Hi, all! As promised, my wonderful agent, Stephanie Kip Rostan, is back on the blog to answer the second batch of questions we've drawn from the hat. Grab a seat guys and I'll make the coffee. :D
Q: I am 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my first novel and a small local agency has shown interest in representing me when the novel is complete. This agency has a quiet track record. My question is this: with greater faith in my work than I, a friend is suggesting I submit to some higher profile agencies. Comments?
SKR: Without knowing anything about the novel, I can’t really say what its potential is for a larger agency. But I would offer two comments: first, why not try? If you query other agents and don’t find what you’re looking for, you will know that the smaller agency is your best bet. Yes, being rejected or ignored are not great experiences for anyone (and agents don’t really enjoy rejecting people, nor do they usually intentionally ignore authors), but publishing is a tough business and it’s important to take the risk of letting others read your work – after all, when it’s published, that’s what you want to happen! And second, a smaller agency can become a lot bigger with one great client – more important than their track record is how well they know the business and the editors in it. If they are good at those things and have a passion for your work, there’s no reason they couldn’t make a great sale for you.
Q: I have a memoir manuscript about the stillbirth of my son 7 years ago. I wrote it in part because there was little on the market at the time my son died that was from a parent's perspective and I desperately needed to know how other families survived unbearable loss. I think the manuscript is good and I have made the rounds of agents with some nice comments but no bites. I know how to market and sell this book and I know that people in the stillbirth community will buy it. My question is: When do I give up on the agent search and either go to a small publisher, or self publish? (At least two agents have recommended going with a small publisher, but I would prefer to be agented!)
SKR: Sometimes publishers or agents turn down worthy projects not because there is no audience for them, but because they perceive the audience at any given time to be small. There may not be a lot of people (relatively speaking) at any one time experiencing what you experienced. Large publishers need to be able to reach a certain sales volume to offset the cost of their operations. So a smaller publisher that knows how to reach a specific audience and will support a book’s steady but not enormous sales year after year could be a good choice for you. Alternatively, with a topic like this one, I think a lot of your audience will be online searching for information, so self-publishing an edition that is available only online could satisfy the need – one of the big reasons to work with a larger publisher is to get store distribution. If you end up selling a lot of copies of a self-published edition, a larger publisher may be interested in taking the book on then (and an agent could help negotiate that). But I think getting your story out there will be helping people whether you have an agent and a large publisher or not.
Q: Writers are always being told to "write the next book" while we're querying and subbing manuscripts, but what should the "next book" be? Do you recommend writing something similar to what a writer's already written, or trying something new?
SKR: I don’t think there’s any one answer to this question – it depends what you are writing now and what you want to write. There is a benefit in being able to offer a follow-up idea or even a few chapters of a follow-up manuscript to an interested agent (and an interested publisher), so it makes sense to me that you would work on something in the same vein. This could help you get a two-book deal. On the other hand, if you have a strong desire to write in two genres (or more), you may want to use some of your waiting time to develop a second possible path for your writing. Sometimes one area is easier to break into than another. I know editors and agents say this all the time and it gets annoying but you should write what you are most excited about writing. This usually comes out on the page and makes for a better book. Your question isn’t really about trends but there were several others Sam received that were and it is somewhat relevant here, so I’ll just give my two cents on that, too: it is and always has been very difficult for authors to time the market – it generally takes long enough to write a book that things will change by the time you’ve written to the latest trend. And of course, trends usually start with someone who wrote something out of the ordinary!
Q: Are you a "no response means no" agent or do you eventually respond to all submitted manuscripts?
SKR: I try to respond eventually to all submitted manuscripts. But I’m not perfect and I do get overwhelmed and behind on reading. Sometimes I have long stretches where I just don’t have time to take on any new clients, but if I see good queries during that time I will still request material and try to get to it. It is totally fine to follow up by email once a month on a complete manuscript. Likewise, if you sign with another agent or agree to an exclusive or decide to self-publish or just for any reason want to withdraw the manuscript, it is important to let me (or any other agent) know. Otherwise you will be making someone else wait longer than they have to for a response, as I will waste time reading something that is no longer available.
Hope you found Steph's answers helpful, campers. Stay tuned for her next visit. In the meantime, I hope to see you on Friday for our next field trip! (Oh, and you might want to bring a space suit and some snacks. The trip will be "out of this world.")