Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Q&A with the Internet Writing Workshop's Writing list

I've been asked to take some time and answer some questions from the Internet Writing Workshop's Writing list. So here we go:
If an author self-publishes a book which attracts good reviews, is it worth
submitting the book to agents to see if it would interest a major publisher? How would such an approach compare with the traditional one of query -> sample if requested?—Clive Warner, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

Many a book that was first self-published went on to be published by a major publisher. THE CHRISTMAS BOX is one great example. So, sure, query agents. But recognize that you will probably have to then mail them the book itself. Alternatively, since you self-published, you should have a file of the published book. Why not just print out a chapter if they ask for a sample chapter?
If your agent doesn't seem to have the connections they presented to you when the relationship began, how do you leave, and what do you say when searching out a new agent?—Ann Hite, Atlanta, Georgia

What you describe may be a simple miscommunication or it may legally be fraud. In either event, you leave by reviewing your agency agreement's termination clause. If you don't have a written agreement, just send a Certified Letter, Return Receipt Requested, informing the agent that you are terminating your relationship effective immediately and to kindly return to you any and all materials on-hand, as well as a written report within 10 business days of each and every editor/house to which your work as submitted, as well as the date such submission was made, copies of any rejection letters or emails received, and a list of any outstanding submissions.

You may own the agent a commission if an outstanding submission results in an offer.

When you go searching for a new agent, you simply query them. You may wish to wait until you have something new to show. Frankly, if your old agent muddied the waters at several houses, I'm not sure another agent will be that interested. Still, if the book is great, your new agent may have some other ideas. You won't know until you try querying a few.
Is there a rule of thumb about writing in more than one genre? Maybe an author writes mysteries or romances as well as memoir or nonfiction -- is that a problem for marketing the author, undermine credibility or cause difficulties when selling books?—Dawn Goldsmith, Oviedo, FL

It's generally only a problem if an author expects his or her agent to be shopping multiple books in multiple genres at the same time. If you are Stephen King or John Grisham, this is likely not a problem, but for other authors it may be. For example, if you sell one book and the option clause gives the publisher the rights to your "next work," then you can't go sell anything new elsewhere, no matter what the genre. Your current publisher gets first dibs. Thus, an option clause should always be as narrow as possible, e.g., "next mystery in the series," "next fantasy featuring the Dwizzleworm character," etc.

Also keep in mind that an agent may love a new client, but dedicating hours and hours to one new client to submit three or four different projects to sixty or eighty editors might test the limits of that love. I like to start new clients out with their best book and try to get the career rolling. After that, I play it by ear.
What should a first noval writer do to get the attention of an agent?—Fern Phillips, Creston, British Columbia, Canada

Spell "novel" correctly? Okay, maybe that typo is not yours but Greg's, since Greg forwarded these questions. Just write a great query letter. There are tips on my website at and other places.

Some years ago I wrote a mainstream novel. It found an agent, who sent it around to a number of publishers. For reasons, not relevant here, the book never found a home. In late 2004, the agent stopped sending the book around, and we agreed to part company.

Now I'm revamping the book and think it is much improved. When I send it out to agents again, should I mention it went around the block once before? If I do so, won't it ruin my chances to find an agent? Why would anyone want to take a chance on a book others have already rejected?—Kate Reynolds, Tucson, Arizona

If the book is truly revised, my advice would be to change the title and simply query agents as though the book is new. Once you find an agent who is interested, bring him or her up to speed, but emphasize that the book is completely revised and I think you will be fine.

Got a question of your own? Send it to us at our blogquestions email address.



Ann Hite said...

Thanks, Zack, for the good advice. My first book is wonderful but was presented to publishing houses (3), where it was rejected because they didn't publish literary fiction. The editors took the time to praise both the writing and story. I'm trying to handle my separation in a professional way. I'm polishing my second novel now. I happened to believe it's an even better book because I learned so much from writing the first one. I will start fresh. We live and learn.


Andrew Zack said...

The agent only made three submissions? I wouldn't worry about. Start from scratch, find a new agent, and once you are on-board, let them know the editors who saw it. They were likely the wrong editors, based on your comments. Your agent can try someone else at the house...especially if you give the work a new title!

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