Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Once in a while I hear a scathing author criticism of his agent, “He just sat on my manuscript.” Most clients expect that when we receive their proposal we turn it around and get it right out. A good agent almost never does this. There are a number of reasons:
- We go over the proposal and sample pages with a fine tooth comb. The package is our most important selling tool because, though we may sell the project verbally to the acquiring editor, it must go before any number of other approvals before a contract is issued. The verbal sell is long lost by the time it gets to the publishing committee. (Remember the old game of telephone? By the time the simple message went ’round the circle it was so distorted as to be unrecognizable. The same with our verbal sales pitch.) The proposal needs to offer the answer to every potential question that may come up.
- We may have to send the package back to you to revise a portion of the proposal. Don’t like to do the comparable analysis? Who’s going to answer the sales team’s question of what else is already on the shelf like this proposed book? Who else can argue for its unique place?
- We may have to send back the sample chapters because they simply don’t yet sparkle in a highly competitive market.
It’s all about timing.
It may be that your book is too similar to something in the pipeline. Let’s say you have a fabulous proposal about the intricacies of communicating good money management to teens in a positive, creative way. Your agent tests the waters by sending it to one or two houses only to find out that Dave Ramsey has a book coming out next year about money management for teens. Your agent is going to put your book aside for a time because it is not going to be able to hold its own against a new book by the go-to money guru. If Ramsey’s book is a huge success she’ll probably shop your book assuming that now that teens and parents are convinced they need money management, your book takes it one step further–because you offer creative, unique ways to reinforce this. See? By waiting your agent was able to piggyback on the success of a “big” book just when everyone is looking for the next book in this popular new category. Waiting paid off.
It may be because the market has closed for a certain genre. If your agent were to send an Amish proposal out widely now he would probably collect all no-thank-yous because publishers have their Amish authors pretty much in place now. By letting everyone turn down the proposal, that book is dead. The smart agent will sit on that proposal so that when an editor says, “I think we’re looking to add one more Amish author,” he’ll have the perfect author and the perfect book.
It may be that the market is closed to a certain author. At this moment I have five stunning debut authors all ready to go. But guess what? Every time we talk with an editor we’re hearing, “We’re not able to take on debut authors at this time. We want to build the authors we have or contract authors who bring a strong readership with them.” If I sent proposals out for those fabulous debut authors right now, I’d collect nothing but polite and encouraging rejects, and once a book gets a no, I can’t send it again to that editor. I could kill five glorious books in one fell swoop. So my subtle technique? I wait until I can personally respond to something on an editor’s wish list, and then I sell that author like crazy– in response to a expressed need or an opening.
So does this subtle technique work? You bet it does. When I think of the debut authors I’ve placed–now most of them bestselling and award-winning such as Jill Eileen Smith, Tessa Afshar, Lori Benton, Cynthia Ruchti–I see that it works to wait till the right moment. I’ve done it with nonfiction authors as well.
As market savvy writers you do the same thing. That’s why you read publisher and agent blogs– you understand that you need to anticipate the market, right? What other timing techniques do you find important? Does the hurry-up-and-wait atmosphere make you crazy?
Proposal sitting with your agent forever? It may be a subtle technique. Click to Tweet
Why do some agents take forever to get projects out? Click to Tweet