Thursday, December 08, 2016

Answers to questions on yesterday's post

Yesterday's post on the reasons I requested full manuscripts generated quite a few questions. Here are some answers:


Lisa Bodenheim asked.
How much time did it take for you to gather 6 requests? I'm assuming that didn't all happen within a day. Or even a week.
1. request to read the revision came in 11/22/16
2. query came in 11/11/16
3. request to read revision came 10/28/16
4. query came 9/29/16
5. query came 11/16/16
6. query came 6/29/16
I forget, Janet, that you represent non-fic too. #6 says an utterly compelling story for a non-fiction. Was that a memoir? For non-fiction, is narrative rather than explicatory generally more desired or marketable?

It's not a memoir. It's narrative non-fiction, closer to history or current events than anything else. I only look at narrative non-fiction. I'm all about story. Other agents do prescriptive kinds of non-fiction, or things like cookbooks. Submission guidelines are where to look for who likes what.

Colin Smith asked
Question: Janet--have you ever requested a full knowing that you wouldn't seek representation, but the query intrigued you so much, you had to read the book? :)

Can you imagine how devastating it would be to an author to say "well, I knew I couldn't sell this, I just wanted to read it."? An agent, whether she wants to or not, has to be cognizant and respectful of the perceived power she has with a writer. It's abusive to do something like that to an author.   

The contract, unspoken, unwritten, but like the Magna Carta, the source of all good things, is that agents read work with the goal of taking it on. To request something just for fun, or worse, just to see how terrible it is, would be terrible violation of that contract.

Robert Ceres asked
1) I wonder what the sample size is,
2) I'll be really curios about how long Janet takes to read and respond, and
3) I'm already dying to know the manuscripts' ultimate fates (and I'm not even the submitting author).

1. Well, the sample size is about 100 queries a week through the end of June and about 25 a week thereafter (my queries dropped with the transition to the new agency as people didn't know what I was doing or where I was for a while.)
I've requested 52 fulls in 2016 (and that's probably pretty close to the final figure) and I have four requested fulls from 2015 still pending. In my defense there, I want to point out that ALL of those were revised and resent in 2016. They just retain their inventory number till I decide yes/no.

2. Read and response time can be 90 days to a lot more. Reading time is the hardest thing to find. I can't read in micro bursts of 20 minutes. I need at LEAST an hour block of time, and I prefer 4-5. Finding those blocks when I'm not tired, hungry, bleary-eyed, or busy with other stuff is increasingly hard.

3. All of the requests mentioned in yesterday's post are still pending. I will not be revealing what happened to them here. (Sorry)

Dena Pawling asked
I know you formerly repped Kari Lynn Dell, but traded her to an agent "for a drink to be named later" [which made me laugh] because, so far as I understand it, you didn't know enough about that category and/or the other agent would be more successful placing those books.

So question [or questions] -- how likely are you to actually sign an author/ms you love from outside your usual category and/or how likely are you to refer the author/ms to another agent either before or after signing?

I miss Kari Dell every single day. She is a fiercely talented writer and I love her books with the passion of a thousand chomps.  When I signed her she was writing crime. Soon (ok eight years later) it was clear she wasn't.  She was writing romance. And I know ZILCH about selling romance. I called my beloved colleague Holly Root who knows everything about selling romance and said "Merry Christmas for the rest of our lives" and she said "yowza" and that was that. Kari is now successfully published, and a USA Today bestseller (as are all of Holly's clients the last time I looked.)
That was two? three? years ago?.  Imagine my screams when I realized I was moving to hotshot romance agency New Leaf. I coulda kept Kari!!! But, who knew at the time!
Generally my rule is I need to have read enough in the category to carry on an intelligent conversation about it.  I haven't read deeply in SF but I know my way around.
Categories I just don't consider at all though are romance and horror. Horror mostly cause it's just too scary, and besides, I already represent one of the top guys in the category Laird Barron. Romance cause I don't have the reading resume you'd want in an agent.
Bottom line: it's VERY unlikely I would sign someone outside the categories I normally take on. It has happened though, and this year. The voice, the plot, the book, I could not resist.

Lennon Faris asked
I'm interested in all the questions above. I have one more to add: was #1 solicited? as in, did you read and reject, but say in the rejection, 'maybe I'll take another look if blah blah blah', OR did the author just majorly revise and decide to just re-query you?

1. Solicited in that I said "query me if you revise?" Yes indeed. In fact here's what I said to her:
Now, if you do decide to revise this for structure, I'd be more than happy, I'd
be THRILLED to take another look.  One of the reasons I stop reading is so that
if the ms does return in revision, I have the freshest eye possible.
I sent that in April, and now in December when the author wrote back I didn't need to consult my archive of requests to remember her book because it was still in my head. (A VERY good sign.)

Generally speaking, you ONLY query a revision if the rejections said something like the above. A form rejection to a query is NOT an invitition to resubmit no matter how much revision you've done.  A response to a requested full that doesn't say "requery if you revise" generally means, time to move on.

That said, it won't kill you to try, and I can say no thanks about seventeen different ways without repeating myself so if you do requery, uninvited, no phalanx of fire breathing agents will show up at your house to carry you off to Carkoon. 

Stephen Kozeniewski asked
Why, this whole post sounds perfectly reasonable and thoughtful. I thought agents were black-hearted ogres guarding the kingdom of publishing from trespassers. Are you sure you're a real agent?

Actually I'm not. This is all a façade. In reality I'm the HR Department for Carkoon's Heating and Cooling plant looking for slave labor for the maintenance plant. So far, so good.
More seriously: it's amazing how much better things are with transparency isn't it? Before, when agents were just lines of type in a book listing agents, and maybe a scribbled pass on a query in an SASE it was a lot easier to think of them as the Great Other.
Well, agents are real people. Readers mostly. People who love books and love to find great books and introduce them to other people. Of course, some of the lesser-actualized agents like to pretend they are high and mighty and their every word must be revered. (utter and complete horseshit of course) Agents are here to help you. YOU, the writer, are the fulcrum upon which the entire publishing industry rests. Never ever forget that. I wouldn't have a job, no matter how much I love books, were it not for those manuscripts you all are working on right now.  Let me assure you, I never forget that. Not for a single minute.

Now, go back to work. Sharky needs a spiffy new stove!


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Electric, gas or campfire?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

2Ns: Or an Aga? Well...if Janet lives on the 10th+ floor of an apartment/townhouse/condo building and the elevator is only for passengers (not large appliances), I guess that won't work!

Thank you, Janet, for answering all of the questions. Just...Wow. Wonderful way to start off the day.

Colin Smith said...

Excellent stuff, Janet. As I was reading yesterday's post, it really drove home to me how much a lot of the decisions you make with regard to which projects you take on are very much like the decisions we all make when we walk into a book store with limited funds. There are thousands of excellent books to choose from, but I only have enough money for one. Does the cover blurb grab me? Is the writing exceptional? Is this a category I enjoy? Does the plot sound intriguing? Of course there are points that don't compare (you won't be influenced by the cover design, and I won't be asking the author to revise and resend), but perhaps thinking of how agents navigate the slush pile in this way helps to "humanize" your job a bit.

What kind of stove does Janet want? One that will satisfy the needs of my FirstBorn should she decide to move to NY and become Janet's personal pastry chef. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Microwave, a couple of hotplates and a toaster oven. They are cheap, fit in the elevator...oh hell, eat out.

Oh, the info and answers are great.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I've realized I have a very, very hard time consuming book length non fiction that isn't narrative (well, when I'm not having trouble consuming book length books anyway), even if I'm exceedingly interested in the topic. I've slogged through a number of poorly written dog training books for the sake of "science" (though ultimately they were a waste of time) but the ones I've truly loved and am happily to recommend to library patrons, say, are the far more digestible one with lots of biographical or anecdotal bits to them.

Theresa said...

Thanks, Janet, for answering all the questions.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and thank you Janet for answering my question! This would be a sore temptation for me if I was in your shoes. Reading a knock-out query and pages, knowing the ms is going to be awesome, but also knowing I wouldn't be the best representative for that work, but wanting to read it anyway. You're right, that would be an abuse of "power"... but oh the temptation!!

Colin Smith said...

(continuing the thought from my last comment)

I suppose you could always say in the rejection: "It pains me to turn this project down because you are a very talented writer, and this sounds like an excellent project. However, I'm not the right agent for this category. When you find the right agent for this (and you will), and it sells (and it will), please send me an ARC!" :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am intrigued by the phalanx of fire breathing agents. Is that what guards the borders of Carkoon to keep those sentenced there from escaping?

I was wondering, as a sort of side note to Dena's question, if you get a manuscript that knocks your fins back, but it's outside your sweet spot in genre, do the agents at New Leaf work cooperatively to sell book?

Meaning if another agent has some publishing contacts that another does not, do they share within the agency? I am curious because most agencies are if one agent rejects then we all have kicked you and your dreams to the curb, but a sparse few will let you query multiple agents within the agency? Does that mean the former agency works cooperatively and the latter is every fire breathing agent for themselves? I do wonder.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: I believe the way New Leaf works (and Janet can, of course, burn my toe nails off if I'm wrong) is you query the agent closest to your category. If they turn you down, you can then query another, and so on until you've made your way through the agency if you want. However, the impression I get is that, for example, if you query Janet for Romance, she is going to reject, but she might either recommend you query someone else at New Leaf, or, I suppose, in exceptional circumstances, actually forward your query to the colleague she thinks most suitable. Though she may not want to act on your behalf in that way.

What's my max number of comments? 10? 20? I know it says somewhere, but I'm not good with numbers... ;)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and the phalanx of fire-breathing agents? I believe that's who they have running Kale Leaf Literary Agency at the moment. It seems to be working out quite well for them (from what I hear), since they only accept paper queries and winter's coming.

Dena Pawling said...

I suppose it's too late to get Kari back? I can just imagine that conversation –

Janet: Can I have her back?

Holly: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Janet: Pretty please with sugar and a cherry on top?

Holly: Over my dead body.

Janet: I'll wash your car, shine your shoes, and send you a bottle of my best scotch.

Holly: Tempting, but still no.

[I thought you needed a new air conditioner, not stove?]

Janet Reid said...

Dena, that would be AND not or. A new air conditioner (may the old one rest in peace [and pieces] on the cold cement patio far below my window) and a new oven. (Which of course really means a new stove.)

DLM said...

This is me, NOT writing a kale and lima bean cookbook just to submit to Janet.

As for her reading anything just coz ... I can't imagine there's time! But her respect for the job and the authors is only what I'd have expected.

I just consolidated the whole of the year AD 511 yesterday, and put the end of the year at the end, where (for some reason) it wasn't.

It's the best, being a writer.

Colin Smith said...

Stove vs. Oven. As I understand it, "stove" can refer to the place upon which you put pots and pans in order to heat their contents, or to the entire stove-top and oven unit (the "range"?). Back in the UK, we referred to the entire unit as an "oven" or "cooker." Now, that may not be representative of the UK, just my family. When I moved to the US, this was one of many linguistic hurdles my wife had to help me navigate (boot/trunk, lift/elevator, aluminium/aluminum, Hoover/vacuum cleaner, cinema/movie theater, shop/store, lorry/semi, pavement/sidewalk, tarmac/pavement, motorway/highway, highwayman/IRS...)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin You and my laundry bill. I just snorted coffee all over my cream colored sweater (jumper to Colin).

But a smile on a workday is worth it.

Manda Zim said...

Careful Sharky (which auto corrected to snarky...haha), people might try to send you a stove!

I can see it now, big and shiny with that new stove smell. And a giant red bow.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Then my work here is done. :)

And while I'm here, a bit of personal news for everyone. I guess there's no reason not to share this with you--a special treat for those who read all the comments. FirstBorn and I will be in New York at the end of January for a few days. In Manhattan, no less. FirstBorn (she who makes awesome cakes and pastries) is auditioning at a couple of schools, and I will be going with her. The flights and hotel are booked, so it's as much a done deal as it can be. While she is there to sing for people, I will be there to take in the sights and sounds. As a long-time Beatle fan, one place I must get to is the Dakota Building, John Lennon's NY home, and the site of his murder 36 years ago today.

It would also be awesome to meet literary agents. I presume I can just walk into any bar in Manhattan and I'll find them, yes? :)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Elise: I've been binge reading submission guidelines. Several agencies do say that if it's a "no" for the person you're querying, but they feel it would be a good fit for another agent within the company, they will pass it along.

Even the agencies that don't say this... it would seem to be a reasonable thing to do. Wouldn't it? A kick-ass query, but it's not your bailiwick. But it IS perfect for the gal or guy in the next office? *knock*knock Who's there? Yernext. Yernext who? Yer next best seller.

Many guidelines say: "A no from one is a no from all."

Janet: Thank you for all you do.

CynthiaMc said...

Janet, I love this. You give me hope.

Here's hoping someday you get your stove and I get my hubcaps.

Oven vs. stove - our Japanese apartment had a stove (burners only) and a broiler but no oven. Hubby invited a bunch of people for Thanksgiving dinner and bought a huge turkey, which necessitated the hasty purchase of a huge microwave/convection oven. Came out well.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Colin...! (OT) The manuscript I'm querying revolves around the Langham on Central Park West, very near the Dakota. Please go stand on the steps for me. Sort of "absorb the vibe" :-) What I wouldn't give to see NYC some day and stand on those steps myself.

John Davis Frain said...

Wow. Nothing like a behind-the-scenes look. Thanks for the exclusive, Janet. And then I'll get back to work on the ms cuz I'd love to help you bring home a new air-conditioning oven.

An interesting element to your post: 100 queries a week until your move when the number dropped to 25. It leads me two places.

1. Query agents who move when you know about it because there's a chance your odds will increase. (Yeah, yeah, you still have to write a compelling story, but you're looking at better odds regardless.)

2. I assume, based on this, that an agent faces many consequences from moving and one of them is that their email address stays in use but they cannot access it. So, if Agent Gypsy Jane moves from ABC to XYZ, the folks over at ABC will continue to get solicitations which they can pick through but Gypsy Jane can only see queries from folks who knew about her move to XYZ? In other words, there's no way to forward your email like one used to be able to do with snail mail?

Claire Bobrow said...

I'm a big fan of transparency. Thanks for clarifying, Janet. I'm visualizing an "Agents Are People, Too" t-shirt, or perhaps oven mitts.

Colin: hope you and the FirstBorn have a great trip to NYC. Not sure where you might stumble across those literary agents, but if you visit the Dakota, I'm pretty sure you'll be near the Museum of Natural History (giant meteors!) and the New York Historical Society (Hamilton stuff!) and the Shake Shack (no kale on the menu!). Have fun :-)

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding the sharing of manuscripts/queries: My understanding is that all agencies are different. Some are co-operative, where they may or may not share queries around, and others are basically a group of single agents working under one roof with one name on the door. Some agencies may have a 'boss', others don't, and others may have a senior agent as a guide, but not an actual boss.

Never assume one agent will send your query to another in the same agency. If the guidelines don't say otherwise, query each appropriate agent in the agency, one at a time. If they say that a no from one is a no from all, that still doesn't mean that they'll share all the queries around, so be very careful which agent you choose to query. The agent you query may just decide no one in the agency will be interested, and reject your query on that basis alone. After all, if one agent gets 100 queries per week, then 4 agents will get 400 queries a week. Are the agents going to share the 400 queries among the others? That's 4 times as much query reading! No, the 'no from one is a no from all' is meant to *decrease* the number of queries coming to each agent. Most queries will still be rejected outright.

kathy joyce said...

Colin: My mom always said that every family should have a priest, a doctor, and a lawyer (in that order). I say a pastry chef trumps them all! Good luck to your daughter, and have a fun trip!

Julie Weathers said...

I was in Denver at the Rocky Mountain conference when Janet recommended Kari Lynn take the crime stuff out and focus on the romance. Kari was my roommate, so we got a chance to talk about it. Any major revision like that is a blow, but she agreed she was struggling with the crime aspect. It was a tough br

And that is how important it is to have an agent who's savvy enough to realize what the book really needs and an author who's willing to accept good advice.

I read a lot of non-fiction for research and pleasure. Two of my favorites were written by Col. John Singleton Mosby as memoirs, Mosby's Memoirs and Take Sides With The Truth. They're not only well-written, but he documents his stories with reference material, plus he has a wicked sense of humor and led a fascinating life. That's a really tough combination to find. Much of the stuff I read is dry as cotton and I'm just gleaning bits for the book. It's interesting, but not terribly entertaining. Not so with Col. Mosby's works. He's one man I would have liked to have known or served under.

All of the research books I've got for Cowgirls are "read-them-because-you-have-to" variety. Most are terribly written and so disorganized it's like a choose your adventure book where the author left out every third chapter.

I can't tell you how much I hate it when people take spellbinding people and make reading about them boring.

Writing interesting non-fiction isn't easy.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: I honestly believe there are more bars in Manhattan than there are agents. Which means there will be many agent-less bars. You would do better to ask Janet if she (and some of her friends) would be interested in meeting up, and taking FirstBorn and some of her pastries with you. I can guarantee you'll see more agents that way.

In my trips to NYC, I've only ever seen a couple agents I recognized once, at Max Brenner's. If you've never been to Max Brenner's, and if you like chocolate, go there. It's a restaurant that specializes in chocolate.

Another tip: For people unfamiliar with New York, taxis are a wonderful way to travel in the City. They know where they're going. They are regulated. They know how to get through and around traffic.

I've seen the Dakota a few times, usually from a taxi window, but we did walk past the actual hotel one time. You can't just walk in, though - it's too swank for that. There is a park across the street, on the edge of the huuuge Central Park, called Strawberry Fields in memory of John Lennon.

(All this is from my memory, which is a very good memory, but which doesn't always work as requested.)

Lennon Faris said...

Thank you, Janet! This blog is always such a perfect blend of informative, encouraging, and get-your-a$$ in gear.

Colin - I've heard that agents really prefer that you come to their work place. If they don't answer the door, throw pebbles at the windows or call multiple times. It gets their attention and they remember you forever!

Colin Smith said...

BJ: Thanks for the tips! :)

Lennon: Excellent advice. I think I'll call ahead so they know I'm coming. Then FirstBorn and I will stand under the window with assorted baked goods and a bottle of whiskey. It's a known fact that agents have heightened senses, especially when it comes to food and alcohol. :)

Colin Smith said...

Claire/Kathy: Thank you, too!

Melanie: The Langham. Duly noted. :)

Donnaeve said...

I went without a kitchen for five years. No sink. No oven. No stove. I did have a fridge. And a microwave. And a toaster oven. It was...interesting.

Long story.

Not for today.

"...xx days to a lot more." Can writers get that same time frame to write a new book - particularly the last part? Please?

Joseph Snoe said...

Janet Reid

You can read my manuscript (when it’s completely revised) just for fun and enjoyment as BetaShark with no thought of representing it as AgentShark if you wish.

Panda in Chief said...

Thanks for the great answers to great questions. I recall (sort of) browsing the comments yesterday and wishing that there would be answers to those questions at some point.

I once had a serious crush on Aga cookers, but fortunately got over it quickly since
A) I was renting
B) an Aga cost more than twice what my current car was worth.

I sort of wish there was some world class pastry school here on Whidbey island, but alas, there is not. I am always a willing pastry tester. Have a great time in NYC, Colin. If you have time in your busy bar hopping/pastry sampling schedule, a trip to the Metropolitan Museum to visit the Sargent paintings is always in order.

Joseph Snoe said...

When I was a boy it was an adventure to visit my aunt down an old red dirt road out in the boonies around Willis and New Waverly, Texas. She lived in an old grey-wood rickety house with a grey-wood rickety porch surrounded by sand and dirt. On the side of the house were stacked burning logs.

Inside the house, in the first room, the living room, smack dab in the middle of the living room, was a cast iron wood stove. It had four iron plates on top, I assume for cooking, but to this little boy it was her heater. When it was on, and I stood four feet off it, I was hot. Two feet away and I couldn’t stand the heat. Six feet away and I was freezing.

I could see the logs sitting in the flame inside its belly, and enjoyed watching my old aunt stack new logs in its belly.

I had enough sense never to touch that stove.

Colin Smith said...

Just an FYI, I've added a couple of resources to the lists in the Treasure Chest, both from regular lurker Allison Williams. I mention them here because they sound very useful:

Get Published In Literary Magazines: The Indispensable Guide to Preparing, Submitting and Writing Better--Allison's book, added to the "Published Works..." list.

The Brevity Podcast: A podcast Allison hosts on which she interviews noted nonfiction authors and memoirists.

If you have any questions about these, I'm sure Allison would be willing to poke her head out of lurkdom to address them. :)

AJ Blythe said...

Thanks for the deeper insight, Miss Janet.

Thanks to the Reiders for the great comments. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them =)

In Australia the stove is the cooking appliance with the hot plates for saucepans and frying pans. The oven is the cooking appliance for roasting, baking etc.