Thursday, August 25, 2011


Let's have question time. You can ask anything for the next two hours and I promise I'll answer it before midnight tomorrow (so end of the day Friday). Yes, questions about your projects are OK, but let's keep it general: word count for a particular category (or look here), character age, whether a character name is distracting. We're not editing (although maybe you'll find a good beta reader!), so don't post excerpts. Know also that this is public--don't post anything that you might not like the answer to (so no marriage proposals, please) or that might cross the "too personal" line!

Some of you will probably have awesome questions that are too complex to answer in the comments--for those, I'll do blog posts in the coming weeks.

Use good judgment, please, so that I want to do this again. :) 

Questions open now until 6:15 pm EST.


  1. Also: the real #AskAgent happens Tuesday nights on Twitter--it's a great trove of info, even if you're just lurking. Just search "#AskAgent. You can even find the archives now.

  2. Hi Meredith,

    If an author has an offer for publication, would you like them to contact you? Would you take them on for that contract only or would you take them for their career?


  3. With the shift in publishing paradigms and more of a focus on author self-promotion and platform, how much does that aspect of an author affect the decision to accept a project? Obviously good writing is paramount and always will be, but aside from that, is this an area that is on par with say, how difficult/easy the author is to work with? How much would a great platform make up for other (non-writing) flaws or weaknesses?

  4. What if you are querying agents and an indie publisher emails you to let you know they are interested in your work. Should you let the agents you're querying know that?

  5. Bonnie, yes, I (and most other agents) ask that you request one week to get back to other agents that have your work when you have an offer of representation. If they don't get back to you within that timeframe, their loss!!

    And I always plan to take an author on for their career.

  6. @Ellen

    Ooh very tricky. If an agent has requested your work, tell them about the indie pub. If you're just at query stage, w/o a response, don't.

    Before signing a contract with an indie pub, though, check out their list and GET A MARKETING PLAN from them. Also, have a PUBLISHING lawyer check it out--they're wiley. If you go indie/self pub with a project, it has to have sold 5K or more copies to ever have a chance at leverage into a print deal, so be sure it's the direction you want to go!!

  7. Hi Meredith,

    Any advice on knowing when it's time to rewrite? Lit Fic/Thriller, here. I have sent out a lot of queries. I'm told by agents that the query works well, though it is off-beat. I've had several fulls and a few partials but no offers. The feedback from agents is less detailed than I'd expected.


    Kurt Baumeister

  8. Meredith,

    You're well-versed in the digital aspects of both publishing and marketing. What kind of challenges does that present when you're working with people who aren't? Either on the publisher or the client side.

    Is there a growing awareness of the new technologies, or is it something you find yourself having to re-educate people on over and over? (I guess that's two questions, sorry about that).

  9. As an agent, would you want to be notified of any awards won or publishing done in the time between receiving a manuscript, or even a query letter, and a reply sent? If a writer publishes a short story having just sent a letter/manuscript, should he send a follow-up letter informing you of that accomplishment?

  10. Does it bother you if someone reuses lines from their Manuscript in the query? If for instance the first line of the query was also the first line of the book?

  11. @Jonathan Dalar:

    Author platform is very important, but less important, I'd say, than ease of working with/communication style.

    For fiction writers, you should have an active twitter account (3+ tweets daily) and blog occasionally (group blog or guest blogging OK--you can find these opportunities by asking Twitter).

    FOR NONFICTION: You better have waaaaaay more. Think blog with 1,000+ daily hits, a syndicated column, thousands of twitter followers (5K+) and a very unique voice and idea. Sorry :)

    For memoir, you should be much closer to the nonfiction than the fiction platform.

  12. @Kurt B.

    Yes, agent feedback tends to be limited--we have so many to respond to!

    Hard to say when it's time to rewrite, but you should definitely consider doing so according to any comments that have been consistent across more than one agent--unless it's completely against your vision, you can bet it'll improve the ms.

    Do you have beta readers? You should!! You can find them by tweeting during the #askagent convo--a lot of people will be watching then.

  13. @Loralie

    Yes, it's a process of constant re-education. As much as I've immersed myself in it and, really, grown up with it, many haven't!

    There's definitely a growing awareness of things, but it's still takes a good pitch to get people to actually act on it.

    I don't mind educating (or pitching!). I love talking about it.

  14. I have several fulls and partials out with both agents and editors. How long is the standard wait time for a response? When would you consider it "too" long and move on? Thank you!

  15. @Richard Alley

    Though short story publication is a great achievement (Really! Especially these days) it's not something to send to an agent you're querying, even if they have your full.

    A successful novel will help sell short stories, but not vice versa (unless there are hundreds...) and you'll just be clogging the already clogged inbox.

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  17. @Alwyn

    If that first line is really strong, let it lead for the manuscript, not the query. You can come up with something else great for the pitch!

  18. Thanks, Meredith. No betas. I wrote my book the way I wanted to even though I knew it was not very taut. The problem with wanting it all is that you have to deal with reality when fantasy doesn't come through. Anyway, if I can ask a follow-up...How should I go about approaching agents with a revision? Are they willing to look at a project more than once? Thanks!

  19. @Tina

    Generally, agents get to things in 4-to-6 weeks. If it's been 8 weeks or longer, forward your original email back to the agent and ask if they've had time to look at it.**

    The reason for forwarding the original is that it keeps everything together and lets the agent see what the timeline is.

    4-to-6 weeks after *that*, it's probably a cold lead.

    **Some agents don't respond if the answer is no. If you're querying someplace with this policy, just call it dead after the 8 week mark. This is why you should visit every agency website you query and review their guidelines and policies.

  20. Hi again, Meredith and thanks for this! You mentioned not to inform agents with fulls or partials about short story publications. What about contest wins? For example, I had a professional organization contest win and the final round judge - an acquiring editor for a big 6 publisher - requested the full MS. Would that be relevant or only if the editor made an offer?

  21. @Kurt

    Don't approach an agent with a revision unless they asked you to revise and resubmit.

    Of course, you can always start over with a cold query. Agents will recognize it, but if the pages are significantly better/revised they'll be more inclined to request.

    Get betas!!! It's very very hard to self-edit. I've literally never seen anyone able to do it as effectively as those with readers.

  22. My coauthor and I have a project that may or may not be suited for traditional publishing, so we are querying agents first, but have decided self publishing will be a good alternative since our project is a little out of the box stylistically in hopes that doing well would get attention from agents and publishers for the second book written in the same format. However, I have since been told that self publishing the first book in a series makes all subsequent books in the series less likely to be picked up by agents or publishers, but the person did not have the chance to expand. Could you please do so?

  23. Thanks for the advice, Meredith! Good thing I make stuff up, eh? And it looks like I'm on the right track there.

    I'd like to ask a follow-up: How much do you see agents actively combing self-pubbers for new talent? I know it's being done, but to what extent? Also, where do you see that trend heading, and do you really believe it's lost enough of its stigma as some say, to be a valid platform for authors?

  24. I was hoping I could ask a follow up question to your reply to Jonathan Daler.

    If a fiction writer didn't blog at all or maybe has blogged in the past but does not anymore(in my case as part of a Video Gaming community not book related at all) would that majorly affect your decision to consider them as clients?

  25. In response to the word count post... (Sorry to not include this in my other comment, but I opened the tab thinking I wouldn't have any word count related questions, but I do)

    Should debut authors shoot to stay in the ranges posted, or is a little shorter safer, (say 60-70k for adult fantasy)? I know I'll read longer books by authors I know and shorter books by authors I don't, but that might just be me.

  26. Are there guidelines for gifting your agent, for instance, what are the "rules" for sending him or her their favorite bottle of wine if they sell one of your books?

    Thanks! :D

  27. @Elia!!!

    Thanks so much for this question. It's really more of a blog post thing (let's say Tuesday for that) but briefly:

    Those you've spoken to are EXACTLY right: self-publishing the first in a series (or even a standalone, when you intend to write more unrelated books) makes it very difficult to get the next one picked up. That's because once you have a book on the market, in any way, you have *SALES NUMBERS*.

    These will follow you on to the next deal. When editors consider acquiring a book, they use an author's past sales history to predict how well the next book will sell. So if you're below, say, 5K, that's an immediate turn-off: the publisher can't make a profit. (To the "But it's art!" people out there: This is a business, and I'm glad it is because it means I get to do it for a living. You're glad, too, because you might be writing for a living someday)

    It's much easier to sell a debut author (in most cases) because you really are just selling the work. There's nothing to an agent has to "explain away" like bad sales.

    Note: even agented authors struggle with this. If a first book is a flop, subsequent contract negotiations are not exactly pretty.

  28. @Tina Moss second ?

    If a big-six publisher requests at a conference or something, give them the 4-to-6 weeks to get back to you.

    If you win a contest and an editor requests *and* gets back to you about a book, you should definitely tell ALL the agents you queried, UNLESS they've said no. So if they've requested anything or you haven't heard back.

  29. @Jonathan Dalar 2

    I definitely think self-publishing has lost the stigma. I know a lot of agents have an eye on the Amazon bestseller list for new talent. Or even just massive sales/downloads. That'll do in lieu of talent. ;)

    It is NOT a valid platform unless you're topping 5,000 sales or downloads.

  30. @Alwyn

    No, blogging for a fiction writer isn't a deal breaker, although you should be considering a guest or group blog (once a week?! come on. If you can't find time for that...).

    Twitter is a must, especially for fantasy, women's fic, YA, sci-fi, anything digitally oriented. Your audience is there! Editors actually ask if an author tweets when I pitch things. Lit fic and that type of thing, not so much...but some.

  31. @lbdiamond

    Once you're agented, it's up to your agent what the gifting policy is. For most, a bottle (usually of hard liquor) is appreciated when there's something to celebrate. Kidding about the hard liquor...sort of.

    Do not ever gift agents by whom you are not repped! It's considered bribery. :)

  32. @Elia 2

    Shorter wordcounts are not necessarily "safer" for anyone, including debut authors.

    A wordcount below the accepted minimum flags an agent that your book might lack development, particularly of character or plot. A wordcount over the maximum flags that you might be overwriting (particularly for literary or women's fiction) or that the plot is not tight--so there might be too much inner monologue, for instance.

    But these are just flags, not stop signs. This is why a lot of agents request pages in their submission guidelines: so we can see if we should ignore the flag or not.

  33. My question is actually as a beta-reader. How important is the cleanliness (grammar and punctuation) of a manuscript during the review phase? It's hard for me not to proofread to perfection, but I find that authors consider this unnecessary for an early draft and feel an agent/editor can overlook these issues and focus on the story itself. Is it a disservice to let a "dirty" ms be sent out, or do reviewers take this early phase into consideration? Does a well-edited piece find favor more easily?

  34. @Memphisotan

    Your ms should be as clean as possible before it goes to anyone, even a beta reader--but especially an agent/editor!! You are doing the right thing by your writing group by editing to perfection--if you need to, feel free to send this comment to the prima donnas that don't think they need to edit.

    It's about respect. Well edited manuscripts are easier to read (especially when you're reading 1000+ pages a week) and are, obviously, much more professional.

    If you can't take the time to run spell check (and check spell check), why should I take the time to read it?

  35. Is it permissible to send a novel to a publisher that accepts non-agented work at the same time as you are trying to find an agent?

    Bonnie Ferrante

  36. Thank you so much for answering both my questions.

  37. @Bonnie

    See answers to the questions about self-publishing, above. Indie publishing (ie not Big Six, not agented) functions similarly.

    If you go indie or self-publishing, be sure that's the direction you want to go--it's a very different direction than traditional/Big SIx/Agented publishing, for all the reasons enumerated above.

    If you're querying *and* subbing to indie publishers, you're not picking a direction.

    I won't say one is superior to another, but think about it this way: if you take a year to query (and do it right, complete with research and a good query letter) and it doesn't work out, you can still go indie or self-pub. But it doesn't go the other direction as easily.

  38. Thanks, Meredith! Your answers were a big help.

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  40. Two questions:

    1) A 19 year old heroine in her last year of college- what genre would you call that? New Adult? Which houses are publishing those works?

    2) Is it a problem to get a short story published by a small press if the characters are from a longer manuscript I'm querying?

  41. "I won't say one is superior to another, but think about it this way: if you take a year to query (and do it right, complete with research and a good query letter) and it doesn't work out, you can still go indie or self-pub. But it doesn't go the other direction as easily." That's a good quote. Wishit where short enough for twitter. Thanks Meredith.