MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Thursday, October 23, 2008

TEN RULES TO MAKE WORKING WITH AGENTS AND EDITORS A SUCCESS FOR YOU

Continuing on with my October 22nd post Excerpt from my How to Publish Your Novel here are the first five rules in depth:

Rule 1: Take the time to become familiar with the agents and editors that you want to represent you.

Consider the literary property that you want to sell and try to choose an agency or editor that has a good track record in selling or publishing that type of work. There are several good resources to refer to for this information, i.e. Jeff Herman’s “Writers Guide to Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents” (Prima) or “The Writers Market – Online Edition” (Holm & Lucyszyn).

For instance, if you have a novel that you think would make not only a bestseller, but also a blockbuster at the movies, then try to find an agent that sells both to publishers and studios. Some agencies only represent writers for publishing, others only represent writers for feature film screenplays or television series or movies, and some do both.

If you are going to submit directly to editors, then you should have a sense of what the publisher has published in the past and what they are looking for now. For instance, if you want to publish your bathroom humor non-fiction book, don’t send it to a publisher that primarily publishes literary fiction. Or if you have a literary fiction manuscript, don’t send it to a publisher that only handles only commercial fiction. It’s really worth it to take the time to research the agents and editors that you are considering submitting to. You can avoid wasted postal fees, rejections and good will by taking the time to do this.

Rule 2: Familiarize yourself with the submission policies of the agent or editor that you want to submit to and abide by these policies.

When doing your research on agents and editors, you will run across submission policies for each. These are helpful guidelines that should be paid attention to. For instance, some agencies and editors do not allow email or fax queries and only accept hardcopy, mailed queries. Most agencies and editors require queries to be sent before they will request a submission of the entire literary property. Unsolicited submissions are almost always returned. Jeff Herman’s guide and the Writers Market guide, which can also be found on www.writersmarket.com, lists specifically what the requirements are for almost all agents and editors. If the policy is not listed, don’t hesitate to call the agent or editor to clarify.

Also, in specific reference to agents and managers, these guides will usually tell you if there is a reading fee required to be paid to have the agent or manager consider your work. If a reading fee is required, this usually means that the agent or manager is bunk. It is a good idea, to base your estimate of an agent or manager on their sales track record, which is usually listed on their website or that they will gladly share with you if you call to ask.

Rule 3: YOU are as important as the work that you are submitting. The quality of your work is not the only element evaluated by an agent or editor considering a business relationship with you – so, SELL YOURSELF as much as your work.

You may have the next bestseller, but if an agent or editor doesn’t want to work with you, there’s a good chance that you won’t get signed. So many times, writers sabotage their own efforts by behaving arrogantly or being overly demanding, aggressive, impatient or even rude. Ironically, new writers, who have no credentials or marketing platform, are usually the biggest abusers of this rule. Remember that it is not only your work, but also the entire package of your work and you, and how you are to work with as a person, that sells an agent or editor. If it looks like it’s going to be a difficult process to work with you, editors and agents will usually opt not to, no matter how good your writing is.

You don’t want to get on anyone’s “Life is Too Short” list. And this is what usually happens to writers that look like they will be difficult to work with. For most editors and agents, life is too short to work with difficult personalities, and there are plenty of writers out there who have great projects and are capable of working well with others. Successful relationships with agents and editors are like successful relationships in life. They are long-term. Aggressive, difficult behavior has no place in a long-term personal relationship, nor does it in a long-term business relationship.

Rule 4: Consider the appropriateness of a phone call before dialing your agent or editor.
There are appropriate and inappropriate phone calls that are made to agents and editors everyday. If an agent or editor has not responded within the response time listed in the market guides or directories, then it is appropriate to call to check on your manuscript. But it’s not a good idea to keep calling. Call during business hours and politely ask the agent or editor if he/she can provide you with information regarding the status of X project, written by X author. Most likely, the agent or editor will give you the response right there and then on the phone, by indicating that he has “passed” on the project, i.e. he doesn’t want to represent it or buy it, or that he needs more time reading it. If the agent or editor wants to sign you and your project, they will call you, without a doubt. If an agent or editor needs more time to read your project, they will usually give you a timeframe within which they will respond to you. If they don’t, don’t feel uncomfortable asking them for a timeframe. This will guide you on when the next appropriate call can be made.

Other phone call rules:
a. Don’t call your agent or editor at home, unless specifically requested to do so.

b. Don’t call an agent or editor to discuss why they passed on your project.
- This will only work against you with future submissions. Sometimes reasons for “passing” are provided in the rejection letter. If they are not, and you definitely want feedback, be very polite in the way that you request it and the way that you respond to it.

c. Don’t call to ask “Did it get there yet?”
- It is safe to assume that a publisher will get back to you in the time specified in the directories or market listings. Calling before this time has elapsed will only annoy agents and editors. Also, this question can easily be answered by including a self-addressed-stamped postcard along with the manuscript. If your project is rejected, it will be sent back to you. If it is accepted, you will be called without a doubt.

Rule 5: Gimmicks don’t work.

Sometimes writers will change the names of their lead characters to the name of the agent or editor that they are submitting to in order to endear the agent or editor to their project. This usually backfires and many times sacrifices the integrity of the story.

Sometimes writers will try to put pressure on agents and editors by telling them that their project is being offered a deal elsewhere or by indicating that they must have an answer immediately or else they will be forced to sign with someone else. This kind of pressure rarely works and can be easily verified. So be careful what you say. It can come back to haunt you if you’re not telling the truth!

Check back soon to read the last five tips in more depth.

Click on book image to buy How to Publish Your Novel on Amazon.

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