Patience, patience...! How to get a faster answer out of an agent

Email 1, 12 days ago:

Dear Ms. GK, 
A year ago, you offered me extensive feedback on my manuscript. Well, I guess one of us failed (the manuscript or your suggestions) because I'm still sending it out. I have a formatting question. I can't get Word to change from British to American settings in terms of paper size. I can't send it out to agents in this state--right? No one will look at it? PLEASE help or, if you don't know, tell me if agents will accept it like this. Thank you. 

Email 2, this morning (or 12 days later):
Dear GK,
I wrote you two weeks ago and got your e-mail's vacation response. 

I can't believe you've become one of those "no response means no" agents--even to personal letters. 

Well, whatever you were going to say, it doesn't matter. I sent out the manuscript. I HOPE agents will still look at it. Would have liked to know that I was doing the right thing--that I won't get rejected because I didn't get your advice. Guess we'll see. 


Mmmkay. Three things:

1) Formatting? Crazy stuff Word does? Not high on my list of reasons I reject authors. In fact, it doesn't appear on that list at all. Either I can open your file or I can't, in which case I'll ask you to send another. I pretty much hate PDFs (they don't work well on the Kindle); I get mildly miffed at .docx files (same reason); I always change fonts, formatting, and everything else to match my preferences--but that's really not a big deal; it's a few clicks. 

Look. A writer made pretty much the worst mistake possible last week: she signed with two agents, and didn't tell either one about the other. I can believe it was an honest mistake (sometimes writers do have two agents, one for one genre, one for another--that said, it's the sort of arrangement one works out with each agent ahead of time); but, in terms of freaking out your agent--well, I can't think of much that'd be more effective. 

But you know what? It still turned out okay. (See the BookEnds, LLC post about it here.) Do I recommend getting yourself into these situations? Certainly not.

But if it's possible to get away with that and still come out of it agented--well, as you can imagine, compared to signing with two agents, the size of your margins/e-pages is very a small detail. 

2) If you want something from someone, the very best way to get it is to make them feel that, if they comply, they're going above and beyond--they'll feel good about it, you'll feel good about it, you'll get help, everyone is happy. 

I learned this years ago when, still new to New York, I was trying to get a car service to pick me up quickly. My parents were visiting me at school, and we were one of many families trying to get cars. Thinking I'd show off my newly-acquired (yes, this is funny to me too, looking back) skills as a New Yorker, I was impatient with the woman who picked up the car service line. We waited 45 minutes: nothing. Then we walked a block or two, and I called back (with a different pick-up location, so they might  not know it was us). "Hi," I said, "I know you must be really busy, but my parents just got here, and my mother's looking really tired. They're Californians. You know how it is. Anyway, I know you must be incredibly busy, but I'd appreciate it so much if you could send us a car when you can. Thank you." 

Five minutes later: car. I'm almost certain we jumped the queue.

Is this true in all situations? Of course not. But I've been keeping a mental tally of all such interactions I've witnessed, and kind/warm but firm seems to work the most often. (I'd be curious to know if you've experienced the same thing.)

3) To an agent--especially when seven of those days were out of the office--twelve days is not a long time. I know it is a long time to you. I know you're anxious to get your work out. But I get thousands of emails a month. In twelve days, on average, I will have received 600 queries, 50 or more manuscripts, and more than a thousand other e-mails.

Two weeks won't make your book "too late," even if it's something very trendy or time-sensitive (this work wasn't); and whether it's sent out with large margins or little ones, on large e-pages or small, an agent's either going to love it--or isn't. 

I was on a panel with an agent one time who said that if you don't get a response within 48 hours, that agent "just isn't that into you."

I completely disagree. E-mail is ranked by topic and urgency. Sometimes we simply need to think about an answer before sending it. Will a client automatically get bumped to the top of the pile? Yes. Will someone I've grown familiar with through their work and correspondence? Yes. Do the vast majority have to wait a few days, if not more? Yes. 

What helps to get a speedier reply, if you're writing to an agent?
  • Add short details, if it feels right. Don't force it; like with everything else, inauthenticity will come through. But this can be the polite, pleasant equivalent to calling someone and saying, "Hi, how are you? Did you have a good holiday? Great, so..." as opposed to just, "Hi. So. I need help with..." People tend to respond in kind.
    • I'm always pleased by one-liners like: "It's a blustery day here in West Virginia" or "The leaves have just turned a beautiful color here in Boston" or something else neutral and that shows you're a real person--not that we doubt it, but when we get so many emails, we don't automatically conjure an image of you. Maybe you know that agent likes tea or coffee, so you mention you have a steaming mug in front of you. If it feels like something you'd do normally, I think you should feel comfortable adding such a detail. 
    • Good: "I have a beautiful latte in front of me." 
    • Bad:  "I just burned myself with this hot latte--I'd go to the hospital, but I don't have health insurance" or "I have a dead mouse on the floor in front of me" or "My wife is yelling at me so I'll make this quick" or "I have a burning copy of Dreams from My Father in front of me. God, I hate that guy." Avoid topics including (but not limited to): personal finances, injuries, household embarrassments, fights, felonies, politics. Stick to the upbeat.
  • Appreciation. If you thank the agent for their time ahead of time, we're more likely to help you. 
    • Something like, "Thank you for your help. I know you're very busy" will likely make us stop thinking, "Arrgh! I'm too busy for this!"
  • Patience. Saying something like, "I knew you wouldn't answer" or assuming that we're never going to--even if it's just, "Oh, well, guess you're too busy"--is kind of the equivalent of a girl going on a date, waiting an hour for him to call after he drops her off, then texting the guy, "I knew you didn't like me, anyway." 
    • Such behavior indicates an expectation of disappointment, a habit of jumping to conclusions, and a high likelihood of past rejection. As I've mentioned, it's not a good idea to give the impression that your work has been rejected all over the place.
    • In cases where you simply cannot wait, a check-in is permissible, but it should be light and pleasant, like: "Hi ______, Just a quick note to see if you've had a chance to [whatever favor you've asked]. I know you're very busy. I'd love to hear from you by __________, if at all possible: I have [reason for your deadline]. Again, thank you for your help. Hope all is well with you," note would suffice. 
Questions? Comments? Horrific latte-related injuries? (I know, I shouldn't joke. GK herself has had teapot-related injuries. No fun.) Inquiring--and apparently gruesome, now that thrillers are on the menu--GK minds want to know. 
I'm afraid I can't resist asking. Speaking strictly in a hypothetical sense, let's suppose that a writer has submitted a query to GK. How long should said writer wait before assuming that no response to his query constitutes a "no"? Or should he resubmit his query? Y'know. Hypothetically.

There isn't a "no response constitutes a no" clause on that e-mail. If you didn't get a response, it means: 1) Mercury is in retrograde 2) my amped-up spam filters got it, or 3) my email is being evil.

Do me a favor: if you don't hear from me within a month, and/or if you have another offer or update, please check in. With a copy of your query pasted in the body of the e-mail.

Thank you.


What if there just aren't enough agents? What if I don't like the ones that like me?

I'm worried I'm not going to find enough agents who I like that might also like my work.

Now is the very best time in all of history to have this worry. Why's that, you ask?

Well, there are more of us, for one thing. Know how all those editors got laid off? Well, luckily for you, many of them have turned to agenting: the skills are similar, and since there's no need to acquire, say, a license from the state to practice (strange that it's possible to sell books, but not houses, without one), that's where many editors have ended up. Yup. More potential agents for you.

Also, not to brag, but the average agent is a pretty cool human being. I know this because I've met lots of them. If they ran the world, I'd be perfectly pleased. The average agent is bright, kind, literary (one would hope), able to write well, able to pitch well, in touch with a number of great editors, great at editing manuscripts, amazing at teaching at conferences AND still manages to have an interesting social life involving all manner of hobbies.

All of this, to GK, equals rather likable. And likability in great supply.

Whatever you prefer--whatever you want along the geeky reader/MBA-type, aggressive/sweet, excitable/strictly professional spectrums--it's probably out there waiting for you.

And it just seems a law of the (you'll see my NorCal roots here) universe that the people you like are also the ones most likely to like you. It seems highly unlikely that someone who loves your work is going to be a terrible fit for you--perhaps not the best fit, and perhaps you won't hang out on purpose unless it's to discuss your work--but this agent, in order to fall in love with your work, had to get it. And, by extension, get you.

Do I think you should sign with any old agent because they offer you rep? No. Do I think you should say no to an agent because he/she lives on take-out and you (and your non-cookbook book) are all about the home cooked meals? Or because he/she likes cats and you like dogs? Or because you've never been to New York and don't like technology but he/she uses a Kindle and lives in Manhattan? No.

I think it's like the difference between a Hollywood love story and the more relaxed way most of us find our significant others.

There don't need to be ridiculous coincidences (though there often are) or signs. You just need to trust them, trust their vision, trust their communication style, trust their business sense, and trust that they're a good, solid choice. Liking them is also important. How do you feel about their client list? How do you feel about their proposed edits?

These things are far more important than whether you have eating, pet, and geographical preferences in common.

Realistically--as I've heard from many authors--there will likely be a moment when you just know.

Note that you don't have to be best friends with your agent. You don't have to go on coffee dates to chat and catch up; you don't even have to send holiday cards. You just have to be able to work with him/her and trust him/her to do his/her very best for your career.

The only problem I foresee is that it's difficult to find the newest of agents, since many works like The Jeff Herman Guide only come out yearly--and not all agents submit their information. So there are probably many more agents out there than it would appear. Check out the GLA blog (my friend Josh is featured today); many new agents are interviewed there quite often.

But there are also more resources (and for free!) available online than ever before.

So, yes. I understand this worry. But if you're going to be worried about this, of all things--now's the perfect time.

October reading: A most civilized thriller. Hmm, yes, quite.

Naturally, this will come as an enormous shock to all of you, but GK is not generally one for violence, bloodshed, and anything else that goes with the horror genre: my Netflix queue is currently filled with escapism and upbeat foreign films; my queue of manuscripts is just starting to give me a taste for thrillers (I was very surprised when I started egging on one of the evil but relatable protagonists). I've never even (I know) seen such a movie in a theatre (but what a waste of popcorn that would be--the scary music even starts, and surely most of it, hydrogenated oil and all, would go flying).

But one of my book groups, knowing our next meeting will be just before Halloween, chose The Haunting of Hill House--which immediately made me think of the 1999 adaptation, so I was less than enthused. I ordered the book slow-mail used from Amazon, and hoped it wouldn't arrive on time. In the meantime, I started browsing recipes, determined to find something in a pumpkin for our next meeting--this recipe from Saveur is looking rather tempting.

But, well, the seller lived up to his five-star rating, and a few nights ago, I started this Shirley Jackson classic.

It's--well, it's lovely. I find it--of all unlikely things--charming. The characters are remarkably well-drawn. The house manages to be both beautiful and terrifying. The piece is very clearly from a different time, with clever, understated dialogue. It is scary, but delightfully so. It's not "Here! Not scared? Well, I happen to have this five-gallon tank of stage blood over here..." horrific, but clever and imaginative.

Not convinced? Check out this first line: "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream."

In other words, it is a most civilized thriller. Highly recommended.

Need a break from your manuscript? Try a real mail club!

I don't know about you, but I miss real mail (in life, not at work). I was having a ho-hum day yesterday, until I got home and realized I had three--count them, THREE!--real letters in my mailbox from friends around the globe. My day? Instantly improved a thousand-fold.

So I posted to my status that I would send friends real letters if they'd send me their addresses. I've since heard from a number Facebook friends that they'll be in on it. I'm so excited. The results have been so great that I recommend you do the same.

Plus, don't you just love the idea of writing at not just a desk, but an escritoire? By candlelight? (You'll need a lot of them, though. I tried.) With a cup of tea?

Okay, I'm a dork. But you can't deny that these escritoires are just darn beautiful (see more here):

Can't afford a replica of an 18th-century escritoire (or a modern interpretation of one)? 

I recommend going to your local art store and picking up a dip pen and some ink. You can choose from a variety of nibs (generally the wider ones write more smoothly; the small ones often feel like they're scratching the paper), a handle (mine is shiny red) that fits the nib, and an assortment of inks. You can also (squeeeeeee) buy wax seal kits at stationery stores. They don't stay on very well, so you'll need to seal the inner envelope and then place it in another one before mailing. 

Yes. So. Should you need a break from working (and Times New Roman, 12) I think this is an excellent suggestion. And the USPS will thank you, too. 
I am picturing multiple personality agents scaring the daylights out of eager and unsuspecting authors.

Again. Incredibly unlikely. The vast, vast, vast majority of agents are delightful, well-behaved human beings.
[Referring to the last post]: This leaves me frightened of some agent's tactics that you listed above. Is that just me?

Not just you. That said, I'm speaking about a particular subset of a subset of agents. I meant only the agents who 1) you deal with when you have several offers, 2) the agents who ask who made you an offer, 3) the agents who are pushy about it after you give them an answer like the one suggested below, and 4) the agents who go beyond pushy into crazy territory.

The odds are ever in your favor on this one.

Even if you do end up dealing with one of these agents, you'll be fine. Why? Because they'll make it very clear who they are before you sign. It's my personal belief, after years of working in publishing, that crazy can't hide itself for long. Also, you have Caller ID.

Kidding, kidding. It's not going to get that bad.

The examples of the last post only came to mind because they're so extreme. I've only heard of one agent going the "I'll keep calling until she signs with me!" route.

It's much better that they pull this now--and if they're of this type, they certainly will, since they're showing you how "strong" and "aggressive" and "business-minded" they are--all things that are, in their minds, great traits.

So. In other words, in reality, they're doing you a favor. Each agent is giving you the best sense possible of who he/she is, so you can make an informed decision.

So, no. I don't think this is reason to worry.

And, worst case scenario? All Author-Agent Agreements come with an escape clause. Examine that before you sign it (most are 30 or 60 days).

You'll lose a few weeks, but an agent who loves your work will wait for you.

How to handle the, "Yeah? Well, WHO offered you representation?" question

What's the best way to handle the, "WHO offered representation?" inquiry?

First of all--not that I think you should say so--but if any agent says, "Oh yeah? Another agent offered you representation? Well, WHO? Who are they??"--or even a gentle, "Oh, that's interesting. Who?"--I would consider it pushy, rude, and a breach of etiquette.

There's a reason you're supposed to write "An agent" versus "[Name of agent]." We exist in a small world; in many cases we know each other--and just as all New Yorkers would go crazy if they were expected to talk to everyone on the subway, there are times we have to pretend we have more space and territory. We really, truly don't want to know that we're competing with friends for the same project. That's like finding out you're both writing a piece for the same publication--and comparing how much you got paid. No good can come of it.

So. That's the part that's for us. What about for you?

The minute an agent asks this question, he/she is placing you in the middle of what may be an ongoing debate/competition/industry question/drama--it's pulling you into a situation (perhaps a fight, if for some reason the agents don't get along) that just isn't fair. That's like two old friends bringing you into a generations-old battle--and you just met them. It'll cloud your judgment and make it all the more challenging to make this already difficult decision.

I've heard of nasty tricks over the years--agents badmouthing each other to potential clients; agents spreading rumors about other agents; agents putting authors in incredibly unfair situations. Oddly (or perhaps not so), a lot of this sounds intergenerational--I don't think I have to say who makes what argument. Some agents take an "all's fair in business, love, and war" approach.

I've even heard of an agent harassing once-potential clients who'd already signed with other agencies--the story involved (it sounded like) about five calls and a fax (of doctored Publishers Marketplace listings--naturally, this agent "accidentally" cut out a sizable chunk of the competition's deals--called the other agent inexperienced--and then said, "So I assume I should send you my Author-Agent Agreement?").

That's just slimy. And though you may want someone like that to represent you in certain legal cases (I suppose--perhaps if you know the other side has someone like that too), or perhaps to go on the attack if you're running for office and the other side is mud-slinging--but I don't think it'll help you much in terms of finding you a good relationship with an editor.

Will it get you more money? Well, editors won't (and can't) be bullied into offering more. They have formulas and a ceiling number from their company. And to get really large numbers, you need an auction; to get an auction, you need two (usually three) editors who can stand working with that agent. I suppose that, in some cases, preempts are also quite large--but this seems rarer.

Now, it's possible you'll come across an agent who is well-intentioned but just wants a better sense of his/her competition. Perhaps some agencies have a policy of allowing their agents to ask this question. I don't think you should assume that asking this question automatically makes an agent slimy, but I still don't think it's good form.

These things don't happen often, but the stories stick with us. No one wants to be a part of that. That said, this is all easily avoided by simply refusing to tell each agent the names of the other agents interested.

All of that said, here are some good responses. Let's practice.

Agent: So, who else made you an offer?

You: Oh, it's an agent at [choose one of the following]:

  • A major agency
  • A [well-known] boutique agency
  • A small but well-known agency
  • A company the agent started 
in [choose one of the following]:
  • New York
  • LA 
  • [If it's something else, leave off this part]
with [choose one of the following, if applicable]:
  • A number of bestsellers [in the [your genre] genre]
  • A strong [your genre] list
  • An active interest in expanding their [your genre] list
If they push for much more information than that, then I would start to get concerned.

Et voilĂ ! You've successfully, truthfully answered their question without telling them--well, much of anything. Then again, I suppose we do this often in real life to account for others' rudeness--if someone asks how much your house cost, you say "Too much!" or "We got a good deal"--you don't give them a figure.

It's their faux pas, not yours. Now, Ms. Post (in my excellent 1940s edition) makes it quite clear that it's never polite to point out another's rudeness. It's best, methinks, to give an answer like the one above and to move on.

How do I reject an agent? And how do I let other agents know I got an offer?

I'm worried that I don't know the etiquette rules regarding offers of representation. If you receive multiple offers of representation, what are the best words to use to turn down an agent? Do you explain why you chose A over B?  And if you receive an offer of representation, what are the best words to use to inform other agents - who already have your manuscript - about the offer?

This is a two-parter. So, first:

If you receive an offer of representation from multiple agents, is it wise to tell the "losing" agents why they, well, lost?

I'd take a two-pronged approach.

First, sort your reason into the following categories (if you have other reasons, let me know in the comments section and I'll sort them for you):

Category 1

  • Editorial vision--that is, the other agent had a vision closer to what you were thinking. 
  • You just had a feeling when you heard from the "winning" agent and/or there was a feeling of fate (weird coincidences/things in common). Hey, it happens.

Category 2

  • The losing agent's sales record/years of experience.
  • The losing agent's contacts/experience in your genre--perhaps he/she said that this was a new area for him/her, so all of the editors who'd receive your work had never heard from this agent before.
  • That agent's other clients--perhaps the "winning" agent has a great big list of bestsellers. 

Category 3

  • You don't like them. Maybe they sound neurotic on the phone, talk too fast for you to hear, or seem untrustworthy.
  • You're worried that agent won't make time for you. You seem to be a low priority.
  • The agent just seems mean. You're afraid he/she will yell if you say the wrong thing.
  • You were otherwise offended by said agent.
  • You think the agent is too old/young/unpleasant/poorly read/evil.
Got it? Mmm-kay. So. 

If your reasons are closest to category one, go ahead and offer them when you tell the agent why. If your responses are in category two, wait for that agent to ask for a reason. If they don't, don't bring it up. If it's category three, fudge the details. Yes, really. 

There simply is no point in having that discussion (especially since you won't be working with him/her and there's really nothing he/she can say to change your mind) so, if they ask, say something general like, "It just didn't feel right."

Also, just so that you don't put the agent in an awkward position, it's generally best to deliver this bad news via (thoughtful) e-mail. 


Now. How do you let other agents know you have an offer? Well. You should e-mail everyone who received a query and/or manuscript who has not yet sent a rejection. It may spark interest in those who did not request a partial/manuscript/proposal. 

I think this formula works well: 

Subject line: An offer of representation for [name of your work]

Email body:
Dear [Agent name],
Just a quick note to let you know that I've received an offer of representation for [name of work]. 

I'd love to hear from you by [date that is one week from the date of this e-mail]. [If they don't already have your manuscript/proposal, say something like, "My proposal/manuscript is attached."]

I look forward to hearing from you. [Or other niceties.]

All best wishes,
‎The Hunger Games: Taking the book world (and Hollywood) by storm |

What if an agent doesn't like the revision I'm working on especially for her?

This is part of the "Tell GK your worries" series. Every day this week, I'll respond to one of them. Post your worries here.
I'm worried that the agent who loved my work and phoned me to request an R&R will not like the revision I'm working on especially for her. Even though she is so enthusiastic and we really hit it off, I'm scared I'm imagining the vibes I got from her and she won't want to take me on as a client :(

You're in a better place than most writers for a number of reasons:

  1. An agent loves your work--and enough to call. This means even more than an "I love this" via email--and it means other agents are likely to feel similarly. It probably means that your writing is great, but you made some choices in the storytelling that could (in her mind) be stronger. This is far easier to work with than someone with a fabulous premise who does not write well.
  2. You got good vibes. It's hard to fake vibes over the phone.
  3. She already started making changes--which makes it more likely she'll ask for more changes, rather than just say no, if she doesn't like this version. It's like people who walk into a house they're considering buying and say, "Oh, honey! Our sectional couch would look great in that corner!" "Yes, sweetie, and wouldn't this room look great in a pale marmalade?" "Why yes! It would go with my porcelain pigs collection! We could put a shelf there..."
  4. If she does say no, she'll likely be helpful about it.
  5. If this work doesn't get picked up, she's very likely to want to see the next. 
AND the very best reason: assuming you like the revision, and this is the version you'll use from now on, Now you can go to other agents and tell them an agent liked this enough to give you edits.

This will put you head and shoulders above other submissions.

How do I know? Because it worked with me just this week. 

Here's a post about how to do that. 

Also, you should note that some agents do not take on works until they are already, in their minds, perfect. Some do this in order to prepare the work to share with their colleagues; some just want to make sure that the work can get there before signing their clients. 

This means that, even if she doesn't sign you after this round, but asks for more edits--that doesn't mean she's not interested, it just means that she needs more from you first.

Now, I should mention that, if you get notes from an agent, try them (you should at least give them a good faith effort) and still don't like them, it's perfectly acceptable to try to figure out what that agent wanted (see post below this one) and find another solution for getting there. 

It sounds like you weren't 100 percent happy with the changes--or would never have made them yourself, were it not for her suggestions. If that's the case, it's possible that you two aren't the perfect fit--or you should have a longer talk about how you see the work.

If you're really uncomfortable with the changes, and don't think they helped your work (and perhaps made it worse), it may be wise to do what a number of the Iron Chefs do, when they know the secret ingredient (prescribed by someone other than themselves--goose fat! Castor oil! Chocolate-covered raisins!) just isn't working: admit it. And suggest an alternative.

How to write a "this isn't working but here's an alternative" note? GK will tackle this in a future post.

What if I finally get a book deal--and then I disagree with my editor?

I'm concerned that my editor/publisher will love my book, sign me, but then push to change things I'm not willing to change. Naturally, I want to be open to anything that makes the book better, but if I put my foot down strongly about a particular detail (or a couple of them), will that get me labeled as a difficult author?

This is unlikely for a number of reasons:

  1. You're working with an agent of your choice--who, after all of your interrogation methods, seems to be on the same page you are with your vision for the work.
  2. You were completely honest with your agent about how you see your work. 
  3. This agent sent your book to editors who are likely to approve of this vision.
  4. These editors saw a very good example of what you're envisioning--either your manuscript or your proposal.
  5. Before signing you, these editors will have had a talk with your agent about proposed changes. You and your agent will discuss them.
  6. If anything goes wrong, your agent is there to help. Yet another reason it's good to have an agent.
  7. Most editors recognize that this is your book. They want you to be happy. 
Now, let's break down what an editor or agent is asking for with changes:

Let's say you're writing a murder mystery, and your agent/editor says, "Hmm, no, I think it should be Johnny who's the murderer."

Now, you like Johnny. He's mild-mannered, sweet, and he just didn't do it. 

You do not want to make Johnny the murderer. 

What is your agent/editor really saying? Probably something like one of the following:
  1. This is too predictable.
  2. Your current murderer isn't as interesting as Johnny.
  3. Johnny's too boring. Make him more interesting.
  4. I don't like your murderer's current motive. Make the motive for the murder different. 
  5. It's more interesting if the murderer is someone who seems like an otherwise nice guy. 
Now. If you can figure out which of these it is--and that can be done by speaking with your agent/editor and gathering more information--you'll see that your agent/editor isn't really saying Johnny is a murderer. They're saying, "I see another issue, and I think this is the easiest way to solve it." 

They may or may not realize it, but if you can pinpoint what they actually want, then you can come up with alternatives that work for all of you. You do have to be gracious about it, of course. Your agent will help. 

But, again, drastic changes are something the editor will most likely know ahead of time--especially if you're writing fiction, since he/she will have seen your full manuscript before deciding. It's unlikely he/she will suddenly have an epiphany and decide to change your killer. 

If there is a major disagreement, your agent is always there to help with this process. Even if your agent disagrees with you (and agrees with the editor), he/she will be there to make sure someone comes up with a solution that works for everyone. 

We agents see stuff like this all the time. Remember Swordfish Shirt Guy? As you can imagine, he wanted some unusual things in his contract and his book. But it's worked out just fine. 

Mad Men Reading List

From the very awesome New York Public Library: 

"These titles are a great way to gain insight into the episodes and the social and cultural times in which the series is set. Like the set and costume design, the literary choices of the show really add a stamp of authenticity. Dipping into these classics is also a great way to help with withdrawals while waiting for new episodes to air.
Some of the titles are featured prominently in the series and others are mentioned in passing. Remember the book Sally read with her grandfather at bedtime? The book on Japanese culture the agency was told to read? The scandalous book the ladies passed between each other in secret? You can find all these and more!"

What are YOU worried about? GK, worrywart herself, will make you feel better.

I think you need to have a "reassuring post" category for ones like this:) Though we all hear that writers get pulled from the slush every day, without contacts and without prior published works, it's nice to hear it from someone who sees it firsthand.

Sure! I like this idea. I think (says the self-professed worrywart) that writers, and people in general, spend too much time worrying about the wrong things.

So. What are you worried about? Comment, and I'll choose a few--and will make you feel better. Or tell you you're totally justified. But probably the former. :)

As an unpublished writer, are my chances of getting a book published zero?

How I love your blog. And now I have rustled up the courage, aided by a really great blondie, to ask (and forgive me if you've answered this already): As an unpublished writer (my day job is a ghost blogger and copywriter), are my chances of getting a book published zero? I have read and heard so many conflicting reports!

Thanks! And no need for liquid courage (however delicious).

The great thing about writing fiction is that it is, in many ways, an even playing field: everyone wants that great debut novel (in many cases, debut novelists have better chances than second-time novelists--keep in mind I'm talking about work published, not work written, here); you don't need a platform; you don't need to be famous; you don't need to be wealthy (you just need enough to support yourself while you write); you don't need an MFA or even a college degree; you don't need tons of experience related to your topic, a built-in audience, or a proven track record; connections (someone who knows an agent/editor) are wholly unnecessary;  tickets to a conference are nice (but expensive!) and won't give you that much of an edge--you don't even need a name that sounds writerly.

You could, in other words, live somewhere trendy like a major city or pretty and tiny in the middle of the country; you could live on your local, suburban Wisteria lane; you could live alone or with a roommate or twelve or have a large family or be a single mother or father; you could have a trust fund or field collection calls daily; you could have a neat desk job or something that has you coming home covered in tar/chimney soot/blood (if you're a butcher/surgeon--not, I hope, a serial killer) and spend your time however you like--so long as you make time to write, and have a computer with an internet connection.

And for you in particular, having a day job as a ghost blogger and copywriter will only help: it proves people are willing to pay for your writing. Same with a great "italicized section" (the part of your query where you mention other publications that have published your work). It's like having a full resume--it means others were willing to trust you and so, by "I am an agent sheep" logic, the agent will be willing to trust you, too. But will not jump off a cliff if everyone else does. I hope.

But those are extras. You don't need them.

What do you need? The ability to write really, really, really well.

And a great query, a great first page, and The Jeff Herman Guide. Or another  method of finding agents who are likely to be a good fit.

Let me put it this way: the top .0001 percent will have no trouble, even if we do go down to one CEO, two editors, and ten e-books a year.

The top .001 and .01 and .1 percents need to have business savvy and aforementioned great query. Luck doesn't hurt; you'll want to hit the right agent at the right time (preferably not right after he/she has signed something too similar).

Of course we can't quantify the worth of each piece objectively, but I think we can agree that the large numbers of books about the author's ordinary cat, about the author being abducted by aliens (a straight-faced memoir--with poor grammar), the ten-millionth unoriginal vampire book, and books that abuse the English language as badly as I've just abused math (apparently, saying ".0001 percent," instead of "one in a million" will get one shot by most mathematicians--thanks, Dad!) will be found, if brought before a jury of 1,000 writing peers, not as worthy as an exciting debut novel.

In fact, I bet that, if I were to present 100 of you with 50 queries, you'd end up voting on the same ten as being the best.

Now. I do wish I could show you what goes on in my head while figuring out which queries are a yes, and which are a no. I'm in discussions with a certain online conference about having a query chat. I'll keep you updated.

Flowchart: Know Your Female Character Stereotypes

Picture books, standardized testing, and our supposedly inevitable move to a post-book society

Was anyone else really upset by this article?

Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children

Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”

And, from a bookseller:

“I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”


I don't even know what to say without going into full-on rant mode. As you can probably imagine, GK is not a fan of the standardized testing--and not just because, um, the SAT did not exactly consider GK full of scholastic aptitude.

Rather, it's a matter of the priorities we give children: it's as if we're telling them, at every turn, that learning is just something you do for other people--people far, far away in educational administration offices, people we'll never meet who probably have corrupt interests, anyway. (We're not exactly a generation raised with trust in government organizations.) If we're going to take away books that are age-appropriate, we're going to take away, also, the joy children experience while reading. "Learning" will then be all stick, no carrot; all pre-prescribed memorization,  no curiosity-driven exploration.

Another bone to pick: I know everyone loves to write about how books are dead, Publishing is dead, and sooner or later we'll be down to one publisher, one CEO and about two editors, and they'll publish only e-books. About ten a year. And most will have video components.

I'm not a picture book agent--when I receive queries for picture books, I amuse myself by (trying to--the meter is often off) reading them to my interns, but they're really not my area of expertise. (I also don't meet many picture book age children--if anyone can make me feel socially awkward, a toddler can.) Still, some of the works I receive are wordless and haunting--I got one that told the story of a cat's night out in gorgeous watercolors, and I still remember many of the pages.

But even with my limited picture book knowledge, I see listings for picture book sales on PM all the time. This article makes it sound like no one is ever buying them unless they're written by celebrities (um, puke. Sorry, but the whole "I'm a celebrity, therefore I get to write a book and get a huge advance that could have gone to several books by real writers! And I didn't even have to write the book myself! Isn't that neat!" thing really steams me). But that simply isn't so. Picture books seem to be selling fine.

Check out this week in picture book sales, courtesy of PM:

October 9, 2010

Children's: Picture book

Author/illustrator Monica Carnesi's LITTLE DOG LOST, about the brave rescue of Baltic, the dog, from the dangerous and freezing waters of the Baltic Sea -- based on a true story that made waves in the media internationally, to Nancy Paulsen at Nancy Paulsen Books, in a very nice deal, in a two-book deal, by Teresa Kietlinski at Prospect Agency (world).

October 8, 2010

Children's: Picture book

Lise Friedman and Mary Dowdle's BECOMING CLARA: THE BALLET, a book of photographs about a young ballerina's experiences playing Clara in Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker, from auditions through opening night, to Leila Sales at Viking Children's, for publication in Fall 2012, by Jennifer Unter at The Unter Agency (World English).

October 8, 2010

Children's: Picture book

NYT bestseller and multiple Caldecott Honoree Mo Willems's HOORAY FOR AMANDA AND HER ALLIGATOR, to Alessandra Balzer at Balzer & Bray, for publication Spring 2011, by Marcia Wernick at Sheldon Fogelman Agency (NA).

October 7, 2010

Children's: Picture book

NYT bestselling author/illustrator Calef Brown's fanciful bestiary and book of inspiration for young artists, to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

October 5, 2010

Children's: Picture book

Einstein's owners, Charles Cantrell and Dr. Rachel Wagner's A FRIEND FOR EINSTEIN: The Smallest Stallion, celebrating the unique size and personality of the mini miniature horse, to Stephanie Owens Lurie at Disney-Hyperion, for publication in April 2011, just in time to celebrate Einstein's first birthday, by Cheryl Pientka of Grinberg Literary (NA).

October 5, 2010

Children's: Picture book

Candace Ryan's MOO HOO, a companion to RIBBIT RABBIT, about a cow named Moo and owl named Hoo, who are the best of friends...until they meet a Roo the kangaroo, to Stacy Cantor at Walker, in a nice deal, by Kelly Sonnack at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (World).

Yup, six deals. And those are just the ones posted; there's a bit of a delay, since many agents don't post them until they finalize the contract, and many agents/editors just don't get around to posting all of their sales. So it's sort of like looking at stars and seeing light from a few weeks ago.

But. To give you an idea, YA is generally acknowledged to be selling well--and there was just one more YA deal, since October 5--seven total.

Take that, NYTimes.

Last week, approximately 100 agents and editors gathered in Cafe 50 West, "New York's Ultra-Cool Neighborhood Bistro & Watering Hole!" (according to its website) and "Super small really loud true publishing party" (according to GK, who is not enjoying Super Sad True Love Story nearly as much as I thought I would).

Now, agents and editors are lovely people. However, we are words people, introverts who, when with other smart introverts, like to talk--a lot. On the whole, I imagine most of us would opt for a quiet dinner over, say, a dance club. We wear glasses and cardigans, not heels and microminis. (Glasses count: about 1/3 to 1/2 of attendees.)

And what do you have when you put 100 awesome people, brought together by some of my favorite agent friends, in a dark bar (with good, cheap drinks served in mason jars) that's about ten feet wide?

Conversations like this:

"Hi! I'm _________! I think I met you at _________!"
"Nice to meet you! What'd you say your name is?"
"Cool!" (Handshake) "I'm __________!"
[Someone crashes into one or both, drinks spill.]
"Great! Where do you work?"
"What? I couldn't hear you!"

About the time the management asked us to scoot--thus forcing us to stand right up against an unsuspecting elderly couple (there, presumably, for a quiet dinner) in order to make room for live music, I spotted (I believe) one of those now-famous (because of blogging) agent faces.

You must understand, I am hardly a fan of celebrities. But the shock of seeing someone I've not met (and yet felt like I knew) had me flummoxed. Should I ask after her imprint? Her blog's mascot? Or is that creepy? Should I get a mascot, so strangers can ask after it at parties? It couldn't be a plant, because I kill plants, but maybe a cat? A plush, washable, portable, stain-proof cat? With a little plush book...? Perhaps a copy of Three Little Kittens! And then I could crochet some paw mittens...

By the time I'd had this worked out, she had, of course, left.

Incidentally, after this party I went to catch the end of an Alton Brown book signing. The relative quiet was refreshing. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Brown!" I said with glee, shaking the famous cook's hand. What was he going to do, quiz me on soufflé technique? Ask me which books of his I knew?

It's difficult, sometimes, to bring up all information at hand--one wishes, at these parties, for a smart device pointed always toward Publishers Marketplace and the email one uses for sending out manuscripts--it's so difficult to remember every name attached to every project he (or, more likely) she has worked on/received/rejected nicely/not rejected nicely--and know, therefore, what to bring up, what not to bring up, how to respond.

Sometimes I think I should make myself flash cards based on each party's RSVP list. Name on one side, projects/things to bring up on the other. I'd be real popular on the subway.

How, though, to slip this into a dark room and conversation? "Hi, nice to meet you--excuse me a moment?" (Both parties would then type in names/scan cards.) "Oh, yes! Now I remember..."

So, yes. Meeting a famous cook who seems to catalog every bit of information ever? Far easier.And more delicious: this was followed by an excursion out for pumpkin beer (not served in mason jars, but specialized, swelling, short-stemmed glasses). Yum.

Construction, cocktails, small planes and building with your agent blog updates for days...either the thriller writer got ya or you've overdosed on schnitzel...

Happily, none of the above! I've been traveling--on small planes, too. I got onto the latest one, quickly realized I was in row 8 of 9 (nine rows! That's it!), and promptly panicked. Behind me, a teen girl kept saying, "It's soooooo scary! Omigosh, I'm so scared! I feel NAUSEOUS!" This, of course, made me feel tons better. One of you had mentioned that you put on a brave face for your kids--it's always easier to be brave for others--and I thought of this as I looked out the window and reminded myself that the plane wasn't, in fact, anywhere near anything it could crash into--that is, the plane could seemingly drop ten feet any time it felt like it, because the ground was thousands of feet away.

I've brought along three paperbacks + the Kindle--I'm always amazed that it doesn't, like an overstuffed carry-on, bulge incredibly no matter how much I put on it. So, while the plane bumped and jerked and freaked out me, the teen behind me, and a probably even the stoic-looking Kindle reader beside me, I found this work very amusing:

Sleeping Naked is Green: How an eco-cynic unplugged her fridge, sold her car, and found love in 366 days, by Vanessa Farquharson

Now, granted, I was on a plane, drinking non-organic apple juice out of a plastic cup, and had zero plans involving carbon-offsets or hybrid rentals while reading this. The voice is fun and upbeat; she's so earnest in her efforts--and she certainly isn't of the "We all must do this or the world will end tomorrow" variety. Very good.

But my favorite passage has to do with inviting her literary agent over to help her build a compost bin. And not from a kit, either--from her local Home Depot, which means many small pieces of wood and wire, hinges, handles and staple guns.
My instincts told me to search for the IKEA guide and Allen key but neither was to be found. I was just me, and these tools, and this mess. I poured myself a warm gin martini and called my agent. everything an agent should be--an ego-booster, social networker, shameless promoter, and a handyman. He likes to keep this aspect of his personality on the down-low, preferring that the only tool people see in his hands is a corkscrew, but when I explained my situation, he took pity.

"I'm staring at a pile of wood in my living room," I said. "It needs to become a compost bin by midnight. Will you come over?"

After a pause, I threw in some high-meets-low rhetoric: "It'll be fun--construction and cocktails!"

As a man with a busy social life, Sam probably wasn't thrilled about committing to this; however, as a hipster literary agent, he just couldn't resist the irony.

"I'll be there as soon as I get off work," he said.   
Now, in general, I would say that it's not a good idea to ask your agent to help you with your building projects.

That said, I certainly understand the temptatin. Bringing lumber on the subway simply isn't a one-person job. I did this once, years ago, when my roommate and I thought building a table from scratch was a good idea.

We were young, foolish, and IKEA-less (this was before one moved to Brooklyn), ran across the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (yes, that's a six-lane highway) to the local Home Depot, and dragged the wood home--over the freeway, up the twenty someodd (I exaggerate: it's more like eight or ten) flights of stairs at the 4th Ave/9th St stop, onto two subways, through our neighborhood, up our stairs--annoying many New Yorkers in the process.

But we got a custom table out of all of it, and I still think that anything you make yourself will be far more enjoyable, in the long run, than something you have delivered (as is possible in NYC: one can order everything from tables to fully-lit Christmas trees, ready to be plugged in) fully assembled.

Now, does this mean that, the longer you spend on finding an agent and editor, the more you'll appreciate it when it happens? I'm not sure.

But it sure beats vermiculture. Green or no, I'm sure even the most frustrating agent-finding process smells better than a group of mail-order worms feasting on your compost within your apartment (even if within a compost bin built with your agent's help). If I had a backyard...maybe. If I knew it'd turn into a book deal, as Vanessa Farquharson did...possibly. For now--no. Just no. I'd go through gallons of apple-cinnamon Febreeze a day. Though it smells delicious, it isn't cheap--or green, either.
Hint of the day: if you're going to write a thriller with a protagonist that goes around killing anyone who upsets him--well, you're going to also have to do a good job, in your last paragraph, of convincing us that you do not do the same. I almost did not request a query today because--well, because I wasn't sure. Either the writer is very convincing (he also happened to mention that he's moving to New York! Yipes!) or...well.

Just sayin'.
A correction, as there was some confusion: I like conferences. A lot! Hanging out with writers is fun.

I just don't like small planes in storms.
Snarky just invited me to a "We're not going to Frankfurt" [Book Fair 2010] "but we can still eat schnitzel!" party, thrown by a number of editors in Soho.

Who needs a 9 hour flight on Lufthansa when you can get the whole German experience right here in New York City, city of the publishing gods?
the e-invite says.

Who, indeed? I, for one, hate flying. Conferences always seem to book me on the tiniest planes possible, and during storms that have everyone praying. Schnitzel in the city? Much preferred.

I think this is the coolest "I got it, thanks!" note I've ever received from an editor.

Happily, I sent him some dystopian YA, so this is perfectly fitting.

Dear GK,
Thank you for thinking of me with this. It has made it onto the conveyor belt of my e-reader, and I will begin processing it in my giant robo-editorial maw, which consumes literatures dispassionately, grinding their creative parts into selling points and marketability quotients....

Just kidding. Can’t wait for story time!
I’ll let you know how it goes.

See? Editors are people too.


GK, your ducks are kind of...slow.

Dear GK,
You checked in (thank you!) to say you liked my work, and now I have another offer. Just one question--why does it take a week for you to know whether you want my work? I understand that you have many other projects, but don't you just have to read it before you know whether you want to take it on or not? I don't mean to be a pest. Really, I don't. But I'd really like to get my work out there as soon as possible. 

Why does it take an agent a week (or, sometimes, more) to get her ducks in a row to make an offer? Well. 

It's much more than reading a work, calling up the author, and saying, "Yup. This is good. I'll take it." 

It's more like reading the work, getting second reads in the office, reading the work again to take notes, putting together a mini-proposal, presenting the book to the owner of the company, discussing what works and doesn't work with second-readers, setting up a phone meeting with you, telling you my vision for the work, telling you my notes, and generally making a case for why you should go with me. 

I'll also be doing last-minute checks: does this writer seems sane? Pleasant? Responsible? Could I trust them on the phone with editors? On book tour? Would they pull a Megan McCain*--drink a lot, get up on stage, and tell everyone who they are? 

It's hard to know these things before speaking with them on the phone, but you'd be surprised how obvious it is (most of the time) when hearing their voice. 

And yes, that can take a week. Or more. It's rare to have a day where I can pick up everything on my desk and shove it to the floor, like they do in the movies--and not just because those stacks of paper are organized just the way I like them, even if it occasionally looks a mess. (One writer told me last week that she pictures me surrounded by stacks of paper, with just the top of my head visible. It's not quite like that--almost all of the documents in the office are digital--but if they were printed out, yes, I could make a nice paper igloo/avalanche.) 

So. Yes. There have been times when I have a day or so left in my week deadline and I'm still waiting to hear back from second-readers. I'm blessed in that I can, if I want a work badly enough, take it on--I don't officially have to get approval--but it's very nice to know, when taking these leaps, that others think you're leaping into a well-drawn, worth-investing-in world (for fiction) or an organized, well-supported one (for non-).

It's a lot of work to send out projects--much more than just hitting "forward" and, I don't know, having Gmail insert your "YA fiction" list into the To field. Goodness gracious. No no no.

These things, if they're to be done right, have to be done with care. It can take a long time to get a manuscript ready, find the perfect editors for it, and find the perfect way to present the work to them.

So, yes. My ducks can be slow. But they're steady. And may just win those "dump a box of numbered ducks in a pond and whichever one floats across the finish line first wins a prize" races. We used to do that a lot in my hometown. They were cute. Highly recommended.

* She was hilarious on this episode of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! Click the link to listen. "For the record," one of her press people told her afterward (this is from memory, so probably not perfect), "Do not go to a bar and get on stage, and if you do, don't tell everyone who you are."
The (anonymous) author of the last (guest) post has generously offered to answer any questions you may have.

If you'd like to ask her a question, please ask it in the comments of the last post, and she will respond in kind.