Friday, April 24, 2015

Query question: so I queried publishers and agents and now I'm in a pickle

I queried a bazillion agents and wasn't patient enough to give them what seemed like 17 years to reply (it had only been a month.) In a snit, I sent a query to a publishing house that takes direct submissions.

Then, in the excitement of having agents (not you, alas) request full mss, I forgot about the publisher.
Recently, the publisher has requested a detailed synopsis and a full manuscript.

On the one hand, several agent requests and one publisher request mean I'm deeper into the forest primeval than I was with my first book. Which makes anything that happens at this point good news. I'm also close to finishing my third book -- and querying that. I risk offending the agents or the publisher if I fill my dream agent (not you, alas) in on what's going on with the publisher and hope she responds saying "Let me take it from here...I was just seconds away from offering you representation because yours is the best book I've seen in a decade?"

Or do I send the mss package to the publisher and hope for cosmic coincidence  -- that they'll offer me representation the day before dream agent does?

Being a wee woodland creature, I'm tempted to hide under my rock, berating myself for snorting in the face of the guideline "Be Patient" and the one that says "Query agents first, publishers second."

Can you help clear out my muddle puddle? 

First, you're going to go back and do some in-depth research on the publisher to make sure they're serious about publishing print books.  You're going to look for things on their website that indicate they sell to wholesale accounts like bookstores, or to libraries.  You're going to make sure they actually sell books to somoene other than the author and the author's one hundred closest friends.

The reason you're going to do this is because if the publsher is NOT a serious publisher, no agent is going to want to deal with that contract, and knowing you have interest from them won't make any difference.

But, if the publisher is a professional place (rather than a hobby outlet--a phrase I'm going to catch hell for I bet) then you let the agents know. It may not make a difference, but you'll want to let them know in case it does.


Amy Schaefer said...

I am going to be upfront and admit that I have no thoughtful comment at this time - I just want to be first for a change. It is 9pm, and I have to get up at 4:30am to take my kids to the ANZAC day ceremonies at their school tomorrow. It is frankly a miracle that I am up this late.

Okay, now I feel badly about having nothing to say. *pause to reread the post* OP, deal with everyone in good faith and don't fret overmuch about causing offense. Aside from doing the due diligence Janet suggested regarding this publisher, think very carefully about whether you want to be tied to a particular publisher before securing an agent. It may feel like a bird-in-the-hand scenario, but just be sure you will be fully comfortable with the outcome, and won't torture yourself with what-ifs. (What if Agent Wonderful could have gotten me a deal at Publisher Y???)

Okay, off to bed. Paradise is closed for the night.

Anonymous said...

hobby outlet?

See, this is why people like you Janet. You don't sugar coat anything. In fact, often times you pull out the power tools, the chainsaw and the sub automatic (which you somehow use as a power tool) and you light the forest on fire...

You may not always be right, but you don't say nay to the gal holding the aforementioned sub automatic and chainsaw.

Great advice.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OH to follow paradise.
I'm telling, not suggesting, begging, bribing or trying to convince you, go with the agent. Let the agent know what's going on. If the agent is worth his or her epaulets, he or she will get you a better deal, no matter the uniform of the publisher.
Success, regarding most everything, is often achieved by the best efforts of a team vs. going it alone.

Unknown said...

Hi Amy + Good morning. It's 4:30am in my woodland. And Brian? When isn't the Queen right? Pray tell.

To the writer; do what she says + congratulations for getting deeper into the query bog.

Unknown said...

Kudos to OP, garnering that much interest (agents & publishers) with such (relative) rapidity.

That's something to gloat over for a while, anyways :)

Colin Smith said...

In the excitement of having novels completed and ready for showtime, one of the hardest things to do is strategize--to think beyond the agent or publisher to the direction of your writing career. What kind of writer do you want to be known as? What kind of books do you want to be known for? Do you want an agent and maybe self-pub later, or self-pub now and maybe go traditional later? Do you want to quit your day job and write full time, or is your day job too much fun to give up? Plans can change, and life throws curveballs, but it's always good to start out with a vision for your career. As an unagented, unpublished writer, I have, of course, infinite wisdom and experience on this topic (ha!), but this is something that's been on my mind a lot lately, and I think it applies to the question today. If your writing career plan necessitates getting an agent, then, as Janet says, research the publisher and if they're not a hobby outlet (I think "hobby shop" is snappier, Janet), then use that offer as leverage for getting an agent.

There are my pre-8 am thoughts for what they're worth. I'm impressed that there are others vommenting before me who are cohererererherent... :D

Unknown said..., Colin.
Why aren't you agented and published yet?

I published my first (and only, so far) novel with what may be considered a hobby outlet and so far no regrets. It was a one book contract, and the team is supportive and attentive. But then, I have nothing to which to compare.

The second book is not going this route. It's a better book because of what I went through with the first, so, once it's polished until the glare hurts, I'll rev up the agent search. And I will be patient. Hopefully.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say it, but this writer is getting waaaaay ahead of him/herself. The publisher has only made a request for a full manuscript, not anything close to an offer of publication. Without sounding unduly cruel, I don't think an agent will be at all excited about an author receiving a request for a manuscript. Filling the agent "in on what's going on" at this stage is pointless; because nothing is really going on.

Donnaeve said...

I must have used up all of my brain cells in previous comments this week 'cause I got nothing to add to Ms. Janet's advice, other than, I'd be leaning towards traveling the agent only route.

Actually, I wouldn't send the publisher anything - if you haven't already. Why muddy the waters when you've already got requests for fulls? A month? Trust me on this, that's PDQ.

Dena Pawling said...

Brian – my husband brings his power tools to bed with him [zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz]. Fortunately I have a large supply of ear plugs.

To the OP [and just what, pray tell, does OP mean, anyway?], I have a WIP that is UF/romance. It's not polished to sparkling yet, but when it is, I also wonder if I should just shop it directly to a publisher. Most romance publishers will take direct submissions. Of course this assumes I don't have an agent at that point, so I'm putting that decision on the back burner for now.

Here's my picky cross-examination mind over-thinking things: “Or do I send the mss package to the publisher and hope for cosmic coincidence  -- that they'll offer me representation the day before dream agent does?” I didn't think publishers offered representation. They offered a contract for that book, maybe 2-3 books. Is that counted as representation? Some of the authors in my RWA group say they are “with Avon” or “with Entangled”. Does that mean they are exclusive? Or represented? I'll have to ask them at the next meeting.

Colin Smith said...

Amanda: Let me give you the only true and legitimate woodland creature response to your question: Because I'm not good enough, of course! :)

Colin Smith said...

Dena: OP: Ornery Provocateur. Or Original Poster. Sometimes those terms are equivalent, though not, I hasten to say, in this case. ;)

Unknown said...

I didn't think there were that many (non-hobby) Publishers who DID take unsolicited manuscripts. That said, hands down I'd rather work like a wolverine til I got an Agent because in my mind they're the front linesman, coach, cheerleader, talent scout, and strategist all wrapped into one hard drinking, possibly neurotic package.

Susan Bonifant said...

I may be missing something, but why not send a masterfully crafted email to the agent of choice to give him/her right of refusal?

I know, I know, I know, it's not customary, but it's not the worst thing that could happen for the agent to reject/not respond. The worst that could happen is that the agent shows interest after you've assumed they don't have any and make another move.

There's a prom date analogy in here somewhere, but I'm late for the page.

Colin Smith said...

Susan: It's like when you go to the school dance and you see the girl of your dreams, but she doesn't know you like her, and you don't have the guts to tell her, and then your friends convince you to tell her and when you do she runs screaming from the room... no, wait. That's not an analogy. That's my life story. Sorry! ;)

Craig F said...

I think I would ask more of the publisher.

Many of the hobby trade want to move up in the world. Maybe you can be the writer who does it. Call and ask if they will work with an Agent. If you get good responses it might get you to the grown up table at the beggared writer's banquet.

If you can find out who the publisher likes in Agent land target them. Don't worry about overstepping yourself. Being a writer means your audacity has to grow by leaps and bounds. Grab this sucker with both hands and set yourself for a ride.

I am halfway home and it looks like I can hit the end of our blueberry season. It would have been a shame to own part of a field and miss the season.

At least my favorite berries are an archaic late season one. They should be just ripening when I get to them.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Dena: UF/Romance?! eh? Unidentified Flying Romance?

My two cents worth (I don't have a published novel), I'd go with the agent route. Those publishing contracts....manalive. I know you haven't been offered yet. Only a request for full manuscript. But I'd still like to have an agent involved. And yes, check out the publisher's professionality if you haven't already.

Unknown said...

Oh to have this conundrum! Assuming the publisher is reputable, what is the downside of going both routes? If the publisher wants the book isn't that tremendous ammunition for a query letter? I mean if I was an agent I would love the first line "I am querying you because (whatever the reason is), and INHO (I'm Not a Hobby Outlet) is offering a publishing contract.

Elissa M said...

I have a writer acquaintance who went with a small but supposedly serious publisher. Turned out I could only buy print copies through (which I did just to support a fellow writer). And, well, it also turned out that the "publisher" did the covers and apparently no editing. Or at least, not the sort of editing one expects from a decent publisher.

I did some online sleuthing and found lots of glowing endorsements of this "publisher", including from a very big name in the author's genre. These endorsements were years old. The publisher's site, meanwhile, was about as impressive as the job they did with my acquaintance's novels. And they had a note saying all authors would be expected to hire their own editors going forward. My thought was, what the heck is this "publisher" doing to earn their cut? Might as well self-publish and keep all the proceeds.

The author had written acceptable novels that would have been great reads if properly edited. I have no idea how they sold, but no doubt sales would have been helped by better covers and better distribution.

Moral of the story: Publishers are not created equal. Janet is right to encourage further research. Everyone is right to be skeptical.

Dena Pawling said...

Colin - I was thinking Obnoxious Pain-in-the-something =)

Oh wait, that would be describing ME.

Lisa - Urban Fantasy. My romance isn't quite paranormal, but then again maybe it is. That market's a bit over-saturated right now, UF or paranormal, and my WIP is NOTHING like Twilight and similar [no angels, vamps, or weres]. So currently it's sort of sitting, waiting for the market to move a little.

I have way too many ideas flitting thru my mind right now, including book 2 of my women's fiction that I'm currently querying. I'm trying to settle on something for my next WIP.

Anonymous said...

When I made my infamous deal with my stepdad to work on the ranch for six months free in exchange for Cowboy, he didn't bother to mention the horse was wilder than a march hare. We put him in the hay corral behind my bunkhouse and I'd grain him in the morning. He wouldn't come to it until I left.

Then, whenever I had a spare few minutes, I'd snuggle down in a haystack, a safe place to the horse, and read out loud. He'd stay as far away as he could, but eventually, horses are by nature curious creatures, he'd come closer. At the end he'd be sticking his nose in the book like he wanted to read along.

And thus did Julie learn patience, which is one of the most valuable tools a writer can have. There's a conversation on B&W going on now about whether people should correct someone else's grammatical errors in social media and other posts.

Little did I know how important grammar is to some people. If you can't post perfectly, don't post! While a best selling author admits she can read over something of hers a dozen times and still miss mistakes. Thank God for copy editors.

Regardless, I'll stand by my thought. Patience is not only a virtue to a successful, and semi sane author, but also a requisite.

Anonymous said...

RE the publishing angle, Janet is right, of course. I've had some reputable editors request, and also had 10-12 small publishers request through contests.

Out of curiosity, I looked them up. Some are legitimate and do nice work, they're just small presses. Others are vanity or little more than vanity presses. One "editor" has requested FR three or four times even though I've told him I'm going to wait and get an agent. He's an insufferable arse and we've since locked horns a few times.

REsearch is always a good thing regardless of who you're dealing with, doctors, lawyers, agents, or publishers. Except Dena. We can just hire her immediately to evict our deadbeat renters. Then we'll insist on a very nice story about it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I've been thinking about this and I think at this stage in my writing career, for a title page I'd take a hobby outlet. He'll I'll use a shade tree mechanic for my car, a kitchen magician for my hair and a drug store clerk for a doctor.
Am I that desperate...almost.

Christina Seine said...

Julie, that story about Cowboy sticking his nose in your book is the best thing I've ever heard. I am sitting here grinning like an idiot.

Colin - pffft, you are too.

Amy - woohoo! Special prize for first comment! I will never be the first to comment, unless I stay up all night, because here I am at 8:30 in the morning and 25 of you have already been here.

Okay, to the actual topic at hand: if I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me, "Oh you're writing a book? I know this guy, my cousin's piano teacher's ex-husband, who got their book published through Obby Houtlet Press. Saved them SO much money! You should do that!", I could spend a day at the kind of spa where they use lavender oil from Paris and create steam from smooth rocks found deep in the Himalayan Mountains and a guy who looks suspiciously like Hugh Jackman asks you what kind of chocolate you'd like.

Hold on, I'm just going to stay in that thought for one more minute ...

So anyway, yeah. Sure, there are lots of very legitimate small presses and they can and will do an amazing job publishing a book, if that is the path a writer chooses (and of course, the editor chooses them). But like Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, I want the whole banana. Or fairytale. Or something. Maybe banana is not a great metaphor for that particular movie. This chocolate-craving, as yet un-caffeinated woodland creature is not smart/brave enough to navigate the publishing world without a fierce and trusty agent at her side.

Christina Seine said...

Road signs? I have to compare road signs? Um, recaptcha is broken. You guys get bread and wine, and I get road signs?

Why am I not being asked to compare Captain America vs. Wolverine, or Mr. Darcy vs. Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch only, thank you) or even something useful like chocolate? Clearly these recaptcha people have no taste for finer things.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

After reading yesterday's post and all the vomments. I wonder why QOTKU posted this en suite - like the following day to yesterday's post.

Yesterday Matt asked about awesome agent's advice and his willingness to fork out 4K after 28 NOs. Today OP admits to impatience and possibly forgoeing the agent to go directly to the publisher.

Maybe OP plans to write one book and move on to greater things, like hybernating in Carkoon. Maybe OP knows the publishing industry enough to understand all the contract and legal writing. Maybe the publisher is good. Maybe not. Without a good agent how can you tell? Janet's advice today seems to touch the tip of the iceberg.

I'm not savvy enough to negotiate contracts and follow up on royalties and everything else without an agent.

Everyday I get emails and today even a phone call for vanity agents and galleries. I kindly tell them I don't pay to show my work but I'd rather tell them to FO. Especially the ones who organize fake auctions and ruin an artist's price quotes.

The more I research the more I read about vanity presses which in the end harm a writer by delivering bad writing credentials.

Christina, I heard that up north they have winter then mud season. Maybe that's why you have road signs.

Anonymous said...

I've heard many stories about authors who have queried both agents and publishers. When the publisher responds with a book deal first, the author will send an e-mail to the agents to tell them, and see if any agents would be willing to come on board for the rest of the process.

I understand it's not the ideal situation. Agents would prefer to do the pitching to publishers. Publishers may not enjoy hearing 'wait a minute - I've got to get an agent now'... But it does happen.

As for hobby outlets... Yes. You need to be careful. A small publisher can be absolutely wonderful - close relationship with the publisher/editor, more care given to your book than at a major publisher - but sometimes they can be little better than self-publishing. Except you don't get to keep all the royalties. I've heard both great stories and not-so-great stories about publishing with a small publisher. Do your research. Contact other authors published by that publisher and ask specific questions: What sort of marketing did Small Publisher give you? Were you happy with the quality of the published book? Etc. It's up to you to decide if the answers to these question fit what you want from a publisher.

That said, I can tell you two big name publishers (genre, because I tend to read more about genre markets) who accept unagented manuscripts: Tor and Harlequin. Both are popular and highly respected in their genres, and people who write those genres dream of being published by them. I do know that unagented submissions at Tor - unless they're requested at a conference or something - might have to wait up to two years before getting a response... but it's possible that response could be yes.

Christina Seine said...

Angie, that does make sense!

In Alaska, we have four distinct seasons:

Mud/Allergy/Construction season
Hunting season, and

Anonymous said...

Christina! Your seasons are so similar to mine! :)

Snow Season
Road Sand/Allergy Season
(Not Ice) Fishing Season
Mosquito Season

Kate Larkindale said...

I've been in this situation (sort of). I got a publications offer from a small press for a book months and months after I'd submitted it. By then I had started querying a different project and was deep in the trenches. I'd done an R & R for one agent, and was in serious talks with another. So when the offer came in, I squealed with excitement, then ran off to let these two agents know about the offer.

Neither agreed to rep me.

I decided to go ahead and publish with the publisher on my own because I wanted the experience. It was a good experience, but a year later the publisher went out of business. It wasn't messy or anything. I got the rights back right away, but of course the book is no longer available.

In the meantime I did get an agent with another book, again after an offer from a small press (this time from a contest win, not a submission).

My advice would be to just keep querying. If you're getting requests, you obviously have something there…. If the publisher is a reputable one and you would like to be published by them, submit, but wait until you get an offer before telling any agents. The horse goes before the cart.

Dena Pawling said...

Here in SoCal our seasons are -

Balmy/rain if we're lucky season
Allergy season
Blazing hot/blast furnace season
Fire season

This week we've already had 2 wildfires within 10 miles of my house and it's only April, and we're conserving water because of the drought. This year isn't looking so good.

Christina Seine said...

Dena, my MIL lives down there, and we've been keeping an eye on those nasty fires. Yuck. I grew up down there, and I remember those haze the smoke makes from those fires. It's awful. Hope you and yours stay safe!

Anonymous said...


I'll trade you Snow Season for Blazing Hot/Blast Furnace season and Mosquito Season for Balmy/rain if we're lucky season!

But nobody takes my (not ice)fishing season from me.

Are there any laws against trading seasons on QOTKU's blog? I vote it should be allowed. I think season trading is Carkoon's main export -- aside from books that begin with waking up from a dream or the first day of school.

I'll need a ruling from Colin on that one. :)

The Sleepy One said...

For what its worth, one of the editors at a retreat I helped with last fall asked for a full ms from one of the authors attending the event. The author had her manuscript out with multiple agents at the time. She told the editor this and asked if it would be okay if she waited to submit until she had a new agent.

Editor said yes. Editor respected author, and vice versa. This was nerve wracking for the author because the editor is at a major house, but the decision made sense.

Plus the novel ended up selling to a different major publisher in a mind-boggling deal so it worked out in the long-run.

The OP could do something similar, e.g. ask the house if s/he can submit when the author's agent search is done.

b-Nye said...

In my writers group one of the authors I admire got a contract for a " library publisher". I had no idea what that was but she kept us abreast of her process. There was so much she was responsible for in the editing process, but being such a good writer she committed to the process. She got her cover and we are all in awe. She got her advance and the book is scheduled foe release September 5th. She's my groups first success but I find her experience complex. I'm learning to wait but not be patient as I learn about this book business I've chosen to be part off. Interesting.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey guys, where I live, (CT shoreline) we have,
Summer people,
Leaf peepers

Christina Seine said...


Leaf peepers! That sounds terrifying! I've never heard the term, but my first guess is that leaf peepers are some kind of pests that swarm upon the New England foliage with Biblical, plague-like ferocity, clogging the byways and causing residents to remain indoors as much as possible until the infestation passes.

Colin Smith said...

Just to be clear, because I know the wide, wide audience this blog has, I do not in any way make any rules or laws pertaining to Carkoon. His most benevolent and nasty Despot of Carkoon makes the rules.

As for season trading, no-one wants to trade seasons with Carkoon. The winter period is like Death Valley, and the summer period is like Death Valley put in the oven at 450 for 6 months. Spring and Autumn are part of Carkoonian mythology. As is air conditioning.

This is an exile planet, folks. If you want seasons worth trading, go see Atoll Amy with FPLM-Paradise! :)

Unknown said...

When I lived in QLD the seasons were

Slightly less sticky

Now I'm in TAS I get an even four season, which is nice; but I do miss the monsoon season. Ah, real rain that batters so hard on the tin roof that you can't hear yourselves shout for hours on end. The scent. The joyful rain dances. The boogie-board skimming in the front yard when the puddles are deep enough to swim in. The glorious ear infections!

Ah, QLD, I miss thee!

Craig F said...

The old saw about the seasons where I live is this:



There are variations on that scale. Sometimes it doesn't get cold until February.

If you wish to move here remember that Paradise has a cost. Even in a year that is close to drought we get at least four feet (48 inches) of rain a year, the weeds are incredible because they never freeze back and there is nothing as exciting as flying into Tampa International during a thunderstorm. Remember that Florida is a world ranked place for lightning. It is a great place to witness a six inch an hour rain. They are something.

Anonymous said...

It's an old Saskatchewan joke:

There's only two seasons in Saskatchewan: winter and construction season.

Because we have long winters (sometimes starting in early October, sometimes ending in late May), as soon as the ground is dry, construction begins. You get to see a lot of local city sights as you detour around first one road mess then another, until you can find where you're going.

Construction is often slower the beginning of construction season. It's when August shows up that all the companies realize "Oh no! Winter's almost here! Let's finish what we can!"

We've actually had spring weather - as early as March! However, spring weather also means we may get snow... which I understand we're supposed to get tomorrow.

Saskatchewan has had snow in every month of the year, at some point in history (and history is short here). My high school graduation was in May. Lovely May weather, the girls all bought nice dresses and cute shoes... then a blizzard hit the day before.

At least it's a dry cold...

Christina Seine said...

So it is now around 45 degrees on this lovely Spring afternoon in Alaska. Because our little lake is not totally unfrozen, the kids (requiring watery recreation) decided to bring out the kiddie pool and fill that with water, which can't be more than 38-40 degrees. They're out there in their little swimsuits, lounging on beach towels.

So in other words, "seasons" are relative, and kids are crazy.

Anonymous said...

Kids have higher metabolisms than we do. Keeps them warm.

That's the only reason teenagers here don't freeze their whatevers off, wearing short skirts and shorts in -40 weather.

(File this in the 'Get off my lawn' folder)

Megan V said...

I grew up with Wisconsin seasons

Still Winter
Almost Winter

but am now enjoying the southwestern seasons of

Human Puddles

I don't mind either of the seasons so much. My 7-year-old niece, on the other hand, is literally allergic to the cold. Breaks out in welts and hives. Poor kid. When winter rolls around she ends up outfitted like the snowsuit boy from A Christmas Story. She can also have a reaction to the ultra-hot weather thanks to that thing called sweat. It's a no win scenario. But she's a real trooper. And like those kids in Alaska, she tried to sunbathe in 40 degree weather the other day...It wasn't her smartest idea.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Christina, because I live in an area with breathtaking fall foliage folks travel here from all over the world to see the colors. We call them leaf peepers.
They drive the highways and side roads at about 20mph, stop to take pictures in the most inopportune spots BUT they spend a lot of money and fill the inns, motels and restaurants before everything goes gray and cold again.
So your definition, "...peepers are some kind of pests that swarm upon the New England foliage with Biblical, plague-like ferocity, clogging the byways and causing residents to remain indoors as much as possible until the infestation passes." Pretty much nails the true meaning.

JEN Garrett said...

Here's one way to implement Janet's awesome advice about doing your research.

If you want to know whether a publisher sells to libraries,
find a title that the publisher has published (there should be a list on their website). Then call your local librarian and ask if they CAN order the book. Make it clear you are not asking them to order it; you just want to know if the publisher is legit.

The reason you want to do this, is because library books are sold through different distributers than a bookstore. But really, you can use this simple test anywhere you want to see your book in print.