Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Mavens Land an Agent!

Maven Jacqueline BarbourNo, not for ourselves; for the blog!

Before I go on, you probably noticed that once again, I'm blogging when I'm not supposed to. But it turns out Darcy's having a busy day (I think it's like that after conference!), so I'm posting what I was planning to put up on Friday.

So, here's the deal. After the Golden Heart and RITA awards ceremony on Saturday night, Lacey introduced Darcy and me with Tara Greenbaum and Shannon Greenland, whom she'd met at last year's conference, and they in turn introduced us to Dona Sarkar Mishra, another author whose name I didn't get (sorry!) and Stephen Barbara of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Also participating in the fun were Delilah Ahrendt and her husband.

Stephen represents young adult fiction and other books targeted at young people, which is why I didn't immediately lay my historical romance pitch on him and try to get a request on the spot. Instead, we ended up having a blast playing a game of Stephen's creation, which he tentatively titled Guess Me. In this game, a topic is selected (such as "your last vacation" or "your favorite hobby") and for each player, everyone else has to try to guess the answer. Whoever gets closest with their guess "wins." I think Dona and the other author whose name I didn't get left before we got very deep into the game, but let me tell you, it was the kind of fun that makes you forget to check the time for hours on end, even when you started playing after midnight. (I strongly encouraged Stephen to trademark the idea and make a few million on it, but I think he's too busy being a literary agent.)

Anyway, long story not quite so long, I asked Stephen whether he'd be willing to guest-blog here for us at Manuscript Mavens and he agreed. After discussing it in more detail yesterday, we agreed to do his guest blog as an interview sort of thing, with the Mavens providing the questions and him providing the answers. We've scheduled his interview post for Friday, August 3.

But, here's the thing: We need questions, people! I have a few things I want to ask him, but we want to know what you, our beloved readers, want to know about the world of publishing from an agent's perspective.

So, lay 'em on us. Questions please, and plenty of them!


lacey kaye said...

Heather Davis was the other author, and here's a great link to more conference stuff: link

As for Guess Me -- Stephen's game. MY title :-)

Darcy Burke said...

Thanks for covering, Jacq! I love that title, Lacey!

Bailey said...

Okay -- am I a total geek if I admit I love to hear about Agent Pet Peeves? Also known as What Not To Do if You Want an Agent This Side of the Apocalpyse?

lacey kaye said...

Hi, Bailey!

If you're a geek then I'm a geek, because I think those are super-awesome questions!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Words of encouragement for hopeful unpubs are always welcome. And any hints would be good.

Actually, anything he says will be interesting. Insight into an agent's mind? Bring it on.

lacey kaye said...

Just in case anyone is desperately waiting my post... I'm going to give this one a few more hours to mature. More questions! We need more questions! You're telling me we've got an AGENT coming any only two people have questions? Cough 'em up, guys!

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Yeah, peeps! We need more questions. Lots more. Let's pick his brain while we have the chance :>!

Mary said...

Is it important for an author to determine the sub-genre of their novel before submitting it?

Asking for a friend on this one - I know the chances aren't great for a self-published novel being picked up by a publisher, but what if the novel was self-published in a different country? Would the chances for it being published in the U.S. still be the same?

Is it true that most agents will toss a manuscript if it opens with a dream, without reading further?

I'll be back if I think of more questions! Excited to read whatever he has to say. =)

Gillian said...

Does an agent want to hear that you have one (or two, or three) more novels at home in the drawer?

Does he/she want to hear that said novels are all regency historical/ YA/ paranormal? Is he/she hoping they are a series?

If agent says No to a manuscript but likes the author's voice, is agent going to say so in the rejection letter? Should author keep submitting if agent simply says "This is not my type of story."?

Does agent want to see that author has already set up web site/blog? Does agent cringe if website/blog doesn't meet his/her expectations?

I'm tired, but these are a few that come to mind. And yes, I can't believe there aren't more questions out there, either. Maybe everyone is in a free-book-induced stupor :)

Vicki said...

Will an agent take on a client if their current wip is not complete? (even though they've completed others)

How often does the agent communicate with the client?

What is the normal turn around time to hear back from an agent?

Okay, not sure if those are the best questions but that's what I came up with at 5:30 in the morning. (g)

Leslie said...

What do you look for in a manuscript and potential author? What makes you sit up straight and stop everything and request the manuscript?

If your writing is top-notch and original but your book's out of the ordinary in some respect, such as word length or cross-genre, is that something to flaunt or to fix?

They say publishing is ever-more crass and commercial, with no room for the serious stuff. Is that so? What if your ambitions are serious and very highly literary, any advice?

What kind of novels are you looking for? What kind of novels are publishers looking for? What kind of novels do you think Americans are looking for?

ERiCA said...

Does agent response time vary depending on whether you've met the person in real life or were introduced via a mutual acquaintance?

If you loved an author's voice/story but weren't sure that particular project were salable in today's market, would you sign the author anyway?

If not, would you tell the author to submit something else?

How much, if any, editorial input do you provide your authors?

What type/level of career planning advice do you give your authors? Would you suggest one of your authors try/abandon a series/genre/etc?

I hear in many workshops or see online advice regarding when it's time to find a new agent. But I imagine the converse is true as well. When is it the right time to sever relationship with an author? Under what circumstances might that happen?

What bearing (if any) do author web sites and/or blogs have on your decision to take an author on as a client? What bearing (if any) does author web presence have when pitching their stories to publishing houses and/or negotiating contracts?

What is the craziest/weirdest thing an author has ever tried to get you to bargain for in a publishing deal? Were you successful? (Or did you talk them out of the idea?)

What percentage of your time is spent reading material (whether from clients or slush) and what percentage is spent doing other tasks (such as phone calls, mail, meetings, etc)

What are examples of elements you've attempted to negotiate in a contract which publishers considered "deal-breaker" and would not bend?

How many (if any) books have you taken to auction? Did you suspect when you first read the material that auction was likely?

How often (if ever) does it take more than one agented book before a client has a first sale? Once they've sold, do you ever resurrect that first book in some form or is it typically dead forever?

lacey kaye said...

OK, I'm scared now :-)

jenny said...

What are you seeing out there, any big mistakes we can learn from or any potentials that were almost there but they had something that made you pass?

How many great writers have you discovered in the slush? How many have you signed?

Do you google potential clients before you request/call/sign?

Andrea said...

How many pitches for different clients' mss do you like to have out at a time?

How many times can a writer query you on different mss before you tell them to go away for good?

laci j said...

Do you ever pass on a writer who you think is good or even great, but you don't like the subject matter or genre of the book? If that happens, do you recommend another agent?

What happens to all that correspondence, does it all go in the trash or do you ever keep a writer's correspondence for reference, or because you think it might be worth something someday?

Anthony A said...

I hear that slower plots and pacing found in some of the more traditional literary type novels can make them "difficult" sells nowadays, especially compared to plot-driven commercial books. Any advice for people who write these kind of books?

Is it better to try
publishers direct, or keep banging away on agency doors?


TiM said...

So I have this novel, took a massive chunk of my life to write it actually, and I have some stories too, lots of submissions out everywhere. Been at it for a half-dozen years now, big box of rejection notes and form letters fill my closet while each day I wake up wondering if it's gonna be the big one. But at this point, not much has happened.

Reactions I'm getting from agents on my novel seem to vary massively: some big-name agents say the writing's just brilliant, some young ambitious agents slap me quickly with a form letter, a lot of these people say the voice is "nice" and a lot tell me that they totally can't stand the voice.

Bottom line is, nobody's buying my stuff. I queried many, many agents ... like I said, lots of good comments about the WRITING, but nobody wants to take on the STORY. I'm at my wit's end, basically. Re-evaluation mode. Looking at my whole life in retrospect and wondering what the %@*# I've been doing. Years have flashed before my eyes like how the sun strobes through tree-lined boulevards, I'm beginning to count reality by decades -- basically I'm not young anymore, got nothing else going on, and wondering if I've picked the wrong profession. You know what I mean? I'm like, Dude, now what? I mean, something's gotta give here, I need some slack ... I figure if someone reads the thing all the way through, their minds will be blown down the fast track from here to eternity. So far though, and it's been a long, long lonely road I'm walking on here, trust me man, so far it's just some "nice writing" or "wonderful writer" feel-good type comments but nada no comprehendo on the whole shebang itself. What gives? Is this a common situation? I mean, you don't know me or my work and I'm not asking for insight into my personal situation, but I'm wondering if some general agenty type advice applies here, or if you can figure whether the reactions I've been getting are an indication of ability and aptitude, or complete lack thereof.

Basically, I'm suffering here, man. I asked for it, I know, nobody did this to me out of the blue -- when I adopted the archetypal image of unquenchable literary maven at my nowheresville liberal-arts college in the virgin years of last decade, I suppose the seal was made, the die was cast et cetera and my whole future already written up in final draft by the Great Celestial Writer as pretty much latched into the dark path of the modern romantic. Whether or not this game plan was basically clueless and retarded from the get-go or this is just a reflection of the toughness of this career, I dunno, but I like to think that I've got a pretty decent manuscript, and for a long time I've been thinking that said manuscript will translate for me into a decent chance of final rectitude. But I gotta admit that the recent batch of rejections are making all prospects dark and grim around these parts.

What I'm looking at, at this point, is basically to just keep slogging away with my vicious chutzpah-laden query plow like this forever and ever and ever until I reach the last agent standing. No pause, no mercy, no looking back for home: just ... keep ... querying. Is that pretty much the thing to do in this situation, where a dozen-odd agents have read and passed, or is it starting to look like time to force myself into taking that cush desk job and forget the books, lose the long dreams of making high and mighty literature that reinvigorates the Western canon by force?

Help me out here, man. I'd appreciate your honest interpretation of the score, some running commentary for me to contemplate while I continue wandering down this deserted path. I'm basically a one-man show in a room, plugged in live with this computer but otherwise un-networked, unknown, alone -- and like the living face behind every cheap personals ad out there on the net I'm just looking for the right kind of love.

Jacqueline Barbour said...

To those who've posted questions in the past few days, I apologize. Stephen has already finished his interview with the questions that had been posted through Monday of this week.

Look for his answers tomorrow :)!

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens