Thursday, October 20, 2011

#AskAgent 8

It's Thursday! Ask me anything!

Questions are open from noon to 3pm EST today.

Wanna read other #AskAgents?


  1. Hello Ms. Barnes, thanks for doing this.

    So, 2 questions (and sub-questions):

    1) I write what some people call New Adult. What do you think about NA? Should I query agents that handles only YA, or an agent that handles both YA and adult?

    2)Let's say I just sold a difficult-to-place book to a small press, but have another MS ready that could appeal to NY agents ... would having that book with a small press hurt my chances of landing an agent? Or it would be better to wait for that book to be released and, if it sells well enough, mention that on my query to an agent?


  2. I am curious about approaching agents with the so called NA category as well. I have seen some agents flat out say it was a marketing trick and doesn't exist and seen some agents address it as a real option.

  3. Would it be better for an unpublished author to write ms of different genres until they get a deal?

    For example I like writing SF, UF, Horror, and Thrillers, but I prefer SF over them all. My first completed ms is SF, but some people have suggested I do something in a thriller or UF, with the idea that a different genre will open up a new field of agents to query and break in.

  4. I'm wondering how important platform is when it comes to memoir?

    Thanks for doing this!

  5. I'm a cartoonist with a body of humorous one-panel and short comic strips, and have been told my work would make a good book (envision bathroom reading). Would be more typical for me to approach agents or go to publishers directly? Is there a good place in particular I might find agents (or publishers) interested in this kind of project? Thank you!

  6. I think I need to write this as a scenario...say a writer queried a manuscript for awhile, got partial and full requests with great feedback but, ultimately, no bites. In the meantime of things, she did as she was supposed to and wrote another novel, using what she had learned, with stronger skills and purpose. Now, say this novel is an absolute stand alone prequel (or sequel) of that novel she first queried, told from a different character's p.o.v. than the other ms.

    What is the best way for that writer to *briefly* explain to those agents--whom she will certainly try again--why some names are familiar (but the story completely different) when querying this second ms, so they don't think they're re-seeing what they already rejected because of those names? (Changing the names would be a fix, but there's always the hope that future work might make the first viable.)

    Thank you!

  7. To remove the oddity of answering "Crow," or name is Kalinda.

    Thanks again!

  8. As a general, completely hypothetical question (because I would never do this myself ;-) Say I queried an agent 3 years ago with a project that wasn't as ready as I thought, and they sent back a form rejection in under 15 minutes (not exaggerating...hypothetically).

    Can I get away with re-querying the same agent now with the same project, when the biggest similarity between then and now is the book's title? Or would that be considered poor form/spamming someone who's already rejected the story?

  9. Hmmm... I asked you about NA a few weeks ago. I'm hoping you magically have a different answer, but I'm not holding my breath :-) (I am heartened though that other people are writing that genre too!)

    My question: have you- or do you know of another agent who has- ever declined to represent someone based in part on a search that revealed a lot of angst from a querying author about the query process and/or the publishing industry in general?

  10. If an agent requests a full MS and then passes giving little to no feedback, is there anything the author can assume? Could it be that the query is misleading or the MS is not ready?

  11. Any tips for how a writer can get the most out of a writer's conference?

  12. How can you determine what qualifies as a stand alone? My ms is (in my mind) the first of a series, but I have heard it is nearly impossible for a debut author to sell a series, and that you can only mention "series potential" in the query, if you *must* mention it all. But what makes a book stand alone well? Is Hunger Games a stand alone, or obviously first in a series?

  13. Thanks for doing this, Meredith.

    I get asked if my medical thriller is character-driven or plot-driven. It feels like a trick question, since it seems like a good story should be a balance of both -- character arcs as well as well-paced action. Reaction? How should one respond to an agent when you have 2 seconds in a hallway?

  14. @Juliana and Alex

    New Adult is something that I feel is a real category--books with protagonists between 19 and, say, 25 dealing with "starting real life" or finding one's self, among other things found in YA, like first loves.

    The reason that New Adult is tricky goes back to the bookstores, actually. Bookstores, particularly the biggies, don't typically have a "New Adult" section, meaning that when the booksellers come to them with a "New Adult" book, the store doesn't know where they'd shelve it. So they're more likely not to shelve it at all.

    Knowing this, publishers' marketing departments are also a bit stymied because they don't know how best to pitch it--they feel, because marketing categories tend to mirror bookstore categories, that they have to sell the book as an adult or YA. The sales dept will feel this way, too (those are the guys in correspondence with the booksellers/stores).

    Knowing that marketing and sales feels that way, editors are less likely to be able to champion something that straddles YA and Adult (aka that is New Adult) so they might pass out of hand...and before you roll your eyes at how pedestrian those damn editors are...they're looking at a lot of books that are awesome AND marketable. So it's not that crazy.

    So, back to us agents. Knowing that editors, sales, marketing, bookstores, etc. all feel the way they do, we're definitely not going to pitch something as New Adult, at least as things currently stand. Unlikely, therefore, to be arrested by a query that claims to be a New Adult.

    If you really just can't decide whether you're New Adult or YA or Adult, I feel you. I believe all of those categories are valid. But you can't put New Adult in a query.

    Just write your salutation, then say "My [GENRE--ie fantasy, etc. NOT category--ie Young Adult] novel ______ is complete at _______ words." and get into the pitch part of the query--be sure to give the age of your protag. We'll figure it out.

  15. @Juliana2

    The only time you should mention your small press book to an agent is if it sells more than 10K copies. Any lower than that and it's not going to help parlay a new book into a deal, so it's moot. You should, however, tell any agent that offers representation about this other book, and show them the contract if you move forward.

    If you're querying a book that is linked to the small press book (like a sequel or something with shared characters), don't query it.

    Because if your small press book doensn't sell more than 10K copies, the book 2/linked book won't sell to another press.

    So query it only if it's completely new. Keep in mind too that your agent might want to change your name if the small press book really tanked or if your genre is significantly different for the new one.

  16. @Rob Holts (caveat to all: UF is Urban Fantasy)

    You should just write what you want to write. Query only once you have ONE project that you feel is really sox-knocking-off and focus on an agent that you want to represent that book.

    Those genres are all related. If you snag an agent that likes Fantasy, they're typically familiar and comfortable with SciFi and Urban Fantasy. Don't contort your artistic vision to get an agent. That's just going to end up a mess.

    If you genuinely write a SciFi and then write a Thriller, just because you want to, keeping in mind that both of those genres typically deal in series (so if you torture a thriller out of yourself and it sells, writing 2+ more could be a bummer), and your agent can't handle the second or doesn't have the contacts, they might point you in the direction of a colleague for that one project.

    Phew. That was a long sentence.

  17. @M Cobb

    VERY! Unfortunately, just having an amazing story isn't enough to get a memoir published, particularly in the areas of medical, parenting, or abuse memoirs.

    Memoir always needs a "Third Act." Something that goes broader than just your personal story to address society--your story result in some legislation being altered, for instance. That's platform for a memoir.

    Of course, 10K Twitter followers is never bad. These days, that's almost being a celebrity. :)

  18. @Xiann

    Like any author these days, you need a platform. So are these comics webcomics with tons of views (100K+)? Have you published them before, to great success?

    There are agents that represent graphic novels and comics, which is probably where you should go first (so, you need to do some research) but before you query anyone, publisher or agent, you have to establish a platform for these comics.

  19. @Kalinda/Crow

    Easy! Don't! Don't explain anything.

    Just query as if it were your first contact with the agent.

    1. You don't want to remind them they said "no."
    2. It's standalone/prequel, so it'll make sense without reference to the earlier book you queried.
    3. They read a LOT of stuff and there's every chance they won't remember.
    4. Your query should only be 250 words long. You don't have time.

    Just write a great query, paste great pages, and sit back and watch the offers roll in. :)

  20. @Loralie

    You say that "the biggest similarity" is the title...does that mean that it's changed genres? Category (ie was YA, now Adult)? Characters? Plot?

    Because if you got a form rejection very quickly it means two things: 1. That agent is very on top of their queries and KUDOS to him/her and 2. They immediately thought it wasn't up their alley.

    Meaning that it might not have been, necessarily, the writing that turned the agent off, but the category/genre/plot. They might not even have read the pages.

    So, no, I don't think you should requery unless the book really is a whole different animal--and in that case change the title.

  21. @Deb--see answer one as to your question on New Adult. It's pretty thorough.

    As to your second question, absolutely. If I check out an author's blog or social media and they're posting excerpts from form rejections or bashing agents or lamenting the stupidity of legacy publishing, I learn two things about that person:

    1. They have no filter and no respect for the dangers of writing online--where everyone can see and you can't take it back.

    2. They are a difficult, dare I say whiney, person. Everyone goes through a lot on submission--agents know how it feels, too!! To whine and cry as if you're being wronged is just a huge turn-off. I don't want to be the one that person is crying to.

  22. @Valerie

    If an agent rejects a full without feedback, it could mean either of those things: either the query or the manuscript isn't working.

    I'd say, if you got a full request, that it's more the former than the latter. Your query is clearly pretty good...saying that without having the query, of course.

    Sounds like you need Beta Readers. Give them the query, give them the manuscript. Take their advice.

  23. @Meredith Thank you, I do have a webcomic that regularly gets a good deal of traffic. Otherwise the comics are largely unpublished. So I guess that means I have a platform.

    However, I would most ideally like to connect with someone that publishes something more like "funny picture books" than more standard graphic novels and comics. Anyway, I guess seeking an agent seems like a reasonable course of action, so I will see what I can do :)

  24. Thank you Meredith! Obviously, a New Adult author's mission is clear: bombard the bookstores until they create shelfspace... right? (Rhetorical question!)

    If only there were a way to tactfully tell people not to complain in public if they want to look professional...

    Thanks again.

  25. @Jilly

    Ooh!! Conference question!!

    Get the most out of conferences by:
    1. Researching beforehand. Know which editors and agents you want to meet and then go and *meet* them. Don't pitch. Just talk.

    2. In formal pitch sessions, BRING THE FOLLOWING for all editors/agents you'll be pitching:
    -First 5 pages

    Why? Well, writing is not a spoken art form. Your query is more than likely tighter and stronger than your verbal pitch, no matter how hard you work on it. Have these materials ready in case your pitch bombs or you just want to ask the ed/agent to look at the query--can you say invaluable free advice?? Honestly, the ed/agent will probably be more comfortable reading the query than taking your pitch!! This is totally permissible in lieu of pitching verbally.

    As for the rest (synopsis, 5 pages) that's just in case they fall in love with your pitch/query and want to see more then and there. :)

    3. Stop talking. If you do choose to pitch verbally, say two sentences MAX and stop talking. The ed/agent will immediately ask you questions (OK, how old is so-and-so) that will give them the info they want, not what you think they want. The info they ask you for will give you insight into how an ed/agent reads and considers a pitch, which will improve your query.

    4. Be shrewd about the panels, etc you go to.
    5. Talk to the other writers!! I dare you to leave that conference with two new Beta Readers.
    6. Always, ALWAYS have a contact-info business-card-type thing with you.

  26. Leaving with beta readers is a fantastic goal. And business cards? I would not have thought of that.

    Thanks for the tips. I'll see at the Backspace Conference. I'll be sure to say hi!

  27. @Ms. Snip

    A standalone book comes to some conclusion at the end. Other things might not get wrapped up, but something major does.

    So, for the Hunger Games. The main plotline is Katniss goes to the Hunger Games and then (spoiler!!;)) she survives and goes home. Wrapped up. Could have been standalone, if we were all temporarily insane and didn't buy the book, which would have prompted the publisher to drop the series idea.

    Other things that are introduced in book 1 (hello, love story?) *don't* get wrapped up--more of the character development-type stuff. So they can continue to develop in subsequent books. Also, the plot of book 2 simply pulls Katniss right back into the Games. That was sort of set up in book one, because we know that the Games are recurring in that world. But, really, that was just an independent plot decision about book 2.

    Really, don't worry about it. Write a great query, a great first five pages, and a great book. If the ending doesn't quite wrap up an editorially inclined agent (almost all of us, these days) could fix that.

  28. @Charlie

    I don't think any agent would ever ask you whether your novel was character- or plot-driven. I find them to be the most abused terms in querying and I think my colleagues would agree.

    Of course every novel should be a balance of character and plot development. You're totally right. Slow-paced vs. fast-paced is a better delineation, and typically will indicate whether a book is more commercial fiction (fast) or more literary (slower...notice I did NOT say "slow").

    A good test is to outline your book: list every plot point/development that affects the main character's actions. How many pages are between them? If it's mostly in the 10-30 page range, you're pretty fast-paced. Which is good. Thrillers might get more into 10-20.

  29. @Deb

    You could just link them to this blog post... :)

  30. Thanks indeed for the very thorough answer to the new adult question. Deb I'm with you.

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  33. I'm so sad I missed it! I'll try and remember to ask next week!!

  34. "Just write a great query, paste great pages, and sit back and watch the offers roll in. :) "

    What a wonderful thing that would be. :)

    Thank you, Meredith! Now I think I'll be ready to proceed with a tad less query stress (any degree less is a good thing, right?!) at the turn of the new year--time to get the betas reading!


  35. Thanks, Meredith! I'm definitely in the fast-paced category. Now if I can just get a great agent like you interested in my book. Eternal optimism reigns supreme.... ;)