Monday, July 30, 2012

Requested Material Update: My Process


Here's some insight into my process. If you've looked at the query updates, you can see I'm requesting about 10% (or a little more) based on the number of queries I'm getting. I think that's a lot because it's a lot to read. That means each week, in addition to client manuscripts, notes, emails, phone calls, and my ever growing to do list, I'm adding usually 2-3 manuscripts to my to read pile. This can be a lot of extra reading that ends up all being "outside of the office" work. (For instance, I read four manuscripts this past weekend--2 requested and 2 client ms). This volume is why I don't usually send personalized rejections with feedback. And I know that sucks. (more on this another time)

So back to the process, what happens if I love a requested ms?

Well, first I squee about it a little (or probably a lot). I talk about the ms in the office or if it's a weekend I email the new leaf crew with a lot of OMG and !!!

Then I email the author. I let them know I've finished the ms and loved it. And I request they send me a dreaded synopsis (I know it's terrible but it has its uses). Once I have a synopsis, I send the ms and synopsis to Joanna and/or the rest of the New Leaf crew and to discuss. This gives me time to look at the ms again, think about any editorial notes I have, and ultimately get the feedback and thoughts of other industry pros I love and respect. It's one of the things I love about working with Joanna, Kathleen, and Pouya (one of many, they're pretty awesome). We read each other's projects and we collaborate. We're really a team. And those extra sets of eyes help me do a better job and hopefully I help them too.

Now, I don't offer on everything I take to the team. And this is where agenting becomes a business. Because lets face it, when I'm reading queries and manuscripts, I'm in a dual mode. I'm partly being an agent and thinking about notes and submission lists and next steps (I can't seem to ever not think of this), but I'm also a reader who loves stories. Sometimes those things blend really well. Sometimes they don't.

And this is probably what I love least about publishing. The truth is I only have so much time and as a result, I can only work on so many manuscripts. I can't take on everything I love and I can't take on everything that I think I can sell. I have to take on manuscripts that I love, that I think I can sell, that don't compete with books already on my list, that are unique enough to stand out in the marketplace, etc. This is also why I'm looking for authors with lots of ideas and not just sequels. So we can build from that first book.

If the team meeting and discussion goes well, I'll call the author to chat. This still doesn't mean I'm going to offer. I'm thinking about it, but I want to know that the author and I have the same vision for the book, and a similar vision for the author's career. I want to know that we have working styles that will work well together.

The truth is that not everyone is the right fit. Publishing is a tough business, and the experience trying to get your book published is going to be 100x better if you're working with an agent who has the same vision for your book and a working style that compliments your own. (This is also better for me as an agent. I don't want to be fighting with an author over revisions before we get to the submission process. It's not going to be enjoyable for either of us).

During the phone call, I like to ask an author about themselves, their inspiration for the manuscript I love so much, their other manuscript ideas, and what they want out of their writing career. I also like to get an idea for how fast they write, what else they have on their plate, and what they want out of an agent. I also like to tell them up front what some of my ideas are for revisions. If it seems like we'll be a good fit, that's when I go ahead and offer representation.

Then I sit around and bite my nails (sometimes literally) while I wait to hear if the author is going to go with me or if someone else is going to snatch them away from me. (See we go through our own torturous waiting sometimes too...)

19 comments:

Roxanne Galpin said...

I find these posts very helpful, instructive.

Lexa Cain said...

I didn't know agents called to get to know an author before offering. (I thought it was just to offer.) I've always wondered why emails wouldn't do just as well...but maybe that's the reason.

Rebekah Stewart Yami said...

Hahaha! So nice to know that y'all also squirm and fret out just as much as we do. I thought it was only us having a panic attack over our own work. ;)Thank you for the insight!

Ruth Josse said...

I love this. :)

Reagan Philips said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reagan Philips said...

It's really nice to have this insight. Thanks for sharing.

It sounds like you put a lot of heart into the process. Your clients are lucky.

(My fingers are so crossed I think they've switched places!)

ashley said...

:) A great post. Thanks, Suzie. You're so passionate and helpful and seeing the "other side" of things is certainly encouraging.

- Ashley

Kathryn Faye said...

Love your post, Ms. Suzie. That is some great insight in the life of an agent. Thank you for sharing it. I do like knowing that you try to get to know the author before offering. It makes me feel as if I have someone on my side as well as being on theirs.

Teagan Marie said...

What if you love a ms but the writer doesn't have a synopsis?

Suzie Townsend said...

@Teagan so the short answer is that the writer needs to have one. I hate them, I know they're evil, but they serve their purpose and when I submit to editors sometimes they want one. When I submit to subagents and film, they absolutely will. So it is a necessary evil.

If I asked for a synopsis and the writer replied to say they didn't have one, I would probably ask if they could write one. If for some reason they couldn't, I'm sure I would take it to the team without a synopsis, but I imagine the big question would be, why isn't there a synopsis?

Kathryn Faye said...

@Teagan Synopsis are evil and not fun to write. However, when I wrote mine, I brought it to my writing group and we hacked it apart. It took 3-4 revisions to make it sound enough to send off. My recommendation is to write it - only emphasizing on the important parts of your novel - then tearing it apart and rebuilding it. Just like your novel it deserves your utmost undivided attention.

Stephanie Garber said...

Thanks for this post, Suzie! This was so helpful to read! I've really enjoyed all your recent posts. It's great to get so much insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

SM said...

I read this quote a while back (can't remember the author): "having your novel made into a film is like watching your prize bull being made into bouillon cubes"

I think the same also applies to writing a synopsis...

Danielle Behr said...

It's really cool being able to hear what goes on behind the scenes like that. I got curious when you mentioned wanting to find authors who have ideas for future books that aren't just sequels to their current MS. Is this the sort of thing you like to see in a query, or do you not expect to learn this information until the phone call stage?

Siobhan MacGowan said...

This is a great blog, really refreshing and open -I've joined up! :)

Michael Seese said...

I have to join the chorus. Great insight. Thanks for giving us a peek into your world.

Suzie Townsend said...

@SM--writing a synopsis can definitely be torturous. But I think it's best to look at a synopsis differently than the way you look at the manuscript. While writing is an art, publishing is a business and your synopsis is for the business side. Approaching as a 1-2 page summary of the main points of your manuscript is going to help you get a first draft down on paper. Then you can go back to revise.

Suzie Townsend said...

@Danielle--Ideas for future books are definitely something I'm expecting to learn after I've already read and liked the requested manuscript. That information can clutter up the query. Instead, when it's something I start thinking about, I ask the author to let me know what else they're working on and what other ideas they have.

Kathryn Faye said...

Other projects are always good to have :D Thank you for your advice and comments Ms. Suzie.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?