Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why not?

My project is good enough to publish, why does no agent want to represent it or no editor want to publish it? The previous year no agent or editor had been interested in her project and the frustrated author asked the panel. Good question.

There are several things involved, and the first is competition. I’ve said before that we receive hundreds of submissions a month and a large number of them are good enough to be published. That means good is just not good enough, it takes exceptional. If your manuscript is really good but it is sitting there beside one or more that are simply better, that editor or agent is going to go with better. It’s just how things work.

That means it is not about judging you or judging your work, it is simply picking the best offering in the eye of the person making the selection. That brings taste into the discussion. The things that I really like might not be to someone else’s taste. I have editors that I really like and who like me, but I have never sold them anything. Our tastes are too dissimilar. I have other editors I sell to all the time because we have very similar tastes. This is the second factor an author is up against when submitting, is your work something that will appeal to the particular taste of the editor or agent. Not a question of whether your work is good or bad, but a question of fit with their taste.

The next factor is “does is fit the slot?” A particular editor is probably trying to fill a catalog slot. They are looking for something specific and an author’s work may or may not be what they are looking for at a particular time. Again, does it mean the manuscript is being judged up or down? No, it just isn’t what they are looking for at that time so out comes the dreaded, “This is not a fit for us” letter. You can multiply that times multiple editors for the agent. It’s our job to try and know what editors are looking for so we are asking the same question, “This is good, but does it fit what some of the editors we are working with are looking for?”

The kind of project that it is can affect whether it fits the slot. Projects that neatly fit in some genre, style or category are easier for an editor or agent to deal with. They are easier to sell, but such books also tend to be a bit average and are seldom a blockbuster or a best seller. It’s the project that stretches the envelope that becomes a bestseller, but they are also much harder to get placed as a rule. Some editor has to take a chance on it. And the agent has to know that editor who is ready to take a chance.

Not just any editor is in a position to gamble. A banker who makes very many bad loans is going to find themselves out of work. Editors who have too many titles that do not perform are in the same situation. If an editor has just hit one out of the park and is languishing in the limelight of bringing a best-seller to the market they are in a position to take a chance on something. Others are probably looking for proven titles that they feel comfortable the reader base that they sell to will be interested in buying. Agents are looking for what these editors are interested in publishing and we try to know what that is.

So you see it isn’t black and white, it isn’t a simple this is good or this is not good, it’s subjective. All of these factors come into play plus a lot of others I haven’t gone into. The largest factor, however, is for the author to write an exceptional book, to do a great edit or it (or have one done) so it can compete well against the other titles, and to go through the work when it is finished to insure that it flows beautifully from cover to cover. When those comparisons are made, we need to put ourselves in the position of being the top title.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's complicated

Saundra has been planning for a year - packing and unpacking for months - we have house sitters and dog sitters, people to clean house and people to take care of the yard. The logistics of a long trip would make Patton look like an amateur organizer. We alerted the people in the cul-de-sac about the folks who would be at the house so they wouldn't be calling down the heat on them (like happened to my son when he showed up when we were gone and they didn't know who he was.) I may have to also get a dispatcher to juggle the traffic at the house.

I used to think trips were complicated because of everything necessary to have kids with you, but it's just the two of us now, you'd think it would be easy particularly when I do conferences a couple of times a month. Not so much.

We're headed to a couple of speaking engagements followed by going to a conference in Estes Park Colorado followed by going on up to take an Alaskan cruise. Did I mention she has been planning for a year? The picture above was taken on our last cruise down in the Caribbean.

We're very much looking forward to the trip. Saundra has made a reservation with a professional photographer for private lessons while we are up there so there should be some great pictures. Stay tuned, more later . . .

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I've talked about this before. If an author is comfortable representing themselves, comfortable with the process of negotiating contracts, has the contacts with publishers etc, then maybe it is not necessary. Some of my western writing friends have sold to those publishers that publish westerns during their whole career. They feel no need to have an agent now.

One person pitched me to be his agent, but after listening to it I asked him if the main reason he wanted the book was to sell it at the seminars he gives around the country and he said yes. I asked if he saw the book also selling well in bookstores and he said he doubted it, that it really needed to be the companion book to his presentation. So then I asked why he wanted to give me 15% of it if he was going to do all that? And why he wanted a large publisher and give them a larger percentage when he could self publish and make all that money himself. He didn't need an agent.

But for the most part a person pitching publishers themselves need to restrict that activity to smaller houses that are comfortable working directly with the author. Most larger houses require an agent. They know we are going to go through several hundred submissions a month looking for the projects we will submit. That's several hundred submissions they won't have to go through so that is why they have gone to dealing with agents only. Sometimes if the author meets them at a conference the editor will invite a submission but chances are if they are a house that say 'agent only' the house themselves will help get an agent involved if they find they have interest in a project. Those are no-brainers for us of course.

So writers get an agent to represent them to the publisher, to handle the negotiations, to be a buffer for them to the publisher if problems arise. When we send a submission we are in essence putting our stamp on it which makes it something of an endorsement. In addition we are in essence selling a client our contacts. All agents have contacts in common, but we all have contacts that are different as well. We don't sell books to publishing houses, we sell to editors that we have established relationships with. Personal tastes enter into this. I have an editor that so far I have never failed to sell her a project I have decided is a fit for her. Our tastes are that similar. There are other editors that have connected on deals because the project appealed to both of us. Of course, I also have a couple of other editors that are very good friends of mine but we have never connected on a project. Our tastes are very dissimilar.

On occasion I realize I have used all of my contacts to no avail for a client. In such a case I have gotten with the client and released them from their contract to allow them to get with a different agent with a different set of contacts who might could get their book placed for them. I have had new clients come to me after being with another agent for the same reason.

Finding the right agent is a bit like dating. I'm looking for projects that are well written, where the content of the project appeals to me, and where I think it is a good fit for the contacts that I have. The potential client is looking to see if they are comfortable with me as a person and they too are interested in seeing if I seem to be operating in areas that would be a fit for their project. A good fit means a good working relationship.