes, it WOULD make sense to put the cart before the horse.

Maybe in Carkoon.

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic, but what's new. I'm not sure if we have any YA people here, but I have quite a few people nudging me to pitch FR as a YA epic fantasy.

Aside from word count, which I refuse to think about right now, there is another little tidbit to deal with. During the wars between my MC's mother's people and Father's people, the Tamarls and M'Eiryn, a Tamarl general put out an order to rape all M'Eiryn women to death they caught on the battlefield. In retaliation, the M'Eiryn started cutting penises off dead Tamarl soldiers. No rapers in the nethers.

There are a couple of attempted rapes in the book and subsequent free willy scenes.

Is this going to be too graphic for YA?

Anonymous said...


The world may continue now.

The OP said that they have novels written and published. They're not new at this. But I think they're looking at it like a non-fiction project. With a non-fiction project, you do only send a proposal, not the finished work, and you write the book, sometimes with guidance from the agent or editor who takes it on. Unfortunately, fiction is different.

A critique group of writers you trust can be invaluable in trying to figure out a story. And for the most part, they're free (as long as you're willing to help them out, too.)

I, for one, love brainstorming an idea. Brainstorming is basically a group of people pulling ideas out of the air around a central theme, and the author deciding which ones to make real.


I think we've discussed some places to find beta readers and critique partners in other threads, if you don't find your answer here today. There are online writers' groups, conferences, in-person writers' groups, writerly organizations (depending on your genre, maybe the Romance Writers Association, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, or a local group, like the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild here in my province.)

Or you can ask some people here. :)

You'd need to spend some time in any of these places to really get to know a writer's ability to critique and help out. And if you go the way of an online critique group, you can sometimes find specific writers whose critiques are particularly helpful for you, and see if they would be willing to be a critique partner.

I'd never ask my family, for too many reasons. The only friends I ask are those who are also writers.

Lizzie: great idea. Donald Maass has written for such companies. It taught him a lot about writing, and now he's a star agent and writing best-selling books on how to write the best book ever.

Even if the OP doesn't go this route, one of Maass's books is never a waste of money.

Dena: You can find all the #MSWL from Twitter collected here: MSWL

Happy now, with internet back. Now to see what e-mails I missed (yes, I had to check in with you guys, first.)

Julia said...

Julie - Hm. Definitely didn't want to give the impression that I thought feedback was bad. Or that adjusting was bad. Both are critical and I don't know where I'd be without them.

Anonymous said...

Julia, I'm sorry if I gave that impression. Feedback is always good. We just have to find our right people as we've said before. Some people want to show off how brilliant they are and aren't very helpful. Some people just don't know much but are very eager. We have to find that happy medium.

Anonymous said...

On another note, I just saw this and had to wonder...

Ms Shark's family reunion?

AJ Blythe said...

2Ns, my brain was running straight down the same path as yours - all those free willies...

SQUEEE - I got ice-cream (now I feel special 'cause I'm getting food too)