You Asked, We Answer

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I receive countless questions every day through the blog, email and Twitter. Here are a few of them, and my quick answers.

I have queried multiple agents. One agent has requested a full manuscript and three others are reviewing partials. When offered representation by an agent, what is the proper protocol regarding the other agents?

First, congrats! That’s a terrific situation in which to find yourself. When you’re offered representation and other agents have requested partials, send them each an email to let them know and give them an opportunity to respond before accepting representation from the first agent. Exception: If the agent who offers representation is at Books & Such, just say yes and forget the rest. :-)

What writing conferences are the most beneficial to writers who want to learn about the query process, either by learning to write better queries or getting face-to-face feedback from agents who have read their pages?

I don’t think you can choose a particular conference based on their teaching of queries. You’ll have to look at the faculty list and the schedule of workshops offered for each conference, and decide which one looks like it offers what you want. Even better, you might want to look for online workshops and webinars that specifically teach queries.

questionsWould you recommend pre-converting sample pages to Kindle format and attaching them to a query or is that the sort of obnoxious brown-nosing that annoys more than endears?

Forget the Kindle conversion. Have your manuscript printed on chocolate bars (a white chocolate sans serif font looks great on dark chocolate) and send those. Failing that… no, please don’t convert your MS to Kindle format. We simply send the Word doc to our e-readers.

→I foolishly had my book printed by a POD publisher six years ago. It has sold maybe four copies. When my contract expires next year, I am thinking of reworking the whole thing: Title, character names, etc. – but not the plot – and try to find a REAL publisher. What reasons can you give for me to NOT try this?

Reason #1: Your book is really awful.
Reason #2: You are lazy.
Reason #3: By the time your POD contract expires, there are no real publishers left.
Reason #4: Um… can’t think of anything else. If you don’t have reason 1, 2, or 3, I say go for it.

Tell us which things are absolutely essential to get right; which things are nice to have, but not essential; and which things make absolutely no difference.

I don’t think it’s possible to give a satisfactory answer to this one, because every agent will have their own answer. My take:

Absolutely essential: A book that other people would enjoy reading, and a pitch that makes someone want to read it.

Nice to have: A query that’s targeted to the agent you’re querying and includes all the information they need.

Makes absolutely no difference: The fact that you’ve been writing since you were 3, and any other bio information that doesn’t relate to the book you’re pitching.

Do you get a better quality of query now that you’ve spent so much time educating people on how to do it?

I have to admit, I get a lot of good queries, and I can tell people are paying attention. I love this. It makes it worthwhile to read through the queries because even though a lot of them are unsuitable or poorly written, I’m continually impressed by how many good ones there are.

Do publishers sometimes accept queries and/or manuscript ideas from writers without agents?

Some publishers accept unagented queries and proposals, but most of the majors don’t unless an editor met the writer at a conference and requested the material. (“Manuscript ideas” are not saleable with or without an agent.)

Will agents represent an author who writes in different genres, fiction & nonfiction?

Some do, some don’t. If you are a new, unpublished author, remember it’s usually best to break-in with one thing, then branch out as you’re able. Get an agent for the project you want to do first. Don’t overlook the crucial importance of building a brand if you want solid book sales, and building a brand means specializing in a genre.

Regardless of multiple reads/edits, I noticed (just as I hit send) that I misspelled a word in a query. What do I do?

I guess you break out in a cold sweat, feel mortified, and berate yourself mercilessly. Kidding! Relax. Don’t send the query again, or email the agent apologizing. If they can’t see past a single misspelled word, they’re not the agent for you.

If you have a question that can be answered in a few words, leave it in the comments. I’ll answer the ones I can, and save the rest for another post.

 

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46 Comments

  • What a great post. Thanks for always taking time to guide us. I’ve spent four years studying the craft of writing. I’ve written multiple stories going back and forth between two genres. This year it finally sunk in that I should just focus on one genre for now. Your post confirmed that for me today. Thanks.

    Have a great day!

  • At ACFW 2013, right after I thanked her for her time, and before I pitched to her, I passed my business card to Sandra Bishop, (very nice woman, BTW).
    She looked at me, looked at the card. then did the one eyebrow thing.
    “You *do* know there’s a giant chocolate bar attached to this card, right?”
    “Yup.”
    Thank you, Jim Rubart, for teaching at the MBT Pitch Seminar.

    Lesson? Not everyone speaks English, but almost everyone speaks chocolate.
    Unless they’re crazy, allergic, or in a cult.

    At ACFW, I had to be ready to pitch to 6 different people. Long story. So, that meant researching each one’s method of doing business. I had 6 portfolios studied, ready and waiting, even though I would only have 2 of those appointments. Longer story.

    Point? Write each query as specific to the agent you’re trying to impress as possible. Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to fail.

    And ALWAYS carry chocolate bars with you.

  • Sooo, um, am I to gather that the key to your agent’s heart is chocolate? ;)

    I appreciate your humor and your straightforward answers to question many writers have.

    I know you talked a lot about queries. I have one question for you: what tips do you have for writing an effective proposal?

  • Great, and very informative. Thanks!

    Here’s a short question in two parts –

    How important is the author’s choice of title when querying, and does the original title generally survive into publication?

  • Jaime Wright says:

    Rachelle, great post! You had me lol-ing in Starbucks. That went over well ;) Maybe a question for another day and another blog post: How does hitting #1 on Amazon’s Kindle download list (i.e. free download offer) differ from hitting #1 on a paid paperback sale via Amazon?

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      You’re right, probably a question for another day. But basically, the two are quite different. There’s a world of difference between free, 1.99 and a regular paperback promo price such as 6.99 or more. It usually means more if people are willing to pay more for your book. So a paperback #1 is more meaningful than a free e-book #1.

  • Rachelle, As usual, cogent answers to questions about this crazy business. Thanks for your efforts.
    At what point in an agent-client relationship is chocolate no longer necessary. (Just kidding…I know the answer is “never.”)

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Richard, chocolate has *never* been necessary for YOU, because you are so darn sweet all by yourself.

      How’s that???

  • Thanks for this useful information, humor included. I’ve been keeping up with writing and publishing blogs for about a year, and Books & Such is my favorite for valuation info.

  • Michelle Ule Michelle Ule says:

    One minor comment–some of us give up chocolate for Lent, so pay attention to the calendar. :-)

    Fun post.

    • You have amazing fortitude, Michelle.

      • Crystal Ridgway says:

        Jennifer, I have to add here that on your list of people who don’t speak chocolate, you missed adding folks like me, who DO eat chocolate, but only in the organic variety. Not to say anything bad about regular chocolate, but I gave it up nearly five years ago.

        Rachelle, this is a great post! Had to smile over the idea of printing a ms on chocolate bars. :)

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Michelle, I’m thinking sending an agent chocolate during Lent is especially useful, as it gives them an opportunity to strengthen their fortitude.

    • If you can’t give out chocolate, maybe a shoebox full of $20’s attached would work, lol

  • Like others, I enjoyed reading your answers…and your sense of humor while writing them. I am so fortunate to have found your blog and this agency blog when I did. You all have taught me so much about the publishing industry!

  • Rachelle, knowing you will have a long term relationship with your client, is there a particular quality you look for in the individual? Obviously, good work. But what about the person?

    • Or, would anyone at B&S have been interested in representing Saddam Hussein, had he lived long enough to try to shop his memoirs?

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Shelli, good question. I think we all take the relationship aspect seriously, so we look for someone with whom we believe we can work for a long time. Often there’s a “clicking” with the person and/or the material that tells us it’s right.

  • Traci Krites says:

    If you write more than one brand, do you need an agent for each brand (if the agent doesn’t handle both genres?)?

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Traci, that is a question for your *first* agent. Do they want to handle all your genres? Do they have a problem with you diluting your brand or dividing your time that much? Are they okay with you having a second agent? Each situation is unique.

  • Lisa says:

    I love it. If Books and Such says yes, exactly, you go with them immediately :) Great insights as always.

  • Harvest A. Rich says:

    Hi Rachelle!

    I love your blog.

    I don’t know if this is a “quick” question or not. I am wondering about unpublished non-fiction authors who maintain a blog to start building readership. What is the appropriate balance for content? Am I allowed to share my concepts and ideas on the blog? If not, how do I build a bridge?

    Too much for today? ;) Maybe you’d be willing to blog about it in the near future?

    Thank you!

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Harvest, the quick answer is “yes!” You certainly want to build a blog around the topic or theme that you intend to write on in your non-fiction book, but of course it can be broader. You definitely want to try all your ideas out on an audience — you’ll see what people respond to, and what fails to move them, so you’ll be better prepared to write a compelling book.

  • Ekta Garg says:

    Good evening, Rachelle, and thanks for the excellent post. Since signing up for the posts from Books and Such, I’ve learned a lot!

    I scrolled through the list of publishers that the agency lists on the website, and I saw MacAdam Cage listed. Is MacAdam Cage still up and running? After the Chapter 7 filing last month, I assumed they would close their doors and start sending authors elsewhere.

    Thanks for considering my question!
    Ekta

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      I’m not sure what MacAdam Cage is up to. It’s on our site because we’ve worked with them in the past.

  • Dana Grubb says:

    Rachelle,
    You have talked in the past about the importance of the business of writing. Can you recommend some books that would be helpful in running a business, along with marketing and selling books?

    • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

      Start with books by Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Al Ries, Todd Henry, and branch out from there. Even better, subscribe to blogs like Harvard Business Review (HBR) and Accidental Creative, and listen to podcasts, so that you have a constant influx of business-minded articles and ideas.

  • Anna Labno says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Wow! Lots of great information here, Rachelle. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Rachel says:

    Hello,
    I was wondering if you could answer this little query.I have recently been rejected by Darley Anderson’s.They told me they have to be sure to sell a certain number of books and they only take on a handful of new writers a year (I’m new) so they are “incredibly selective”. But they said they had answered me quickly in order to give me time to find the right agent for me.They said another agent may well feel differently.Is this something to be at least a little encouraged by or do you think it’s the standard answer they give to writers they’re not interested in?

  • Rachelle, I always look forward to reading your blog. I just have to add though that if chocolate bars were attached to rejections for writers, perhaps they would be a little less painful ;-)

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