Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Do you know enough to send a query?

The Dunning-Kruger effect (people who don't know much tend not to recognize their own ignorance, and so fail to seek better information. The least knowledgeable are the least likely to do research)

Do you know enough about publishing to be sending queries?

1. True or False: Literary agents sell your work to publishers.

2. True or False: Publishers register and own the copyright on books they publish.

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

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.

4. True or False: You need to hire an editor to go over your manuscript before submitting it to an agent or publisher.

5. True or False: It's who you know that gets you an agent.

6. True or False: if you don't earn out your advance, you have to pay it back.

7. True or false: The best way to meet agents is in person.

8. True or false: agents are too busy reading queries to answer all of them

9. True or false: agents are looking for the next hot category

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.


Jessa said...

Let's see how I do with no googling and no coffee in me. Yeah, I'm danger-woman. That's right.

1. True. Among other things, it's an agents job to sell a writer's work to publishers.

2. Um, kinda true. You own the copyright the minute you write your story down. You sell the rights to the publisher when they buy the book. As such, they'll own it for whatever length of time is specified in your contract.

3. I think b, 15%.

4. False. You don't need to hire an editor. That said, it's still a good idea to get someone to look it over.

5. False. It's your work that gets you an agent. If you know an agent and your book sucks, they're not going to risk their reputation (or job!) taking on your book. If you know an agent and your book's decent, well, yeah, I'm gonna say that gives you an edge. But the work still has to, um, work.

6. I think that's true, actually. An advance is a publisher guessing what they can make on your book. If they don't make that much money, you pay 'em back the difference.

7. False. It's only true in that meeting agents at the appropriate time and place can be beneficial. But thinking this is generally true is what leads people to just show up at an office or (even worse) at an agent's home. So true at industry events when there's time set aside for agent/writer meet-and-greets, false otherwise.

8. Mostly true. Agents are too busy doing the rest of their job to respond to all queries. This is sad and is a leading cause of writer cookie-eating, but there you have it.

9. False. Agents are looking for the next hot writer, true. Agents are looking for the next hot book, true. If it happens to be in a new category, grand.

10. True. But good luck getting an offer without an agent. It can happen! But it's difficult.

The Sleepy One said...

Jessa-6 is false. You don't have to pay back your advance. But if your book doesn't earn out you might have issues selling your next manuscript.

Gin said...

#2 is false. The publisher may REGISTER the copyright, but does so on behalf of the author, who still owns the copyright. The publisher is sort of renting it for the duration of the contract.

I'm wondering if #1 is a trick question, related to the false part of #2. "Sell your work" is true, if interpreted broadly, in the sense that the agent negotiates the sale of rights (with input from the author), but not in the sense of an outright sale of the copyright (as #2 would suggest).

Annaka said...

#8 varies by agent. Some noble souls commit to responding to all queries. With many others, no response means no thanks.

Adele said...

Let's see how this goes down. I think I was born to quibble:

1. True, 2. False, 3. 15%, 4 (the first one) False, 4 (the second one) False,
5: For most of us, false. Except there's that DeMille opinion. But we can't all live in the 212.
6. False
7. Has to be false, or agents would never venture outdoors
8. Unanswerable: Agents don't answer all queries but it may not be because they're too busy reading other queries. The might be too busy sleeping or eating or having a life. Or they might know that starting a dialogue with a confirmed lunatic is a big mistake.
9. False
10. I'd say False: the starry-eyed newbie might be happily brandishing an "offer to publish" from a vanity press, or the agent might not handle that genre.

Andrea said...

So we type our answers here in the comment section?
Without looking at previous comments, I'd say:

1. True

I'd guess they register the copyright, but shouldn't the copyright always remain with the author? The publisher pays for the rights to publication, not copyright itself, right?

3. A literary agent's standard domestic commission is:
b. 15%

4. That's the last place I'd look.

4. False. You might choose to invest in a freelance editor, but you don't have to.

5. False. It might help though.

6. False.

7. Well, I guess it'd be nice if you're (going to be) working together, but apparently there are quite a few writers out there who've never met their agent in person.

8. I'd imagine they're mostly busy working for their clients and not reading queries, but some say they're too busy to answer every query, so it depends on the agent.

9. I'd say they're looking for the next great novel to fall in love with and the next great author to work with.

10. If you're contacting publishers by yourself, why do you think you need an agent?

Anonymous said...

I've been cooking all morning, but now I can take this pop quiz! I'm going to keep it straight forward without any caveats, explanations or whatever. (and I didn't peek at answers before mine - the only way I'll remember is to get it wrong!) Here goes:
1. T
2. F
3. B
4. T
5. F
6. F
7. F
8. T
9. F
10. T

*Closes eyes, holds breath*

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I did my answer before reading the comments. Here they are with my rationale.

1. True True True (via the publisher's acquisitions editor or department.)

2. False. Although the occasional publisher will offer a contract for the life of the copyright. Under the law, that is a de facto copyright transfer.

3. 15% (key word is "standard.")

4. False, the only place a reputable agency might expend $$ is to appear at a conference or high level show (even then expenses are usually paid by the event.)

4 (again) False, independent editor is not a requirement, but is an option (key word is "need" rather than "can.")

5. False. It never hurts to get to know an agent's clients or other writers who work in the genre, but that is just plain old networking, not a gold-plated invitation.

6. False False False. I know a writer who got a fer-real 7-figure advance back in the heyday of the 80s. His debut sold 400K copies, not bad at all for a noob, but nowhere near his advance. The check cleared, but his was dropped by the publisher.

7. False. It is fun as hell and doesn't hurt your network, but you "meet" an agent through your query.

8. True. Ditto on the cookie-eating comment.

9. False. They are looking for the writer or book that can become the next hot category.

10. I give this one a "depends." It depends on the agent, the publisher, the writer, and the book.


Sonya said...

Ooh, I'll play...

1. True
2. False - authors own the copyright
3. B
4. False. Eek.
The second question #4. False
5. False
6. False
7. False
8. False
9. False
10. Neither true nor false... it depends on the publisher (for example, if it's an "offer" from a vanity publisher like PA, then they wouldn't be interested -- but if it's an offer from Simon & Schuster, then yes they would)

Anonymous said...

Oops, I missed the second on my list to fix that I say:

4. F
4. T

And I lied, I must add a caveat to that 2nd #4. I say "need" is the right word. You really really really need to do this - if you are serious about querying.

BP said...

IT'S FINALS WEEK!!! WHY!?!?! :D haha just the same, looking forward to the answers...

Rivka said...

I'll try my knowledge…
1. True, if by "sell" you mean "offer to get money." The book does not actually belong to the agent, so it's not theirs to strictly sell…but they are trying to entice the publisher to buy.
2. True. The publishers typically own all the copyrights. If they did not, authors wouldn't have such a hassle getting them back!
3. C, commission depends on the amount of the deal. Everything is negotiable.
4. True. Although a quick trip to their blog and/or website is crucial, too.
4.2 (There are two fours) False. Many say you should NOT hire an editor.
5. Arguable. Writing a good book is tantamount, but who you know also helps.
6. I would think this depends on the contract. Mostly false, but could happen.
7. False…although the people who run writers conferences would say otherwise.
8. True. That is what the form rejection is for.
9. True. Agents want the editors want.
10. Mostly true, although it depends on the publisher. A small publisher is not worth an agent's time.

Jenny Maloney said...

My guess is that the real answer is: 1. Go through the questions
2. If there are any that we're unsure of...then we should go do some research.

Lilly Faye said...

Is the typo in your subject line part of the test?

Dor said...

1. False. A Literary Agent sells the right to print the work.

2. False. The writer owns the copyright by virtue of having written the thing.

3. 15%

4. False. Anybody can pay for an advert. Even me. A good place to find out about agents are places like Pred & Ed, Absolute Write, and in the acknowledgements of the published book whose fans you intend to thieve.

4(Part the second): False. If you need an editor prior to subbing, spend the money on a grammar class instead.

5: No. Connections may get your Q read a little quicker, but it's about the book.

6: False. An advance is more like a bet than a loan. If the publisher loses, that's their problem - although if your book doesn't earn out it may impact you further down the road. A note should be made that a book can fail to earn out while still making a profit for the publisher.

7: Does not compute. Pedantic Pedant says you cannot meet somebody without doing so in person. You can, however, "meet" agents on Twitter, by being pedantic in their blog comments, or at conferences. It is unwise to turn up at their place of work unannounced. That's the closest I can get to an answer.

8. False. Some agents are too busy doing the job they get paid for (working for their existing clients) to answer all queries and have a no response = no policy. Others make the time to answer all queries (and are much appreciated). Others exist on a point between these two.

9. Does not compute. The next hot category is not a quantifiably seekable thing. Agents look for work they are passionate about and can sell.

10. Sometimes. From a small epub - not. From a major publisher - probably. Ultimately, it comes down to the agent and the work.

Anonymous said...

Here's my take. Most of the answers need caveats and explanations.

1. False. An agent helps you LICENSE your work for publication. The work is not SOLD (unless you're doing work for hire). You're only licensing the publisher to publish it in certain geographic areas, certain languages, certain formats (print, audio, ebook, etc.) and for limited periods of time or other conditions. All those are negotiable.

2. False. Publishers (most of them) REGISTER the copyright for the author, but the AUTHOR owns the copyright...unless again, it's work for hire. Today, not all publishers even do that automatically. Most or two I know of don't.

3. 15% usually. Generally 20% for foreign rights.

4 (the first). MOSTLY False. WD and such are good places to read about agents featured in articles. You can learn a lot ("alot" !) about the agent, and get a sense of whether they are someone you want to work with from articles and interviews. The ads...NO!

4 (the second). SORT OF False. Are you REQUIRED to editor before submitting? No. Is it a really good idea? You betcha. I went to a talk last year by NYT Bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver who said that after he has revised and polished his ms, his stories go to 3 different editors that he pays out of his own pocket BEFORE he sends it to his agent or publisher. And then the agent may ask for changes, and then the publisher proceeds to edit it several more times (story edit, line edit, copy edit, etc. etc. So...required to do this? No. A smart thing to do? Yes.

5. FALSE. Who you know can get an agent to look at your work (more quickly anyway). But if you write crappy work, or mediocre work, or even great work that the agent doesn't represent or doesn't think he can find a home for, you're still SOL.

6. FALSE. Nope. You NEVER have to pay back an advance unless you don’t deliver a publishable ms. per the contract. It's one reason authors love big advances. But if you don't earn out that advance, and your name isn't Nora Roberts or Dan Brown or Stephen King, the likelihood of getting another big one is, shall we say, piss-poor.

7. SORT OF False. If you have the opportunity at a conference to interact with an agent in person in a positive (i.e., not ambushing them in the bathroom!) kind of way, yes, it's a great first step in evaluating them. You get a chance to size him/her up and get a feel for his personal style. Is this person a good fit for you and your needs? It's a bonus if it happens, but not a requirement.

8. OFTEN TRUE. But not ALWAYS. There are still a few out there who ALWAYS respond to queries. Far too many of them now only respond if they like the material, leaving authors in limbo. Some don't even tell you, "If you haven't heard in X weeks/months, it means no." Leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

9. SORT OF True. And False. Agents look for books they fall in love with. (at least the good ones; some shysters are indeed looking for "the next hot category.") They mostly look for great storytelling skills. Then a story that one or more editors they know would love too. Then excellent writing. Then an author they think they can work with (not banging on the bathroom stall door, not calling every 6 minutes for an update, etc.). And so on.

10. MOSTLY True. But that depends...If you've already committed to the publisher's offer, there may not be much the agent can do for you. If you have NOT yet said yes to the terms (and instead said something like, "Gosh, I am overwhelmed by your offer, Ms. Editor. I can't think straight right now. May I think about this for a few days and get back to you?" a question to which any reasonable publisher will say yes), then, yup, it's time to get on the phone and start calling agents. They are more likely to say yes--but it's not a sure-fire response. The agent has the potential to negotiate a MUCH smarter deal for you than you could do for yourself.

Did I pass, Teach?

Patience-please said...

I recognize my ignorance. Hence one of the gazillion reasons I would need an agent (if I ever finish a book). I know answers to none of the above, except that I'm fairly certain you answer all queries sent to you.

Janet Reid said...

Lilly, argh! I thought I'd fixed that. Sneaky typo.