In the past twenty-four hours people have seperately accused me of being both “brave” and “lonely” for admitting in public that I am a literary agent, but like a crusty old cur ignoring the doctor’s orders with a big ole bottle of whisky, I’m back today with a Q&A post that answers a few of the many good questions I’ve received in the past few days. Thanks so much to everyone who sent questions, and a very special thanks to everyone who sent queries in the past few days. I’m always amazed at how many talented writers there are out there and depressed at how few I can take on as clients.
On to the questions!
Q: Do you personally prefer an E-mailed query or a snail mailed query? Second, what do you think the industry feeling in general is toward E-mail vs. Snail mail? In the age of technology, is there a growing trend/feeling one way or the other?
A: Like any self-respecting former English majors, most literary agents are wary of newfangled technology like e-mail (I’m kidding… sort of), and prefer receiving their queries through the snail mail. This is mostly because when you ask to receive submissions via e-mail your inbox fills up faster than…. um.. uh… something that fills up fast (I am metaphorically challenged today).
I absolutely prefer e-mail because I like to respond to people as quickly as possible, so please continue to query me via the internets. However, for other agents, the best way to know for sure is to check out agentquery.com or aar-online.org to see if the agent specifically says they accept electronic submissions. Unless you see that they definitely do, always always take the safe bet and send it through the mail, and be sure also and include a self-addressed stamped envelope. The agents (and the postal service) will appreciate it.
Q: Some people say yes, some people say no, but do you think writers should mention similar author/books to theirs in query letters?
A: I understand that there are differences of opinion on this one, however, as I mentioned in the comment section of my Shadow Blog post on Blogger, I definitely think that a reference to comparison titles can be done well, as long as you aren’t saying your book is like The Da Vinci Code or any other mega bestseller. In my opinion, a good comparison to another book shows that you know what’s out there, it shows you’re well-read, and it shows that you’re aware of where your book fits into the marketplace.
Also, another way of slyly doing this is by researching an agent individually and doing the “Since you represent X I thought you might be interested in my work” trick, which both shows that you’ve researched the agent (flattery gets you, well, everywhere) and that you are aware that your book will hopefully match their interests.
Q: I, too, have a blog and I was wondering if you had any advice about getting a blog published. I am a 31 year old 2-time breast cancer survivor and I kept a diary while I was going through treatment. I’m now posting my story on the web and I get a lot of traffic to my site. I’d like to publish my story when I’ve finished the blog, but I don’t know how I would go about contacting an agent. Any suggestions? (BTW: my website is www.fighting-breast-cancer.com)
A: I’ve received several questions about electronic publishing lately, and whether it compromises a potential book sale, especially since authors like Cory Doctorow have plunged both feet into the brave new world of online publishing, while still hoping to sell hard copies as well. (Cory’s book DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM is awesome, by the way)
If you are hoping to get a compilation of your blogs published, I think you’re going to have a very hard time attracting an agent or a publisher, no matter the merit of your project. A publisher has very small margins as it is, and you’re basically asking them to invest in trying to sell something that is/was already available for free. With things in publishing so tight as it is, they’d be very reluctant to compete against themselves for sales.
This sounds like the perfect venue for self-publishing — if you want your friends and readers to be able to purchase a compilations of your writing in book form (which I’m sure they’d love) then they can purchase them online, and you can market your work through your site. Be sure to do your homework on self-publishing though, because there are some serious scam artists out there.
And seriously, congratulations on beating cancer…. twice. That’s incredible.
Q: An agent asked to see my complete manuscript for a historical novel. I sent it to her in late October, but haven’t heard anything back. Have I given her enough time that an e-mail asking about the status would be kosher?
A: YES. You poor thing, you have the patience of a saint. I’m sure there are many opinions out there, but an exceedingly polite follow up after a month via e-mail is totally fine by my book. The most important thing with these follow ups is to conceal your incredible, undying rage that the ***** agent can’t even write you back a ***** follow up letter and it’s been three ****** months. Don’t forget one of the cardinal rules of dealing with agents, which is that you have one project to worry over, agents are juggling dozens at once. Things take time in publishing, and it doesn’t mean they hate you. So try to act polite even if you want to stab them with their own letter opener.
And on that note, this concludes the Q&A! Your brave and no-honestly-I’m-not-lonely-I-have-a-girlfriend-and-a-dog agent signing off.