Monday, September 27, 2010

Q&A with The Lit Coach

It's time for our once monthly Q&A session. Each month, I gather some of the most frequently asked questions from TLCG readers and answer to the best of my ability. My responses are based off my experiences as a past literary agent and current publishing consultant and writer's life coach.

Q: How long does it take, on average, for a totally new writer to go from seeking out an agent to getting the manuscript sold?

Cathy T.

Unfortunately, there is no average amount of time writers can hope for in terms of selling their manuscript. Especially when it comes to fiction. Given you've got an excellent query letter and manuscript, finding the right agent could take months (or years, I have heard in some cases), but for others, weeks or days, even. Same holds true with finding the right publisher. It could take days, weeks, months or years, depending on what kind of work you have. Generally, genre fiction and prescriptive nonfiction take less time to sell because they fit a formula.

Agents and editors are unique...they all have likes and dislikes when it come to what they want to work with. It's all about finding that perfect match. And when you do, it'll be like your first love all over again.

Q: How do you know if your rejections are due to the quality of your work or just not finding the right match with an agent. All of the feedback I've received so far, including from my editor, indicates it's a good book. Granted, I've only sent out a few queries but I would rather re-work the book now and have a better chance of getting published, than continue to build my file of rejections.

Also, when should you build a web site? I've heard mixed recommendations. Since I'm not published, I'm not sure what I would put on it.

Q: From what you say, it sounds like you have a well written manuscript but haven't yet found the right agent. If that's the case, keep pitching until you DO find the right agent.

More on pass letters...sadly, many agents use a form letter to pass on your manuscript while others leave somewhat cryptic messages about why they didn't fall in love with the work. There simply isn't enough time for them to get more detailed about your work than that sterile form rejection letter - agents receive hundreds of queries a day. However, there are those agents out there who do go more into detail and provided their critique makes sense, consider their response for future editing.

The best way you can prepare your work is to pass it along to several well-read people and ask for their honest feedback. Better yet, join a writers' group/workshop who meet locally, for feedback. One of my clients just found a group in her sleepy Midwestern city...and surprise! Most every writer in the group has been published by major national journals/magazines/papers and book publishers. She's totally thrilled and is learning all about commercial publishing within her genre from those who're in the thick of it. The point is, workshopping your material with seasoned writers before you pitch an agent will better your chances of ensuring you have a tight, well crafted manuscript on your hands.

If you do get pass letters back from agents who've gone into detail about why they didn't care for the work, and those reasons echo from letter to letter...address the issue, get more reads from your peers, fix any lingering problems with the script and start pitching again.

If platform is the issue that's keeping you from moving forward with an agent, address it. Read this post about platform from BenBella Books Publisher, Glenn Yeffeth. This should answer your website question, too.

Q: How many agents do you recommend we query at a time?
Abby M.

Once you've researched your dream agents and know for certain they accept work like yours, query your hearts out! And query them the way they wish to be queried. Email usually works best.

Some agents will ask for exclusivity when they request your work, meaning, they want to be the only ones considering it. If you feel you'd like to grant that agent an exclusive look (and remember, it's YOUR choice!), kindly communicate a deadline with the agent. I think two weeks is more than fair. So, during that time then, NO other agent gets to see it...or invite you to be their client (so make sure you're querying agents you know for sure you want to work with). If that two weeks has passed with no word from the agent, kindly send them an email asking if they had a chance to review your work and remind them of the deadline. Your other option is to email a professional "thank you, but no thank you" to the agent who requested exclusivity and start querying other agents. That's right! You get to pass on agents, too! Ultimately, you want to work with someone who is organized and respects your time.

Q: As an unpublished writer (currently revising/ editing my first YA novel) I would like to know how to go about finding an agent and what are the hallmarks of a really good one.

To start, read this post about being agent ready and the "types" of agents out there. Also, read through the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) Canon of Ethics to see what's ethical and what isn't. Some agents belong to AAR, while others publicly claim to follow AAR's Canon of Ethics.

An ethical agent will not charge fees of any kind for reading, critiquing or editing and will work in your best interest to sell your work. A good agent will be communicative about when your work is going out to publishers and what kind of feedback the manuscript receives. A good agent will know how to navigate a book contract and will guide you through the publishing process as much as they have time for (remember, they have other clients). They show integrity by doing what they say they're going to do.

The best places to look for reputable agents is on Publishers Marketplace, Writer's Market, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents, and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents, for starters. You can also check out the Literary Marketplace (LMP) at your local library for a very full listing of agents. All but Chuck Sambuchino's Guide, will cost some money, but I do believe they're worth it. To save money, check out Jeff Herman's guide, LMP and Writer's Market at your library.
Good luck!

Q: Should writers who are actively researching and marketing their projects join Publisher’s Marketplace for the $20 a month, or is all of that stuff pretty accessible online these days without the investment?

For instance, a writer can learn of deals and who represents whom in myriad ways: agent and publisher blogs, twitter feeds, google alerts, and, (here’s the cynic in me) agents don’t really troll the pages of that interface for writers to rep, right? Agents are too busy wading through their slush, aren’t they?

Q: What is your view of writers putting up a page on --- esp. thoselike me who are seeking representation? As I query and get requests for partials and fulls, are prospective agents going to be turned off by people having a page in PM?
Kay C.

PM is considered standard reading in the industry. I really like PM because I get up to date deal listings in one place and I don't have to sift through other sites to find the info. Also, they pull book news from all the major papers, so I don't need to search for that, either. You're also directed to some really awesome agent blogs who offer yet another layer of value. Not to mention, it's an easy place to research agents. You can also create your own page, broadening your exposure, or not. Will agents scout out these pages? Maybe. Is it a turn-off if your page is on there? Only if it looks amaturish. Keep it simple. But a writer should use this tool for research, primarily. And it's a good one. I think it's worth it.

That's all the Q&A for this month, writers. I hope I've answered all your questions succinctly. Stay tuned next month for my call out for your questions.

Here's to a fruitful beginning to your week!



  1. With regards to finding an agent, organizing and tracking query letters, and finding other writers in your genre who are querying, or getting ready to query, I use I've found it to be the most dynamic. Their agent list is always current, it doesn't include disreputable agents, and it has approx. 33,500 members! I'm a guest blogger at and the folks running the site really care - it's writers helping other writers!

    Give it a try!

  2. Great tip, Cynthia! Thanks for sharing!


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