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Literary Agents Answer More Book Publishing Questions Page 2

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QUESTION: If you're a non-published novelist, but have written technical manuals and newspaper articles, should you include those credits on a query letter for your novel?

Jean Nagger’s answer: While it is not immediately relevant, and while making the leap from fiction to nonfiction is always challenging and sometimes impossible, your published pieces show that you can write and that you have been taken seriously as a writer.

I would certainly list these credits. But far more importantly, I would work at conveying the love you have for your characters, the reason you felt compelled to write the novel, and the attention you have given to the dramatic arc and pace of your plot. If there is a way that you can directly link the fictional elements you are working with, with your prior nonfiction work, by all means do so.

Good luck!

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QUESTION: My question: I guess it's sort of a statement/question.

My 5th traditionally published book will be out this fall. I write non-fiction books and my most recent book 'How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved' was a self help mass market book that did really well in the media. I was on CNN, 30 other TV shows, (interviewed twice for Oprah!) 25 radio shows, on the feature section of 15 major newspapers, in 3 national women's magazine and in magazines in New Zealand, South Africa and Singapore. I am online relationship writer contributor on some larger websites and have a Masters Degree in Counseling and a fabulous resume.

I am an avid marketer of my own work and spend 3-4 hours per day marketing my existing books through my websites, workshops, internet marketing programs, ebooks, and public appearances. I work my butt off, quite frankly! I have read alot of books about publishing and marketing and am on various writers sites and I see that I am doing 90% of what people suggest to do for your books.

So why is it so hard to get an agent? I keep selling my own books quite easily actually but I can't get a darn agent! If I sell my books easily, why do I need an agent? I'm not the best negotiator for myself and could use someone to get better advances, multi-book deals etc. I keep reading about the 'type' of client agents look for and I think I am doing alot of what they say agents ARE looking for...and yet, still no agent. PLEASE someone clue me in on what agents want--what in my situation is NOT appealing for them!!

Katharine Sand’s answer: Like the search for true love you have to believe the right agent for you is out there! And like that search, you must kiss frogs...go on dates...before meeting the agent who is right for you and for whom you would be a good match for the business marriage that is the author-agent relationship. I suspect that you are in this conundrum for the following reason: you have clearly found a good deal of success as a writer, but now all decisions about future books are predicated on how many copies of your books have been sold, your track record on Bookscan listing your sales figures. Once an author has been published, agent/editors/booksellers wonder if you have already found your market and if therefore you are too risky to take on. It doesn't mean, however, that you won't ultimately find the right agent. You want one for contacts and contracts...although you do well to work with a publicist for your existing books and keep building your platform. Good luck!

Literary agents, book publishing, book publishers

Question: If an agency's or agent's guidelines say to send queries to a certain address but don't say anything beyond that, is it bad form to include a synopsis or the first three chapters (or both) to that query?

Peter Rubie’s Answer: Some agents are funny about this stuff, but I would say, for me for example, I would be OK with a synopsis, three sample chapters if it's fiction, and or a proposal with the query without having to ask.  However, if you're emailing it, make sure the sample has your name on it.  Don't call it a synopsis.  Do you know how many files I get sent called synopsis?  Plus, if something is unexpected I tend to be leery of it in case it's a trojan horse or something.  But if you can't ask for some reason I would say that unless you're sending a wad of paper, 30-40 pages in total is not going to upset anyone.

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QUESTION: I would like to know what tone an agent wants to see in a query letter. Do query letters need to be businesslike and let the work stand on its own merit, or do they need to be clever, interesting, and conversational to stand out?

As an example for a fiction manuscript:

Dear _________,  I would like to send my comic fantasy manuscript "The Fire Key" for your consideration.

or

Dear _________, Princess Ember has always known three things: There is no magic, there are no fairies, and the only way to save her kingdom is by marrying a rich prince. Until the prince tried to kill her, fairies showed up in the dungeon, and a unicorn started wreaking havoc all over the kingdom....

Or is there an approach I'm overlooking?

I want to avoid seeming cutesy and unprofessional, but I also want to be memorable in a good way.

Also, my example is from my current WIP - when would be a good time to start sending queries? On completion of the first draft? Second? When I think it's absolutely done (which may never happen - I tend to over polish)?

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Jean Naggar’s answer: The second query letter is the one that would have held my attention. You are conveying something about your work that distinguishes it from others without being overly cute or lengthy. You also show that you can string words together in a way that captures attention. The first approach is businesslike, and would clearly put your work into a genre that the agent might or might not want to see, but could apply to many novels and gives no sense of why one might want to make the time to read it. Presumably you have already done your research and would not send your query to an agent who seems uninterested in comedy and fantasy,  so you do need to tell the agent what you think makes it special within that genre.

As you probably know, reputable agents do not charge reading fees, so their reading and their time is an investment for them and a gift to you. You yourself would not make such an investment without knowing a little about why you should. My agency receives somewhere in the range of 6000 queries a year. That is a clear indicator that there needs to be something in your letter beyond genre to pique the agent's interest.

One crucial thing to remember when you send a query to an agent is that you will probably only have the one shot at capturing that agent's time and attention. Often, we receive queries that essentially say "please read this and tell me if it is worth my continuing to work on it." That is not the function of a reputable agent, particularly with fiction, and more particularly with first fiction.

You can best help yourself by waiting until you have ironed out all the kinks, however many drafts that requires, and sending queries when your final and very best effort is ready to show if someone asks for it. A much better second draft when the first has been read and rejected will usually meet with resistance from an agent who has read the first. You will have locked that door shut in the interest of getting a professional response before the work is at its best, and the response will most likely not be what you desired.

There is a difference between editing and polishing. The odd typo or wrongly placed comma or semi colon will not affect an agent's decision, but numerous typos, bad grammar, misspellings, and sloppy punctuation show a lack of respect for the reader. If, on the other hand, you come up with a whole new way of pacing, a sharpening or change of plot, or an important  difference in the actions of a crucial character after sending something to an agent, you are best served by immediately asking the agent to wait, not to read it, that a better version is on the way. Most of us will not take the time to read something twice.

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QUESTION: If an agent requests the first 3 chapters / 100-110 pages and your first three chapters are only about 40 pages, should you send in the 40 and hope it’s enough? Or should you send in more chapters to cover the pages (amount) requested? I hope that makes sense.

Jean Naggar’s answer: Different agents would respond differently to this. I would prefer the 40 pages. I never request more than 50 pages to see if I want to request the entire manuscript. I suspect that the agent wants the first three chapters with a maximum of 100-110 pages.

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