In lieu of thinking up my own topic—that audible sigh of relief you’re hearing is coming from my desk—I thought I’d take a crack at some of your questions this week. Thanks for so many interesting and thoughtful ones! If we haven’t gotten to yours yet, check back because we’ll continue to cover as many as possible.
What is the difference between chick lit, women’s fiction and literary fiction that is from a woman’s perspective? For example, would Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible be considered woman’s fiction? And what about Susan Minot’s Evening?
–To be honest, there isn’t a ton of difference. And it comes down not so much to what is written as to how it is written. Let’s say this: if you have doubts about where something falls in these categories, just call it women’s fiction. It’s such an insanely broad category that just about anything written from a female perspective or about female characters will fall in. Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Minot are generally considered to be more “literary” than commercial, although their books sell well enough to be both.
What would you do if you got a query letter that asks you to email the writer if it’s a request? Or should I be focusing only on agents who accept e-queries?
–If we want the material, we’ll request it. Just make a note at the end of your letter that because you’re writing from overseas, SASE’s are cost-prohibitive. And, of course, e-query when it’s an option.
How does an emerging fiction writer create a market for her work? What should we do to create a sales base even before we’ve been picked up?
–We talk a lot about market and platform, but that’s quite a bit more important with nonfiction than it is with fiction. If you happen to have access to a mailing list of thousands, or if you have a dedicated readership somewhere, by all means let us know. But it really will come down to how we (and ultimately book buyers) feel about the work. Honest.
What are questions for your agent, and what are questions for your editor? I don’t want to step on my agent’s toes by circumventing her, but at the same time, I don’t want to make her work harder for her 15% than I have to. If, for example, I want to know whether a book will be released as a hardback or a trade paperback, to whom do I direct that question?
–Knowing what to ask, when, and to whom can be tough—especially for a first time author. As a general rule, if it’s a business question, it should go through your agent, and if it’s an editorial one, your editor is probably your best bet. When in doubt, especially if it relates in some way to the publisher’s contractual obligations to you, you can ask your agent. And if someone needs to be the bad guy, you should definitely let your agent take care of that. Don’t be afraid to get in touch when you have questions—that’s why you got an agent in the first place!
In response to
–Here’s some clarification on that point from our response in the comments to that post: It isn’t that we turn things down just because a few other agents have seen it. But if names are switched, other agents are listed on the same e-mail, or you make mention of how many people have turned you down (why do people do that??), then it becomes apparent that you’re applying to any and every agent just because they’re agents. We’ll take more time with someone who has chosen us because we might actually be the right fit.
Why is this latest post displayed in Times while the preceding ones are displayed in Arial?
(It’s a question!)
And Anonymous said…
Not a question but a request: do you mind having all the fonts in your posts the same size? That will make the articles easier to read. Thanks.
–Sadly, Blogger hates us. We’ll keep trying to make posts show up in the same font and same size, but every once in awhile, things go all wonky.
How long, on average, do you take to read a full? Reading comments about your agency, I have heard that some agents have responded within a week, but what is the longest you have ever taken to read a full?
And Anonymous said…
Let’s say one of your agents is considering a full manuscript. How often do you prefer for the writer to contact the agent to check the status (obviously not after a week, but…)? Does the writer receive any notification if months go by, but the full is still under consideration?
–It can really vary depending on how backed up we are. We say six-to-eight weeks for our response time, but it is often a much shorter wait. If you haven’t heard from us by the end of eight weeks, something has gone wrong, and you should definitely get in touch. If you have offers from other agents or an editor, please do get in touch right away to check in with us and let us know that we don’t have much time. Otherwise, please do wait for two months to go by before you check in—we want to read your work and give it serious consideration and that takes time. Remember that we don’t sit around at our desks reading all day—we’re on the phone and on email with editors and our existing clients, so it’s in the evening and on weekends that we’re reading the material we’ve requested.
What would happen if you had a really catchy title for a non-fiction book (as catchy as “He’s Just Not That Into You”) but found that an obsure blog in another country had the same title? Would you still use it? Could you still use it?
–Titles can’t be copyrighted, so you’re in the clear. You don’t want to go with something too familiar only because of any potential confusion, but that’s the only thing to consider.
Anonymous also said…
Also, have any D&G agents ever had to choose a project between a client and a potential client?
Meaning if the projects are competitive? It depends how close they are and in what category (it matters less if two novels have some common ideas than if two prescriptive nonfiction books do), but if we receive a query we think is promising that sounds too much like something one of our clients is already working on, we’ll usually pass it on to a colleague.
If you’re rejected by an agent at DGLM, can you query another DGLM agent with the same project or is it not allowed?
–You shouldn’t. Most of us have been working together for long enough that we know each other’s taste very well, so we pass material among each other regularly. Ultimately, it doesn’t pay off to submit twice.
And while we’re on that subject—please don’t query each agent at the agency simultaneously either. As it says on the submissions page on our website, if we notice that a query has come to multiple agents here, we’re not going to read it.
1) When dealing with editors for a clients manuscript, is the time it takes them to get back to you any indication to the MS’s quality?
In other words, does a manuscript that they know they wouldn’t want get a quick no, to clear their desk, and one they might want get kept for 3 months (even if they pass)?
2) Does the agent’s personality have more pull than we all realized — I heard at a writer’s conference recently that editor’s pay close attention to what their favorite agents send them and have a tendency to be very critical of an abrasive agents’s submissions.
–A lot of writers do seem to think that response time has a lot to do with manuscript quality or interest, both for agents and editors, but it’s usually not an indicator of much at all. There are too many variables, and there’s no reason to believe that the letter passing on a project is written the same day that decision is made. In fact, though, it’s much easier to pass on something you know you don’t want to handle quickly and move on to the next thing. It’s those in-between projects that require mulling over that tend to sit on our (and editors’) desks for a while.
Re: the agent’s personality—it’s a business, and everyone in it deals with people they don’t necessarily like. But of course, it’s a business full of human beings and some are more sensitive than others. Most editors and agents are professional enough to consider the work and not the person submitting it. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the projects an agent handles that will make editors take notice when they receive a submission, not whether the agent is everyone’s best friend.
Mary Witzl said…
I love memoirs, particularly when they are about ordinary (or rather non-celebrity, for lack of a better term) people who have led extraordinary lives, or when they include interesting travel or cross-cultural experiences. Am I in a minority here? And how extraordinary does a memoir have to be to be marketable, in your opinion?
–Certainly not. Memoirs will always be a popular publishing category and one that has experienced a real explosion in recent years. That said, there’s actually so much out there that it is an extremely crowded category, so new memoirs must, indeed, feature either an extraordinary story or extraordinary writing for it to have a chance in this marketplace.
Ryan Field said…
I’ve been receiving a great deal of hints from editors lately regarding fiction with “crossover potential”. Is this a trend that will last, or is it just another marketing tool that will come and go?
Your guess is as good as ours! It’s really hard to predict future trends much as we try, but for now genre crossing is working really well in certain markets—for example, paranormal stories can easily be shelved in romance, fantasy, or mystery these days. Of course, it’s important to have an idea of where exactly your book would fit in a bookstore and to know that however appropriate something may be for multiple categories, it’s only going to be shelved in one in the majority of stores.
I’m interested in hearing an agent’s take on working with an intentionally non-prolific author. I know for many writers, the hope is to write book after book after book and hopefully publish all of them. I look at Harper Lee and the value and reach of To Kill a Mockingbird and think I might feel finished as a book writer and choose to focus my future creativity towards other art forms. As an agent, when you hear this are you inclined to seek other clients instead, or are you intrigued? Do you find my approach to be unusual or surprisingly common among the “literary” writers you encounter?
Some authors have only one book in them, and I think we’d all agree that writing one fantastic novel is better than writing one fantastic one and then writing terrible failures just to keep going. Of course, the odds are stacked against you, so writing only one novel is putting all your eggs in one basket. The reality is that agents and editors would prefer to work with authors who are going to write multiple phenomenal books, but if a book is amazing we won’t turn it down because the author has no current plans to write another.
Tell us the truth (as you always do) please:
What differences do age and looks make for a novelist?
The work is what matters first and foremost. Are a disproportionate number of big buzz debut novels written by attractive 20-somethings? Sure. But in the end it’s so much more about the work than it is about the author’s promotability where fiction is concerned.
Sometimes I think the
I don’t think it’s quite as dire as that figure would suggest, but since so much of the
I’m one of your authors and would like to know if you think it’s possible to plan a career in publishing (as an author, that is!). I’ve just had my seventh book published and as the years pass, it seems like it’s getting harder to map out any kind of career path. Do you think it’s possible?
Sure. It does depend on the author and the category—and certainly paths aren’t always going to go as planned, since a big success, a book that just doesn’t perform, or significant life change can alter that path—but part of what we good agents and editors do is to help build authors’ careers. It’s important to have goals in mind and to think about the big picture, as well as to be open to changes and opportunities.
I’m curious about how you all are as agents in relation to your clients. Are you all the hands on type of agent that gets into the editing process, helping with book ideas, etc. or are you a more hands off sort that likes to just deal with the business end of things and leave all the writing stuff to the writer? If you have different approaches, does this have any effect on how you interact amongst each other when dealing with client issues?
You can read more about it on the About Us page of our website, but here’s the gist of our philosophy: “Being involved in every stage of putting together a non-fiction book proposal, offering substantial editing on fiction manuscripts, and coming up with book ideas for authors looking for their next project is as much a part of our work as selling, negotiating contracts, and collecting monies for our clients. We follow a book from its inception through its sale to a publisher, its publication, and beyond. Our commitment to our writers does not, by any means, end when we have collected our commission. This is one of the many things that makes us unique in a very competitive business.”
Rose Green said…
I see a lot of internet commentary on what a writer should NEVER do (usually along the lines of bad formatting, sending bribes and/or threats along with the query, not knowing how to use the English language–or possibly any written language–etc). I’m more interested in that top 5 percent who all get full requests. Some make it and some don’t. Are there any systematic characteristics you see that clearly cut off a ms from the running, once you’ve read the whole thing?
Ah, see, that’s because it’s easier to tell people what not to do then to tell them what they should actually do. But if we actually read an entire manuscript and turn it down, chances are that we either really liked it but don’t believe we can sell it (because the market is especially crowded, or it has some fatal flaw that can’t be fixed with some editing) or because that elusive spark just isn’t there.
Actually, I much prefer to hear all of you spout out. You’re funny, you can be wise, you can be direct, and you do it all very nicely. So this? We have to ask you? As in what Miss Snark did so well?
So you’ve driven me to ask the basics.
Boxers or briefs?
Hipsters, bikinis or thongs?
Clooney or Jolie?
Thank you—finally someone’s asking the critical stuff! Boxer-briefs. Anything but thongs. And we’re a bit divided on the Clooney/Jolie issue (quick insight into the dynamics of the DGLM workplace: we fight about nothing more than trivial things related to celebrities—the Jake Gyllenhaal: Hot or Ugly debate rears its head far more often than we should probably admit) but if