Saturday, November 30, 2013

Do you know enough to be querying: Quiz answers

I posted a quiz on Wednesday asking:

Do you know enough about publishing to be sending queries?

Here are the answers.

1. True or False: Literary agents sell your work to publishers.
FALSE.  You license your work to a publisher. An agent makes the deal on your behalf. Selling implies ownership transfer, and you always always always own your work UNLESS you sign a deal that is work-for-hire.

It's VERY important that the word license is used in the contract.

2. True or False: Publishers register and own the copyright on books they publish.
FALSE. Publishers may register copyright but should always be on behalf of the author.  Any contract that requires you to relinquish copyright should be re-negotiated. The contracts should specifically say "on behalf of the author."

3. A literary agent's standard domestic commission is:
a. 10%
b. 15%
c. Depends on the amount of the deal

Answer: b.  Domestic sales are 15%. Subrights sales overseas are most often 10% but that percentage varies.

4. True or False: a good place to find out about agents are the ads in magazines like Poets and Writers, or Writer's Digest.
FALSE.  Ads touting agents or agencies in magazines are most often list of places to avoid querying.  Reputable agents don't advertise. They don't need to. Lists of agents are available on the AAR website, QueryTracker, Absolute Write and other similar places. A quick google search will do the job, as will a search of agent members of Publisher's Marketplace.

4. True or False: You need to hire an editor to go over your manuscript before submitting it to an agent or publisher.
FALSE.  It doesn't hurt to have a second set or even a many-set of eyes on your work before it goes out but you don't need to hire an editor.

If you do elect to hire an editor make sure you know the difference between a developmental editor and a copy editor.

If you do elect to hire an editor get independent references. 

5. True or False: It's who you know that gets you an agent.
FALSE.  Being in NYC or knowing people who work in publishing can help, but it's not the one and only path to representation.

6. True or False: if you don't earn out your advance, you have to pay it back.
FALSE. You have to pay back your advance only in certain, very terrible conditions: you didn't deliver the book, you delivered a book that's not publishable.  Those circumstances are, thankfully, rare.

7. True or false: The best way to meet agents is in person.
FALSE.  Like all reptiles, agents are more afraid of you than you are of them. It certainly doesn't hurt to have met an agent at a conference but I signed most of my clients without meeting them.   

8. True or false: agents are too busy reading queries to answer all of them
FALSE.  Reading queries is a very VERY small portion of the daily workload.

9. True or false: agents are looking for the next hot category
FALSE.  Agents are looking for work they can sell.   Big hot category busters (like 50 Shades of Gray) are most often not-replicable. Chasing trends for your first novel while you're trying to break into publishing is a recipe for disappointment.

10. True or false: if you get an offer from a publisher, an agent will be more likely to take you on as a client.
FALSE.  A small deal offer from a wet behind the ears publisher is often more trouble than it's worth.  A contract offer that has been accepted by the writer can't be further negotiated either and that can hamstring an agent from making a better deal for you. 


french sojourn said...

I knew a few but not enough for my liking...thank you for the 411.

Makes a call to Mr. and Mrs. Google.


Anonymous said...

Stripped of my chance to earn the OK TO QUERY diploma, I am now armed with the all embarrassing big red "F," and slinking back to my desk to study.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

11. True or False: All literary agents have sleek skin, beady eyes and swim in the darkness of publishing-depths best left unattended by writers?
FALSE only one.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I tripped myself up on a couple by not reading the question thoroughly. In my response I had discussed life of copyright contracts as de facto transfers.

A very well-known erotica press, so well-known, it echoes in the caverns of romance and erotica and its well-muscled cover models can be seen hulking at major conferences, has this in its sub guidelines:

"Length of grant of publishing rights: Life of copyright"

I did not sub there just because of this caveat. Since I have no plans to go anywhere for several decades, this length of this contract is effectively 100+ years and is basically an outright sale, rather than a license.


Colin Smith said...

OK, so I knew some of these, but most of them I wasn't 100% certain of ("Mmm... that could be true, I suppose, but... maybe...?).

The one that surprised me was #4. I've never looked through the classifieds for an agent, but now you mention it, I can't recall ever seeing an ad for a reputable agent in any of the media I consume. Now I know why! :)

This was very interesting. Thanks, Janet.

Janet Reid said...

Terri, all major publishers license the book for the life of copyright. There is a clause in the copyright law that allows for a one-time only renegotiation, but for anything more on that, we'd need to call the lawyers in to explain.

What saves this from being eternal is the out of print clause. If a book isn't selling, the author has the right to ask for a reprint, or a new edition. If the publisher declines (as they would if the book is not selling) the contract allows the author to have the granted rights reverted.

I've done this several times and it's a very straightforward matter.

That's why it's important to have the out of print clause IN the contract of course.

Mister Furkles said...


In #1, you say that agents do not 'sell' your work to publishers. In #9, you say agents are looking for work they can 'sell'. So isn't #1 a trick question?

And in #10, you phrased it "...get an offer..." but your answer assumes the author accepted the offer.

So, suppose an author sends a query and then a requested manuscript to a real publisher, and the publisher makes an offer. Would a query from the author to you would be less likely to receive favorable consideration than if the query came with no such offer outstanding?

Just Wendy said...

Excellent advice, Janet. Thanks for that.

I have copy and pasted this post to my blog with a link back to you. I hope you do not object?

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Thank you for the answer on the copyright issue. I see that question from time to time and will send them scampering here. The clause needs to be read in conjunction with other clauses to prevent the de facto transfer (a big problem in the bad old days of music.)


Phoenixwaller said...

Wooo 100%! Do we get extra credit for reading your blog? :)

Janet Reid said...

Yo Furkley One,
No, #1 isn't a trick question. "Sell" is the vernacular but "license" is the correct contract terminology. It's important to know they are two different things even though "sell" is used to describe the transfer more often than not.

And yes, I don't like getting "done deals" because most often they're either lousy deals, or too small to make profitable.

Yes, it's a crazy world.

Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

Great Q and A I knew maybe a couple the one that stumped me was paying back the advance the part that stumped me was if a author delivered an unpublishable book. Does that mean the author didn't edit the book, or failed to take certain suggestions from agent, publisher to tweak the manuscript better? Editing when an agent signs a author do agents edit or that part is up to author?