I had the opportunity to write an article for Women Writers, Women’s Book. The site was launched in 2011 to be another platform for contemporary women writers and authors around the world writing in English. Its mission is to encourage and promote the visibility of women writers. We are particularly interested in the edges, the intersections between genres, nationalities, languages, arts, cultures.
Barbara Bos is the managing editor and owner of Women Writers, Women’s Books. With sections such as, writing, interviews, recommended reads, agent’s corner, submissions, library 2021, author genie, hybrid publishing, and ask BLIX, Barbara has lovingly and judiciously curated a site that both supports and encourages women writers.
Barbara was born in Holland. After finishing University she left for the UK. Since then she has uprooted herself twice more, currently living with her family in a small village in Galicia, North-West Spain.
For this blog post, we are going to talk about something we hate, rejection. In life, we are prepared to hear the word no. Our parents get us started on learning the meaning of the word. However, hearing the word no when it comes to something like a manuscript you poured your heart and soul into, that can sting. Therefore, to help take a bit of the burn away, I’m going to address rejection from a publisher professional’s perspective.
You can barely put a finite number on the number of manuscripts publishers receive every year. Some estimate the number to be between 3,000-5,000 a year. Regardless of whether it’s a small or large agency, literary agents receive thousands of submissions a year as well.
In terms of the number of books published, Forbes estimates there are 600,000-1,000,000 books published in the US alone. In 2014, a report from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Surveys used the data from 9,000 respondents and concluded that those who completed a manuscript. 23% succeeded in becoming traditionally published, which is 13.4% of the total panel, All of that aside, there are things you can control to help increase the odds of agents giving you a serious look.
Target the right agent.– If you’ve written a sci-fi fantasy novel, you don’t want to pitch it to an agent that handles contemporary women’s fiction. Literary agents are like doctors, while all doctors know the basics of medicine, they have specialties. You can research agents to see what genres and/or sub-genres they represent. If you can’t find anything online, query them directly. Most are happy to respond.
Make sure you deliver the story you pitched. I once received a pitch for a romantic mystery that blew my socks off. It had all of the elements and the pitch looked like it belonged on the inside jacket of a trade paperback. I received nearly 500 pages, and after reading ten chapters, nothing I was promised in the pitch was there.
Make sure your writing mechanics are up to snuff. Agents give fiction writers a wide berth. Dialogue reflects the way people speak, which isn’t proper English. That’s a given. However, grammar and sentence structure is important. If you didn’t grow up with uncles who were English teachers, you would do well to invest in a grammar software program such as Grammarly. You might also want to consider hiring an editor to go over the manuscript to tighten it up before submitting it.
Even if you have checked all the right boxes, sometimes agents aren’t taking on new clients. Sometimes being offered representation is purely a matter of timing. If you’ve queried and submitted several partial or full manuscripts, take a little time to re-read your work and make adjustments if you need to. If you’re not part of one, join a writer’s workshop group. Getting other perspectives and feedback can be very helpful. If you don’t want to go that route, get in touch with a community college or university’s English department and talk to a professor. I know many authors who have worked with English and American Literature grad students to get their manuscripts in shape. The last thing I recommend is to put it away for a week or even a month. This will allow you to come back to it with fresh eyes and a refreshed perspective.
Lastly, don’t give up. Some of our most lauded literary names received countless rejections before they broke through. Keep writing as long as it makes you happy.
Our Next Post Will Cover Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, and Hybrid Publishing, what they’re about, and how to determine which works best for you.
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Most publishing professionals have been asked a slew of questions about the process, one of the most common questions we get is about whether or not you need a literary agent to get published. So, as an agent, I thought I would address the definition of a literary agent and what we can and cannot do for writers.
What is a literary agent?
A literary agent is a person who represents the business interests of writers and their written works. We work with both new and established writers. Agents work with the Big Four Publishers, (Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, and Macmillan) Simon and Schuster were a part of the Big Five. It’s been acquired by Bertelsmann, which also owns Random House and Penguin. In addition to staying abreast of all the changes within the industry, we’ve cultivated relationships with independent publishers, boutique presses, and small presses. Agents negotiate with publishers for the rights to publish their written works. This also includes subsidiary rights such as options from film producers, and theatrical or film producers for the rights to bring a writer’s written works to the big or small screen, as well as the stage. The fee agents charge generally ranges between 15 to 20%.
What a literary agent can do for writers
In addition to negotiating publishing contracts on a writer’s behalf, we also keep track of any monies and payments coming to the writer whether it’s on a quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis.
Agents are avid readers, and they both read and review manuscripts for both fiction and nonfiction works. A good literary agent will give you feedback and insights from their side of the desk. They’ll do their best to make sure your work shines.
Agents spend their time pitching their client’s projects. They work to tailor each pitch to bring out the maximum interest of the acquisitions editor, editorial director, and editorial staff that reviews them. Agents rely on their authors to help them create the pitch, no one knows their work better. Additionally, literary agents will provide an assist for marketing plans, which are very important to secure an offer of publication for both fiction and nonfiction works.
Agents also keep track of all submissions and they make sure to follow each publisher’s guidelines to the letter.
What an agent doesn’t do
Agents aren’t copy and line editors. While they are happy to provide feedback, the work of getting the manuscript into fighting shape is up to the writer. We suggest hiring a reputable editor to do the work.
A good agent doesn’t charge a reading fee. Reading is a part of the job description. A lot of agents know good copy and line editors and proofreaders. They may have a few names for you, but there are no finders fees paid to the agent for every writer a freelance editor works with.
Literary agents can’t make or guarantee that a publisher will offer you a contract. Agents will do their best to get you published. Remember, an agent doesn’t make a dime until the writer does.
Agents have a lot of connections, but they aren’t publicists, editors, or advertising and marketing professionals. Think of it this way, you might have a great cardiologist, but if you need heart surgery, you need a cardiothoracic surgeon. Even though your cardiologist specializes in heart health, you need an experienced surgeon. If a writer hires a publicist, the agent can work with them in terms of logistics and be a liaison between the publishing company and the PR firm.
Agents cannot advise writers about tax or legal issues. See number 4.
What’s the benefit of having a literary agent represent you
A literary agent allows writers to concentrate on writing. The agent will focus on procuring the best and most lucrative offers they can on behalf of their clients. There are great benefits to having an agent land a deal with a traditional publisher, be it the Big Four or an independent press. First and foremost, nearly all the high-profile publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, whether it’s the next Harry Potter or War and Peace. Agents are the gatekeepers of sorts. They have vetted the authors they represent and editors know they can trust the agent’s client list. This is the difference between getting a read or sitting in an enormous slush pile.
How can you find a literary agent
You can use a guidebook to help you find a literary agent. One of the top resources you can use is The Writer’s Market Guide to Literary Agents 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published (2020). The Writer’s Market has been around for a long time and is pretty accurate. The listings are exhaustive and contain each agent’s specific specialties. Moreover, it lets you know if they are taking on new clients and what their submissions requirements are to be considered. It’s important to pay attention to those details and follow them to the letter.
You may also be able to get more information online through Reedsy, a website for writers and writing professionals. There is also literaryagencies.com which has a list of agents from around the country.
Hurry up and wait. What happens after you decide to seek a literary agent out for representation
Once you’ve completed your research, make sure your manuscript is in the best shape it can be when you query and submit it to an agent. With the exception of large firms, most agencies aren’t that large and it may take some time for them to get back to anyone who queries them. Try to query during their submissions period. Even then, it may take time before you hear back. Most agencies’ email servers will send an email to let you know your query was received. However, if you haven’t heard anything back in two weeks, send a follow-up email to see if your query was received. Most agents are happy to check their queue.
On average it may take anywhere from six to ten weeks for most agents to get back to you. Don’t take it personally. Agents have clients they are already actively representing, which is a good thing.
It’s important to remember that getting a book published is an exercise in patience, and with an agent, it will take more time. From your submission for representation to signing with an agent, to the agent actively pitching your book to publishers. It’s a lot to consider. Writers must weigh the pros and cons of working with an agent and make the best decision for yourself and your writing career.
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