Ask An Agent! Part 2: How many rounds of submission does an agent go through before giving up on a manuscript? & What does an agent look for in an author besides good writing?
Agent Robin Mizell of Robin Mizell Ltd answers members’ question about the querying process. See part 1 here and stay tuned for part 3 next Monday!
3. How many rounds of submission does an agent go through before giving up on a manuscript?
There are as many answers to your question as there are manuscripts being offered. Maybe the only accurate answer is until the agency’s costs would be greater than any potential benefits.
To some folks, “rounds of submission” can be mystifying jargon. It’s easier to understand that it could take a year or more to find a publisher for a debut novel. If a lucky break happens sooner, then there’s reason to be giddy.
If publication rights aren’t acquired by a major or midsize publisher, then an agent certainly could go on to offer a manuscript to small publishers. However, the agent’s commission on a deal with a small publisher isn’t likely to come close to adequate compensation. For example, if the agent copyedited the manuscript before submitting it to editors, the hidden value of the editing alone would be $1,500 or more. In 2011, you don’t see too many small publishers in the US offering $10,000 advances. Keep in mind that this example doesn’t take into consideration the many hours an agent invests in giving advice to the client, pitching the manuscript to editors, negotiating the deal, serving as a mediator, explaining tax laws, collecting late royalty payments, and bookkeeping.
Literary agents are businesspeople with justifiable concerns about cash flow, but most of us, in fact, are softhearted fans of our clients. There are times when we go far beyond what’s practical and cost effective to find fantastic publishers for books we love. However, it’s wrong for writers to develop a habit of expecting those kinds of sacrifices from their agents.
I’m naturally skeptical, so I never wanted to operate on someone else’s assumptions about the book publishing industry, even if the person was brilliant and the assumptions were well founded. For self-serving reasons, I decided not to give up on any of my first clients’ manuscripts. By imposing a sort of impossible standard, I knew I’d learn a lot, including why I should discipline myself to sign only the most commercial prospects. I did learn how much work different types of books require, how long the process can take, and what I needed to streamline. On the other hand, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest larger publishers have taken in acquiring subsidiary rights in titles from smaller publishers. I’m also working with extraordinarily intelligent and gracious clients who inspire my devotion.
4. Hi Robin, I’m wondering what you look for in an author besides good writing?
Hi! Thanks for asking about my unique approach. You probably can tell from my answers to the other questions that it’s impossible to speak for all literary agents.
I prefer to work with writers whose manuscripts show a deep understanding of human nature. I see a lot of good writing that amounts to observation without comprehension, and that doesn’t interest me.
I need to work with writers who are technologically adept. Most communication with publishers is digital these days, and book promotion is headed in the same direction.
I happen to be working with writers who had one or more books published before they contacted me. I didn’t consciously select them for that reason, but I imagine they came across as knowledgeable and didn’t express bizarre, unrealistic expectations, so they were people I wanted as clients. Without exception, the authors I represent meet their deadlines, which is impressive. I have no clients from hell. Life is too short. My reputation among acquiring editors, not to mention my sanity, depends on my ability to screen out any prospective clients who might be difficult, dishonest, or uncooperative, no matter how talented. Wow, am I making my authors sound like the Stepford Clients?
Stay tuned for part 3 of Ask an Agent on January 9th, where Robin will be answering
5. I have a great idea for a children’s book (who doesn’t?). I’ve written a draft of the text, but the pictures need to do much of the talking. How do I pitch it? Do I have to find an illustrator to collaborate with me first?
6. I’ve been working on writing a romance novel to be published and my question is how many words are ideal for a first-time author to get published? Is there a min/max that agents look for? Require?
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