I’ve grown quite used to pontificating on this semi-frequented blog, but now it’s your turn to get all Dear Abby on me.
What advice would you offer me?
This can touch on anything from how to find clients to how to deal with queries to how to maintain a social life (ha!) while working full time and reading hundreds of pages a week.
Really, you tell me this time.
Allow do-overs for really crappy initial queries that you’ve rejected.
Alternately, develop your telepathic powers to allow my book’s content to seep into your mind and decide I’d be a perfect fit for your stable of authors, regardless of my seeming inability to query effectively.
Indu Nair says
Like many other writers, I really appreciate the advice you offer us on your blog, and the time you spend clarifying so many doubts on the publishing process.
What else can one advise you except ‘Keep Blogging’?
Do you have plans to write a book someday? May I suggest that you compile select postings from this blog into a book? I am sure many of us would like to read it!
My agent has a reading week once per month, where she she shuns the internet (except for answering emails from editors or clients in the middle of a sale). She dedicates the whole work week to reading clients’ MSS and requested partials and fulls. She lets her clients know in advance when her reading weeks fall each month, so we know not to email her (or expect a quick answer) unless it’s an emergency…like if Oprah’s invited one of us to promote a book on her show, and we’re not sure which pair of shoes to wear. That kind of thing. 🙂 (Don’t I wish…)
Not for Nathan specifically, but…
Agents should try to be as clear as possible about what authors can expect. I love when agents have clear websites that say things like “We take 4-6 weeks to respond to queries. If you haven’t heard from us by then, we’re not interested.”
Sure, it would be great to have a personalized response from everyone, but since that’s not going to happen, let me know what to expect.
What not to do: send an email on a requested full saying “I’ll read this over the weekend and have an answer for you Monday” and then not get in touch with the author again for weeks. This is just torture…if you’re not going to be able to follow-through with it (or at least drop an email letting the author know things got busier than you expected), then don’t give the author any kind of status check. Otherwise we’re just waiting by the phone/computer for the answer that’s supposed come any minute.
When you’ve taken on a client, it’s only fair to continue to be clear and honest about how long it takes you to turn around a manuscript or revisions, etc. so that when it’s submitted, the author knows if you’re planning to read it within the week or if she should just sit back and wait.
This is a business, but authors have a lot on the line (years of work, bills, dreams, sanity, etc.), so try to be aware of that. Most of us are neurotic enough to start with. We don’t need coddling, just honesty.
S Palma says
Stress is something I know much more about than agenting, so here goes:
1. Make chores you would have to do anyway into social opportunities. Make dates with friends to go to the farmer’s market or run errands. Grab a bite together while you’re there if they have a decent deli or restaurant. If you plan a little in advance, you can usually overlap a lot of your other errands with errands your friends have as well, and if you go with some who shares your sense of humor, boring everyday tasks become a lot more fun.
2. Spend 10 to 20 minutes every day with no mss or other work-related things, and turn the phone, internet, and tv off. Watch the sun rise or set. Peel vegetables for dinner. Sip a cup of tea or coffee in silence. I was amazed at the difference this made for me.
3. Take up a hobby where you can see results. If you’re mostly your own boss, the work never actually ends. Take up something that you can do where you can see tangible results. For example, when I get too stressed out to concentrate and do good work, I build furniture. It was originally motivated by not being able to afford new bookshelves, but now I’m addicted. The point is, having a project that you can start and finish in a set amount of time, one that will END and not simply be replaced with the next Thing You Must Do — it’s incredibly satisfying.
Best of luck to you!
Wilfred the Author says
I’m still puzzled why an agent can’t have, say, 6 or so versions of a form rejection. I’m sure you can group reasons why you are rejecting someone in a number of catagories.
I understand the agent is busy, but if each gave a tiny bit of feedback with each rejection, the level of quality is likely to rise.
And with e-rejections, cut and paste are easy to use.
Tom Burchfield says
Sophia said take care of your eyes. Take care of the body and mind, too. I go hiking at least once a week and if you live in SF, as I think you do ’cause you work there, there’s plenty of walking to do as I did, a mile most everyday in the twenty years I lived there, but I live in Emeryville now, so I’m not in shape like I sued to be . . . so whatever you do, DON’T move to Emeryville.
Mechelle Avey says
Advice to a Young Literary Agent
Rather than watch America’s Next Top Model, contact Tyra at Bankable Productions and tell her you want to sell a series of books on breaking into the modeling industry, improving your appearance, and young adult female empowerment. Then, tell her you’re available for more than just a little light reading. Okay, just kidding, but that branded series thing…it could work. Don’t know why she doesn’t have a branded book series to go with the television series.
Adaora A. says
Why don’t you make an appearance on THE HILLS?
I’m sure Heidi and Spencer are probably looking for an agent!
Let your clients know when you’ve received rejection letters, when you’re sending the manuscript around again, where it’s going, etc.
Don’t tell the client you’re doing something you’re not going to do. Don’t say you’re going to send the book around again and then not do it. Sure, you have other clients to earn you money. I only have you.
This business is slow; I get that. But it’s far, far slower on this end when you keep your clients in the dark.
(This isn’t directed at Nathan, by the way. I meant “you” in the generic agent sense.)
(ggrrr… stupid typing fingers…)
I think the most important thing is this: Don’t let your work become your life. Remember that Work is what you do to *enable* your life, and that life is the rest of the stuff that happens outside of work, too.
I’m not saying work isn’t a *part* of life, but it shouldn’t dominate it the way so many of us allow it to.
Also: Stop eating when you’re full. Never buy the combo meal if you don’t really want the fries.
Hhhhmmm…. Also: Tell all your Agent Friends who do not to have one to start and maintain a web page. Preferrably, one that showcases their clients, and lists what they represent. If they also put up specific submission guidelines, it’ll be ten kinds of awesome. I think a LOT of people have stopped buying guides in the bookstore, and now use electronic resources to find their agents. In current times, the ‘Net just seems more updated, more up-to-the-minute. Having a presence on the net, either through a web page or (even better!) a blog like yours is going to be the key to future clients in this industry.
Gord Wallace says
Here’s something a little different. If you have a local independent bookseller in your area who stages frequent reading events, then it could very well pay to get to know the owner of that bookstore. From my personal experience at McNally Robinson Booksellers up here in Canada, I can name two high profile literary authors who were nurtured and ‘fed’ up through the system by the McNallys themselves (Miriam Toews, author of “A Complicated Kindness”, and Alissa York, author of “Effigy”). Often, better booksellers have their ears to the ground in a way that agents and publishers cannot.
By the way, love the blog, and thanks for all of the great information.
Kimber An says
Please continue to remember most aspiring authors are hardworking, polite, and sane people who deserve consideration as individuals rather than punishment as members of a group which happens to include a handful of impolite nutzos.
Okay, one piece of advice– go answer the questions waiting for you on Absolute Write. I don’t have on there, but there are a few.
I don’t feel qualified to give advice on life, since I haven’t finished mine yet and don’t know how it’s all going to turn out.
However, these are a few things I’m pretty sure about:
1) If you don’t see something beautiful every day, you’re not looking the right direction.
2) Work doesn’t end, but life does.
3) Chocolate is not a substitute for sex, but it is cheaper and legally available.
4) There is no shortage of words.
5) Stupidity is more common than malice.
I hate to be so basic, but keep it simple.
Those are pretty good words to live by.
– Kiley 🙂
A man without passion for his work should not be doing the work.
There will always be times when the work is frustrating and and unsatisfying.
There will also be times when your personal life impacts on your professional life.
Rather than dwell on the negatives, concentrate on the lives you influence with your blog (there are far more than you know) and the careers you launch as an agent.
To Agents Who are Not Nathan Bransford:
1. Understand that writing is a BUSINESS, and when you ask me to email or snail mail my manuscript to you, I expect to hear back from you before the next solar eclipse. Busy, busy, busy is not an excuse.
2. Become a BREAKOUT agent. We really want you to succeed, so get out there and pitch our work like you mean it. Try to do this in a fresh way (upmarket, but with humanity). Note: no chotchkees please.
3. Please–No more whining** about bad queries. (Have you ever had to write and send queries to people you do not know?) Whining about silly queries is sadder than writers whining about rejections. You are in business. You will get duds. Writers get more duds than you, and their duds are a lot more painful. **Get a thick skin.
4. Stop trying to be the next Harry Potter agent. There is only one HP agent and he is not you. Stop comparing your projects to H.P. and don’t try to sneak around this by secretly searching for novels about wizards while you bitch on your blog about how writers should not compare their fantasy novels to you know who.
5. Don’t presume that every reader is interested in New York magazines or the interior lives of outsider artists. Then again, don’t presume every reader of women’s fiction wants to read about a woman who leaves the big city to open a bed and breakfast in her quaint old home town only to find love with the local developer, but then the developer dies and she must care for his ill/dying/dyslexic child. Novels should not be evaluated by Lifetime channel-potential.
6. Become familiar with cliched characters and settings. Do not pitch these to editors. Big No, No.
7. Do your part. Your author wrote the novel. Do not act put out if they expect you to read it before the next Turn-of-The-Century.
8. Remember: Without writers you would be out of business. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.
9. Do not put writers on scary-sounding black lists (or Gawker) because your ego can’t take the heat. Writers are blunt. You want us to be blunt, no? Or do you want cliched, stale voices? See the dif?
10. Refrain from telling us how to write, or how to structure our novels. Sure we want your input, but please do not take over the novel and try to live vicariously through our creativity. Simultaneously, please do not be an agent AND an author, especially a novelist. It’s weird, not to mention a conflict of interest.
11. Stop saying: “From X to X, we will be closed to submissions.” WTF??? Who runs a business this way? Are you a surf shop in Jersey? Is your business seaonal? And, if you’re really closed to submissions, why are you open to those “by referral only”? Does a referral make a manuscript better, or are you just kissing arse?
12. Please don’t have a sub form in place of queries. Writers are not resume-fil-er-outers. To that note: Taking equeries is a huge plus. Snail Queries Only makes you sound mean and crotchity. Just sayin’.
13. Keep up the communication and great advice. Tell us what you love and/or hate. Strong feelings are great. Don’t be wimpy. Always love what you do and know that it will get better tomorrow.
But please don’t slobber all over your authors in your blog. We don’t care.
Sure, we want you to love your authors; and we want to know about what your authors are doing or did in their queries, but reading about how great they are while you’re telling us how the gazillions of queries that flooded your poor inbox this week really, really sucked is class-less.
See? Easy peasy.
how to maintain a social life (ha!) while working full time and reading hundreds of pages a week.
Several times a year you should throw a party. Not just any old party — a real blowout. Invite everyone you know, including some people whom you do not know but would like to know better. Not everyone will show up, but you’ll get a different cross-section every time. Some of the people you expect to show up won’t, but some of the people you never thought you’d see will come with bells on. The possibilities are endless. Expect the unexpected. Connections will be made, sparks will fly, there will be times when you’ll have a regular social conflagration on your hands. This is good.
Your friends who are musically inclined will bring their guitars and serenade the crowd. If the cops show up they will be so mesmerized by the scene that they will patiently wait for the end of the solo before politely asking you to “keep it down.”
Expect the festivities to last long into the night. Because of the fatigue, you may have to go to bed before the last of your guests has left. This is normal. So is having people show up on occasion that you may or may not know, although this usually doesn’t happen until your reputation has spread. Not enough money? Say it’s a potluck and ask people to bring stuff. Most people love to party (at least once in awhile — even the geeks, well, maybe especially the geeks — they don’t get out much).
Word will travel about your fantastically successful bashes and you will become a magnet for gossip and envy — even if you’d rather not be. Your place in the social hierarchy will shift. Your influence will grow and grow — to the point where you wish it would actually shrink. This is a true story.
Adaora A. says
@Anonymous – For your information
(if you’re interested), JK Rowling’s agent is Christopher Little in London, England. Detailed list buddy. I reckon asking you if you’ve been burned is a bit needless eh?
I know who Rowling’s agent is, that’s why I said “him.” It’s, um, humour, the dark kind. Think satire. Think Snark.
Of course I’ve been burned. I write. Duh.
Nathan, you are great at giving advice and I think you have a natural talent for explaining things to others.
I think you could run some courses for people who have written their stories but need to find an agent.
Looking at your blog you already know what people want to know about and what are the tricky areas that people always get wrong. This gives you the outline of a very useful short course that you could run. By running the courses you can make some additional money and get to check out potential clients who do the courses.
There are plenty of writing courses but I have just done a quick search for courses on finding an agent and nothing came up. I work in adult education designing and evaluating courses and I believe you could pull together a worthwhile course relatively quickly. It could be done face to face or online.
Your blog gives people a feel for how knowledgeable you are and it would act as marketing tool as well.
I have done a number of writing courses (expensive) and they are usually full of stockbrokers and other successful people looking for outlets or new lifestyles who can afford to pay for quality courses.
That’s my suggestion. Thanks once again for your wonderful information it is highly useful and I know it is time consuming. I hope you don’t become overwhelmed and stop enjoying it.