Saturday, September 25, 2010

Open Thread, September

It's that time again, kids. Open Thread time!

While I am getting ready for tomorrow's YA EXTRAVAGANZA (are you coming?), this is your chance to ask whatever agentish or bookish questions you like, give commentary, tell me some interesting facts or stories, show cute animal pix, or whatever.

Short answers will be provided in the comments, long answers might find themselves fodder for the blog.

I want to hear from you, so go to it!


  1. I'll bite :-) This was a question I asked in the comments the other day, but in case you didn't see it, I'll repost here (with apologies if it was just that you didn't want to answer, which is totally cool!)

    We've been talking in my writing group about YA literature, and the majority feels it is harder to sell--and get an agent for--contemporary romance, coming of age type tales than it is to sell a paranormal/fantasy story. What is your opinion on this?

    Also, do you see the value in sending your manuscript, particularly if it is your first, to the various book doctors/editors out there before sending querys?

    Love your blog and all the Moxie info on twitter! Have a great weekend :-)

  2. This seems like a good place for the question I've been meaning to ask.

    In the bio section of the query, I'm aware that we should stick to writing credentials or ones that are specifically linked to the book we're trying to sell. What about industry credentials? Can an internship with a publisher be mentioned or should it be left off the query?

    Thank you.

  3. The biggest issue I am running into as I write my query letter, is determining whether or not my novel is a YA or more for the adult literary world. I don't want to waste the time of YA agents or make myself like ignorant by sending my queries to them when my paranormal romance might be too adult.

    However, before leaving the classroom, many of my middle school students introduced me to paranormal books such as The Twilight Saga and even the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Knowing that this age groups reads whatever is deemed good on the shelves (without looking at the shelf it's stocked on), should I query these YA agents anyway, and let them make the decision on the appropriateness of the novel?

  4. Good morning,
    I'd appreciate suggestions on how to transition from a career in marketing (primarily in magazine publishing) to becoming a literary agent. Where does one begin?Thanks.

  5. At what point in the writer-agent-publisher process should an author share her ideas about marketing? Obviously, the quality of the work is of #1 importance, but then when in the process does the selling/marketing of the book move up in importance? The query doesn't seem like the place to discuss, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts as to when is the oportune time to open up a dialogue about it? Thanks!

  6. Jennifer,

    I have a question about cash flow in the agent system. I understand that standard way that payment works is the publisher gives the author's and agent's cut to the agent, who then passes on the author's cut to the author. I've also heard some say that this is a bad idea for the author, in the rare case that the agent files for bankruptcy, leaves the industry, gets ill, etc, and writers should asked the publisher to send them their royalty check directly. What's your take on this from an agent's perspective? Is there any reason that the system is currently like this?

  7. Tabby8:01 AM

    You've mentioned in past interviews that you love HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT and THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. What is it about these particular books that wowed you?

  8. OK, here it goes.

    I submitted a query letter to tons of literary agents but not necessarily the MS. I've heard back from about 75% of them with a response and 2 have partial submissions that they're reviewing (for the last 4 months so I'm not too hopeful on that).

    My question is, is it OK to rewrite a query letter and resubmit it to the same agents that received your old one for the same MS, especially if those agents never saw any portion of the MS? Or do you abandon the manuscript because of the lack of an intriguing first attempt at querying?

    I love the story, and really don't want to self-publish it but I also don't want it to fade away into the recesses of my closet. Not sure what I should do.

    Thank you so much for allowing writers an opportunity to ask these questions!

    Best Regards,


  9. I'm about to start a rewrite of my YA thriller, with historical and paranormal elements. Is this a saturated market? If so, is it best to set the novel aside (and work on my futuristic middle grade adventure) or keep plugging? I feel a tad writing ADHD lately, so many ideas, so many directions.

  10. Rachel: I wouldn't say "harder to sell" but... well...

    It is very hard to sell quiet, literary, nicely-written-but-nothing-much-happensy books, whether they are fantasy or realistic.

    It is much easier to sell a dramatic, suspenseful, hooky, sexy, voicey book where lots of awesome stuff happens, whether that book is fantasy or realistic.

  11. Do you think books such as "Flicka, Ricka, Dicka" by Maj Lindman and the "Best Friends" series by Mary Bard and the Carolyn Haywood books stand the test of time?

  12. Dawn: You can mention it in passing if you like, particularly if it was a publisher that does the kind of books you write. However it isn't something you need to spend more than a few words on, and you needn't feel compelled to mention it.

  13. Natasha, it can be a fine line between what is YA and what is adult.

    If you are really confused, ask yourself, are the main characters teenagers?

    If so, go ahead and query both YA and adult agents, and say that it is a fantasy (or whatever) with "YA-Adult crossover potential"... and we'll figure it out.

    If the main characters in your book are not teenagers, you are not writing YA.

  14. Sheri, I wrote a blog post on the topic of How To Be An Agent here:

  15. Michelle, I personally think you should back-burner thoughts of specific marketing until you and your agent have actually sold your manuscript to a publisher.

    After that, it can be a year (or two!) before your book actually hits shelves - plenty of time to cook up lots of awesome ideas.

    As for what you can do in the meantime, if you are good at and want to blog, tweet or whatever, by all means do - but only if it is something you'd want to do anyway, and if you really want to be a part of that community, not if it is something you are only doing because you feel like "I have to market my book!"

  16. --This is my dog. He's quite adorable.:)

  17. Livia,

    It is standard for publishers to cut one check and send it to the agent for a couple of reasons: They have many thousands of checks to write already and accounting is frankly difficult enough for them to get right without doubling it, and, your agent is supposed to be checking your royalties against your royalty statements, is preparing your tax forms, etc, and it is just easier to actually see the check.

    That said, if you part ways with your agent, or your agent goes out of business or gets ill or dies or whatever, it is easy enough to ask the publisher to change it so that your cut gets mailed to you directly.

    If you just want to do that because you don't trust your agent, though... probably they aren't a great agent for you.

  18. I have a question--I'm working on the query for my new YA novel, and I'm not sure which genre I should indicate because it's both a dystopian and a fairy tale retelling. How should I handle that?

  19. I have a couple questions (might think of more later, though!)

    1) Have you (or anyone else) ever rejected a full MS for no reason other than you weren't in love with it, but then found yourself thinking about it a few days after rejection? Would you then reconsider, or leave your word as final?

    2) If you read a full MS and rejected it, again because you didn't click, and then a year later received another query by that same writer with a new book, would you think negatively in some way because they still weren't agented?

  20. Querying question:

    After parting ways with my agent due to a 'restructuring of his business model' I'm plunging back into the querying pool. Several of my friends are trying to convince me that I should always include sample pages with a query, even if the agent doesn't ask for them.

    I've held to my guns though and insisted that submission guidelines must be followed to a T. But I wonder, is this accepting of unasked for material becoming a new thing or are my friends misguided? Thanks!

  21. Tabby:

    The books are very different, of course, but they do have a couple things in common.

    In both SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, and HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford, I found the main characters to be completely realistic and like people I "get" and want to listen to. Flawed, sometimes infuriating, sometimes funny... like, you know, people.

    Neither book offered neatly packaged relationships or easy solutions to the characters problems, but though they had sadness in them, both were ultimately HOPEFUL books.

    Both books made me laugh AND cry.

  22. Marcus,

    It sounds to me as if you are saying you sent out a ton of query letters (what constitutes a ton, may I ask? 30? 100? More than that?)

    Let's say you mean 100. Of that as I understand it, 25 were no response, 73 were flat rejections, and 2 requested partials?

    Yes, I'd say this is a very low rate of return. I'd suggest that you either get a crit group or join an online forum such as Absolute Write or submitting to the Query Shark where you can get feedback on your query. Then TAKE the feedback, rewrite, get more feedback, perhaps retitle your manuscript... then try again.

    And you might consider querying people who accept sample pages in the query letter, so that at least you'll know they saw some of the actual book.

  23. Julie, Without knowing anything about either of the actual books, I don't think that either of those genres would be a BAD thing to have, provided of course that they are unique and awesomely written.

    So go with what you feel most passionate about. Or write one in the morning and one in the afternoon!

  24. Anonymous9:31 AM

    In the case that two subagents are used, does it ever happen that the agent takes 30% commission? 10% for your agent, 10% for each subagent?


  25. Marjorie,

    Sadly the old-fashioned books are rather out of favor today. Flicka Ricka and Dicka are still in print, but the Best Friend series isn't (to my knowledge) and the Haywood books are barely.

    I think that quiet, nice "neighborhood" type stories like this still have a place and certainly some kids prefer them. And as long as there are Waldorf schools and similar, there will be an audience for these stories, but there is much less call for "little girls in pinafores" books than there was even when I was a kid.

    There are similar books of course, but set in the modern era. Like the Main St. or Beacon Street Girls books, which are basically clean, modern Best Friend equivalents. Or Iris & Walter series, lovely friendship stories for young readers.

  26. Jenny: YAY PUPPYDOG!!! I will show the pix to Moxie.

  27. Nazarea:

    What's wrong with saying "dystopian fairy-tale retelling" ?

  28. This question came up during a critique session with my writing group and it seemed everyone had a different opinion.

    Is it okay for characters in YA novels to use guns? My story takes place in the future and several of the teenage characters have and use guns. I'm in the middle of revising, so it wouldn't be impossible to replace the word gun with some imaginary weapon from the future but I feel like that's a cop out.

    We hunted (bad choice of word?) down a librarian in the YA section to ask what she thought and she said it was fine, but her coworker overheard and they ended up disagreeing!

    Can you shed any light on this?


  29. Chanelle:

    1) That has never happened to me. I am not saying it COULDN'T happen, but it seems pretty unlikely. Especially if I am on the fence, I tend to wait on fulls for a bit after I have read them to see what I think about it days later. If I can't remember what I thought about it... that gives me my answer right there!

    2) Not at all. I would think "yay, that talented writer that I requested a full from before is trying again, now let's see if this one is a good fit!"

  30. Heather: Unless an agent's submission guidelines specifically say "Do Not Include Sample Pages" - I'd include them.

    Pasted into the body of the email after the query letter. Do not send as attachments, it might cause your query to be filtered straight to spam and most people don't want to open attachments from strangers.

  31. Melissa: Standard commission for regular domestic sales without the use of subagents is 15%.

    Standard commission for foreign rights or film sales can be 20% or 25% depending on the arrangement that agency has with their co-agents.

    I personally have never heard of 30%, but I hesitate to say that it is a sign of crookedness - have you checked with Preditors and Editors about whether the agency is legit? Do they have a good sales record and happy, successful clients?

  32. Also, since I can never resist the chance to show off Nellie and Nomee, here's a picture of the three of us watching the finale of Lost. I spent the whole thing with a dog elbow in my throat! They wish they had Moxie's brute force so they could have the whole couch to themselves.

  33. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Yes to all three. I had just never heard of the 30% commission, either, but otherwise they seem legit.


  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. Thanks Jennifer! That's great to know about the sample pages.

  36. Out of pure curiosity, I have a couple questions about what you've seen queried recently :) What have you seen a lot of lately, in terms of over all plot devices? AND what would you like to see more of?

    I'm also curious, on a different front, what you think makes a 'strong' female character?

    (It's also awesome that you're doing this. I didn't know I had questions until I saw you were taking them and after I read through everyone else's questions...)

  37. Anonymous11:25 AM

    If you got a query/sample from someone whose work felt similar to one of your clients (I'm thinking Kate Messner), would that be a good thing? Or (if you thought it was good), would you refer it to another agent at ABLA?

    Thank you!

  38. Oh and ONE MORE THING about the guns... no, you know what I am actually going to write a whole blog post about it, this is getting outta control. ;)

  39. Jessica Lei:

    Every single day I get at least three queries featuring fallen angels, demons or other such beasts, usually wandering around suburban high schools looking all emo.

    I know that lots of people adore these sorts of stories, but I am over them to be honest. Unless there is something totally unique and interesting that makes it stand out.

    I would much prefer to get completely fresh and brilliantly written, oh, anything else.

    Strong female character, to me, is one that is multi-dimensional, not all perfect all the time, doesn't have to be rescued 24/7, thinks about other things besides dudes, but still has the capacity for cool interesting relationships.

  40. Tracy,

    I love Kate Messner's writing, and I think there is certainly room on my list for more witty, warm and compelling middle grade (assuming that is what you mean, she does write chapter books and picture books as well but those aren't out yet).

    If I thought it was just wonderful but perhaps TOO close, I would certainly pass it along to the other agents at the agency. :)

  41. And Jessica Lei - to clarify - I don't think there is anything specifically WRONG with those fallen angel stories, or that they are automatically BAD... I just get a lot of them and unless it was something really different, it wouldn't be my cup of tea.

  42. Anonymous12:08 PM

    Thank you, Jennifer. You read a full from me before and I have another project almost ready to query. I'll send it your way as soon as I can. :)


  43. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Um...I apologize if this posts twice...the internet ate my first question. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to query you. One problem...I queried another agent at ABLA about nine months ago. After requesting the full manuscript, your colleague ultimately rejected it, saying that it would be too difficult at this time to sell a YA with a boy MC. Is this kind of "no" a no from the whole agency? The manuscript has been extensively revised, yet the MC has remained a boy, of course. I have read the ABLA submission guidelines over and over, so I know it is okay to requery another agent after so many months if the MS has been revised, but I guess I'm wondering about the nature of the rejection? Since the MC hasn't changed gender...can I still requery? Thanks in advance for answering!

  44. Ant:

    If you've significantly revised it and many months have passed, you can go for another ABLA agent. Just be sure to be upfront "so and so read the full and passed but it has been significantly revised" or whatever - because if I love it and bring it into a meeting, and my colleague says she already read it, and I don't know that, I will feel like you were hiding something from me. :-)

  45. Melissa & Jenn -

    Yes, in rare cases, a 30% commission is taken on a subrights sale; these usually occur in territories where a particular expertise is an unusual language is required. It's rare but some agencies are now including it in their agency agreements.



  46. Thanks for chiming in, Colleen! :)

  47. KinDallas5:37 PM

    I've seen a lot of debate about "boy" fiction recently, and some of it is contradictory. On the one hand we hear that good boy fiction (male MC and/or interesting to male readers) is in short supply. On the other, we hear it's a tough sell. What's your experience been? And does it matter if it's YA versus MG?

  48. I loved reading all your responses!

    This was the second part of my question above, so if you are still taking questions . . . :-)

    Do you see the value in sending your manuscript, particularly if it is your first, to the various book doctors/editors out there before sending querys to agents?

  49. I just saw your Twitter post about this thread. How neat that you're doing this! I'm curious whether the ABLA rule about not resubmitting applies to queries as well as manuscripts? In other words, if one agent there passed on a query without requesting material, would be be verboten to query a different agent there on the same book? Thanks!

  50. KinDallas:

    MG boy books are everywhere. Hello, Percy Jackson? Wimpy Kid? Pendragon? Alex Rider? These books are doing fine. If you have a MG awesomely funny adventure up your sleeve, let me know.

    YA boy books are in short supply, yet they also don't sell very well unless they are really for girls (ie, they are about relationships, and getting into the mind of the boy.)

    Every publisher seems to try about one truly "boy book" per season and most of those slots are filled up with existing authors. So it isn't IMPOSSIBLE to sell... just much less likely than middle grade.

  51. Rachel - I think spellcheck, plus a good critique group or partners, is perhaps a better value than a book doctor. Because part of learning how to edit is by reading other people's work, seeing what works and what doesn't, as well as getting those crits on your own stuff.

    Freelance editors are VERY EXPENSIVE. But they can do wonders, so, if you want to go that route you can - but I would try to exhaust my free options first, personally.

  52. Yes Brenda, a no from one of us is a no from all of us, unless a significant amount of time has passed and you've reworked the material.

  53. Anonymous7:04 PM

    Well heres my question,

    As for titles in a book, what should a writer aim for? Something that kinda tells you what the book will be about in advance, or simply the name of the MC or another character?
    What are your suggestions on titles?

    Thanks : )
    - Valeria

  54. Valeria, I think that a title should hint at the tone of the book. You might want to pick ten of your fave books (that are similar in tone to your book) and write their titles down. What do they have in common?

    Like for example, YA Paranormal Romances often have one or two word titles that are enigmatic and evocative sounding. "Swoon" "Shiver" "Linger" "Twilight" ... etc.

    Fun middle grade girly stories often have long goofy titles with girls names in them, "Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus", "Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z", "Samantha Hansen Has Rocks In Her Head", etc.

    Figure out what kind of book YOU'VE written.

    (And remember, titles can and very often do change a lot.)

  55. Oooh yay! I've missed the #askagent sessions on Twitter.

    1. My ms starts with a dream. I know it is cliche - but the entire plot hinges on the clues that my mc gets from the dreams. Will starting with a dream result in an automatic rejection from most agents?

    2. Are there any circumstances when it would be ok to re-query an agent that has rejected a query if the ms and query has been significantly revised? How long should one wait before re-querying if ok?

  56. Yay! I've got my whole critique group stalking your blog now in anticipation.

    Thanks again for doing this. I feel like I learned a ton from all these comments!

  57. Shelley,

    1) You are quite right, it is a cliche. I don't know that you'll get AUTOMATICALLY REJECTED for it, but you certianly aren't going to start off on the right foot - it's a hurdle. The dream part will have to be very short and very cool / powerfully written, so that the reader overcomes their initial reaction to the dream thing. (At least, that is MY opinion, can't speak for all agents.)

    2) I would only do that if the material has been reworked SIGNIFICANTLY and it has been more than 6-8 months. And don't lie, most of the agents I know have pretty amazing memories.

    "I submitted a query on this a year ago, but the material has changed signficicantly since then" is fine.

  58. Anonymous10:19 AM

    Just checked back to read some more questions and answers and saw Colleen's comment. Thanks for letting us know!


  59. Thanks Jennifer! It's comforting to know that if your agent dies, your royalties won't get lost in limbo.

  60. Anonymous7:03 AM

    I know it's October, but I've got an agent question.

    If your first book doesn't sell on the first round, is it normal for your agent to lose interest in you?

    My agent has had one full for over 2 months and another for almost a month with no response and no further subs. I feel like I'm on the 2nd tier now and it's holding me back. I sent a "just checking in email" several days ago and have gotten no response. Not sure how to proceed and feeling down.


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