Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Awarding the Leibster and some literary agency internship questions answered

First! I'm awarding the Leibster to Matt over at Matt's Writing Lair. And thanks to the fabulous Jess McKendry nominating you for this award, Matt. For details on the Leibster Award, please see this post.

Second! I only received one comment asking me questions re: my internship, but Rena (of Doctor Faerie Godmother) provided MORE than enough to work with (thanks Rena!). As you'll see below, I've reposted her comment and added my answers in between.

Rena: Questions? Oh yeah, I'm full of questions.
me: Great! Bring 'em on!

Rena: I'm going to just make the worlds biggest comment here because I really have so many. The first, I know tons of people who say things like: "Why did this book ever get published? The characters are terrible, the language is sad, and the plot could use some help." I've always assumed that books like that made it through because of the personal preference thing: how much of that did you see?
me: The agent I worked with did pick things based on personal preference. That said, she had a pretty high standard for what she would shop around to publishers because, while an agent may have a personal preference, the publishers are less likely to. It's still a waiting and guessing game for an agent shopping a book. They have to figure out which publishers will be likely to pick up a manuscript, the same as you... it's just hopeful they will have more experience and/or contacts than you (which is why you bother with them in the first place).

Rena: Did you ever pick out a manuscript and basically get laughed down? Or was everything you liked also liked by the agent/s?
me: There were two cases where I really liked a manuscript and the agent, after she had reviewed them, rejected them. One because she wasn't feeling the backwoods southern dialect the author chose to use (I found it to be accurate and appropriate for the novel). And one because she felt it just wasn't ready yet (where I thought it was a hot YA novel that really will sell, and it may if the author gets a good editor). And then there were a couple that I really loved that she agreed with me on as well. So, yeah, there's definitely some personal preference involved. An agent has to really love a manuscript to want to take it on because they have to be in a relationship with it, and you, for at least the year it will take to sell it. Therefore, your novel could be amazing, but just not right for that agency.

Rena: How important is the query letter? Is a good query letter really going to make it, or is it all about the pages? Did the agency you working with go to pages even when the query wasn't that great?
me: The agent I worked with, as a general rule, didn't read queries. That was my job. And to be honest, there were days when I didn't look very closely at them. I would skim a query for the synopsis of the work and, if it grabbed me, would look at the pages sent as well. A query is as good as the synopsis, in that regard, because the point of it is to make me want to look at your pages. However, if your pages are terrible, no amount of great querying will help you. There were a few that I rejected just based on the fact that the query was SO terrible grammatically (how can your manuscript be any good if you can't compose an e-mail?). And there was one query that I deleted without a response because it was just plain offensive. So I guess it's important to know your audience and approach them accordingly.

Rena: Statistics, I'm sure everyone wants to know the stats: How many queries a week, how many requested manuscripts, etc.
me: I'm not sure how many came to the agent's personal e-mail, because she forwarded many to another account where we also received queries for me to read. I read anywhere between 25 and 40 queries in a week... and requested 7 manuscripts in the 2 months I was at the agency. Of those manuscripts, 2 will actually be signed, I would venture.

Rena: I know that I'm not the only one who wants to know: what made the stand out manuscripts stand out? I know this has been answered a million times, but so often the only thing people will say is "Voice," but we've all seen plenty of manuscripts with killer voice but unenthusiastic everything else (from concept to dialogue). What did you notice about the manuscripts?
me: Voice is definitely important. Also, timing. Occasionally I would read a synopsis that sounded great but when we got more pages I would find it wouldn't pan out accordingly. If the pacing of the plot wasn't just right, didn't keep me interested in what was going to happen next, then I would end up putting it aside, not recommending it to the agent. In those types of situations we would always send a note to the author explaining that while we like the idea/style/characters/etc., the manuscript still needs more editing before it's ready to be marketed. So yes, voice... but have pity on your reader! Move the plot along. (And just a note: You may never see this in your own work... which is why it is important to have someone else look at it with a critical eye. Professional edits and crit partners are a MUST.)

Rena: Did any new clients get signed while you were there?
me: Yes. One. She was the author of the first manuscript I read when I started. The last intern had requested it, but I was the first to review it... and it was amazing. I can't wait to see it on the bookstore shelves (in a year or so. It hasn't been picked up by a publisher yet, but it's really a gem of a work, so I have confidence that it will be soon).

Rena: Did you get to work on any existing clients' work? How did that go? Specifically, did you get to read any of the already signed clients' first drafts? and how did those compare to the manuscripts in the slush? What I'm trying to get at here is, in your opinion, did most of the manuscripts in the slush suffer from first-draft-to-query-itis? Would most of the manuscripts in the slush have benefited from some word smithing? Or were they doomed by concept?
me: I don't know if other agents work differently, but the agent I worked with did not want a first draft from anybody. Anything that looked like it still needed major work (and ALL first drafts need major work) was told to find a professional editor and then contact the agency again once you had followed that editor's advice to fix the manuscript. I assume that people who were signed with her already knew that. I must say I'm amazed at the amount of querying and pages sent to the agent that looked as if no one had ever read them (including the author). The best chance you can give your manuscript is to have people whose skills you trust look at your work and offer you suggestions for improvement... over and over again... maybe even through 10 revisions. The agent, and the publisher, are not going to help you fix fundamental issues. There's likely no money in it for them. Your manuscript needs to be the best that it can be before you start sending it out. A lot of rejections you get could be solved if you had a professional editor look at your work.

Rena: You know what, I think I'll stop there, but I could sure keep going.
me: Thanks for playing! I hope my answers were helpful. If you have more questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll be happy to respond!


  1. Holy schmoly, those were great answers! Thanks for taking the time, I didn't ask the short ones. (It was like my own personal interview...)

    1. Thanks again for asking them, Rena. I'm happy you did!

  2. Loved this! Thanks so much for asking the questions, Rena! And thank you for answering them, Ms. Fairbetty!!! I learned a ton just from reading them.

    My question: How long after the agent accepts someone's MS to the time when they begin submitting to publishers?

    1. Hey Sabrina!!! Sorry this took me a few days to respond... Good question!

      I saw that it was at least 2 months from initial receipt of the manuscript to beginning to submit to publishers. It took the agent a while to finally read the manuscript after it was recommended by us underlings. It's important to remember that an agent most always has more than one project on his or her plate at a time. Patience is a virtue when embarking on this process. :) Hope that helps!


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