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Publisher or Agent?

Got a question/comment about the business of writing or about the publishing industry? Here's your place to post it!
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Jack
Reader
Location: California

Publisher or Agent?

Postby Jack » Sun August 8th, 2010, 2:00 pm

I've written a (mainstream) novel of some 147,000 words, and I'm naturally trying to get it published. Since it's my first, I have no connections in the literary world. My brother is an actor and director in Hollywood, and he encouraged the manuscript after reading it before its completion, but he only knows screenplay agents and producers. He is unable to help in this area. So my question to all of you published folks is, did you query publishers or agents, or both? What was your best source for contacts? Any help would be incredibly appreciated.

Jack.

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Elizabeth
Avid Reader
Contact:

Postby Elizabeth » Sun August 8th, 2010, 5:30 pm

For what it may be worth, I'd recommend starting out by contacting agents. A couple of good sources for agent information are agentquery.com and querytracker.net. Don't worry about having personal contacts... most people don't have them. Agents read queries. I had no personal connection to the agent I eventually signed with.

Probably not a good idea to start querying publishers directly unless you've decided, for whatever reason, that you don't want to go the agent route. If you've already queried a publisher on a particular project, the agent can't query again, and this can make them cranky. Although on the other hand, there have been instances of writers with publisher offers connecting with agents after the fact. It's just that so few of the major publishing houses will even read unagented manuscripts.

Hope this helps. Good luck!
THE RED LILY CROWN: A Novel of Medici Florence.
THE FLOWER READER.
THE SECOND DUCHESS.

www.elizabethloupas.com

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Jack
Reader
Location: California

Postby Jack » Sun August 8th, 2010, 8:25 pm

Thanks Elizabeth. I'm looking at your suggestions, and I'm overwhelmed! Where the hell do you start? There seem to be hundreds and hundreds of them. How do you suggest honing it down? I don't recognize any names, but I wouldn't. Is there some way of guaging them?

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Elizabeth
Avid Reader
Contact:

Postby Elizabeth » Mon August 9th, 2010, 3:24 am

You can choose just the agents who've listed "historical fiction" as one of the types of work they're interested in. I chose "historical fiction" and "accepts email queries" as my two limiters. Whittled down the list a bit. Never did send a smailmail query.

Look at the other books and authors each agent reps. You can get an idea of their taste that way, and pick ones that you think will be a good fit for your work.

Other than that, the most important thing is to just start. The first query is the hardest. :)
THE RED LILY CROWN: A Novel of Medici Florence.
THE FLOWER READER.
THE SECOND DUCHESS.

www.elizabethloupas.com

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Leo62
Bibliophile
Location: London
Contact:

Postby Leo62 » Mon August 9th, 2010, 11:31 am

Jack - for what it's worth, my advice would be to follow that Hollywood connection. Agents tend to know other agents - and screenwriting agents often team up with literary agents - so it might be an idea to see if you can at least have a chat with one of your brother's contacts to see if there's anyone they can recommend. A personal recommendation gets your foot in the door, and gets you to the top of the reader's pile. After that, of course, they still have to like your book!

Good luck :D
listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go
ee cummings

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fljustice
Bibliophile
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Postby fljustice » Mon August 9th, 2010, 6:44 pm

Another way to narrow the search is by geography. Do you want to be able to meet personally with your agent? Then think about how far you're willing to travel.

Another way to get names is to go to your local bookstore, pull books that you feel are similar to yours and check out the acknowledgement section. Authors frequently thank their agents. You can also do this on line through a "look inside the book" function. Use that information in your query as well, showing the agent you know something about her/him and their business.

As Elizabeth said, you need to get started. I found The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon to be enormously helpful in writing queries and synopses. She gives several samples of both with side-by-side commentary on what works and what doesn't. There are also tons of free resources on line at various writing sites on writing good queries. And don't be discouraged. Finding an agent is sometimes a long slog. A lucky few may find an agent quickly, but for most of us, it requires enormous perseverance.

BTW - all the advice above is predicated on the assumption that your manuscript is ready to pitch - it's polished, edited, and the very best you can make it. Please don't make the mistake of thinking an agent will take on an early draft and help you "shape" it; or that the editor will smooth out the rough parts or correct your grammar and punctuation mistakes. That doesn't happen anymore - at least not to first-time novelists. Good luck!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Postby Margaret » Mon August 9th, 2010, 11:06 pm

Don't even bother querying an agent unless you can tell from their website or the listing in a guidebook like the Writers's Digest Guide to Literary Agents or Jeff Herman's similar guidebook that the agent is interested in representing historical fiction. Most agents do have websites now, and they're a great resource.

Also, historical fiction comes in a wide variety of styles and flavors. You can winnow things down further by studying the historical novels various agents have represented and deciding which agents represent novels that are most similar to yours. For example, novels about warfare are likely to appeal to a different set of readers - and agents! - than quasi-historical fantasy like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon. Even novels of warfare come in different varieties, from swashbuckling adventure novels to gritty, ultra-realistic and seriously researched novels about specific battles of history, to literary novels that explore why men fight and how they feel about it. The same agent might not be interested in representing all three types.

Rather than starting with the field of all literary agents and narrowing it down, you might try looking in the acknowledgments section of novels that are similar to your own and seeing who the authors' agents are.

Your novel is quite long, even for a historical novel, so you'd be well-advised to find an agent rather than contacting publishers on your own. Small presses often do look at unagented manuscripts, but they are less likely to publish a really big novel because of the cost involved.

Get some writer friends to look at your query letter before you send it. Write it as carefully as you wrote your novel, because it's the first piece of writing an agent will see from you, and you want it to make a favorable impression. There are books about writing queries, and magazines for writers regularly publish features about query letters.

Another excellent way to find an agent is to meet one at a literary conference. I believe there are chances to meet with agents at the Historical Novel Society conference (hello, Ariadne?), and if you talk with agents there, you'll know from the start that they're interested in representing historical novels.

It goes without saying that your novel should be as polished as possible before you begin sending it out. It may be advisable to set it aside for 6 months to a year until you can read it with a fresh and objective eye and see what revisions you may need to make so readers will find it absorbing and exciting. The opening pages especially need to be really good. On my "Writing Tips" page at HistoricalNovels.info, I recommend Noah Lukeman's book The First Five Pages, which helps writers see what kinds of revisions will help those opening pages (and all the rest of your novel) make a good impression on agents, publishers and readers. Once you have queried an agent (or publisher) and they have turned you down, you won't be able to query the same agent (or publisher) again, unless the agent's response suggests revisions, in which case you can cheer, make the revisions, and submit again.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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SarahWoodbury
Avid Reader
Location: Pendleton, Oregon
Contact:

Postby SarahWoodbury » Tue August 10th, 2010, 8:18 pm

I recommend also going to the Absolute Write forums. http://absolutewrite.com/forums/

These can be overwhelming, no doubt, but at the very least, they have a list of agents and publishers (hugely long!) and pretty much any agent you might query is on there and someone will have posted whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. I might have saved myself some heartache if I'd paid attention with my first agent.
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

Hope this helps.

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Postby Margaret » Wed August 11th, 2010, 1:45 am

Yes, AbsoluteWrite is a good idea. The new POD (print-on-demand) technology makes it possible for small presses to make a profit by accepting most or all manuscripts offered to them and then printing actual books only if and when someone orders copies. Self-publishing is fine if that's what you want and intend to do, but many of these presses claim to be offering a different type of service, although they are essentially self-publishing outlets. Some of them require or pressure authors to buy a certain number of copies; others do not. I accepted a review copy from a press of this ambiguous variety and found that the typeface was so tiny I couldn't bear to read it. It's extremely rare for books published through presses of this sort to sell more than a handful of copies, except for sales made directly and personally by the author. AbsoluteWrite is a good place to find out which presses are essentially preying on aspiring authors and which are legitimate.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Ariadne
Bibliophile
Location: At the foothills of Mt. Level

Postby Ariadne » Wed August 11th, 2010, 1:40 pm

"Margaret" wrote:Another excellent way to find an agent is to meet one at a literary conference. I believe there are chances to meet with agents at the Historical Novel Society conference (hello, Ariadne?), and if you talk with agents there, you'll know from the start that they're interested in representing historical novels.


Just caught this question! Yes, there'll be agents at the next HNS conference. I'm not sure of the arrangements for the Manchester event but at least one agent will be there, and in San Diego, we've invited a number of them who'll be taking appointments.


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