Monday, January 19, 2009

Agents? Publishers? Which road to take...

Many agents want previously published authors. Publishers want agented authors. How's a guy supposed to break into the industry?

I have a thick 1200 page book in front of me called Writer's Market. It lists agents, publishers, magazines, and everything you need to know about where and how to sell what you write. I borrowed it from the library because I'm too poor to buy my own.

The above isn't entirely true. Some publishers accept unagented material. Here's an example of one:

Boyes Mills Press. Receives 10,000 queries and 7,500 manuscripts per year. Publishes 50 titles per year.

They publish one in every 150 submissions they receive. I'm wondering, should I even waste the twenty dollar postage and twenty dollar printing fee to sent them my manuscript?

Assuming some agents do approach them, while other writers are recommended through colleagues, the chances grow even bleaker.

The scenario is equally confusing when going the agent route. Some agents despise multiple submissions. They demand exclusivity. Yet they take up to two months to respond to a three chapter submission and demand that you snail mail them every step of the way.

Come on!

I can understand agents don't want to waste their time reading something that will be sold to someone else. But requesting more than two weeks of exclusivity at the query stage, or more than a month at the first three chapters stage? As a writer, that's a painfully long time, especially if the answer is no.

As a writer subbing queries, long response times scream, STAY AWAY. While exclusivity coupled with long response times is a definite way off my short list. Two months to respond to a query? I don't understand.

Here's one example of an Agency: How to Contact: Query with sample chapter, outline/proposal, SASE. Accepts fax queries. No email queries. Considers simultaneous queries. Responds in two months to queries. Obtains most new clients through recommendations from existing clients and editors.

It takes a minute to read a query letter and five seconds to decide, 1) This is/isn't a type of story I'd represent. 2)The query letter is/isn't written well enough for me to want to see more from this guy.

Same with the first couple pages of a novel. Either they're into it and ploughing forward, or it doesn't appeal to them and the names and titles are put into a rejection template and printed off at the end of the day.

The ideal agent:

They accept email queries and one chapter submissions and respond quickly as to whether they are interested or not. They then either ask to be mailed or emailed partials and whatever else they want; a synopsis, an autobiographical note; a proposal.

I think it's safe to assume agents open to unpublished authors without referrals reject the majority of unsolicited material after the first page. They probably reject the all but about 5% after the first chapter.

How much paper, money, and time could agents would save writers if they accepted the first chapter by email?

I'm going to tweak my synopsis, outline and bio now.

I've made a list of forty agents who might be interested in a travel novel. I've graded them, from A+ to C-, depending on their submission criteria.

To get an A grade, three criteria are necessary.

1) accept email queries
2) seem open to travel memoirs
3) don't sound intimidating, (we prefer referrals, we take two months to respond to queries, etc.)

Eight of the forty on my short list made the A grade.

One last note:

I'm meeting with a new writing group tonight. I've been in online writing groups with for four years now. This will be my first live writing group.
I'm also looking into a professional editor to go over the book with me while I query agents. She has my first chapter. I hope she sees enough promise in it to take me on.

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