Thursday, November 12, 2020

Questions to ask a potential Agent AND yourself!

Literary Agents: someone who represents writers and their works to publishing houses….and film agents/producers, and audiobook companies, and foreign rights publishers, and often edit, and and and

If you’re debating the need for an agent I suggest Rory Gilmore-ing the crap out of it. Pro Con list time! That’s what I did, no surprise, and I landed firmly on traditional publishing which meant: I needed an agent. 

But, how do you select which agents you’d want to work with? How do you know if the ones you pick would be a benefit to your career? 

Truth: You Don’t. 

Situations arise that alter plans. You, nor your agent, can control the opinions of publishers. You, nor your agent, can control the market. There are so many variables that shift around you, choosing a book agent is really a leap of faith—but don’t despair! There’re also some grounded aspects at your fingertips.

Some agent aspects that shouldn’t change with the winds of publishing are: what genres they represent, what have they sold recently, what do some of their current authors think of working with said agent, what’s their reputation—if you can gather that. It’s leg work that absolutely should be done before you pursue them. But, being prepared for the call is also a huge part.

The call is basically you interviewing the agent. So, that means you’d better be prepared with a list of questions for them. And yes, there’s plenty of lists of Questions to ask an Agent before Signing out there, but I believe you should also be asking yourself questions alongside them…and be open with your agent about your thoughts.

Questions for the agent in Red. 

Questions for yourself in Blue.

What did you like about my book?

What do I like about my book?

What work do you see that needs to be done before going out on submission?

Are you an editorial agent?

Do I want to work with an agent on editing my book?

Do you sign authors for one book, or for their career?

Does your agency use a contract?

Are there others at your agency that I would be working with?

What does your submission process look like?

What happens if this book doesn’t sell?

What would I want to do with this book if it doesn’t sell?

What project do I really want to work on next?

Would you support me writing in a different genre?

How many authors do you represent and what genres do they write?

How do you usually communicate with your authors?

Do I want to brainstorm with an agent, or would I prefer to come to them with ready-formed ideas?

As always, there’s no wrong answers to these. But they’re important to ask and think about because once you’re in an agent-author relationship, and working with an agent is a business relationship, you’ll come across all of these situations and more.

I’ve been through this process and would love to answer questions if you have any! Drop them here, or you can find me on Insta and ask there! Otherwise, may the words be with you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Indies & Agents

Working with an agent: Would you? Could you? Should you?

As an Indie, I don't work with an agent currently, mostly because there's no need. There's no publisher, studio, or third-party corporation who is trying to buy the rights to my work or to whom I am trying to sell my rights--be it in the US markets or International.

The moment a business of any ilk wants to buy any segment of my rights, that's when I'd look for an agent, or at the very least, an IP lawyer. A business is always out for its best interests, which usually aren't my best interests. I suffer no delusion of being able to outsmart an entire legal department for whom IP contracts are old hat, thus getting an agent who is well experienced (and/or whose agency is) would behoove me.

Would an agent take me on? Possibly, if I already have an offer from a large publisher. Depends on whether there is money to be made--now and in the future--that is worth their time. Would an agent take me on with just the catalog I have and no offers on the table? Oh, gosh no. I have nothing for them to sell.

What if you're that one-in-a-billion unicorn Indie author who is approached by a publisher that wants to buy your already published works to which you still own all rights? Congrats! YES, get an agent before you sign anything. Reputable publishers will not balk at you asking them to hold that thought for two weeks while you secure an agent. When querying agents at that point, be sure to put "Query: Have Offer From [Publisher Name]" in the subject line.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Should You Sign With an Agent?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the benefits of working with an agent - or, for those of us without agents - times we've wondered if an agent would be helpful or why we choose not to have one. 

I do have an agent, Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency. She's the third agent who's represented me - and I can personally vouch that having a bad agent really is worse than having none at all. But, I do believe having a good agent can be hugely beneficial - depending on what kind of writing career you want to have. 

What are the benefits of working with an agent? Here are three - along with their associated caveats.

Selling to big traditional publishing houses. 

By this, I mean the bigger houses that don't take unsolicited submissions. A good agent has connections - positive relationships - with editors who depend on agents to bring them books that fit what they love and can buy. This means that agents who send submissions to tons of editors in the hopes of something sticking to the wall, are not good agents. Agents who only manage to sell to houses that take unsolicited submissions aren't bringing much to the table either. This also means that if you are happy sticking to self-publishing, you don't need an agent.

Contract negotiation

See above. If you're selling to traditional publishing, an agent can be critical in negotiating the best deal and securing your rights. They're savvy to the grabs publishers can try to sneak past unwary authors. An agent who doesn't argue with contract language may not be doing their job. Also, a good agent will be solidly on the author's team, fighting for the author. Be wary of agents who prioritize preserving their relationship with the editor over championing the author. Unless the author is behaving badly, the agent should always put them first.

Career planning

A good agent can help strategize which projects a writer should choose to work on next. Again, they're going to come at this from the angle of selling to traditional publishing. Now, if you're the sort of writer who wants to work on exactly what you want to work on, with no input and without consideration for the current market - which some people are and that's a legitimate choice - then you won't want this from an agent. An agent can still sell your work in this scenario, but they'll be the sort who say "give me the next thing you write and we'll see." Both of these models work, but knowing which will work for you is key.

Having an agent can be beneficial to an author, but it's not a career-maker or breaker. Knowing what you want from an agent - or IF you want an agent - is most important. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Space Constraints

 Yes, hello? This is Marcella, phoning in her blog post because she spent the entire day - and I do mean the ENTIRE day - in the ER with an ill parent. Who is going to be just fine, btw. But the day's allotment of brain cells have been consumed and all that's left is the siren song of sleep.

So here. Photo. Just to prove that I do occasionally take pictures of something other than cats. 

As for book length - listen. If you self pub, do you as far as word counts/book length go. Readers will let you know right quick if they feel you're messing with expectation. 

If you're aiming for a traditional house, check their guidelines for length requirements and stick to them. 

During my second ever RWA conference, I pitched a book to an editor. She asked the word count. I gave it. 120k words. She said, "I can't publish that!" Turns out, bookstore shelf space is designed with mass market paperbacks in mind. A 100k word book in mass market is about an inch thick. X number of those books can fit cover out on the shelf. Anything more than that and a book store is going to have to stock fewer of your books or give up shelf space. You can guess how that math is going to go. Granted. This conversation took place before self publishing was a thing. Yes. I am that old. Hush. 

Trad print houses still have to worry about things like printed book footprint. 

E-pubs and self-pubs can monkey around a little with length. Pixels have pretty tiny footprints. Feetprints? They're small.

Yeah. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Book Length = Word Count Genre Guide

An end stack of six books and over each one is the text for the genre guide word count ranges given in the post.

That heady moment when you pick up a new book and leaf through the pages—maybe even stick your nose into them—checking out the back, cover and…the page count. 

I know I’m not the only bookworm that does that. And before, as an oblivious bookworm, I never gave much thought to how long a book was beyond noting if it was too short—especially if I was holding a fantasy. 

And there it is: your book's genre dictates its length

Why is that? Maybe it’s a little bit chicken or the egg, but readers have expectations of how long a book is depending on what type they’ve picked up and the publishing industry—including agents—have word count expectations depending on what genre is being handed to them. 

Wait…word count?! We were talking about book length—as in number of pages—right? 

Readers look at book length in number of pages, but that’s not a standardized metric. Font, letter size, page size, they all factor in, so publishing looks at a manuscript in word count

Word Count: estimated at 250 words per page

It’s fun math. You can pick up any book in your nightstand stack, peek at the last page, and multiply that by 250 (I’m reading a copy of GOOD OMENS which clocks in at 474…so that means it was a 118,500 word manuscript). I did an entire spreadsheet of books in varying genres when I was writing my first book to get the average for my genre. 

Though let me tell you, there are easier ways to find the industry standards. Jeffe did a great post on Sunday listing generalized lengths to differentiate short story, novelette, novella, and novel. As for the differences in genres, let me help you by sharing my genre guide!

YA (not SFF) 50,000 to 80,000 words

Cozy Mystery 70,000 to 85,000 words 

Horror/Mystery/Thriller/Suspense 70,000 to 90,000 words 

YA Sci-fi Fantasy 70,000 to 100,000 words 

Mainstream Romance 70,000 to 100,000 words 

Historical Fiction 100,000 to 120,000 words 

Sci-fi Fantasy 100,000 to 120,000 words

Yes, there are always exceptions. But there’s also always a reason for the rule. While discussing a fantasy book with my agent she mentioned that any word count over 120,000 bumps up into the next price level for binding (putting the physical book together). A good reason! 

As you’re writing, or NaNoing, keep in mind reader attention spans and publishing expectations—even if you’re planning the self-pub route. When in doubt, 80,000 to 90,000 words is a good range to shoot for!Even Writer's Digest recommends 80,000 to 89,999 as the golden zone. 

So...where does your book land?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Size doesn’t matter when you’re talking books

Today, I’m not looking at votes counted or pundits projecting. I’m offline, mostly, and it feels amazing. Social media can make an anxiety-churning thing like this election even worse, at least for me. So I’m not really here, you don’t see me. :)

This week on SFF Seven we’re talking about how long a book ought to be. If you’re curious, Jeffe Kennedy posted some word counts on Sunday, and I would refer you to her post. It’s all the info you could possibly want, and I don’t have a lot to add.

Oh, except maybe one thing: if you’re looking to preserve your debut, never-been-published status, please know that size does not matter. You publish a thing, anywhere, and you are no longer a proper debut. I co-wrote a short story years before I sold my first book, and on a lark my co-writer submitted it to Harlequin, who bought it. It was fun, at the time, to see my name on something. I submitted a couple of short stories to anthologies after that because writing short stories is a blast and really kept my “I can do this” confidence up. Fast forward to when I actually wrote a for-real, full-length book and sold it, and I submitted that book to a “best first book” contest. Because it was my first book, right. Those short stories had required an entirely different skill set, or so I thought. Well, the folks running the contest sent me a note telling me I wasn’t eligible and they were refunding my entry fee. Eep. I felt like I’d been caught cheating or something, which had never been my intention. Still feels dirty, years later. 

At any rate, don’t do that to yourself. You can ruin something nice — like your debut moment — by writing anything, even the tiniest short story that no one even buys. 

So be kind to you: stay off social media when it makes you feel even lonelier... and keep the guilty pleasure writing projects to yourself. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020


 Dear Readers, if you are a US citizen and have not voted in the local, state, and federal elections by mail or early in-person, please, PLEASE, do so today. Mask up. Take a folding chair. Pack snacks. Maybe even wear a disposable diaper.

Whatever you do, VOTE.

VOTE for your school board, your city auditor, your state supreme court justices, your congressional representative, and for the president of the United States. Local elections matter as much--and sometimes more--than federal. 

Your vote matters. Your vote matters. Your vote matters.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

How Long Should Your Novel Be?

Apropos of #NaNoWriMo, our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "How long should my book be?" We're exploring the seemingly ever changing definitions of “book” length, novella length, etc.

It seems this question comes up around NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month, where participants attempt to write a 50,000-word "novel" during November - because of that magical 50K word goal. I can tell you all with good authority, because I've heard it straight from the mouth of Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, that he picked 50,000 words as the month's goal because it seemed like a nice, round number to him. At the time, he had little idea of how long a novel should be.

It can be a bit misleading because, while novels are considered to be more than 40,000 words as defined by organizations sponsoring awards - like SFWA's Nebula Award* - it's rare for a novel to be that short. 

As far as traditional publishing is concerned, very few imprints consider books that are less than 80,000 words. The sweet spot for most publishers seems to be 85,000-100,000 words. Recently, several author friends and I have noted that our editors have asked us to trim our novels to be less than 120,000 words. We think that's a window dictated by printing press limitations. After that benchmark, the cost shoots up. Some imprints, like Harlequin category romances - very slim books - are around 55,000-60,000 words, but that's a very specific brand. Some literary fiction books might come in below 80,000 words, but again, that's a fairly specific genre, so you'd want to target that carefully.

And sure, with self-publishing it doesn't matter - except that readers have expectations. If something isn't clearly labeled as a novella or shorter, they tend to get cranky. Frankly, even if a novella or short is labeled clearly as such, reviews often note that it's too short. 

So: how long should your novel be? Shoot for 85,000-100,000 words and you'll be golden.

*Incidentally, the word-count definitions for the various story lengths as defined by SFWA are:

Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
Novel: 40,000 words or more.