Ask an Agent! Part 1: If I have already self-published my book on the Kindle, can I still seek literary representation?
Robin Mizell of Robin Mizell Ltd, answers member’s questions on the query process and agent representation. (Robin also guest posted on the blog a few weeks back with a fantastic post; 25 Steps to Getting and Working with a Literary Agent. Be sure to check that out too!)
Part 1 answers 2 questions, stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 where we’ll have more wise words from Robin!
“Thanks for these good questions. I hope everyone at Ladies Who Critique.com works hard to maintain the supportive and welcoming attitude that seems to prevail in your forum. Laura invited me to browse, and I soon learned that it wouldn’t always be possible to figure out members’ identities. When I see a writing sample that interests me, I occasionally contact the writer via email and ask to see more, but I don’t make the request public. In other words, if I can’t figure out your email address, then I can’t invite you to show me your manuscript when it’s finished. Don’t be shy; be discoverable!“
1. If I have already self-published my book on the Kindle, can I still seek literary representation? Should I mention the fact?
In your query letter, it’s always best to make it clear if the book you’re describing has been published–by you or any other publisher. If you don’t explain otherwise, then I’ll assume you’re querying in regard to an unpublished manuscript. Unless the book’s topic or you are suddenly newsworthy or in demand, I’ll want to know the date of publication and how many copies of the book have been sold, so you might as well provide those details up front. If you’ve sold thousands of copies in less than a year, then some agents might be intrigued by the numbers alone. I’d need to like the sample pages; numbers aren’t enough for me.
The query guidelines on my website include a link to my blogpost on this particular topic, if you’d like more insight.
Once in a while, I receive a query from an author who has self-published and is unhappy with the resulting sales. In most cases, a self-published author whose book isn’t selling well should be contacting a publicist rather than an agent. Of course, some literary agencies do offer publicity and publishing services, rather than specializing only in licensing publication rights, but I wouldn’t say they’re prevalent as of late 2011.
2. As I have spent my life flitting between the UK & the US, I want to query my contemporary fiction in these two countries. What is your advice for going about this? Would you as an American agent accept a script in British English or should I “translate” it?
I don’t mind receiving manuscripts in British, Canadian, and Australian English. I no longer consider it worthwhile to convert them, because I can’t accurately predict where I’ll find a publisher for a manuscript.
Two big advantages to working with a literary agent in the country where you reside are 1) the agent’s familiarity with the market where you, the author, can do the most to help promote your book and 2) a reduced need for foreign currency exchange. However, you cannot completely avoid the exchange fees if you want to take full advantage of foreign rights licenses. Occasionally, a writer’s work sells better overseas than at home.
There’s no single way of working with literary agents, but it’s typical for a writer to have one primary agent who, in turn, has contracts with subagents (also referred to as subsidiary rights agents or co-agents) to help license translation rights in foreign countries. In countries where English is commonly spoken, I handle rights licensing for my authors, but that’s a personal preference. If a writer wishes to work directly with agents in various countries, the simplest strategy is to divide the titles among the agents, so that each title has only one primary agent. I should mention, however, that some of us prefer to represent a writer’s entire body of work in a particular category, rather than just one title. An agent invests a great deal of effort in finding a publisher for a debut novel, as well as explaining the publishing process to the author, who might be experiencing it for the first time. It’s natural for the agent to hope that, if the first book is successful, the author’s second novel will be an easier and more profitable deal. An exception occurs when a writer produces, for example, scholarly works, commercial fiction, and children’s books and is represented by a different agent for each category.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Ask an Agent on January 2nd, where Robin will be answering
3. How many rounds of submission does an agent go through before giving up on a manuscript? &
4. What you look for in an author besides good writing?
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