The intent of our blog and podcast is to help writers understand what they need to know about the publishing industry and to hopefully succeed with their books. Everything from craft to conferences to proposals and even to ISBN numbers.
We’ve been attempting this for nearly 10 years and yet many writers still have questions. Some are answered in our archives; but it isn’t easy to search for those topics, especially if they are rather specific. If you have one that is pressing on your mind, please take a moment today and ask. I’ll try to answer as best I can. If I am unable to do so today, your question may be used as a topic for everyone in a specific future blog.
If your question is in the comments below, please remember that you are in a public forum where anyone can see both your question and my answer. If you’d prefer, please click the button below and use the subject line “Question for the Blog” and it will come to the agency via email.
It’s not an opportunity to pitch your book, but rather to get clarity on things that might feel confusing. Or let us know if there is a topic you wish our agency could talk more about on the blog.
This is your chance! Please comment below, or click the big orange question mark to send an email.
If they are well-written and meet all other standards, what are the top 3-5 genres easiest for an agent to pitch to publishers in the current market? Also the 3-5 most likely to get no attention by publishers?
If you mean fiction genres? Right now Romantic Suspense is doing well. But remember those books were acquired two-three years ago.
Acquisitions editors are looking at mid-late 2020 in their meetings now. The challenge publishers face it whether that acquisition today will be “hot” 18 months from now.
The “hot and not” issue is fluid. If you try to chase the market you’ll never catch it…sort of like catching a rabbit with your bare hands.
In nonfiction? It is impossible to answer. Other than to say that crowded categories of parenting and marriage are a tough sell unless you have a major platform from which to launch the book.
John de Sousa
Is there a place in fiction for well written conversion scenes, and unambiguous references to Christ and/or the Christian faith? Online I see a lot of cautions against this, or negative reactions. Is there a book that addresses this question in depth?
Conversion scenes are found in a lot of novels. Note that Randy Alcorn’s novels always have a strong gospel presentation in them. Bryan Davis’ “dragon” YA novels have some very unambiguous conversion scenes in them.
My recommendation? Don’t listen to the “experts” but instead write the book you are called to write.
If you are skilled in the craft then anything overtly Christian will be seen as organic to the story and not “preachy” or “heavy handed.” But that skill is not easily obtained.
Hope that helps.
How often do you believe a writer should post updates to their blog or preferred social media platform, and how important is it to one’s career?
The frequency of posting on social media is hard to quantify. There is no magic number.
However, and abandoned blog looks really bad online. Two weeks ago I was looking at a potential client’s site and their last blog post was in 2014. That entire blog should be removed from the web site. Or take the dates off.
The key to effective social media is the engagement with the audience. Are they commenting? Is there a community being built? That can be more meaningful than sheer numbers.
As for importance? Let’s just say that every agent and editor will Google you. If you are invisible it will say something about your interest in being a part of the promotional efforts for the book.
Ah, makes perfect sense! I gotta work on being more consistent, then. Thanks so much! 🙂
When a writer enters contests and becomes a finalist or a winner, why doesn’t that spark an interest in editors to want to see more of that writers novel?
Depends on the award. Winning a Christy or a Carol award is meaningful. Winning a Genesis award suggests potential.
But I will often see citations for awards I’ve never heard of or local awards. It doesn’t mean they aren’t meaningful, but a wall full of awards doesn’t write the book. It is the book that is being judged, not the number of awards the author has won.
This is a subjective business. Awards show me that the author is willing to put their work out there, that they are able to rise above the competition in that particular contest.
Think of it this way. You could win the American Idol contest for your singing, but then you have to go out into the big bad ugly world and compete with Kelly Clarkson or Lauren Daigle (who just won a Grammy for best Christian album). Thus winning a contest is only one step.
If a writer has submitted to a literary agent and the manuscript is rejected, if the writer makes changes to the manuscript, would the literary agent look at it again?
Yes we do.
But there is a challenge in that the first impression was already made and the second time or third time there is an echo of familiarity, “Have I already read this story?”
If the agent has given feedback in the rejection (a rare occurrence) that means the agent is offering help. If you can fix those things there is an implicit offer to resend.
But if it a solid “no thanks” then any changes would have a larger hill to climb.
Just last week I thought it would be good if you offered question time! So thanks.
With the years of experience your agents have I imagine they have a sixth sense about writers they think will make it as an author based on varying criteria.
What stands out to you as indicators for a successful author based on your experience? And have you ever been surprised at a new client’s success.
You are correct that after so many years there is a measure of sixth sense or gut reaction to an author’s potential for publishing success.
Unfortunately it is very hard to describe.
There is an appreciation for a writer who knows the industry and has made an effort to network with others in the community. It helps them to be professional in their expectations and their understanding of the process.
Have I been surprised? Of course. But I only take a client if I believe their idea is one I can successfully place. The surprise is when it gets rejected by every publisher. That’s the opposite of what you were asking!
How many manuscripts a month will an agent that doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions see?
How many will an agent who accepts all manuscripts see?
Impossible to know since we’ve always had an open door policy for unsolicited manuscripts. I personally receive 40-50 new proposals a week. (over 2,000 a year)
Our other agents have a huge number as well.
The only question on my mind
is “Will you pray for me?”
because the way ahead is blind,
there no path that I see.
I’ve used up all the humour,
invested all the laughter
against each growing tumour
that now portends disaster.
If you have a moment, friend,
I ask that you could pray
that this not good cheer’s end
and I’ll smile again today.
I do not want to be a burden,
but I need you; that is certain.
Praying for you, Andrew – for strength, relief and comfort of all sorts. od bless you, brother.
Judi, thank you so much. Prayers mean the world to me; on their holy upraft I am given wings.
Praying . . . even before you asked.
Stopping also today to pray for you Andrew. I live in Washington state where rain is our everyday life, so I pray God’s blessings and mercy rain down on you this day in a blessed shower!
My favorite hymn:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
I have a question, Steve. One that I’ve been trying to find the answer for for over a week now.
My story involves a Navy nurse deployed to Afghanistan around 2005. I can’t seem to find anything anywhere about the fatigues they wore or the type of field hospital tents they used then. No one I’ve contacted has the answer for me and I’m not finding an answer on any of the sites I’ve visited.
Maybe I’m not asking the right questions, but I do need help for this part of my story to make it real, or I’ll have to skip giving a description of either and gloss over it. I’m not going to put something in there that is inaccurate just for the sake of setting the scene.
Perhaps you can suggest a research site I’ve not been to as yet. I’d appreciate any help I can get here.
No idea. Maybe find a Facebook group of nurses who served back then or something similar.
If unable to confirm, then simply avoid those details in your novel. Fatigues are fatigues to the reader. Will the reader need to know if they are blue (navy) or green (army) or the pattern? Probably not. But if it is critical to the story then you’d need to find a navy nurse who served then.
Quora.com is filled with these sorts of answers and experts to ask if you can’t find the answer.
I just deactivated my personal Facebook. I’m not really ready to do a author Facebook page.
I’m wondering if you think Facebook pages for authors is going away, getting stronger, or going to stay pretty much the same as it is now. Also what other social media do you suggest?
The algorithms keep changing for all the social media outlets. What worked two years ago doesn’t work today.
If you don’t like Facebook, then maybe Instagram is more your thing. Or maybe you eschew all social media.
Only remember that when you become an author you become sort of a public personae. That means people will Google you and may want to interact with you. At least have an active web site.
1) When pitching the first book (completed) in a series is it a must to also present the outlines of the following novels; and if so how in depth should they be?
2) Should a writer send their novel for edit to both a traditional editor and a developmental editor before pitching it?
If you are proposing a series at least present the title of the subsequent books in the series with at least a 1/2 page synopsis of the storyline.
Not sure what you mean by a traditional editor. But I’ll answer it generally.
Not every author feels confident that their work is ready for prime time without an editor’s input. So many will pay an editor (developmental editor) to get their novel as good as it can be before sending it to an agent or an editor at a major publishing house.
But that can be expensive and time consuming. I can’t say every writer should do that, each one must determine what they are comfortable with.
Is there a listing somewhere, either on your office’s website or the net, where every writer’s mistake is listed along with what to do or not do about the mistake?
The Christian Writers Institute has a great video on common writer mistakes and how to avoid them. It’s called Mistakes New Writers Make by Kathy Ide. I found it helpful. Happy writing, Richard!
Robyn beat me to the punch. That is a great short course on the topic. No, we do not list all the mistakes we’ve ever seen a writer make.
There are plenty.
These are remarkably good questions, and thanks for this opportunity, Steve. I’ve edited down my novel as ruthlessly as possible, and it currently stands at 70 K +/- 500 words, depending on whether the word count is in Word or Open Office. This is 10 K down from what I understand is the lower limit for romantic suspense. How serious is this shortfall, in and of itself?
70k is on the low end but is still acceptable for most houses.
One little trick is that a subplot in a novel is worth around 10,000 words. Hard to unravel if already in the story, but may be easier to add…as long as it doesn’t feel “added.”
Pitch 70k with full confidence.
Thanks, Steve. That’s a major concern I can move to the back of the queue.
What percentage of the writers you represent are new to traditional publishing? Do you consider the work of an author who has previously self published another book? (Not the one they’re pitching?)
I’m not quite sure what you mean by “new to traditional publishing.” If you mean debut authors that we placed for the first time with a traditional publisher? We have over 300 clients as an agency. I’ve never thought to count how many of them were unpublished before they started working with us. It would be a very high percentage.
As for self-published authors? We see their proposals every week in the inbox and the mail. The questions is always, how successful were they as a self-published author. Did they sell 500 or 5,000 of their own work. That is because the major publishers ask us the same question.
If they had modest success it means the new idea must be that much bigger/better than the previous books. In a sense a self-published author has test marketed their book, likely on Amazon, which means the entire world could buy it. Read this great blog post by Dan Balow on that concept:
So often there is much written to writers about how to be better writers. I find your agency blog to be useful and helpful, never “noise” in the realm of striving to be a better writer. I am almost to the finish line on my novel, and wish I had done some things that were helpful in that process more than others. The top thing most helpful to me has been having other professional writers (critique groups and friends) occasionally edit scenes as I worked on them myself. What top ten things would you say over the years that writers have told you most improved their writing?
Top ten? Maybe not that many. But I can provide a couple.
1) Read Browne and King’s “Self Editing for Fiction Writers”. It is an excellent book on writing fiction.
2) Be a part of a top drawer critique group. Learn from other professionals.
3) Read widely. Nothing better than training the brain to read and recognize great writing…then apply that to your own work.
Those are a few of the top of my head.
If a person were to take posts from her blog to create a devotional (making sure to include new, unpublished posts), what would be the ideal word count for the entire devotional? Each post? And are publishers ever interested in using the writer’s photographs for the posts or is that my own wishful thinking? 🙂
Thank you, Steve!
Devotional word count is difficult to define the ideal. Partly because each one is different.
New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp is fairly long on each page for a 365 day. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is fairly short on each page for a 365 day book.
Others are not 365. They are 30 days. 40 days. 60 days or 90 days.
Think of it in print form instead.
If a 30 day devotional but each entry is only one page…how long is the book? 32 pages? That isn’t a book, it’s a booklet. But if each is three pages long then it is closer to 100 pages which is about as small as one can go and still have enough book to have a spine with words on it.
As for Photos. Yes, you are dreaming. If yours needs color photos, the entire economic model changes and different questions are asked about the project. It is more expensive to produce a full color book.
Doesn’t mean it isn’t done, only that it is a different dynamic.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
How do I build my platform so that my books can get published? I have a website and two blogs, a Facebook page for my work, and lots of enthusiasm for my self-help books. I would appreciate your advice!
Wish I had the magic elixir to sell everyone for building a platform. However it is done it takes time.
I have recommended writers take a look at Penny Sansevieri’s web site: https://www.amarketingexpert.com/ She has a lot of excellent ideas.
What exactly constitutes as indie publishing? If I do a reader magnet for newsletter subscribers or a freebie for my audience, can I put it on Kindle or my website without jeopardizing chances in a contest for unpublished authors? I’m very new and trying to build a platform, so if the numbers don’t look great with a free short story or novella, will agents and editors count it against me? I want to start somewhere, just not the wrong place.
I don’t know the rules for the contests you mention. If that is a concern, start with those rules first.
However, using a “reader magnet” is a great idea.
But putting it on Amazon does mean it is available for sale and could mean it has been independently published. The words suggest…independent – meaning you are doing it yourself and published-meaning it is available for purchase somewhere.
One way is to not sell it on Amazon but merely make it a PDF that is given for free to all who sign up.
What is the potential for Christian fiction to be published on the general market?
In my opinion, most books already cross over.
Amazon, for example, is an neutral bookstore.
Go to a Costco and show me the Christian section of books. It doesn’t exist, but the books are there anyway.
Remember that Nelson and Zondervan are part of HarperCollins.
Howard is part of Simon & Schuster.
Waterbrook Multnomah is a part of Penquin Random House.
FaithWords and Worthy are a part of Hachette.
They already penetrating the general market. Many novelists published by Christian houses have been on the NY Times list.
Are Christian publishers interested in historical fiction from new authors at the present time? World War II?
Many will say “show me and I’ll tell you if I’m interested.” Doesn’t mean they will contract it, but they will look at anything.
Historical acquisitions have been less common the last couple years, but they still happen.
Thank you, Steve, for giving us the opportunity to ask questions. I enjoyed reading through them all.
How long after an author gets a manuscript request does it become impolite to send the manuscript? I pitched my novel to an agent awhile back and they requested it, but after hearing their feedback I had to revamp some things and it has taken awhile. I’m not sure whether or not I should still send the manuscript to them, as it’s been so long since they requested it. What are your thoughts on that?
I’ve had people take as long as a year to send a requested manuscript. That’s okay. Just explain the delay in your return letter to the agent when you do send it.
Don’t neglect the open invitation.
Alright, thank you! I’ve been pondering the answer to that for awhile, so that’s very nice to know.
Susan G Butler
Can you explain what distinguishes literary fiction from genre fiction?
Sorry, I’m late to the party. What time of year does your inbox become most plagued with submissions? I imagine it’s late winter or early spring. I plan to send a proposal along with sample chapters to you in April but wonder if I should avoid a possible stampede.
I get flooded by clients and by unsolicited proposals the most during holidays. For example on Presidents Day last week I received nearly 20 proposals from clients and unsolicited authors.
Simply means they had a day off and a weekend to finish up their work.
I’m always surprised to see proposals arrive that are dated December 24th or 25th…
However, Bryan, don’t let the “fear of stampede” influence you. Unsolicited proposals go in a queue and are taken in turn. Thus timing is immaterial. Clients proposals and client management get my immediate attention, always. If there is a flood of issues to deal with that week, not a single unsolicited proposal will get my attention. That is why it can take quite a while before yours rises to the top of the proverbial pile.
Wow this was great! Really enjoyed reading the questions and answers. Thanks for doing this!
Thank you to all who posed questions both here and privately.
Some of them will become fodder for longer treatment in future blog posts.
Questions are always welcome. Simply click the big button on the right hand side of this blog at the bottom of the column. It will allow you to send an email with your question.
Do you accept proposals for fiction books under 30k words? Also, is there a large market right now for YA futuristic fiction?