Thursday, September 29, 2011

#AskAgent 5

#AskAgent time again!

You know the rules: questions are open from noon until 3pm EST, answered by tomorrow evening. The topic (although feel free to ask whatever, including questions about specific projects!) is revision. Thanks for playing!


  1. Is there a big market for YA contemporary humor aimed at boys?

  2. Okay, I'll play. My question is about labeling my book as either YA or adult science fiction for the purpose of query letters, and deciding which agents to approach. I've heard that one of the most obvious markers that you're writing adult (even if you have a young protagonist) is the inclusion of multiple viewpoint characters. In contrast, in YA the story should revolve *entirely* around the protagonist, and be told from their POV only. Do you agree?

    Thank you for your time.

  3. I know revisions and suggestions shouldn't be rushed, but is there such a thing as taking too long when an agent requests manuscript changes? Especially if the writer isn't under contract yet, since I assume contract=deadline (probably?)

  4. Where do you, as an agent, draw the line when it comes to revisions? Say you've requested a manuscript and you really like the concept, the voice, the writing, but the manuscript still needs some work on pacing or some such. At what point do you reject (with maybe some helpful comments) and at what point do you decide to go with it in spite of its flaws?

  5. When you send a writer a reader report requesting a revision, do you expect the writer to explain his revisions when he emails back with the revised MS?

    Also: I know this is vague, but could you try to address some of the elements of a successful revision? How about a failed one?

    Thank you!

  6. If you don't have an agent yet, how do you know if you should change your pen name when making the jump from ebook to print book?

    Also, if you do change your pen name, do you have to inform editors and agents when you go to them? Or can you just give personal information as if you never had another pen name? Is there some way for editors or agents to then find out you were published under another pen name?

    Just wondering about the value of changing a pen name and why an author would choose to do it.

    Thanks for the info.

  7. We've talked about length a bit in other posts/comments, but I was wondering if it's ever wise to revise strictly for length?

    Assuming that every word in there is a polished gem (okay, that's like a one in a kazillion chance, but let's go with it for this hypothetical situation)and necessary for the story, but the WC exceeds accepted ranges.

    In that case, as an agent would you still advise ruthlessly chopping, or would it be a matter of finding an editor that could get past that big number?

  8. I have had multiple rejections on a manuscript from agents whose opinions I respect, but none of them have aligned as far as their reasons for not wanting to take it on. Without a direction, I've decided to move forward with another project as opposed to blindly revising when I'm not sure what the issues actually are. Is this a good decision? Is there a chance that, if (when) I sign with someone they'll be willing to go back and take a look at the abandoned ms, which I believe has potential?

    Thanks, Meredith!

  9. I was wondering about synopses for books 2 and 3 if the author is pitching a trilogy. How detailed would you expect these to be?

    (Sorry, I know this isn't about revision!) Thank you!

  10. @spirecorporation Well, the easy answer is "sure." There's a market for just about anything done well.

    The useful answer is "not really." There's a bigger market for humorous books aimed at boys in the Middle Grade market (think Zachary Ruthless:

    The vast majority of YA readers are female (as one might guess) and so even books that appeal to YA men have to have that cross over appeal. And at that age, men think Judd Apatow is funny...girls don't.

    Now. The ADULT market offers a lot more flexibility because the market isn't so heavily female. So you could consider shifting the book a bit: age of character, etc. to hit in the adult market instead.

  11. @Nicole

    Actually, I disagree completely. The hallmarks of a young adult novel are much deeper than number of POV: the tone of the book ("immediacy" often comes to mind); themes of discovery of self and of the world; facing major/life altering challenges for the first time; and, of course, the age of the main character.

    There are just as many young adult books (of any genre) written in multiple POV as adult books.

    if you're having trouble classifying your book as YA or Adult, my instinct is that you need to spend some time reading the bestsellers in the genre to see what the YA and Adult scifi coming out today sounds and feels like. That probably means putting off querying--but that's OK. Better to do it later, more prepared, and better, than go and misclassify your book and get a string of form rejections.

    I will say one thing with absolute certainty: do not call your book both YA and Adult. Some people do this (perhaps inadvertently) by saying their project has "crossover potential." Like saying your book is the next bestseller, calling your book a "crossover" is best left to the reviewers and fact. If your book is a bestseller, people will call it that. If your book crosses over, people will call it that. But the phrase is not useful in the query; it just feels like you didn't know what to call it.

  12. @Loralie

    A lot of authors struggle with this because they feel that, if an agent asks for revisions, they have to turn the book around REALLY FAST. But don't do that. I hate requesting revisions and then getting the "revised" book back a week later.

    If your book needed a revision that could be done in a week, I would have signed you. If I'm requesting revisions without offering formal representation, it means there's something deeper that needs to happen.

    If an agent requests revision:
    1. READ THEM. If you don't like them, you might not be a good match.

    2. Reply to the agent telling him/her that the revisions resonate with you (or don't resonate, thanks, bye) and that you'll get them turned around by XX date.

    XX date should be between two and four weeks. It should be sufficient time to 1. revise 2. let it sit 3. read it over 4. give to Beta Readers 5. incorporate Beta suggestions 6. let it sit one more day 7. read once more 8. send.

    No joke. This is a huge opportunity, but also a delicate one. The agent is testing you to see if you are capable not only of writing a pretty good book, but also of incorporating necessary revisions. If you rush it, you're sending the signal to the agent that you can't revise.

    The truth is you're not under contract yet--you don't have to rush, particularly if you let the agent know when to expect the book back. Once you're signed and (knock on wood) sold, you will have to be under deadline; don't self impose one yet.

  13. @Amanda

    I frequently work with authors outside of a formal representation situation. I request revisions without offering rep so that I can see if the author can revise (see answer above) while also giving the author the chance to continue to play the agent field.


    Many, many authors rush these revisions and come back with a book that's no better than the one I commented on in the first place. That's frustrating, particularly because I know that it's subpar (most likely) because revisions were rushed.

    Nevertheless, I will probably reject once I see that revisions weren't successful. I can't commit to re-reading a book that I know hasn't improved. On rare occasions I'll go through multiple rounds, but it's got to be a majorly interesting project.

    The best way to work with me is to follow the protocol above. Make me happy. Please do it.

  14. @StringOfLettersAndNumbers

    Lord. No. Please do not explain your revision when you send it back. Your revision should speak for itself. It should shout for itself.

    If you took serious issue with an element of a revision, you can mention (please, briefly) that you didn't implement and why. But if you took serious issue with elements of a revision, consider that you might just not be the right fit for that agent and let them know--you'll save everyone time.

    And typically unsuccessful revisions are rushed revisions. Unsuccessful meaning that if I asked for more worldbuilding, the author simply adds a monologue from one of the characters explaining WHY THINGS ARE LIKE THIS rather than thoughtfully weaving the information throughout the WHOLE book. In a word: rushed.

  15. @Robin

    It seems like you're coming from a self-publishing experience and are now trying to get an agent for another project.

    Caveat: if you're trying to get an agent *for* the self-published book, it's nigh impossible to do unless you've had more than 5K in sales in the last six months.

    Now, if you're trying to separate the project your're querying from a flopped self-pubbed project, then you're doing the right thing. Go with a pen name.

    Query as if the pen name were your real name and don't mention the other name/book at all.

    If an agent offers representation, you will set up a phone call with him/her. You must tell them then about your publication past and other name. So long as the project being queried is totally separate from any self-pubbed project (ie not a companion, not a prequel not a sequel, none of the same characters) that shouldn't be a problem.

    Authors pick up pen names in order to separate bodies of work. So a self-pubbed book vs agented/traditional work. Erotica vs. cozy mysteries. Children's books vs. international thrillers. If there are vastly different markets, an author might take a pen name so that audiences don't get confused (or, in the case of cozies and erotica, outraged. :))

  16. @Angelica

    Books that exceed word count ranges happen all the time. Those ranges you've seen here and elsewhere are rough. They're guides.

    It's an issue of by how much your wordcount exceeds the suggested. If it's 200 or 300 or 500 words, it's not an issue. If it's 5K, that's still not too alarming. If it's 10K, agents get skittish. If by more than 10K, you're running a risk.

    If your wordcount is majorly exceeding those typically seen, you should first ask why. Since we've established that the likelihood of every word being PERFECT AND NECESSARY is pretty nil, be real about your editing.

    If you decide that you are that one in a bazillion and every word is staying (a-hem), then you've got a lot to prove. You have to write the best query letter EVER. You should put the Info Sentence (Title/category/wordcount) at the end of the query, not the beginning as I usually prefer. Your pages better not look overwritten (or underwritten, if you're way under traditional wordcounts).

    You've got more work to do, but it's not impossible. And, honestly, the editor might still cut it, even if you sell the agent on it. So prepare yourself for that. You're part of a team now. One that includes creatives like editors and agents, but also sales and marketing teams.

  17. @Trisha

    Well, I'll give you some insight into agent submissions to editors: when they all come back and say no for different reasons, we're actually happy.

    Because what it means is that nothing is really wrong with the book. There is no glaring issue that we missed. It's just that the editors didn't love it or it wasn't what they needed THAT SECOND. It's simultaneously heartbreaking and reassuring.

    What you're doing is fine. But if you find yourself unable to leave the other project behind, do some analysis. Is there ANYTHING in common between your rejections? Are they all centered on character (even if different ones)? All on worldbuilding? All on pace/story structure? If you can find some common denominators, you might find a direction. Then take it to your Beta readers (you have those, RIGHT?). And read in your genre.

  18. @Maggie

    You are only querying one book at a time, so focus on that book one. You can say that the book has "series potential" and that synopses of the rest of the books are available. That's it.

    The logic here is that, even if book one sells, books two and three might not. Or you might get a two but not a three book deal.

    The publisher is gambling. They're probably not going to lock in all three at once and an agent wants to see that you're ready if it does go to a two or three book deal, but not that you're dead set on a trilogy, because that's getting way ahead of one's self.

  19. Thanks so much. These answers were all very informative!

  20. Thanks so much for the answer. :D

  21. Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I'm working on my second book in preparation for coming back to the other one--the better to spot those words that are not perfect or necessary!