Since becoming a literary agent, I’ve been fairly impressed with myself. It became obvious, almost immediately, that (judging from people’s respect for and faith in me) my IQ climbed 20-30 points and my expertise tripled once I began accepting clients. So, as you might imagine, I field quite a few questions. And some I know the answers to. Here are a few examples of recent questions I’ve been asked and remarkably astute answers I’ve given:
Q: I learned another book has the same title as mine. Does that complicate things?
A: Not necessarily. A book title can’t be copyrighted, so it’s a judgment call as to how familiar the title is (I don’t recommend calling your next book The Catcher in the Rye) or how likely it is that your title will confuse or mislead readers.
Q: Would a traditional publisher be interested in publishing books 2-3 of my series (I self-published the first).
A: No, I don’t think so. That might happen; but it’s very unlikely unless the first sold thousands and thousands of copies in a short time, becoming something of a phenomenon. Otherwise, the assumption is that the sales of book #2 won’t exceed the sales of book #1, so if book #1 hasn’t already won a LOT of readers, book #2 has even less of a chance of success.
Q: I’m on a search for a literary agent to help with marketing and promotion for my published book.
A: I believe you want a publicist or marketing consultant, not a literary agent. Agents represent as-yet-unpublished works, while publicists and marketing people help with marketing and promotion.
Q: What does “first five pages” or “first fifty pages” mean? I’m sure a specific font size and spacing of those pages is assumed, but I don’t know what’s standard.
A: You’re right; the assumption is that the margins will be 1″ all around and the text on those pages will be 12 pt. Times New Roman, double-spaced (though a book proposal is single-spaced except for the sample chapters).
Q: I feel like my novel is so relevant, about one of the hottest issues in everybody’s mind right now. It’s frustrating that it takes so long to get an answer from a publisher.
A: No doubt about it, the wait can be frustrating. But there’s a downside to writing “relevant” or “current-issue” stories; and that is that by the time the thing is published, bought, and read, there are different “relevant” or “current” issues in everyone’s mind. So my advice is not to try to “time the market,” so to speak. Just focus on great stories compellingly told, and let God worry about the rest.
Q: I’m going to a large Christian writers conference soon; and while I’m working on my novel manuscript, I won’t have a complete manuscript until a few months after the conference. I can write a proposal for the story since I’m working from a detailed synopsis, but I’ve read where fiction editors only want to hear from debut writers with complete manuscripts. What should I do?
A: Take a one-sheet with you and, if you’re able, take a proposal too. You can show it around at the conference and gauge editors’ interest there. They might give crucial feedback and make valuable suggestions. And, if they show interest, you’ll be much more motivated to send the proposal once the manuscript is complete.
Great advice, but it leads me to a question about the upcoming proposal for my manuscript.
The first 50 pages (4 chapters) are still part of the introduction phase of my story, right before the suspense and action really take off. Should I include the first 3 chapters, followed by a later chapter so you get a sense of my ability to write suspense and action?
I’d leave the action until the Final Five pages of the book, and of course you never want to tell a prospective agent or publisher what your book is really about. Keep ‘em guessing—they’ll Want More!
Sight unseen, of course, I’d suggest that if the suspense and action don’t really take off until after the first 50 pages, an acquisitions editor won’t make it that far. I’d suggest a rewrite that makes the first 50 pages illustrative of your ability to write suspense and action.
Thank you very much for the reply. I should have been more specific with the word “action”. The rising action, mystery aspect of the story take place right from the start. Once the protagonist unravels the mystery around her, the story becomes more suspenseful, with more “overt” action scenes. I wasn’t sure if I should include a sample of the latter part of the book as well since it’s a slightly different style.
In truth, I’ve always thought that if you didn’t grab the reader in the first page and give her or him reason to keep reading, you were likely out of luck. I have confidence you realized I was joking but wanted to make your correct point. But fifty pages? No one reads that far without putting a novel down. I don’t!
I totally agree, and I definitely make a strong effort to grab the reader in the first sentence. Important and very interesting things happen during the first 50 pages. I just meant that action like car chases, people on the run, and rescue attempts happen later.
I appreciate all the feedback from everybody. I’ll take all the advice I can get.
Gee, would “The Catcher amongst the Rye” be okay as a substitute title for my schoolboy angst novel??? Congratulations the expansion on your IQ very useful!
The Catcher Amongst the Rye is one option. But really, instead, why not change Rye to, say, Barley? Or Cumquats?
Bob, I told in a vision that He wants it to be Rye.
My mind is blown by these incredibly astute answers. Thanks Bob! I enjoyed your post!
“Incredibly astute.” That’s my brand.
These questions are the ones I wasn’t even astute enough to ask as a newbie.
I didn’t even know who James Scott Bell was when I met him in Glorieta a number of years ago. (blushing furiously) The mark of the man is that he was totally gracious with my ignorance.
In fact, the good ones are gracious all the time, even with the bone-head questions. That’s why you are a good agent, Bob. You are always gracious. And you do a marvelous service with these blog posts to educate us. Thank you for the giggle and the info and the perspective.
Well, thank you, Judith. And I have to be gracious, as I need so much grace myself. James Scott Bell, on the other hand….
Good answers. One question …
I completely understand why a publisher would not want to publish books 2 – 3 of a series after book 1 had been self-pubbed. However.
In series-friendly genres, isn’t it a fallacy that if Book 1 doesn’t become a phenomenon, that’s the best the series will ever do? I’ve heard that series can take a while to gain recognition and popularity, and I’ve even heard it suggested that authors hang on to Book 1 until they have the next book or two handy and can publish them in quick succession. In other words, what becomes a phenom is the series itself, not just the individual books.
I am in that position (have books 1 – 2 drafted and revised, working on book 3), and am wondering, given all this, whether to mention when querying that the books are part of a series or “have series potential.”
I usually suggest using the “series potential” phrase, as publishers hesitate to commit to a series until they see some success. Even Left Behind was such a tentative deal at first (though, as you suggest, sales didn’t really take off until Tribulation Force was released, and then it become something of a success).
Seriously hoping “something of a success” is your trademark dry understatement …
Brennan S. McPherson
Lol, best first paragraph I’ve read in a blog in a long time.
Thanks, Brennan. I also became a better blogger after becoming an agent. Magically propitious!
To get name recognition,
just change a single word;
thus, to the world I’ve given
This does sometimes raise alarums,
and purists sheik, “You’ve sinned!”
when they see my work on orange farms
which I call ‘Gone With The Rind’.
I’m really very grateful,
that titles own no rights,
allowing my delightful
ode to parents, “Mothering Heights”.
And for an aquatic path through strife,
come read my ‘Porpoise-Driven Life’.
As always, inspired, Andrew. Pro tip: use the pen name J. K. Rolling.
As in, “Just Keep Rolling.” Ahh, love it!
Andrew, Bob, and Liam!
thankful for the morning giggles.
I wouldn’t use ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’ I already have one of the most incriminating internet history that adding ‘Catcher in the Rye’ would surely garner a warrant from a freakishly-armed authority.
Might however turn it into ‘Catcher of the Spy.’
“Catcher of the Spy.” Intriguing.
Shirlee, how about this…
“Snatcher Of The Pie”
Can’t eat very much these days,
and looked forward to the pie.
And anyway, who the heck says
you can’t be gourmand while you die?
Contradiction, though, came in a bark
and ’twas clear as proverbial bell,
then upon the plate, egad, a shark!
masquerading as dear sweet Belle.
Across my lap did she vault,
to flip plate into the air,
and with furball somersault
devoured her gleanings there.
Imprecations to her father and mother!
and I went and got myself another.
Which she also ate.
Oh, Andrew! You are a caution. Your spirit and strength amaze me. Praying for you – always.
Judith, thank you so much…I am so blessed by your friendship and prayers, and by this wonderful community.
Bob, you always give us something to smile about with each post. Thanks!
-Glad to hear your IQ has increased. Can you think of any other way the rest of us can get the same results without becoming literary agents?
Nothing else ever worked for me.
As usual, great info, Bob. Just an update, since I pitched to you a couple of years back at Taylor U. You gave me great advice then. However, I gave up trying to get published and went to Amazon so I’d have a copy of this family story for my grandson’s high school graduation. (No agent wants an old author who doesn’t blog much! Lol–unless, that is, you count responses to your blog.
Anyway, as others have said, the joy is in the writing. If you get curious, slip my name into the search on Amazon.
Thank you for your help. I do read what you post, most of the time! 🙂
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Bob, your blog postings are always to helpful Many thanks1
No agent wants an author who skips an ending parenthesis either! lol
Or skips an “r” in “your.” Are my fingers too fast,or is my brain too slow, or do I need new readers?
Oh, why not…
I figured ‘Catcher In The Rye’
a terrific baseball story;
he signs, and meets pitcher’s eye
for the strikeout that brings glory.
And then, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’
was by a hunter never forgot,
for it gave the final word
on songbirds and birdshot.
Now, here, ‘Gone With The Wind’,
to meet a chef’s wild dreams
with a recipe that should be Pinned
for making gas-free beans.
Now I’m hungry, need a repast;
let’s hit Tiffany’s for some breakfast.
That was unusually funny, Andrew! Thanks. You know which one I liked the best. 🙂
Maco, you actually inspired this one, with “…He wants it to be Rye…” in your reply to Bob.
Love your reply, Andrew!
I have a question, Bob. Do agents ever work as publicists or marketing consultants on the side?
None that I know of. I suppose it could present a potential conflict of interest.
Maybe we should suggest our clients start using pen names that are just close enough to a famous author that someone may buy it anyway:
Hob Bostetler (wait. that one didn’t work so well)
Stefan King, here.
Include the name with the title, and it sells like hotcakes!
Just made me ponder… Stefan Lobby’s Market Guide for the Christian Writer.
I’ve been known to write as “Mac Lucado.”
Oh, my, I love you guys. All of you. When I’m in the midst of computer problems and website rebuild and hairpulling from my WIP angst, you give me laughter and hope. I thank God for all of you.
I laughed at the opening sentence. “Since becoming a literary agent, I’ve been fairly impressed with myself.” *chuckle*
Thank you for answering these questions! I’ve asked many of them at one point in time. My favorite thing written was concerning writing for a specific hot topic. I kept hearing that such and such genres aren’t selling right now. Whatever. Unless we have a publisher already, I don’t see how it would matter much. It takes time to break into the publishing industry. I’m just writing! Writing and learning. It was awesome to see a professional agree with this mindset. 😀