A Peek at an Agent’s Emails

As a literary agent, I send and receive a lot of emails. A lot. And that’s not even counting the emails offering my helpful diet tips and donut recipes. My emails aren’t always so practical, but it recently occurred to me that some weary or woeful writers might be helped by a peek at some of the wise and witty responses I’ve sent to clients and nonclients (because I’m just that kind of guy). Here are a few, cut-and-pasted from emails over the last few months, with no explanation and minimal redactions:

  1. The confusion likely arises from the shorthand use of “proposal.” As we use the term, “proposal” means a full proposal, as opposed to “query” and “query and sample chapters.” I prefer to look at full book proposals (which include hook, summary, author section, marketing/platform section, comparisons, etc.).
  2. Since publishers in general and Christian publishers in particular tend to be wary of signing a new (for them) author to a multibook contract, it’s often best to pitch a project as a book that could stand alone but “lends itself” to a series or “could lead to subsequent books in a series.”
  3. Since editors and agents will ask/search anyway, it’s best to include sales numbers of previous books (in parentheses after each title is mentioned) in the proposal. For example, a self-published book or series that has sold well can often move the needle in an agent’s or editor’s mind (mixed metaphors notwithstanding).
  4. The marketing section of your proposal doesn’t [do what a marketing section needs to do; it doesn’t] detail how you are currently reaching a lot of people in various and effective ways. It may be that a well-written revision of that section could make a difference. Use present tense (“her email newsletter reaches 1,200 subscribers”) rather than past (“she once appeared on Good Morning America”) or future (“she will launch a landing page for the book”).
  5. Generally, resubmitting to an editor/publisher is to be avoided. The assumption is that when they take the time to review a proposal/ms it’s the best it can be (before the editorial process, of course). Multiple submissions of updated material usually convey the wrong impression.
  6. If you could convert a great number more of your blog and social-media followers to email subscribers, it would make your proposal more attractive to publishers and, thus, to agents. If that seems helpful to you, feel free to be in touch as your platform expands.
  7. Different agents have different processes. In my case, when I see promise in a writer and project, I typically spend months working with him or her on a proposal to make it as sharp as possible—obviously, only if I’m very interested. The reasons for this are several: the back-and-forth reveals to me a lot about a writer and his/her processes and willingness to work, revise, refine, etc.; since I am an agent within Steve Laube’s agency, and the decision to take on a new client is both mine and his, I want to make sure when I recommend a new client that I do so with a sharp and shining proposal that will be sure to gain his approval; and by “front-loading” a good deal of the revising and refining work on a proposal, I avoid a painful situation in which I’ve taken on a new client only to discover that the writer isn’t willing or able to address some fatal flaw or difficulty in the project, making it necessary to reconsider representation. Of course, because this is my process, sometimes a writer will make great progress during our back-and-forth on a project that makes him or her irresistible to some other agent, and he/she signs with someone else. It happened just last month, but I consider that a win, because the writer did find representation, and can thereafter benefit from yet another pro’s perspective.

See how fun and exciting that was? I realize that these all lack context, but so do I much of the time. Still, one or two may give a sliver of helpful insight into an agent’s perspective. If not, at least I got a blog post out of it.

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Why Was My Submission Rejected?

From Day One as a big, important literary agent, the least favorite part of my job—by far—has been saying no. It’s the worst. And it makes me feel like I’m the worst. Feel sorry for me yet? Seriously, the process of reviewing one submission after another, expecting to find one …

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A Literary Agent’s Wish List

People often ask me, “What are you looking for?” It’s a natural question to ask a literary agent, even when the questioner knows that the agent has offered a detailed answer on the agency website (here, for example). After all, something could’ve changed. I may, since updating my interests, have …

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Are You High Maintenance?

by Steve Laube

Last week I was asked to define what is meant when an author is deemed “high maintenance” by an agent or a publisher. The more I thought about this the more I realized how difficult it is to quantify. Any attempt to do so is fraught with potential misunderstanding because most people are looking for specific rules to follow.

Normally “high maintenance” is a description of someone who is difficult to work with or is constantly in need of attention. It can be anyone from a “diva” to a “rookie.” The best way to express the issue is in the following word picture:

When you contract with an agent or a publisher you are granted a large measure of “Good Will” in the form of a bag of gold coins. You are free to spend these coins however you wish during the course of the business relationship. The cover design is completely wrong? Spend some coins. The marketing plan appears weak. Spend some coins. And as time goes by and positive things happen you receive more gold coins for your bag.

However, many authors make the mistake of spending their entire bag of coins the first time something goes wrong. And then the next time they need a favor or a special dispensation there isn’t any “Good Will” left.

I think there are three areas where these relationships can break down.

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What if You Get a Book Deal on Your Own and Then Want an Agent?

One of our readers asked this via the green “Ask us a question” button.

What happens if you get a book contract before you have an agent? What if, by some miracle, an editor sees your work and wants to publish it? (1) would having a publisher interested in my work make an agent much more likely to represent me, and (2) would it be appropriate to try to find an agent at that point (when a publisher says it wants to publish you)? My fear is that querying an agent and receiving a response could take several months, but I’d need to accept a potential contract with a book publisher right away (I would think). Is it appropriate to ask the editor to speak with an agent on your behalf to speed the process?

This is a great topic but there are a few questions within the question. Let me try to break it down.

Many times have had authors approach us with contracts in hand and seeking representation (happened just last week). Of course this will get an agent’s attention immediately. But there are caveats:

a)      Who is the publisher? There is a big difference between a major company and your local independent publisher. Not all publishers are created equal (see the Preditors & Editors warnings).

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Do I Need an Agent?

The “Your Questions Answered” Series __________ I would love to hear more advice about finding an agent or if we really need one. I’m planning to teach a Zoom course on this topic through ACFW on September 18. Here is their link: ACFW conference. If you are planning to attend, I’d …

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