Thursday, August 02, 2018

Wait, WHAT?

On Jane Friedman's blog post about the state of publishing for the first half of this year (post: ) she talked about agents moving away from requesting only a query letter and a few pages. One agent she interviewed, Carly Watters (who also tweeted about her submission requirements, said because of the industry changing so are her fiction submission requests:
Aside from a synopsis, any author asked for a full manuscript will have to provide a list of five comparable titles from the past five years, a short marketing plan, a description of the next work in progress, and a list of alternate titles for the work being submitted. She added, “This reflects the seriousness authors need to take when launching their career & it starts with you.” If there was any good news for the debut novelist, it was that this request applies only to writers being asked for a full manuscript, not to writers sending initial queries.
I'm curious, is this a trend or an outlier?

I have no idea.

I've never seen it before, so all y'all out there in the querying trenches will have a much better overall view of who's asking for what.

And I was glad I looked at what she said in the Jane Friedman article:

When I reached out to Watters about her Twitter thread, she illuminated more of the thinking behind her request. First, she said this is more of a “test” of mindset and understanding than anything. “I care about how the author responds to my request, that they engage with it, and that they have some idea about how their book fits in the marketplace.” The marketing plan is the most test-oriented part of the equation; Watters wants to see that writers have given the marketing of their work some thought, even if their points are off the mark or things the publisher would do. “I just want to learn what they know at this stage,” she said. “What I don’t want to see is a short list of things that they ‘will do in the future once they get a deal.’” She’s most interested in what they’re doing now to grow their platform and brand.

After I cooled down from my initial read, and took out all the swears in this post,  I'm still left wondering:

Why would you write a marketing plan for a book that hasn't sold?

I don't write marketing plans for non-fiction books I send on submission. I talk about where we'll find readers, I talk about platform, I talk about people and places that are likely reviewers but there's simply no way to devise a marketing plan for a book independent of the marketing department and knowledge of the budget.

Even if a writer is going to do all the marketing his or her ownself, you still need to know if it's paperback, hardcover, e-original and what the print run is.

And let's all consider this: I've NEVER had an editor ask me for a marketing plan for a novel. Not ONCE in twenty years.

When a book is SOLD and we have a sense of what's hot now, when the book is going to be published, the format, the print run, the interest from the film folks, the sales in foreign countries, the blurbs we're getting, the early reads from key bookstore folks, etc. then we put our heads together WITH THE MARKETING TEAM and work on ideas, plotting and planning.

To give you an idea of the incredible waste of time this is consider: many of the first novels I sell for authors are NOT the novel they queried me for. Maybe you've heard of some of them: Patrick Lee, Jeff Somers, Loretta Sue Ross, Steve Ulfelder.

And how about the fact that Deb Vlock queried me for a novel which didn't sell, and we worked together over the years to conceptualize and then create a proposal for a non-fiction book which did.

But this is at least better the incredible time suck of a chapter outlines that got mentioned two weeks back; even if you don't use it, writing a marketing plan is good practice for when you will need one.
And I concur that a writer with reasonable expectations of where their book fits in the bookstore, and what readers will resonate with it is a good idea.

But here's the true measure of why this is a terrible idea: it wastes the most precious asset a writer has: time.

And my guess is that writers seeing that in the submission guidelines will prioritize their submissions accordingly.


Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Did you see the piece in the NY Times about Book Tubers? Young people posting video reviews of books on Youtube.
I go in our local library and look at how many times books go out and it's been disheartening to see how some YA books have only gone out a few times or none. So I wondered who was reading YA and how. One MG by an award winning author had been take out twice in 11 years, both times by me.
Going to watch some Book Tube.

Ellen said...

Is that agent looking for a marketer or a writer?

Because honestly, the most talented writers I know have zero experience in marketing. But once they get a book deal, they learn quickly.

I'd also like to point out that I DO have a background in marketing. I've also been published multiple times by the major presses and have an aggregate social media following of 200,000. But until I googled it five minutes ago, I had no idea what a marketing plan for a book looked like. Now I get it--it's the answers to all those questions the publisher asks in the Author Questionnaire. So I think the agent can safely assume that if an author can fill out a form, they can come up with a marketing plan. But no one needs to possess all this information at the start of the process.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Time suck was the first thing I thought. However, back when querying my last novel, for an agent I had a referral for, I was asked for a lot of this stuff- a synopsis, an outline of the entire series of books I was planning - along with the full and the comps. I do not think they asked for a marketing plan. I would be befuddled and annoyed by this. Isn't that what agent/publisher are supposed to help with after the book sells? I do own Dana Kaye's Your Book Your Brand to assist me when the time comes, but yeah, no.

Between getting my website active, working full-time (school started yesterday here in the deep South), finishing revisions, preparing queries and synopsis, working on the next book, this would be a huge time suck. I will do it if I think the agent is really a good fit, but I have not seen this as an industry standard at all. At least, I would not think this would be something asked for until AFTER partnering with an agent.

Amy Johnson said...

Oooh, I learned good stuff here today (as always). Okay, self, stay focused on the writing (and reading). I'll say though, now my brain is aswirl with marketing ideas. I think when the right time comes, marketing might actually turn out to be fun. That's when the time comes, not if the time comes. When, not if. When, not if. I'm liking that for a mantra.

Margaret Turkevich said...

I checked out an agent's submission guidelines and yes, indeed, marketing plan was one of the required points in the query letter.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Bring it on

Write...and so it goes.

Dena Pawling said...

Before panicking over this list, let's take them one at a time.

>>Aside from a synopsis

I have as short as 250 words and as long as 2 pages.

>>any author asked for a full manuscript will have to provide a list of five comparable titles from the past five years

Only five? Over five years? No sweat. I keep a list.

>>a short marketing plan

Google is your friend here. I typed “book marketing plan” and several of the hits had some really good information. I'd have no problem developing a short marketing plan from a few of those pages. But my take on why some agents are asking for this is that it sounds like the traditional publishing industry is focusing on competing with the self-publishing folks.

>>>a description of the next work in progress

Which one? I have four. Two in the same series and two as book one of two additional series. I have beginning outlines for queries and beginning outlines for synopses.

>>and a list of alternate titles for the work being submitted.

I have probably 5-6 titles that have been the working title for this ms in the past. What's a hamster wheel for if you don't ever use it?!

>>She added, “This reflects the seriousness authors need to take when launching their career & it starts with you.

One thing this list does for me, is make me seriously consider the self-publishing option. Even if right now I want an agent, I know I'll be responsible for most of the marketing even if I go the agent/traditional route. And with the recent “bad agent” news, plus all the new requirements that legit agents are throwing our way, the industry is making authors do more and more anyway, why not do all of it? I think if more and more agents are wanting more and more stuff like this from authors, this will be a continuation of the industry pushing more and more authors to self-publishing.

Gerald Dlubala said...

Sounds like a formula for self publishing. Just my initial thought.

Ann Bennett said...

Warning bells went off in my mind. Anytime someone asks too much, the chances of them using your work is nil. I worked doing science programs for schools. People would call and want to know what I could do for a science day at their school. I put a lot of effort into the first two proposals. They looked at the proposal and said they would get back.

I learned to pull these two out for the iffy contacts. I met with them and they spent little time looking. What comes easily is not always appreciated. I gained a lot of respect for administrators. They would book a program with little demands than the time and date and be there after everyone had gone cleaning with you and custodian.

I have a question important to me. Being a busy caregiver to several family members, I know I can't market and book dates, etc. How do you handle people who want to read over your work who want to do a low budget film? I get the exposure jazz and the fact my work may die in my computer hard drive one day. But what should I consider asking for with the screenplays. I'm not a greedy person. I just don't give away what has value to me. Some tips on diplomacy would help.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Like DENA and GERULD it does sound like self publishing to me. If you're doing all their work then why not. Problem is, at this stage, I'm not sure what THEIR work is.

The Noise In Space said...

Dena, I think your last paragraph said it perfectly. I've never wanted to self-publish, but if the industry is going to expect us to do more and more work outside the traditional scope of writing, all while paying us less and less, it starts to look a lot more appealing. Why would I want to give a cut of the already tiny profits to an agent that expected me to do this much work up front, before she'd ever invested anything (not even time!) on me?

The Noise In Space said...

2Ns; "Problem is, at this stage, I'm not sure what THEIR work is."


(sharks excluded, of course. We know what sharks do. But for...shall we call them barracudas? Not so much.)

Timothy Lowe said...

When I was querying, I avoided querying people with requirements like this. Anything that smacked of, "where will your book be placed on a shelf and what is your plan for marketing it?" I'm not an industry professional. I'm a writer. Yes, there is value in reading in your genre - so you can avoid overdone tropes, NOT so you can develop some kind of marketing plan.

The good news is, there are still a multitude of successful, reputable agents who go by the tried and true. Query letter, pages. Hook 'em and worry about the rest later. It takes enough energy to write a good book. Why the hell would we take time away from that to jump through these kinds of hoops?

Mister Furkles said...

If authors must do all of the work normally done by agents, editors, and publishers' marketing departments, then they don't need agents or publishers. Those writers can self-publish and keep all the revenue.

DeadSpiderEye said...

...and finally I'd like to thank my agent, for all the tireless and diligent effort she put into marketing my novel. She's definitely not anther one of those idle bums who want a pile of cash for sweet Fanny Adams.

Yeah that's right authors are gonna submit market research with their treatments because what they all have is unlimited access to all that trade data on sales.

Craig F said...

I might consider such crap as a last resort. So far the farthest I have gone is the 50 pages of manuscript anomaly of D4EO. I can see some logic in that, it is how far I would go before giving up on a book. I have also gotten 15-20 pages into a book and seen a better beginning than the one offered.

Then again, if I get that desperate I will be considering self-publishing too. I do think I would write something new or re-write something I have already written and try again.

I have saved all of those first million words I have laid down as groundwork. Some of the plots and ideas are quite nice but the execution is off. I think that I am capable of fixing that now. First, let me test the waters in the trenches a little more.

nightsmusic said...

Since the agent and publisher receive a percentage of sales, it's in their best interest as much as the author's to market the book. This sounds like an agent who wants to do the sale and beyond that, will leave it up to the author to do the rest of the legwork which makes me think said agent would be better off taking a flat fee.

I agree with others here, sounds like a plan for self-publishing in which case, the agent is unnecessary. Wonder if she realizes that...

Nettleton said...

This agency also offers in-house support with literary branding, which their clients can pay for. Things like "social media strategy consultation" and "book launch marketing package." What do y'all make of this?

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Not sure I can handle the demands of being both product and pimp.

I'll do what TLowe did, avoid querying agents with 1,001 requirements. That's still within my control.

Susan Bonifant said...

So you're an agent who has liked a manuscript well enough to ask for a full, along with all the other projects.

If the accompanying materials and research are not up the agent's standards, does the agent turn down the potentially winning book?

Lennon Faris said...

"my guess is that writers seeing that in the submission guidelines will prioritize their submissions accordingly"

I once saw this whole set up for an initial query and the agent went to the bottom of my to-do list. It felt like a first date asking you about wedding plans. I can't see how it weeds out the less-serious, since I am pretty serious and it weeded me out.

CynthiaMc said...

I feel myself channeling Dr. McCoy from Star Trek - "Dammit, Jim, I'm a writer not a - "

I work full time. I do theatre at night and on weekends. Thankfully I don't need a lot of sleep so while most people are sleeping, I'm writing. If I were to do everything on that list I would have to give up one of my two jobs.

I will continue to write and hope this is an anomaly and not a trend.

Beth Carpenter said...

I have to wonder if it's not partially a plan to limit the number of manuscripts she needs to read by pre-selecting only authors willing to put in a lot of extra time and work. Trouble is, they may or may not not be the best writers.

julieweathers said...

I don't need an agent testing me to see if I'm serious about writing. Sorry.

I'll write the best book I can. I'll revise it a hundred times, two hundred times if that's what it needs. I'll write a one-page, two-page, five-page synopsis. I know where my book fits on the shelf.

I'm not coming up with five alternative titles because in all likelihood the publisher will change it anyway.

When The Rain Crow goes out on submission, I will already be started on another project, so I know what else I'm working on.

I'm not putting together a marketing plan on a book that isn't sold and might not sell for years if ever.

I don't have five comparables. I could come up with some if required, but I'd rather not.

I'm not jumping through all these hoops to demonstrate my worthiness. I have better things to do with my time.

Elissa M said...

To me, the idea of having a writer come up with a marketing plan is kind of insulting to actual marketing professionals. It's like saying anyone can do their job.

I fully agree that asking for this is asking the writer to waste time they don't have. And yes, I'm one writer who will prioritize my submissions accordingly.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

I find the things on this list to be apples & oranges.

Of COURSE I have alternate titles in mind for my book, because I had to brainstorm the title. I'd actually be kind of glad if someone asked for them, because of course with rejections you always wonder if it wasn't due in part to the non-catchiness of your title. First impressions and all that.

Of course I would love to talk about my next WIP. It's a sequel to the book I'm querying for, that also works as a stand-alone. I was hoping you'd ask!

But when it comes to marketing and, frankly, comps, I'm out of my depth. Like other commenters, I'll have to wonder whether my proposal was rejected because I exposed my ignorance about these things.

It sort of feels like writing a college paper, where you wander out of your area of expertise and start to wonder if you are BSing or not, and have no idea.

I've done a few queries where what I submitted was really more of a proposal package, with a 2- or 3-page synopsis, longer author bio, comps, and even stuff about marketing, in addition to first 25 or 50 pages. I find that these are exciting to prepare (especially if you feel the agent is a good fit), and even harder than usual to get rejected after submitting.

KDJames said...

This is not an indication of how serious a writer is about their career. ["I don't think that word means what you think it means."] It might, however, be an indication of how entrepreneurial a writer is. Seems an odd strategy for an agent, to provoke a writer into that realization.

But what do I know? Golly gee, why stop at just a marketing plan? Maybe writers should also come up with a multi-level pricing strategy. And a plan for where and in what format they'd like their book distributed. A list of five developmental editors who would be a joy to work with. A similar number of copyeditors and proofreaders, plus their credentials. Five cover designers who have done work in the genre and would be a good fit for the tone of the book, examples and pricing attached. Oh, and don't forget suggestions and samples of audiobook narrators and their rates.


I don't mean to pick on Carly Watters, or any other individual. From Freidman's article, and the comments above, it seems other agents are taking a similar approach.

But they should be aware that what this nonsense indicates -- to me, a writer serious about her career -- is an agent who doesn't think they can land a deal big enough that a publisher has skin in the game and will be motivated to put some effort into marketing. And, by extension, that it won't be worth their effort either, leaving it to the writer. And that's before they've even read the full.

Am I the only one who remembers the story of The Little Red Hen? Way to talk yourself out of a share of the bread.

KDJames said...


[wince] I apologize for the misspelling.

BrendaLynn said...

Here’s a marketing strategy for you. A teenager in our family confessed that he reads Game of Thrones at the library to spite his parents, who won’t allow him to watch the show. I agreed that reading at the library was the ultimate rebellious stance and suggested he try Lawhead next.
Offend the parents, I say.

Claire AB. said...

I won't pretend to be an expert about the publishing industry, but I'll bet I have more experience querying than both Jane Friedman and Carly Watters -- 150+ letters and counting. And for what it's worth, I haven't bumped into anyone asking for what Ms. Watters wants in a submission. The occasional synopsis, yes. A comp title or two, sure. Bot not the rest of it. Personally, I think she's an outlier. Most people want the standard query letter plus a few pages. And I'm with other commenters -- an agent who asked for all this wouldn't get my query (not that she'd want it anyway!). I'd rather spend my time writing a publishable book than writing a marketing plan I might never need.

AJ Blythe said...

Thank goodness it seems most agents aren't asking us to jump through more hoops. Mind you, like Dena, I have the answers to a lot of the questions already done, but not for the reasons the agent is asking. If these are outliers they'd definitely go at the bottom of my querying list as well.

Laina said...

There was an agent I didn't query because he had a requirement that you had to watch like three youtube videos for a secret code to put in your query and that's just a lot.

Liz Penney said...

Seriously, Laina? Wow. I too found this list "exhaustive" especially the alternative titles. I've come up with some pretty great ones, which is not easy and would not be able to meet this requirement. That said, I understand the PUBLISHER might change the title. And that's fine.

Laina said...

@Liz Penney - Yeah, you needed to watch three youtube videos, include the secret code from each. And he didn't like normal queries, and asked for platform information, a full synopsis, and three chapters. For a novel.

And people who he requested material from were requested to send a book proposal (for NOVELS!) including platform numbers and speaking engagegments and stuff.

It was all very strange and just looking at it I was like, "Welp, not a good fit."

Omoizele said...

If an agent reads your book and can't tell YOU five books that are similar to yours that came out in the last five years, do you really want them as your agent? Personally that would be a huge red flag for me not to let that person represent me because either they don't keep up with what's selling in the genre they are supposed to be an expert on or they haven't read your book.