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I’ve read that literary fiction writers should consider submitting book-length manuscripts to contests and independent presses at the same time they are querying agents. This feels unorthodox to me, but given the tight market for literary fiction, maybe it’s warranted. What is your feeling on this?
I think that’s probably a wise and realistic approach for short story collections. The fact is, if you’re publishing stories in venues high profile enough to suggest that a collection might be a viable commercial prospect for a major publisher, you’re probably going to be hearing from agents already.
For novels, however, I’d save submissions to contests and independent presses for a second or third round. I don’t think you need to wait until you’ve queried every agent in the world, but make sure you’ve given yourself a chance with a few dozen or so people who seem like they’d be a...
I have a book I think would make a good e-book—it's fiction but with lots of relevant (historical and political) links to videos, archival photos, cultural analysis. Is it a good idea to market this to agents and editors as a potential e-book? Or would that seem gimmicky? Also, would it make it seem less literary?
An e-book original is, unfortunately, still perceived as a last resort for a book. Since, to my knowledge, e-book publishers operate on a no-advance payment structure (with higher royalties most of the time, to make up for that) pitching your project as a "good e-book" is like telling agents they might never make a dime on it. So, not an ideal foot to put forward! Instead, pitch the book based on all its general merit; then, in a separate paragraph, argue that your topic lends itself to unique opportunities for digital engagement in an e-book edition, which would be an asset to the overall...
What type of query letter piques your interest?
One that's as well written as the book itself. Even better is one that's short, pithy, and demonstrates the author's understanding of, and aspirations for, how the book will be received as part of the literary and cultural conversation. I'm much more interested in knowing why an author wrote something and what kinds of books and authors inspired her, than I am in a lengthy synopsis. The latter should take no more than one paragraph.
Is it not expedient to send a sample chapter of a novel-in-progress, to find out where interest might lie, rather than wait until you've got it all done, and then maybe spend the next five years sending out queries?
Since we agents have such heavy reading (and the lion's share of that reading is material we won't ultimately take on) you shouldn't go on a fishing expedition with a work-in-progress (unless it's non-fiction, where a proposal/sample can be enough to sell). Either way, you're going to finish your novel if you're committed to it, so my advice is to use submission energy wisely. Most agents won't offer to represent fiction without digesting the complete project, so you don't stand to gain much from reaching out prematurely.
Is it possible to find an agent for a novel if you don't have a website or social network platform?
Yes, it's absolutely possible. If an agent loves your book enough, he or she will sign you, and the two of you can work together on any platform issues, if necessary, before submitting your manuscript to publishers. That being said, creating a website is relatively easy, and a well-done or particularly creative site can be a plus. Similarly, a larger number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers can tip things in your favor if an agent is on the fence about taking you on as a client.
Being active online, though, is valuable in ways other than just ticking off a marketing box. Online...
Is there a market for just plain funny fiction? Or does it have to fit into a genre such as mystery or literary fiction?
Oh, there’s a market—it’s just so damn hard to crack. Nothing is as subjective as humor, hands down. Even if the acquiring editor thinks the project is funny, chances are that someone high up in sales or marketing disagrees. But I think the minute you start thinking that your writing “has to fit” certain parameters is the minute you lose an essential part of your voice.
Why does a writer need an agent?
Publishing, at its best, is a team effort. The agent is the writer’s first professional reader and, in most cases, first editor. Ideally, a writer should pick an agent who has fallen deeply in love with the writer’s work, warts and all. In the best of these relationships, the writer and agent develop a rhythm on the editorial side, working together to talk through the trouble spots in a way that truly resonates and allows the writer to make the work better. Agents and editors spend a lot of time talking about books and taste, so having an agent who really understands your work—and knows...
At what point is an author justified in ending his relationship with his agent?
Writers leave their agents, and vice versa, for any number of reasons, so the point at which to do so varies. If you do decide it’s time to end the relationship, it’s wise to do it gracefully. If that agent has sold any of your work, chances are you’ll have ongoing contact regarding that project or projects. It’s good to apply the law of diminishing returns. Also, ask yourself: Do you have serious misgivings about the quality of service you’re receiving? Do you believe the agent’s goals are aligned with yours? At the same time, remind yourself that no one is perfect—the grass is not always...
I’ve made revisions to a novel that change it in significant ways, including a name change. Is it bad form to submit it to some agents who asked for the manuscript before but passed on it?
I think you can query agents with the same book if you feel it’s been significantly improved. You should be up front, however, with the fact that they have previously seen a version of it.
Do you think it’s a good idea for people who are not completely confident in their work to make an attempt at soliciting an agent? Is it worth the effort to try? Which raises the question: What evidence would one need to consider oneself worthy in the first place?
Think about it this way: If only supremely confident people attempted to put their work out there, then we’d hardly have any books. Is it worth the effort to try? As I once heard Andrei Codrescu, in an NPR commentary, quote Heraclitus: Who can stop the sea from rising? Which is to say, though sadly lacking his thick Romanian accent, this is a rhetorical question. So why not try? As for your last question, I fear it is too existential to take on in this brief format. I’m going to refer you to my colleague Betsy Lerner’s blog, www....