Monday, October 18, 2010

Open Thread, October

Hi guys - once again, a place for you to ask whatever crazy or not-so-crazy agentish questions you might have, make comments, etc. Short answers I'll do in the comments, long answers may merit a blog post. I know some folks are still asking on former open threads, so this way your question and answer won't be buried.

Use responsibly. ;)

Thanks!

85 comments:

  1. I have a question about series. I've heard a lot of people say that your first book should be written as a stand-alone, which I understand. But when you query, should you mention that the book is part of a series, or is it something that shouldn't be brought up yet?

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  2. When it comes to queries- I know that each agent is different- but I have seen conflicting tips on the "perfect" query. Some say explain the entire book in a few par. Leave no major detail out- even the ending. Then, some show a teaser of the book. Kind of feels like Vegas odds. Any pointers when the agents do not specify?

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  3. You know, I have been wondering if an agent says revise and resubmit if you have to requery or you can just say "Hey I revised it like you suggested, here it is."?

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  4. I'm finishing a fourth draft of my late-MR, and I'm getting close to querying. In my pitch, I had planned to take a few lines to explain that I have strong skills as a web designer and that my niece — an immensely-talented NY City art director — is eager to help me promote the book, should a publisher be interested.

    Do you think such info belongs in a query, or is that way too presumptuous? :-)

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  5. Anonymous3:15 PM

    Genre - it gets confusing.
    Should I be labeling my work 'urban fiction', 'paranormal thriller', 'paranormal mystery'? I've read a few agent blogs where they mention not labeling it the correct genre gets a query the ol' form rejection.

    How do we make sure we're getting it right?

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  6. Let's say that--totally hypothetically, of course--I send you a really sweet query for a would-be debut YA fantasy. You like the story, you like the voice. You think you might even request a partial. But then you get to the word count, and it's something like, oh, say, 105K words.

    Deal-breaker? Run-the-other-way-so-fast-you're-a-blur?

    I'm sure this varies from agent to agent, and even an individual agent makes exceptions to their own rules, but generally (and hypothetically! *cough*) speaking--is this kind of massive word count something that will make a break a request to see more?

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  7. Anonymous3:22 PM

    I think it's so generous that you're willing to help us out like this. Thank you in advance!

    If, halfway through reading my MS, an agent expresses interest, how long before I can expect her to finish reading it? After holding onto my full for several months, the agent suggested various directions to take the book into, including possible edits to make it fit into a different genre. She also said she'd work with me to make those edits. I took this as a positive sign; an upcoming R&R, if nothing else. I responded with my thoughts on the suggestions several weeks ago, and have heard nothing since.

    I know the standard times to nudge on a full or partial, but do I need to wait just as long in this case? I hate rushing agents, but since she's already read enough to know she's interested, I'm coming up with all sorts of wild disaster scenarios that might explain why it's taking so long to hear the final word.

    And I thought waiting on agents was difficult before this!

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  8. I have a question about BEING an agent.
    Dd you think the role of Agent or Editor as intermediary will become obsolete as the publishing industry continues to digitally evolve?

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  9. When polishing a manuscript for submission, how far do you suggest the author go? Would it be reasonable to send a decently edited/revised version that is readable (and able to be enjoyed), but may have minor editorial flaws or missed typos? Or is it better to obsessively edit till it's absolutely as close to flawless as it can be?

    I ask, because no matter how many times I look at my manuscript, I always find something to mess with. Or some odd thing I missed, like double words. And at this point, these things don't have an impact on the overall story-- or its being able to be read, understood and enjoyed ( assuming it's your cup of tea;). I feel like i'm just nitpicking now, but I don't want to be rejected for missing something I should have caught and fixed.

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  10. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Here's a question about querying with a partial. In what case is it acceptable for an unpublished writer to query agents with a partial manuscript (say, 25 or 50 pages and a synopsis)? I know there have been a good number of sales to publishers based on partials. How does this happen? Are agents willing to sign up a client based on a partial only if those pages are truly outstanding?

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  11. Anonymous4:19 PM

    If your first book doesn't sell on the first round and your agent seems to have lost momentum/enthusiasm, what is the appropriate author response?

    I don't want to be a nightmare, but I don't want to be a doormat, either. 2 months seems like a long time for an agent to have a new ms without reading.

    (Anon from Sept, in case you wondered.)

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  12. Francesca4:21 PM

    Hello! I've attended several writing conventions in the past year and some of the information passed along from agents/publishers re:querying has been dramatically different. On a whim, I pitched my MS to an agent in attendance. She loved it and asked for a partial. Problem was, none of it was written. She said NEVER do that but earlier in the day, another agent said she welcomes it.

    So, my question. When do you query? Once complete, or with a partial?

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  13. Okay, let's say a ms. has been submitted to a first round of editors when the agent leaves the biz, turning said ms. over to another agent who turns out to be uninterested in a second round of submissions after the first round either passes or doesn't respond. The agent then releases the client from their contract.

    My guess is no other agent is going to want this project. Am I correct?

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. Based on QueryTracker, a lot of agents are responding with form Rs in a couple days.
    I get auto-replies instead, saying the agent is looking forward to reading my query and will be back with me in suchandsuch a time.
    I'm really trying to figure out what it means. If anything...

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  16. Probably a bizarre question:
    I have translator credits on video games, and a writer credit on a strategy guide for a major publisher. I'm sending out queries for my paranormal romance YA that was a personal project, i.e. not attached to these credits or companies. As an agent do you want to hear about this in my query, or would you rather I left it out? Would other agents say the same?
    Thank you!

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  17. Alison4:57 PM

    Hi, Jennifer,

    Say I've queried you, and you've requested a full manuscript. It's been many months since I sent you the full, and you haven't gotten around to reading it yet. If I've done significant revisions on the MS during those months, would you want me to send you an updated copy? Thanks!

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  18. if an author gets great feedback from an agent, or multiple agents, and they all say the same thing (comments that clearly state what they loved about the MS), but the agent still passes (mostly for nothing more than the "i wasn't passionate about it" line) - what should the author do? keep querying? or is the author beating a dead horse?

    and is "i wasn't passionate about it" or "I didn't love it enough" nice agent talk for "you suck"??

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  19. Anonymous5:12 PM

    When it comes to theme, what are some important aspects a YA writer should consider including and avoiding? (I know moralizing is one thing that should be avoided.)

    Thanks in advance,
    - Valeria

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  20. When will WINGMAN be reissued, and can I get mine autographed?

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  21. I wish that I could comment on individual comments like on LJ... any way for blogger to make that happen?)


    TESS:
    If it is a stand-alone, then it isn't part of a series. If you think that it is a stand-alone that COULD be part of a series, you say "this is a stand-alone with series potential."

    If it MUST be a series in order to make sense (ie, the story isn't over at the end of book one)... then it by definition ISN'T a standalone, and then yes, you should say that you invision it as a trilogy, or two-part, or whatever.

    However I will warn you that, in my opinion, if you are a debut author, people would rather hear that it is a standalone with series potential, than that it MUST be a series.

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  22. HBIC: A synopsis is the entire book with no major detail out. If they ask for a SYNOPSIS, that is what they are asking for.

    A typical query is your info (what kind of book this is, how long, credentials if you have them) and the pitch, which is enough info to make me really want to read the book - ie, a paragraph or two at most setting up the world and the problem that the main character is getting into.

    I would ALWAYS consider this a normal query, unless for some reason that specific agent has asked for something different (like a synopsis) specifically.

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  23. Jennifer,

    I am having a difficult time deciding who to query from your agency as the policy is rejection from one is rejection from all. Do you share a query with a colleague if you think the project would suit him/her instead of you. Or, is the initial query decision the only chance? Thanks for the open forum.

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  24. ajkulig: Your mileage may vary, but I personally would respond/forward the correspondence I'd already had with the agent so that they'd remember me, and say "Hi, I've revised as you suggested, would you like to take a look." And they'll almost certainly say yes, send it all now.

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  25. Richard - to be honest, in my opinion, it is sort of putting the cart before the horse - I want to know if I love the book first; not all the fancy art directing or PR in the world will make me want it if I don't like the book itself.

    But this is nice info to have up your sleeve for when you actually do talk to the agent who is interested, particularly if your niece is an art director for a major publisher.

    Of course you can mention you are a web designer in your bio...and/or, you could use your 'strong skills as a web designer' to design an awesome website for yourself and put the link in your signature.

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  26. How difficult is it to break into YA if you have a reputation for Hard SF?

    Thank you so much for this opportunity!

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  28. Shayda, to be honest, it would have to be KNOCK MY SOX OFF AMAZING sounding for me to consider something over 90k. But then again... it has to be that anyway, right?

    And 105 isn't THAT far off.

    It is when I see 120+ that I really get the shivers.

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  29. Anon 3:22 - It sounds to me like you and the agent might have gotten your signals crossed a bit. Maybe she thinks you are revising based on what she already told you?

    I don't think it would be out of line to write her a sweet note after another week or two to check the status, if you think she owes you a response.

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  30. Jillian: Nope. The jobs/roles might change a bit, but they won't go away.

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  31. Hi, Jennifer! I'm Ty!

    I'm 7 years old and I have Down Syndrome :)

    My Mom has written some children's books about my life and adventures from my unique perspective. She is gearing up to send them out into the publishing world but is not sure if they should be labeled fiction or non-fiction, special needs or not? Or is that something a publisher decides?

    Gotta go eat din-din! Thanks for the open forum!!!

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  32. Jenny, I'd suggest you make it as good as you can reasonably make it... but if perfectionism is holding you back from submitting, you are thinking too hard about it.

    If you've run spellcheck, read it thoroughly (and used the tips you learned from the fabulous book SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS), and had beta-readers or your crit group read it, and you feel it is in as good a shape as you can make it without going nuts, GO FOR IT.

    There will be ample opportunity to fix little typos (and big ones!) down the line. :)

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  33. Anon 4:09 - I will answer this in a blog post.

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  34. Hey Jennifer!

    I wanted to ask you your opinion on romance in the upper middle grade genre. I've been told that middle grade should have little to no romance or at least a plot that doesn't center around romance. However, other people say that the light hearted books that used to be YA years ago is now upper MG (even if it's centers around romance). What do you think about that?

    Also, what do you consider the difference between upper MG and lower YA? Is there still room for light, fluffy novels in YA?

    Sorry if that was too many questions :) And thanks for answering our questions!

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  35. I got contracted by a smaller publishing house that focuses mainly on ebooks but without an agent. Are my chances of getting agented on my next book higher now? Thanks for your time and willingness to reach out!

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  36. Diana6:45 PM

    Curse touch screen, i wasn't finished! Lol sorry for the cut off. I tried to put my website in case you wanted more info on the publisher to help in answering.. Www.dianailinca.com thx!

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  37. I'm worried that I'll fall all over my first offer of representation out of sheer shock, regardless of the agent's sales history. Ignoring those who are obvious swindlers, is a sub par agent with not so great contacts better than no agent at all?

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  38. Anon 4:19 - I can unfortunately well understand taking two months - but I would also be hating myself if I took that long, and would want to quickly reassure my author.

    Also, sometimes, sadly, things just sort of fall off the radar.

    So perhaps if you feel like YOU have fallen off the radar, it is time for a quick email to schedule a phone chat. Sometimes you just have to touch base in a real way to remind them of what your needs are, where you are at, find out what is happening, etc.

    Communicating your own needs and enthusiasm can be one way to re-inspire an agent... or, if it is a bad scenario where they are really-really not digging the new book, it is a chance to figure out what is a good next step.

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  39. Francesca: Will answer in a blog post.

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  40. Jane - to be perfectly honest, that manuscript MIGHT not be dead... but it probably won't garner you a new agent.

    I'd suggest you query agents with a new project, but let them know you also have this other book that has been subbed before that you'd love to not give up on. And make sure you have a list of who has already passed.

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  41. Eden - it means nothing. If you get a auto-responder that says they will get back to you in that amount of time, it is safe to assume that they will try to do so. Other than that... probably six weeks on queries.

    QueryTracker stats are nice and all, but you'll make yourself crazy if you get all superstitious about what different form response and autoresponses "mean".

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  42. eeeschen, I think something like "I have previously written strategy guides & translated for video games" would be an OK thing to add to a bio - it is, after all, a real writing credit - but you needn't say more than that or get into it, and if you don't WANT to mention it, don't feel that you have to.

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  43. Alison - please only do this if it has truly been a VERY significant revision. And only do it once.

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  44. Amie B,
    I was about to ask the identical question, thanks for posting that! Looking forward to the response! :)

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  45. Amie, I found a line in your question very telling:

    "mostly for nothing more than the "i wasn't passionate about it" line"

    but of course, this is the very most IMPORTANT reason to reject something. It doesn't mean You Suck... it means "good but not for me."

    I'd suggest you keep going if you are getting such positive responses.

    Or see if there is anything that they are all saying that they DON'T like, and see if you can revise a bit.

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  46. Valeria, Don't make it boring or preachy.

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  47. M: Good question! I am working on it, WINGMAN is one of my personal favorites. And yes, of course, on the autograph. :)

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  48. JR Roper: I would suggest that you look at our projects and query the person who you feel will be the best fit.

    But I know it is tough, and yes, absolutely, if we like the book a lot but feel like it will be better for somebody else, we will share. We all talk to each other every day. :)

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  49. Belinda8:16 PM

    First, thanks for going this. And I also have a question about series.
    Say I'm trying to make a novel be a standalone with series potential, rather than the first in a series (aka, must be in a series), because I've heard that advice before. Now, how much unexplained story that can lead to other books is acceptable? Meaning, character's backstory that people may or may not want to know, some questions that are raised and not fully answered etc.

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  50. DD Tannebaum - Just cause you are good at writing one, doesn't AUTOMATICALLY mean you'll be good at writing the other. But I think grownup SF to YA is one of the easier transitions to make.

    (After all, SF/F was YA when there was no YA.)

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  51. Hi Ty (and Ty's mom) - probably these would fall under the umbrella of "special issues picture book" (I assume they are picture books?)

    You might do better with a specialty niche publisher that specializes in these sorts of books - I would suggest you do a bit of research and find published books that are sort of like what you have, and find out who published them! Lots of times, for smaller publishers such as this, you don't actually need an agent.

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  52. Jenn -
    "Upper MG" and "Lower YA" are what I sort of consider a new category, "tween." That is clean friendship/rivalry stories and romances for middle school (5th-7th grade) audience. Examples: the Aladdin MIX books like my client Jo Whittemore's FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF. Also my client Kate Messner's books BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z and SUGAR AND ICE. Or the EMILY WINDSNAP books.

    Certainly these are appropriate both reading level-wise and content-wise for a younger reader, but they usually feature kids in 7th grade, and a slight romance, and COULD be older. Like a young teen wouldn't be embarrassed by reading them or think they were too babyish... OR too racy.

    It is tough though, because a lot of publishers are looking for things that are older or grittier. But if you are able to have this spot-on 7th grade voice, you have a rare gift. So don't give up!

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  53. Diana - no, not really, unless you sell a bajillion copies. Sorry. :/

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  54. CuteySnail - umm... NO. A "sub par agent" with lousy contacts is WORSE than no agent at all. You could be your OWN sub-par agent with lousy contacts.

    A new agent at an established agency is good. An established agent at a new agency is good. An established agent at an established agency is good.

    A lousy agent at a lousy agency? NOT GOOD.

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  55. Thanks, Jennifer! I'll tell my Mom ;)

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  56. Belinda - I'd make an effort to tie up all major loose ends. But sometimes we don't know every little thing about a characters life - and we don't even know what we are missing until we find it out later. So it is fine, I wouldn't worry too much about it. :)

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  57. Anonymous5:00 AM

    If a writer chooses to go directly to smaller publishing houses without an agent, does it hurt their chances of getting an agent for a different project later on? Assuming in this scenario that the publisher is legitimate, produces physical books, and that the book is published. That might be assuming a lot...

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  58. thanks so much! when i first read your response there was a little bit of panic. you said, "telling" and i thought how does she know i'm guilty??? *repeats SHOW don't TELL until it sinks in* :)

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  59. Anon 5:00am - Wow you are up early. Also, plenty of authors have gone to small presses first. Like Maggie Stiefvater had two books, unagented at first, from FLUX before her scholastic books, etc.

    The thing is, is it a legit small press (like the aforementioned Flux) that is putting out good books and actually getting them reviewed and in bookstores, considered for awards, etc? If it is, and you like their books and trust the people you are working with, then that's awesome.

    If it isn't... then you might consider WHY you are going that route. It might a learning experience, and it might end up fine. But worst case, they screw you over, or put out a terrible looking book riddled with mistakes that doesn't even get into stores etc, that has your name on it.... ugh.

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  60. Anonymous6:21 AM

    Hi Jennifer - Can I ask what your desk / inbox looks like right now? Do you have a lot of partials, fulls and queries on your plate? In other words, is now a good time to query you?

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  61. Anon 6:21 - It is never a "good time" - and it is always a "good time".

    In other words, there is literally never going to be a time when I am not extremely busy with 9bajillion things going on.

    However, I don't mind being extremely busy with 9bajillion things going on, it is sort of in the job description.

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  62. Meredith6:46 AM

    Thank you so much! I have a question about historical YA and trying to stay historically accurate while also appealing to a YA audience. For instance, it once was common for people to marry in their early teen years, but would adding a marriage storyline instantly take you out of the YA market because marriage isn't something teens today can really relate to? Or does it depend on how it's handled/how it's written?

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  63. Anon 3:15 about Genre - I scrapped my answer to you, I am going to do a longer post on the subject. :)

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  64. Anonymous8:34 AM

    Thank you for doing this!

    Suppose you have a full out with your dream agent, but in the meantime have written another book (which you think would be appropriate for Dream Agent) and are querying other agents with that project so as not to waste time.

    At what point, if any, would it be appropriate and welcome to inform Dream Agent about the new project? If you're offered representation on it? Before?

    If Dream Agent ultimately rejects the first project, how long should you wait before querying with the second? Does this change if other agents have partials or fulls already?

    And finally, is there any way you could get stuck in a position where it would be inappropriate to inform Dream Agent about the new project after receiving an offer from another cool but not quite as dreamy agent, and if so, how would you avoid that?

    Thank you!

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  65. Anonymous9:29 AM

    How much does it help a new writer if he/she has an established following from being a newspaper/magazine writer and being on tv? Does it earn any points with you as an agent? With potential editors?

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  66. This might be too broad of a question for this open thread, but what do things typically look like AFTER you sign a client? There's so much online about query writing and finding the right agent match, but less about what things look like after. For example, how many editors do you typically submit to on a first round? Is there a magic number of rejections after which you throw in the towel and encourage the client to move on? How do you plan your submissions strategy?
    As a newbie, I'm wondering how many possible homes there really are for a manuscript and what a great agent will do to try to place it.

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  67. Meredith - I think you nailed it about "how it is handled."

    And to be honest - though it is perhaps not always historically perfectly accurate - I think most kids (and adults for that matter) prefer to read books that are sort of putting modern sensibilities in historical context.

    Like for example, TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE, about a girl who bucks authority to become a girl pirate... probably not super-historically accurate, but appeals to our modern sense of girl-power.

    Lots of historical fiction written now has to do with girls having to decide whether to get married and have kids or buck convention and become xyz (hint: bucking convention and becoming xyz usually wins. Which it probably wouldn't have done in real life.)

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  68. Oh gosh anon 8:34. What a complicated and specific question.

    I hate that people think of "dream agents" - a dream agent is the one that totally connects with you and wants to hustle for your work... not always the most famous one.

    Basically, try to only query one ms at a time. But if this (complicated) series of events were to happen, and "dream agent" is looking at one ms but you got an offer on another, but you had reason to believe that your "dream agent" is really a perfect fit and already seems interested in you and your writing, it is OK to ask (nicely) if she wants to see what the other agents had an opportunity to see.

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  69. Anon 9:29 - depends, how loyal, and how big a following? Certainly it would help, if it is a big following WHO ALSO would be interested in the kind of books that you write.

    FOR EXAMPLE: You have a top-rated radio show about restaurants and wine. You write a food & wine guide. Built in audience! Awesome!

    HOWEVER: You have a top-rated radio show about restaurants and wine. You write a children's book about a bug starting day care. So what?

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  70. K - I will try to address this in a future blog post. :)

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  71. Your willingness to help writers knocked me out, and I blogged about your blog. If you do not feel comfortable with something in the blog, then let me know and I will change that something.

    http://writeahabdamnit.blogspot.com/

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  72. I'm honored the question's worth a future blog post! Thanks. Looking forward to it.

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  73. Anonymous11:24 AM

    I love reading your blog and your answers to the questions -- the only thing that deters me is I always have to scroll up to know what question is being asked of you because there are just so many! Do you think you could c/p the question with your answer when you're doing it in comment format? Since, sadly, you can't do threads like on LJ...

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  74. Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I think I speak for everyone when I say: We really appreciate this forum! :-)

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  75. Hi! Thanks for doing this.
    I've been doing research on the city of Boston during and just after the Civil War for a Middle Grade novel I am planning.

    Boston was a hotbed of racism in that time period - The Irish were hated by the Protestants, the blacks were hated by the Irish, etc.

    My question is: how much racial bigotry is okay to show in a piece of historical fiction?

    My 12 year old male MC, as an Irish boy in Boston, would certainly have been exposed to racism on both sides of the problem. I'm thinking milder racial slurs (though how 'mild' are any of them, really) would be okay in this format, but I'm truthfully gunshy about using them.

    Thanks so much!
    Amy

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  76. Denise Friend8:09 AM

    If an agent requested a full and later rejects it without giving anything more than a general explanation, is it ok to resubmit if you've done a complete rewrite/edit?

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  77. Miz Sharon & Richard, thanks! :)

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  78. Anon 11:24 says:
    Do you think you could c/p the question with your answer when you're doing it in comment format?

    **

    Yes.

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  79. Amy asks: How much racial bigotry is okay to show in a piece of [mg] historical fiction?

    ***

    I think that you have to be truthful to the story you are telling. It is more insulting, both to your audience AND to the history you are trying to tell, if you aren't honest about how people were treated back then.

    That said, you are telling ONE CHARACTER'S story, so you have to be truthful to that. If something is meant to be shocking, one great alarming example of it will make the point better than a bunch of tiny examples. If something is NOT meant to be shocking, like, this is just how the world is, then your character will not even think twice about it.

    You should probably read other books set in the era (particularly with racial themes) to see how it was handled there.

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  80. Denise says:
    If an agent requested a full and later rejects it without giving anything more than a general explanation, is it ok to resubmit if you've done a complete rewrite/edit?

    ***

    You can if you want. At least you can write and say "I've re-written, would you like to see again" - they might say no.

    I would only do this if you have an idea that they really liked it the first time around, and if you have done an EXTENSIVE re-write, and it has been more than a few months. Good luck!

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  81. Loved the post about genre. Could you please comment on what makes YA?

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  82. Thanks you so much, Jennifer, for answering my question on racism.

    I do plan on treating it as 'this is the way my world is' in the character's eyes. You helped me put it all in perspective and I'm grateful.

    Amy

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  83. Carol - YA is not a genre. YA can be ANY of those genres I discussed, as long as it has a teenage protagonist and is in *some way* about their transition from innocence to experience or "coming of age."

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