Friday, October 02, 2015

The Engagement Period

Recently I fell in love with a novel I received on submission.
I emailed the author and said "I love your novel. How's that query process going?"

Well, the query process was going just fine thank you, and, eager to press my case, I mentioned that now during the fallow time while he waited for those other slugabeds dawdlers agents to read his work, he could use the time to ask questions.

Even by email I could hear the gnawing panic and uncertainty. What the hell to ask? As a writer, with a real live agent on the hook, you really don't want to ask something so stupid they reconsider. As a writer, a woodland creature through and through, you are certain that EVERY question, up to and including "what is the commission rate?" is stupid.

Well, let's ease your fears.  Here's a list of questions to ask a prospective agent. None of them are stupid***

1. Have you read the book all the way through?
Now I know you think this is stupid. It's not. If an agent hasn't read the entire book before dangling a hook, you know a LOT about how they work.  Of course, if the agent has sent you back the manuscript with notes, questions, comments, etc. you don't need to ask this. You know the answer.

2. What's your commission structure? 
15% on domestic sales is the norm. 20% on subrights handled by the agency.

3. Is there a written author/agency agreement? 
Is it negotiable? I have a written agreement. And it's not negotiable. Every client agrees to the same thing. Yes, I'll send it to you. Yes, I'll explain it to you.

4. Is the contract for a certain period of time? 
In other words, at the end of a year (or whatever time period specified) is representation terminated?

5. What changes do you envision for the book? 
Obviously if you've gotten notes from the agent (see #1) you know this already. If you have not, ask. Make sure the prospective agent has the same vision for the book that you do.

6. Do you have comp titles in mind? 
What are they?  Do you think they're correct? If not, talk to the agent about this.

7. Do you have editors in mind already? 
What publishers are they with? If you're envisioning a big sale to a print publisher, and the agent is talking about a digital only publisher, you want to know that NOW.

8. What happens if you don't like other books I send you for representation?
(if #4 is for a specified period of time, you don't need to ask this.)

9. How is your agency structured? 
Is it a sole proprietorship or a corporation? If the agent is abducted by aliens, what's Plan B?

10. Can I get in touch with some of your current clients?  
If the answer to this is "no", run for the hills.

11. What do you do when a client wants to change genres?
Even if you think you will write dino porn forever, you'll want to ask.

12. How long does it take to  reply to emails, and read new work? 
(Ask that of the current clients too. I'm guessing the two answers are quite different.)

13. What does the agency do for subrights, and film rights?

14. What does the agency offer in terms of guidance on promotion and marketing?

15. How does the author get paid?
Some agencies have payments divided, and the author's portion sent directly from the publisher. Some agencies process checks and pay you directly. You should know which before you go any further.

An agent should be willing to answer each of these questions for you. She's not obligated to spend hours on them, but you should understand the answer, and if you don't, ask for more explanation.

The last, and I mean VERY last thing you want to do is sign with someone you end up not wanting to work with.

***there is only one stupid question in the world. I'll leave you to come up with what you think it is.


french sojourn said...

16: Are you also shopping it to Hollywood?

Kitty said...

I don't see the question So what's your favorite part? on your list.

Unknown said...

That "current clients" piece caught my eye. It's pretty obvious I guess, but often I forget this one when going through the list of things to ask in my head.

I figure the stupid question ought to be "When will I see my first million dollar check? Because I've got 3 guaranteed best-seller ideas on eBay right now and actually having a best seller might help me sell those for a million each!"

The comp titles is also an interesting one. I don't think that'd be a deal breaker for me personally unless I just HATED the author of the comp. Even then I might just request that authors name not be spoken when I'm in earshot. ;)

AJ Blythe said...

I understand the purpose behind the questions the author can ask (and have bookmarked them for use one day myself) but not the question you asked, Janet. Why ask how's the query process going? Would an agent who was interested in making an offer do so and leave it to the author to advise the other agents there is an offer on the table? Or is it a question designed to give you an idea of how quickly you need to make a decision whether or not to offer?

Unknown said...

As to yesterday, Donna, your brilliance is a given. And yes, her grace the duchess, I am a mind reader and did know you had something brilliant up your sleeve... That or reading the comments from the last few days had me thinking you'd already said something smart when it was still brewing in your mind.

nightsmusic said...

Here comes stupid question # 1,583. I too am a bit confused. If a novel is on submission (which from the little I've ever been able to glean means it's out to publishers) why would you ask the query question? I thought a novel on submission meant the author already had an agent.

Donnaeve said...

Ah, nightsmusic, this is a nit I've mentioned before in the comments - quite a while back but I remember it well.

IMO, "submission" means that to me as well. I.e., my novel is on submission = my agent has sent it out to editors.

Whereas, a writer "querying" an agent is doing just that, and again, IMO or head only maybe, it should be stated, "I'm querying agents," instead of "my book is on submission."

Then again, this is so like that animated discussion we all had out here one time about the difference between creating "tension" or "suspense," in your story. A true HAIR PULLING discussion because they are very close in meaning and can be interchanged almost at will, but there is a teensy weensy bit of difference. It makes my head hurt to think about it.

Having said that - this list of questions bamboozles me. For one, I was so giddy when offered representation, if he'd said, "any questions?" (which he did) I could barely remember my name, much less ask a question. OH, what I would have given for THIS LIST.

Cap'n BS - ha! The only brilliant thing I've done is sway you into thinking THAT.

And how could I forget the Duchess! *Smacks head* I think it was that errant "t" that showed up. :)

nightsmusic said...


I have already copied and printed the list of questions to go on the front of my When I Get The Call folder. Now, if I can just remember to look at it once I pick my recovering self up off the floor from fainting, hoping I haven't hit my head so hard as to be totally senseless.

Unknown said...

"Does your boss like it too?"

LOL...I think. Surely no one would be that stupid?

There are questions in this list I would never think of asking, so thanks for this. I just hope all agents are as open-minded. Hard for me, quiveringest of little creatures ever to scurry the forest floor, to believe my book could possibly garner more than one agent's interest. I'm worried I may be a lemming.

I'm sure, if QOTKU, were to send me an email saying she loved my book, I wouldn't ask any questions. Where do I sign.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am bookmarking this for future reference. Hope springs eternal. I have questions about the questions. I am already exiled to Carkoon so forgive my ignorance.

#6 - what is meant by comp titles in this context? Are these titles similar to what the author wrote?

#10- if put in contact with a client, what besides the obvious stuff (do you like the agent) should you ask?

And one related question but one that really has me in woodland creature melt down. When I was pitching my book, a couple of agents passed because they said my book was a bit too long (150,000 words) for a debut novel. Last night I received a really positive rejection that basically said great story but too long for a debut book. Then I read an article on another agent's blog that said a long debut novel had virtually no chance. So I did not query that agent.

The agents (including Penny at Fine Print) who requested partials/ fulls knew the word count and still seemed interested. JABberwocky, who also has my partial, did not seem at all concerned about the length. I write fantasy and none of my favorite authors write short books (Patrick Rothuss, Mercedes Lackey, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan) If one agent is requesting, do I care what other respective agents have said? Should I ask a courting agent this? Should I be trying to cut word count now before next query round? I am afraid if I do this and I get another full request, the book won't be ready because I will be editing again. But I am also afraid my full will get rejected based on nothing but word count.

I am tied into knots over this. Shorter version, should you ask a courting agent (if you are fortunate enough to be courted) about other agent's feedback?

S.D.King said...

I think the standard answer is "The only stupid question is the one you don't ask."

Too easy, right?

Anonymous said...

The stupid question is the one you don't ask.

On #14: I didn't realize agents helped with promotion and marketing. Good to know!

On #9: When the aliens bring you back, can I write your memoir?

LynnRodz said...

Oh Janet, you are wonderful! Another post to put in my folder: Words of Wisdom From The Queen of the Known Universe. Yes, I have a folder by that name: WOW FROM THE QOTKU

Now the stupid question is: Would you like another glass of wine? (You can also substitute cake* for wine.) "Of course I would. Why would you even ask?

*Or in your case, scotch.

Donnaeve said...

E.M. - I don't write fantasy, but I'm thinking that's standard word count for the genre...? Julie W.'s book FAR RIDER is fantasy, and I think it sits at the same word count or close.

On the other hand, maybe these agents who have the partials/fulls aren't worried b/c if the word count is too big, they would perhaps offer feedback as to 1) where to cut, or 2) if offering representation, have a series in mind and know that really what you have is Book 1 and 2.

IDK. Just guessing here as to why it doesn't matter to some.

@nightsmusic - good plan. IF you, as you said, you REMEMBER to look at it@! LOL!

Anonymous said...

"Recently I fell in love with a novel I received on submission.
I emailed the author and said "I love your novel. How's that query process going?""

I take "the novel on submission" to mean the author has it out with other agents and is waiting to hear back from other agents before he/she decides whether to go with Janet. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Obviously, every author dreams of several agents clambering over each other to get your masterpiece, but making QOTKU wait? Inconceivable.

Thanks to her sharkiness for posting these questions. You never know when they'll come in handy. Hope springs eternal even though I keep beating that wench down like the little whack-a-mole she is.

Timothy Lowe said...

E.M. - congrats on all the activity on your MS. Could it be that if an agent has requested and read the MS and told you 150,000 is too long, even though they knew the count in advance, that what they're really saying is there are parts you could cut/pare down?

I know fantasy runs long but it should still all be riveting. Maybe there's some parts you could lose?

Just a thought from a guy who knows practically nothing about any of this!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donnaeve, I suspect you are right. I do believe I am in standard word count for my genre. My rejection from last night told me if I cut 25,000 words, I could resubmit. But she only had a query and synopsis so no guidance on where to cut. I am just going to wait and see what other feedback I get. And I did mention in my query that this is first of 7 book series although it will do fine as a stand alone. Ah well, onward.

Even with this post bookmarked, if I get "the call", I imagine I will be so excited and overwhelmed that all I will be able to manage is incoherent babble. I will just send link to this post, perhaps, and have the agent answer these questions at their leisure. Then I will return here to have their answers translated. ;)

Kregger said...

Not to get too far off topic...
For me, the dumbest question ever, "Shall I breathe in or shall I breathe out?" Followed by, "I'm confused."
I've spent a disproportionate time of my life sitting in classrooms. I've heard the advice of "stupidity" for not asking a question a million times. Typically after that, the next question is mocked by the moderator.
That's either, so much for homey advice or speaks for the quality of classes I was forced to attend.
I look forward to referencing these questions in the future.

Unknown said...

Krueger, thank you for saying what I was too embarrassed to say!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Timothy- that is exactly my fear. None of those who have passed have actually seen my book. I have revised this thing hundreds of times to get it just right. My 2nd set of beta readers gave it great praise although I am told positive beta reader praise does not translate into professional love. I have had professional editors go over it with a fine tooth comb although their comb missed things like accidentally transposing the word bear with beer., Maybe that editor had been attacked by a giant beer before? Ah well, back to fretting in the real world and dreaming of that call.

Craig F said...

Hold on here. I have dug a foxhole by the query trenches and I'm firing off queries like mortar fire. You say you love it , snuggle up, and want small talk?

We are Reiders. We have done our research and want one thing. A contract. We can go through that small talk while I peruse the fine print and ask salient questions of those points. I always took Fine Print Literary as having a double meaning.

nightsmusic said...

@ E.M. Goldsmith

Not to toss any doggie downers out here, but I have to wonder if your synopsis reflects the same level of excitement/intrigue/passion for, your book as the book itself. By its nature, a synopsis is more or less a section by section statement of the 'facts' of your book, but there is where the problem lies. If it's too dry, too factual, too laid out like a laundry list of Bob did this, then he did that, the agent might have been very interested in the query but fears the book will be as dry as the synopsis. I know how very hard it is to make the tone of the synopsis match to an extent, the voice in your book, but now that you feel you've got the book shining, maybe reassessing your synopsis is the next step? I'm just saying because I did have an agent tell me that once in a one-on-one at a conference.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The only stupid question is the question not asked.

Colin Smith said...

Like Julie, I presumed from the context "on submission" meant QOTKU had requested a full from a writer, and said writer had submitted that full for her evaluation.

Those questions are really good, and many of them are ones I wouldn't think to ask. However, most regular readers of this blog probably know how QOTKU would answer them, so they really only apply to OTHER agents. With Janet, the only question is, "Will you be my agent, please?" :)

Yeah, yeah, the only stupid question is the one you don't ask. But then there's, "Do you want kale with that?" Or "Would you like my lima bean soup recipe?" Or "Would you prefer whiskey or Donald Trump's latest book?"


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Nightsmusic, I am sure my synopsis has problems. Unlike Donnaeve, I wrote one but I didn't like it. Not one bit. I will definitely revise it for my next round of queries. Maybe Donnaeve will send me some synopsis magic.

Alas, several partial requesters have my synopsis, and the two I mentioned are fairy tale come true dream agents, and I pray the weak synopsis is not what causes my demise in their eyes. Sadness.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

At work, just read some of the other comments. SD King are on the same as wavelength.

Colin Smith said...

...hmmm... "Would you prefer a root canal or Donald Trump's latest book?" also qualifies, I think... ;)

Janice Grinyer said...

Consider this post bookmarked - great information!

Jenz said...

E.M.— You named authors with longer novels, but how many of them had debut novels of that length? Or a better question, how many debut novels in the genre are that length? There are always exceptions, the thing is, you can't count on being the exception.

The cold hard truth is that 150,000 words makes for a very long debut novel. Agents are balking because publishers will balk, and they already know it's going to be a hard sell. It will have to be exceptionally good to overcome the word count hurdle.

So it's possible, but it's going to be tougher. Sorry.

Timothy Lowe said...

E.M. -

I suspect that those who haven't seen any of the book and suggest cuts have a pre-fab word count they go by. Probably straight from googling "typical word count for fantasy" [I think I've seen 125,000]

If that's the case, I'd avoid those agents. It seems like you've got other interest and anyone who tells you to cut a certain amount without having seen any of the text must be suspect of trying to cut corners.

If you want to do some selective murdering of words, try consulting this list of rules in writing, which is really pretty good to go by:

Sorry, I can't hyperlink it (Colin, help!)

I did a search in one of my MS for the word "sudden" and was pretty embarrassed by how many times it jammed its nose in my action.

I was once told to snip as many adjectives and adverbs as possible - R Baird Schuman told me that nouns and verbs are your workhorses. I've been telling my students at school that adjectives and adverbs are like curtains on the window and I just want to see out the damn window!

I found a few uses of 'somewhat' too and wrinkled my nose in disgust. What the hell does that word even mean?

You'd be surprised how much cutting single words will pare down a MS of the size of yours.

Colin Smith said...

Timothy's link:

Donnaeve said...

I keep thinking my eyeballs are wandering off in separate directions b/c it's only NOW I realize QOTKU was the one who used "submission." I thought it was in a comment somewhere I missed. I've been known to skim.

OFF TOPIC: I wish I had synopsis magic to sprinkle around. I read a lot of info on what to do, not do. Like, if a character (aside from protag/antag) impacts a story significantly, include them, if not, make no mention of them. Also, choosing one or two sentences from each chapter that depicts key events of the chapter and then combining all those sentences in order. If too long (long = 5 to 6 pages, double spaced) winnow it down by really understanding the impact/importance of each scene.

Jenz said...

How to make a hyperlink.

You don't even have to memorize it, you can google for "how to make a hyperlink" and easily find the code for an a href tag.

But really, if you don't hyperlink and just paste the URL in, anyone can select it, then right-click and choose Open Link in the context menu. It's only seconds slower than simply clicking a link.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thank you Timothy and Colin. And Jenz, no need for sorry. The truth is the truth. No getting around it. Embarrassingly, my earlier drafts of the book were 225,000 words so I cut 75,000 words. I like adverbs rather a lot, apparently :) But I might give this another go as a 125,000 word debut tome will be more palpable. If Penny or Sam should request a full after reading the partial, I will simply ask if they want to immediately see the 150,000 word behemoth I originally pitched or a slimmed down version that has undergone a word vomit diet in a couple more weeks. Or maybe I will be done cutting by the time they ask. I could do that, couldn't I? Then if I get a pass from all in this round of requests, my next round will begin with a better synopsis and more marketable word count. I literally am getting dizzy over this. Oh, and one major publisher of fantasy requires a 100,000 word minimum on their site so... Color me confused.

Unknown said...

I don't know about stupid questions, but a creepy question would be: do you really think that purple blouse you're wearing goes with those slacks?

Ashes said...

No, no. The only stupid question is: "Can I ask a question?"

BJ Muntain said...

Knowing my memory, I'm sure I'll remember a couple of these questions - but which ones? And how important? My memory can be very odd.

I find #15 interesting. I'd thought that it was the norm that publishers sent the money to the agent, and the agent took their share and sent the rest to the author. I didn't realize there was another way of doing this.

I like that Janet left us to consider the only one stupid question. That means she's going to get lots of really stupid questions given here, in the hope that they got the one and only.

Although, I seem to remember something along the lines of, "The only stupid question is the one you don't ask."

Re: 'on submission'

That simply means the novel is being submitted. It could be in the process of being submitted to agents, or to editors, or to the local dominatrix, but it is being submitted.

Submitting is far more than just querying, though. You do submit queries, but you also submit partials and fulls, as per requested.

EM: Regarding novel length. The best length for a novel is the length it has to be to tell the best story. Science fiction and fantasy tends to be given more leeway in length, because of the worldbuilding needed.

That said, yes, it can be hard to find agents and publishers who will take a risk on a long debut novel.

I think the question to ask yourself is not, "Do I edit now or not?" The question should be, "Will my book be better/stronger/better paced/basically *better* if I edit it now?" If the answer to that question is 'yes', then you really have no choice. You only want to put the best novel in front of agents and editors. If you can see that an edit would improve your novel, then you must edit it.

If you can't see how to improve the novel, then it's either just fine, or you just haven't got far enough, objective enough, to see where it can be improved.

Also remember: It can be hard to break into certain genres these days, no matter the length. An agent might see a novel in that genre, factor in the debut-ness and length, and decide that she can't sell it in this market. That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep trying. It just means you may be trying for longer than you might think.


"Would you prefer a root canal or Donald Trump's latest book?"

That depends. Are you offering to pay my dental bills? If so, would you pay for a crown instead? If not, then give me Trump's book. It's cheaper, and all the hot air in it will make it good kindle in the fireplace this winter. (Not that I have a fireplace, but I might buy one simply to burn Trump's book.)

BJ Muntain said...

Good one, Ashes!

Jenz: Colin has a very good page that says how to link. I'm sure he'll post it here if we ask nicely and offer him a nice non-kale meal. (And I think he actually likes linking for those who don't know.)

EM: If you want, you can withdraw your novel from their consideration - Janet had a post on this - saying you're doing a major edit and you'd rather have them see the best version. Because they would rather see the best version, too. I'd try not to have the edit take too long, though, so as to not lose your place in their slush (if there is such a thing as a 'place' in slush. Have you tried walking through slush?)

You could say something along the lines of, "Thank you for requesting my partial. I have recently realized that my novel could be better with some further editing. For that reason, may I withdraw my novel from your consideration for a short time while I do this edit?" I'm sure I can find Janet's post on this...

BJ Muntain said...

Here's Janet's post: Query Question: withdrawing a query

I know it says 'query', but she mentions that she gets this with full requests, too.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

BJ Thank you thank you! This is perfect for the situation. Thank you.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: Oh, alright, here's my post on hyperlinking: :)

Anonymous said...


"But I am also afraid my full will get rejected based on nothing but word count."

Yep, you will. Been there, done that. I also had two editors request it at 165,000, but ask me to get it down to 135,000. It's currently at 139,000 and there shall it remain until an agent gives me some very specific requests and they are flashing a nice ring. I think I've done the best I can do with it.

The last round, I listened to it via the Ivona Amy voice and made more changes. Cut some, rearranged more to make it sound smoother, added a bit.

It's still too long for many agents who want that golden 125,000 words. So be it. That isn't happening.

It's just a fact of life that some agents are going to put blinders on with it comes to word counts. Have you ever been to sheep country out west and you're driving down the highway when all of a sudden you see a series of painted lines across it? You wonder if if it's some signal to aliens. It's not. It's a painted cattle guard so to speak. Sheep won't cross them. You can barely drive them across one.

Some agents look at word counts exactly the same way. Nope, not crossing that barrier. So, unless you are the baaa-studs, you can forget moving them.

I'm thinking about changing my name to J.R.R. Weathers, to see if that helps, but I have my doubts.

Colin Smith said...

Julie's link:

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie, I must say I am glad someone else has blazed this trail. I have done all 5 steps Janet suggests in blog post BJ kindly had Colin link to, but am getting paranoid. And I saw your comment about reading Patrick Rothfuss while editing, and amen to that. He doesn't make you want to shorten your work at all. My story is solid. I know it is. Could I cut a few more words? Well, I can try. And hopefully before partials turn into fulls. As for my 2 full requests, I think I will take BJ's advice there and withdrawal for 2 weeks while I try to cut the word count. So is this some kind of software that will read my book to me in an English accent or must I enlist Colin for that?

Unknown said...

Illuminated sheep. The world, and the people in it, never cease to amaze me. Julie, that link is brilliant (intentional pun). Most of all, I love border collies.

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people advocate getting rid of all the adverbs and adjectives, but I'm a proponent of all things in moderation. To use Jo Bourne's example, you can say she bit into the tart, green-skinned apple or she bit into the granny smith. A man walked slowly with faltering steps or he shambled. Sometimes, I just want to see tattered Tyrian clouds unraveling across a crimson sky. Give me my danged adjectives!

Especially in historicals and fantasy where you spend a lot of time world building, denying all of your tools does you no favors.

Back to the salt mines for me.

Scott Sloan said...

#16 – If I wore your glasses, could I see you home?
#17 – Did you walk to school or bring your lunch?
#18 – What's the difference between a duck?
#19 – Is there another word I can use besides 'synonym'?

And the winner is…

#20 – Would you sacrifice your right hand to become ambidextrous?

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Besides, if you don't know your apples, taking a bite out of a granny smith is quite a disturbing image... ;)

Timothy Lowe said...

Good point, Julie. If there was one writing rulebook, it would be easier.

Susan said...

I'm quoting BJ here... "I think the question to ask yourself is not, "Do I edit now or not?" The question should be, "Will my book be better/stronger/better paced/basically *better* if I edit it now?" If the answer to that question is 'yes', then you really have no choice. You only want to put the best novel in front of agents and editors. If you can see that an edit would improve your novel, then you must edit it.

If you can't see how to improve the novel, then it's either just fine, or you just haven't got far enough, objective enough, to see where it can be improved.

...because this is my question.

I read a blog post from an agent about what a publishing timeline typically entails. It looked like this: THE CALL! Agent suggests edits, author edits, agent suggests more edits, author edits, submission, editor suggests edits, author edits and so on until everyone is happy and the book goes to market.

I get that there are always edits to be made. I really, really do. That's part of what's so thrilling about having an agent and an editor--you have that team helping you bring your best book into the world.

But that's also what makes me scratch my head at the querying process as a whole. When are your edits (with your own team of beta-readers, critique partners, etc) enough? Will an agent reject you at the querying level if they see things in your book that need to be addressed or will they work with you--if they believe in your book and want to represent it--knowing that's part of the process? E.M.'s dilemma comes to mind here--is word count really such an issue if an agent sees something in the story and they're going to suggest changes anyway?

I officially understand Hemingway's vice now. It's five o'clock somewhere, right?

Panda in Chief said...

Ooo! This is going in the copy, print, save, and paste on my forehead file.
Currently at the airport on the way to my conference.

Marc P said...

The only stupid question is:

Can I kiss you?


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Panda, good luck and have fun. I wish I was going to another conference. Instead I am opening the bar, lighting some candles, and fretting over word count

John Frain said...

Oh, Colin, nice! Reminds me of the comma jokes... Let's eat granny smith.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Susan, If you need a drink, I'm buying. Do agents have special ways of dealing with the mental disorder that is being a writer? I wonder. I do.

Jerry said...

Dino porn will be the indispensable literary genre of the next decade. The franchise rights alone will make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.

BJ Muntain said...

I've been shopping my novel around for awhile. Every once in awhile, I see something I think I can make better. Recently, I wanted to make sure that a statement I wanted in there was clear. So I did a quick full editing run-through.

I realized that I used a lot of dialogue tags (he said, etc.) when they weren't needed or could be said better with an action. For instance, in a paragraph where I have a character do something then say something, I don't have to say 'he said' because it can be assumed the character that is speaking is the character that was acting in the same paragraph.

I cut about a thousand words that way. And my novel is already a good length for a debut science fiction novel. It's still a good length, but I think it's stronger now.

Susan: It really depends on the agent. Some agents are hands-on editors, some are not. The ideal is to put the best book you can in front of agents. If they see something they want to work with, great. But they have to see that. So we work and polish as much as possible, hoping to find that agent that will see something they love in that manuscript and will be willing to help you make it even better.

And have fun at your conference, Chief Panda!

EM: Janet's special way of dealing with the mental disorder that is being a writer is: this blog. :)

Kate Larkindale said...

What a great list of questions to ask! I wish I'd had that handy when I had the call with my agents because I forgot pretty much everything I had planned to ask in the shock and excitement of being told they were going to sign me... Luckily they understood and I had a chance to email them later with all the questions I had failed to ask.

Unknown said...

Dialog tags are always fair game forhacking. I often think that if I've got the voice of my characters perfectly right no dialog tags would be needed. Readers could just tell who is talking by how they say things, or in the context. Think Jane Austen, who often fails to use dialog tags because she feels like her readers should just know. That said, sometimes she uses no tags when it IS impossible to tell who said what. BUT, she only does this when it doesn't matter who said the line. I've often admired this approach, which leaves the decision up to the reader's imagination. In her case, I think it greatly enriches her works.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Thank you for this list. No idea what the stupid question is but I can't wait to know. But Colin has misplaced priorities. It's not a root canal, it's an abscessed tooth, and at least Trump's book has several uses other than wasted reading time.

E.M. I look forward to hearing how your querying goes.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Every writer searching for publication should read this. thelonelyauthorblog

Ardenwolfe said...

The only stupid question is the one you didn't ask. Of course, it comes second to, "So . . . when are we going on a date? I'm into leather and farm animals. You are too, right? The slithery Barbara Poelle told me so. The safe word is Baaaaah!"

Wendy Qualls said...

Thanks so much for this timely post - I have a "the call" scheduled for tomorrow afternoon (eep!) and I'm going to get myself all in a tizzy between now and then. It's a fantastic agent who really knows her stuff and I'm assuming "discuss your manuscript and possible representation" means she likes it but I've still got the potential to shoot myself in the foot if I sound like too much of an idiot :-\

Donnaeve said...

Eeep is right! *Shivers for Wendy...*

Congratulations Wendy - in advance!!! Good luck on the call and let us know what happens...

Colin Smith said...

Woooo!! That's awesome, Wendy! :D I hope it goes really well for you--that you and Agent Fantastic hit it off, and that everything she suggests for your novel resonates with you. Be sure to let us know when you post your "I've got an agent" news. ;)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Go Wendy! Please do share your experience. A real agent call! So exciting.

Christina Seine said...

Oh my gosh Wendy! Congratulations! Hope it goes well!!

This post is reason #234,966,748 why Janet Reid is the QOTKU. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wendy, that's great news! Fingers crossed that all goes well.

E.M., I suspect that if agents who haven't read your book are saying it's too long for a debut novel, they're probably thinking that new-ish writers tend to overwrite and the word count is an indication you've done just that. However, if you started at 225K and have cut it down to 150K, you might have already solved the "problem" they think they're seeing. Honestly, I'd hesitate to cut too much more before someone who is interested reads it and gives feedback. You risk losing key parts of the story or messing with the voice. That said, I know nothing about word count expectations for fantasy, so . . . grain of salt. Good luck!

Great set of questions, Janet. I hope someday I'll get an opportunity to ask a few of them while hyperventilating. In a fit of optimism, I have bookmarked it. Hell, maybe I'll even print it on paper like a responsible adult.

I've heard a bunch of stupid questions in my life. I've asked more than a few, usually when I'm being too lazy to look it up somewhere. But from an agent's perspective, I imagine the only stupid question is, "Can I send you a query?"

My pressing stupid question right now is, "Is it ever going to stop raining?" I'm afraid the answer is, "No. Never."

Anonymous said...


It drives me nuts when I don't know who's talking. Yes, you should be able to do away with most dialogue tags, but I see authors twist themselves into convoluted masses of messes trying to avoid the dreaded dialogue tag.

The occasional attribute or simple he said is so much simpler. If I have to read back up to try and figure out who's speaking, it just irritates me. If an author irritates me enough, I stop reading. If they do that repeatedly, I refuse to ever buy another book. So, playing hide and seek with dialogue might seem clever, but when your reader spends more time trying to figure out who's speaking than enjoying the book, you haven't done your job.

As with everything else, moderation in all things, including banning dialogue tags.

BJ Muntain said...

Julie, I agree completely. I've had people say 'you should do a search for 'ly' and get rid of all those adverbs'. I've had people say 'agents will automatically reject you if you use a semi-colon.'

You're right. You don't want too many. But cutting off an entire punctuation mark or part of speech - basically, dumping tools out of your writers workbox - that's just not very smart. Like any craftsperson, you learn to use your tools, you don't just throw the ones you think people don't like away.

Susan said...

Awesome news, congrats, Wendy! :)

E.M.: Considering I just sent out my final batch of queries today, YES PLEASE, ALL THE DRINKS. =P

BJ: I think it's just that nagging question of when is it good enough (in a writer's mind, that's so often never). Especially when we're frequently met with silence now for rejections, it's difficult to determine where the problem is, especially if you thought your manuscript was ready. This is a difficult road...

BJ Muntain said...

Susan: Yes, that's always fun. Yes, we can work at it and work at it... I tend to work on it for awhile, then leave it for some time. Then I'll look at it, realize I can make something better, and give it a quick one-over.

I let it go when it's the best I can make it. If I can make it better (as my skills grow), I'll fix it then. I just have to hope that my best is good enough to catch an agent's eye.

Kathleea said...

Great post. I will bookmark it for future reference. Thanks!

Karen McCoy said...

Bookmarking, a day late. Thanks (as always) for such useful advice!

Came up bupkis for stupid questions, but perhaps "What's a bupkis?" might be one of them.

A.J. Cattapan said...

I've had a Word doc entitled "Questions to Ask an Agent" sitting on my desktop just waiting for the day I need it. :) I don't want to panic when the call comes. I know exactly where my list of questions is! Now I just have to make sure my list isn't missing any of the questions suggested by the QOTKU.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Janet. I have always had a few questions ready for that call. I never expected an agent to have this much time to invest in an opening conversation.

Will an agent always have the time to answer all these questions?

Thanks and have a great day.