Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ask Agent #3

Here we are again! It's our third ask agent. The topic is, loosely, etiquette. But you're free to ask whatever you want! Rules are as usual: no personal questions and no abuse. Questions about your own projects are welcome.

Questions are open from noon until 3pm EST and everything will be answered by tomorrow at midnight.



  1. I don't have a question--but I'm enjoying everyone else's and learning a few things, too.

  2. Is it ill advised to change pen names, if you aren't yet published, but have already begun to build a platform?

  3. I ksaw on the net that "The Night Circus" was queried as "Literary Fantasy." I don't see that category used much in marketing, though. Is this a description most agents would understand? I am thinking the category must include people like Gaiman? Thks for the forum, by the way.

  4. This is fabulous! Thank you for taking the time to answer everything! I hope the question I ask hasn't already been answered (I'd feel silly)!

    Do agents like a more personal query letter to show they (the writer) took the time to learn a little bit about you?

    And a bonus question!

    Are you one to research the writer via the online world? Is it normally just for a query that interests you, or when you're on the fence?

  5. So, what if you send a query and the response time passes so you query another agent in the same agency, but then like a day later you get a rejection from the first query but you already sent out the second query, but THEN the response time passes AGAIN but you don't wanna requery (per the agency's query guidelines) and drive them crazy 'cause you already got a rejection once and they may be the type of agents who talk about queries they receive, but you also don't wanna sit by and let it slide 'cause the agent might actually wanna see what you have to offer!


    I guess my real question is, how many requeries would be considered proper before you mark the agent off on your spreadsheet?

  6. I write in three different genres (paranormal romance, epic/high fantasy, mystery) and I'm also interested in literary fiction.

    I have works-in-progress in all of the above but I am currently preparing for submission the paranormal romance. This will be the first project I'll ever send out to agents and I'm a little confused.

    Should I mention in the query that I also write in other genres?

    Is it possible to query different agents for different genres?

    Should I only query agents that rep all the genres I'm interested in?

    Is there anything else I should consider before querying?

    Thank you in advance,

  7. I'm wondering what the proper etiquette is if an editor requests to see a writer's manuscript (from a contest, conference, etc - not a direct sub to the editor) while the writer is actively querying it. Should the writer notify agents currently reviewing the manuscript or wait to see if the editor offers first?

  8. I know how important genre is when querying, but there seems to be a lot of overlap and conflicting definitions, especially in fantasy. For example, I see a lot of agent "wish lists" with urban fantasy, but no interest in paranormal. I see a lot of overlap with these definitions and don't fully understand where agents draw distinctions. So how do agents define genres and how can writers be sure they're defining their genre the same way agents do?

  9. If you get an offer from a publisher, and want an agent to negotiate the contract, is it okay to approach agents who have already rejected the MS? Or is it better to approach ones you have not already queried with that project?

  10. I have read (on more than one occasion) that looking for an agent when you write category romance is just not needed (mainly because the contracts are ironclad -- that seems to be the main reason). However, I've also seen that authors should be looking for an agent to become a partner in creating a career. Finally, my question: If my career aspirations include writing single title contemporary romance, then should I ignore the no-agent advice?

  11. I'm curious about the etiquette of mentioning blogs/etc when querying.

    I know with the prevalence of social media, more agents are interested in a potential client's online presence, and perhaps might also check websites/etc to gain a little knowledge of what a potential client is like (personality/etc).

    As a writer who has a blog, but uses a moniker, I know it would not show up under an online search of my *real* name.

    Would it be normal to provide a link under ones name (with the other contact information) in a query, or is it better to leave it off and perhaps discuss it at a later date if asked for a partial/etc?

  12. Just saw your #askagent. I'm late, so feel free to disregard if its closed.

    ) If you are querying to a general "queries@" or "submissions@" email, how do you address the query letter? To a specific agent at said agency, or "Dear XYZ Agency?" And will it actually get to a specific agent if you address it so?

    2) If submission guidelines request "query and first 5 pages" or whatever, will the agent always read the actual pages?

    3) How often does it happen that a query meant for a specific agent gets rejected before that agent ever sees it?

  13. Is it ever appropriate to follow up with an agent after they've had your full or partial for awhile, or is it probably a "no" and the author just reminding the agent to actually send the rejection? And how long would you say? Three months? Six months?

    If you suggest following up with agents, what kind of wording makes you not hate the author?

  14. Thank you for hosting these! I love reading other people's questions and your responses.

    An agent requested a full of my ms and one month later sent a detailed critique with an invitation to resubmit, which I did five months later. She confirmed that she received the ms, but it has been 8 months since then and I never heard from her again. I sent her an email at three months to let her know other agents had requested my ms, and then a final follow-up at six months, but she never responded. I don't get it. Don't I at least deserve a form rejection for a resubmission?


  15. @Amy If you just want to write under a pen name, that's cool, but you get ONE. Until you're Steven King.

    A publisher or agent might suggest a pen name if, say, you write middle grade novels, then decide you want to do an erotica series. Or if you self-published a flop and then get agented for a separate project. It's functional, to distinguish between projects that are very different for one another.

    So, if there's no real reason to change pen names and you've queried with the other name and you've put effort into a platform, just keep it.

    Unless like some bestselling author just published with that pen name.

  16. @Sue

    Yeah, I haven't really seen "literary fantasy" used too much in marketing, either. But I think it does communicate clearly (fantasy, but well-written) so I guess that's why they went with it.

    I would bet the agent didn't *pitch* it that way, though. They would probably have said "beautifully written" or "lyrical."

  17. @Jen

    I definitely want to see that you're not mass emailing me, so using my name in the salutation is a must. I also prefer to have the word count, title, and category in the first paragraph, so if you do that I know you probably follow my blog, etc.

    But you needn't do more than just use my name unless we've actually had some interaction to reference. Just saying you read the blog is wasting space--everyone says it! Basically: don't stress. I only care about the book you've written (and that you follow my sub guidelines).

    And, yeah, if I like a query I might Google the author, particularly for nonfiction to evaluate the platform.

  18. @Empress: You are way overthinking! :)

    If you query an agent and they send you a form rejection, that's that. Unless you make significant reforms to the query or manuscript (be honest!!) you shouldn't requery them ever. They said no. If they give you notes or ask you to resubmit, of course do so.

    If you just mean how many times can you query an *agency*, that's different. You should query ONE AGENT at a time, waiting for whatever time period the agent says (typically 4-6 weeks) before querying another agent at the agency. Which you did.

    If you want to feel safer on etiquette, don't hold an agent down to the minute on his/her response time. Give them a week or so *after* their timeframe in case they got swamped, then you can feel totally good about sending that next query.

  19. @SparksScribbler:

    First, you should go here:

    Next: Query only one project at a time. Don't get into all the other things you write in your query: just keep the bio section short: 20 words or less (after all, the whole query shouldn't go over 250 words!).

    If an agent offers, there will be a "getting to know you" phone call in which the agent will ask you about other projects you're working on. Then you can go into all the details.

    As far as querying multiple agents: you are querying with only one project at a time. So you should try to pick an agent that represents all of the things you're writing. If there's a project in the future that your agent really just isn't going to rep, discuss. Your agent might give you "leave" to solicit representation for that other project ONLY. It will depend on where you are in your career how that part plays out. But COMMUNICATE.

    The important thing to realize here is that if you query three or four projects with a bunch of different agents, they're all going to be pissed if they offer and find themselves in the middle of that. One project, one query process, if that doesn't work, move to the next project.

  20. @MarcyKate

    Only notify the agents if the editor gets back in touch: either to offer or to give you notes. If you get notes, let all the agents know *and* attach the notes so they can see what the editor said.

  21. @Jenny

    I think you might have a little genre/subgenre/category confusion. Urban Fantasy is actually a subgenre of paranormal--all Urban Fantasies have paranormal elements (non-human beings, etc.)

    Look here for a good breakdown of genres and categories from agent Jennifer Laughran:

  22. @Kate

    That is a complicated one! To avoid things like this, one should query exhaustively FIRST before approaching small presses. The agent is supposed to be the one strategizing about publishers, and there are a lot of factors that go into that, including straight up personal relationships that you can't replicate as a non-publishing pro. If you've already got a deal in the works, you tie an agent's hands--maybe they would have gone in a different direction!--and they're much less likely to offer.

    BUT if you do find yourself in this position, where you're still querying some agents AND you've been querying and been accepted by a press, notify all the agents who haven't sent you a form response. So: if you haven't received a response, or if they responded personally or with a revise and resubmit. If a couple of weeks pass and no one has jumped, then you are free to make your decision.

    I just really caution you to be careful when signing any contract. Get a marketing plan. Make them tell you when they'll publish the book (in the contract, and make them insert a clause that says if they haven't pubbed by x date, you get to cancel). It's just better to have a representative!

  23. Heidi, no contract is ironclad. Absolutely none. An having an agent to help you negotiate a contract is ALWAYS better than not. There are many more elements to a contract than just advance, royalties, and territory. SO MANY.

    So, yeah, I say ignore the no-agent advice. If you want to be published traditionally, ever in your career, you should start at agents.

  24. 1000th monkey

    Sure, include it in your signature with your contact info.

  25. @Rocket

    In most cases, an "assistant" or "query" email address links to one huge query inbox. But you should still address the query to the agent you intend.

    Yes, most agents have interns or assistants read his or her queries. Even when you send to NAME@xxx.COM, an intern/assistant is probably reading the queries.

    This is not something you should be indignant about. It's the only way to deal with the volume and agents work very closely with these readers. We train them, and they know not only what we're looking for, but what makes a good submission in general. Even if I don't *think* I'm looking for something, my intern can sell me on something that they've vetted. It's good for everyone.

    If your query suxxx, no one is going to read the pages (why should I read five pages if you can't keep it together for one??). This goes for my interns and assistants. I don't waste my time, I don't want them wasting theirs. But if the query is anywhere above fair, I'll read the pages.

    If you're unsure about your query, go to

  26. @Leigh Ann

    Most agents will specify a response time: 4-6 weeks for queries, and the clock starts over with 4-6 weeks if they request a partial. You should give them 4 additional weeks before nudging. Trust me, you cannot imagine what these inboxes look like.

    If it's been two months or more since you sent the requested material, nudge the agent.

    Always reply to your original email thread (As opposed to opening a new one) to nudge, and do so politely: Dear __, I was hoping you'd had a chance to look over my __ manuscript, which I sent ___. Thanks! Sign.

  27. @Mara Rae

    Yeah, of course you deserve a reply, and I'm sure that agent thinks so too. But a lot of things might've happened. Is she/he still in the business?

    If you're getting interest elsewhere, don't fret over the one agent you haven't heard from. At this point, nearly a year later, you can mark it a "No." Who knows. he/she might pop up in two years and want to rep you, at which point you should probably say "Nah..." but there's no use dwelling on it now.