Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm sure I've addressed this topic before

I posted this on the blog, but thought I'd email you as well. I sent my query letter to an agent and she was very interested in my novel - she emailed me back immediately and was really responsive. She emailed me several times over the course of a few days about it.

She asked to see my website with chapters of the work. I sent it to her, and now I haven't heard a word back - it's been three weeks and I've sent an email to see if she's read it.

My neurotic little brain is going nuts. 'Why was she so responsive, then, nothing?', 'Did she hate what she read?' or 'Is she just out of town?' God only knows the answer to this. And I'm not God. I am however, clueless as to what this means. Now I'm starting to sound like a pathetic ex, aren't I?

Any advice? Do I assume that she just isn't interested? Would love your advice!

I'm fairly sure I've covered this before - in these posts - but what the heck ... Those manuscripts and contracts and proposals and bazillion emails can wait.

THREE WEEKS? You've only given her THREE WEEKS? And you've already sent an email? If an agent can get back to you in three weeks about a submission then they probably have too much time and not enough clients, and you should worry about that. I'm lucky if I get back to myself in three weeks.

All right, so that was a slightly histrionic paragraph but I'm still surprised by how quickly writers turn into Chicken Little. You'll all spend months - years - writing a novel but then three weeks of silence from an agent and suddenly cluck, cluck, cluck.

Here's what's probably happened: she asked for the extra material and, granted, her initial super-enthusiasm may have given you the impression that you were moving to second base in a hurry, but what probably happened is that she read your email on a day in the office when she just felt like doing a bit of reading and was able to respond quickly. Those days are rare. So she requested your website link with the intention of reading further but then stuff intervened - she had to do some contracts or go to meetings or be interstate or take the dog to the vet. Three weeks is not a long time in publishing.

But you've already emailed her so now she's possibly thinking, 'Uh-oh, one of those', because we're fickle creatures, us agent-y types, and as much as we're keen on someone's writing, if they exhibit overzealous behaviour it's hard for us to envisage ourselves taking them on as a client because, well, that could just be all too much attention. I have a casually dysfunctional relationship with all my authors - I love them, they know it, but I don't want to know if they love me and I certainly don't want them to tell me. They can thank me in their acknowledgements once I've got them published. So if they get - er - clingy then, like someone with boundary *issues* I'm likely to distance myself. Of course, there's a chance I'm making this last part up because it's late in the afternoon and I have a headache.

Anyway, back to you. My advice is to not email her again for quite a while. If she likes your writing, don't worry, you'll hear from her. If she doesn't, you'll also hear from her. But give her a bit more time - say, two months. That's a long time in your world but it's a short time in ours.

An update on parallel importation

I notice the so-called review of parallel importation has been done, and that public submissions will be called. Could you please educate us a little more about this and what the local publishing industry believes would be best? No doubt the ASA will do something calling on its members, however, many readers of your blog might not be members. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/03/20/2521427.htm

Thank you for this question, because I didn't think to blog about the review - and I should have. I'm going to paste in below the press release from the Australian Literary Agents' Association, of which the agency I work for is a member, as it pretty much says everything I could say, but more concisely and clearly. I also advise you to read Henry Rosenbloom's blog post:

Media Release
Monday 23 March 2009

Bad news for Australian Authors

The Australian Literary Agents’ Association (ALAA) believes that the Productivity Commission’s draft report on Australia's Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books released on Friday 20 March is bad news for Australian authors.

The recommendation by the Productivity Commission—that the market be opened and that parallel importation of books be freely permitted except for the first 12 months in a book’s life—appears to be nothing other than meddling with an existing successful model with no predictable outcome, except the dismantling of an industry. It is excellent news for publishers and distributors in the United Kingdom and America.

The Productivity Commission believes that this will ‘preserve some certainty for local publishers to market new authors’, but what business is going to be foolish enough to spend many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars producing and distributing and marketing a new ‘product’—preparing the soil so to speak—only to have other businesses reap the benefits of their work and expense?

12 months is nothing in the life of a book. Marketing a book is merely the beginning of a successful book’s life. Books establish themselves within the community by word of mouth, that is, slowly and they last for generations. Under the proposed new regime just at the time an Australian book is finding its way in the market there would no longer be territorial copyright for the author. The books we all know and love—Voss, The Power of One, Cloudstreet, Oscar and Lucinda, Lilian’s Story, Tomorrow When the War Began, My Brother Jack, The Book Thief, Possum Magic—would essentially lose their homebase.

Territorial copyright is a right for all authors in the United Kingdom and America. Under the Productivity Commission’s suggested changes to the copyright law Australian writers will no longer be able to compete on the same terms with writers in these countries.

The Rudd Government claims to be committed to a creative Australia. Our authors are living it now, producing world-class books with the essential support of a thriving local industry. Australian writers are widely read outside Australia and have been awarded the world’s most prestigious literary prizes. They are able to attract such attention because they are first and foremost published with verve, commitment and passion here in Australia. In the past thirty years we have managed to keep Australian writers working at home and exporting their work. We do not want to return to the past and the possibility that Australian writers will have to go abroad and have their books published in another country to be better served by their publisher. Let us keep our industry flourishing and our authors here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blogs to books

I'm interested in how agents would treat submissions from a blogging author? To explain further, I have had some success with two previously self-published works mainly due to my determination to exploit the marketing opportunities that have arisen as a result of the internet. Readers of my previous works are taking a keen interest in my newest project so I have posted some early draft chapters on a blog, asked for feedback, all to get them interested and engaged in the process. I have read so many varying opinions on how this would be considered by agents and publishers come submission time from: "if it helps sell more books then why not", to concerns over copyright and whether the ms would be deemed already published. I'm interested in your view on this.

I don't think there's one rule for this; it really depends on what you're writing about. If your content is amazing and can be adapted for a book, the blog should be no hindrance - and possibly no help either. But if the content isn't amazing then the blog won't help it become a book.

However ... I don't know if you're writing a novel or non-fiction. If it's a novel, I wouldn't advise you put the whole thing on the blog because then there's not as much reason for people to buy your book. If it's non-fiction, it's likely it will change form once it goes into a book. The trick is to not give away too much on the blog, for either type of manuscript, because presumably you want some of your blog readers to buy your book just as you want to capture a bigger readership.

As a general thing, I do believe it's important for authors to have a web presence, whether it's a blog or a standard website, but a blog is preferable because RSS feeds run on blogs and not on HTML sites. Plus, most blogs are free. The whole blog-to-book thing is still relatively new, though, so it's likely that what I've said above may not apply in a year's time. My own gut feeling is that it always comes down to the writing, regardless of where the writing comes from.

The follow-up

After inviting me to send in my novel, it has been sitting with the same agent for almost a year. When I last heard from the agent in the middle of last year, she gave me permission to follow up if I'd not heard after a month or two. I have followed up with a couple of emails but had no response. What do you advise?

It's possible that the agent is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of reading she has; it's also possible that she's overwhelmed by the amount of email she has. Quite often I want to curl up in a ball and weep silently because I just can't get through the amount of reading I have and I feel guilty about letting people down. Agenting is often a mix of wanting to help out writers and then resenting the helpful impulse. Quite often I wonder why on earth I agreed to read those fifty manuscripts when I really just don't have the time - and the only answer is that I thought they'd be worth reading and I hoped the authors would understand if I ran a bit past the estimated time frame.

However, you've done all the right things in terms of following up - you've allowed a bit of time, you've followed up within the time frame suggested. It's possible the agent isn't getting back to you because she still hasn't read your manuscript, or she's read it and liked it but isn't sure whether she can take it on, so she's stalling you while she decides. But you don't know because you're not being told, so I'd suggest you send one last email, politely saying that as you haven't heard, you presume that the agent isn't interested in the manuscript and you're withdrawing it from consideration. Unless, of course, you really want to hang in there, in which case write the same email but end it with, 'If you'd still like to consider my manuscript but haven't had a chance to read it yet, it would be great if you could let me know how much longer you think you may need.' This may sound like sucking up, but you want something from her, right?

Many is the author I've rejected just because they didn't give me enough time or wouldn't understand if I was running late - and I've also taken on authors who were understanding about the fact that I was going as fast as I could, even if that was a glacial pace. Sometimes they have been authors of equal talent and the difference has been the attitude. I can only take on so many clients, and it doesn't take much to tip me either way. I'm sure I've said it before, but politeness is really underrated in all business relationships, not just between authors and agents. I respect the fact that it takes authors months and years to write manuscripts; I like it when they respect the fact that it takes me weeks and months to read their manuscripts. I wouldn't expect an author to churn out a novel in two weeks just because I'm waiting for them - that would be rude. So I do get annoyed when an author sends a full manuscript and gets huffy two months later when I haven't read it. I'm doing the best I can. Most agents are. The agent you've been dealing with is probably doing the best she can - but, having said that, you have been more than respectful of her time and you need to now do what you want to do with your manuscript.

Illustrators and agents

Saw your blog and thought I'd send you an email to see if you can help. Firstly, I'm a Sydney-based illustrator. Ive been drawing illustrations for 2 magazines for at least 2 years now. One illo per month each mag. I just can't seem to get any further in regards to getting any more work. An artist told me he uses an agent to manage his business. I'm not too sure what you do, but do you know if anyone can help me in regards to hiring an agent? I believe an agent can get work???

Possibly, but not this agent. It's possible some literary agents handle illustration, but I only manage it in the context of children's books - i.e. an author/illustrator and I'm not aware of the intricacies of others' business. It's possible that some art dealers or gallery owners look after illustrators - maybe ask your artist friend about it, or ask whether you can ask his agent if he knows of anyone looking after illustrators.

You may also just have to do some schmoozing yourself - get around and meet some editors or writers on the magazines you want to work for. Publishing - whether it's books or magazines - is full of work that comes out of relationships. Quite often the relationship doesn't result in work for months or years, but that doesn't mean it's not worth having.