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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 24th, 2010, 8:24 pm

Susan Quinn wrote:Justine - You are right that self- and e-publishing are very different things, but there doesn't seem to be much awareness of this. Or at least none that I can detect on the traditional agent/publisher blogs. Maybe this will change as e-books become more prevalent. Or, as another (traditionally published) writer suggested: it may be that the only thing that counts is your sales track record.
Yeah, I think this is the key - e-publishing may well be where things are headed, but the vast bulk of the book market is still in print sales. An e-published book may well be good, but its sales are still not likely to be where a print-published book was. So as with anything else the agent will probably take it with a grain of salt - yes, someone believed in the book and invested in it, but it's still a smaller scale. This thinking will probably continue to evolve as the e-book market grows.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 25th, 2010, 6:50 am

New question for Mr. Bransford: In a synopsis do you prefer to have the events described in correct chronological order so that they make more logical sense or is it better to go with the order that events appear in the pages of the manuscript?

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 25th, 2010, 8:20 pm

Matthew Rush wrote:New question for Mr. Bransford: In a synopsis do you prefer to have the events described in correct chronological order so that they make more logical sense or is it better to go with the order that events appear in the pages of the manuscript?
I think you have some leeway here - in my opinion it's more important that the synopsis is readable and that the plot comes through than getting everything exactly sequential as it appears in the manuscript.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Susan Quinn » March 25th, 2010, 9:17 pm

Nathan -
Thanks for your responses. In spite of all my talk about e-books and e-publishing, I will definitely be seeking out an agent for my MG book (sadly not you, but maybe for my YA book, when it's ready). I negotiated my own contract with the e-publisher and it was a fantastic tutorial on how and why agents are important. It was a nice, cosy negotiation, and I'm happy with how it turned out. However, I would have been having kittens trying to do the same thing with a big publishing house. And I am certain that an agent could get me a deal well worth their cut.

So, hang in there. The anons get nasty sometimes, but know you have a lot of people who appreciate what you do, Sheriff Bransford!
Susan Kaye Quinn (young adult and middle grade author)
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by BeccaL » March 27th, 2010, 1:43 pm

Hypothetically, lets say someone has an agent, gets their book sold, it goes in stores... the book was a stand alone, and their hasn't been any talk about future books.. What if the writer decides they want to take a break from writing, but then go back to in a year or two, would they have to requery the agent? Or does the agent stay with them?

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 27th, 2010, 8:27 pm

BeccaL wrote:Hypothetically, lets say someone has an agent, gets their book sold, it goes in stores... the book was a stand alone, and their hasn't been any talk about future books.. What if the writer decides they want to take a break from writing, but then go back to in a year or two, would they have to requery the agent? Or does the agent stay with them?
Most author/agent relationships are for the long haul and doesn't just end after one book. But every situation is different and the author and agent should have that established and just talk about the break while it's happening.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by gonzo2802 » March 29th, 2010, 11:49 am

Okay Nathan, I could really use your opinion on a synopsis question.

Say a story is set in modern time, but has large portions of flashbacks to the past -- like The Notebook (though I have to admit I've only seen the movie, so if the book wasn't written that way I'm SOL). What are your thoughts on the best way for a writer to convey that so it isn't confusing to the agent. In an actual story there are plenty of ways for a character to slide back into a deep memory, but it's kind of a tricky thing to explain in a synopsis.

Should there be a section of the synopsis labeled "Past" and another labeled "Present"? Or would it be better to follow the overall flow of the story line from beginning to end, with a brief note at the top of the synopsis stating the story contains flashbacks? What method would worry you less, as an agent, that an author knows how to handle flashbacks in their story?

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 29th, 2010, 3:45 pm

gonzo2802 wrote:Okay Nathan, I could really use your opinion on a synopsis question.

Say a story is set in modern time, but has large portions of flashbacks to the past -- like The Notebook (though I have to admit I've only seen the movie, so if the book wasn't written that way I'm SOL). What are your thoughts on the best way for a writer to convey that so it isn't confusing to the agent. In an actual story there are plenty of ways for a character to slide back into a deep memory, but it's kind of a tricky thing to explain in a synopsis.

Should there be a section of the synopsis labeled "Past" and another labeled "Present"? Or would it be better to follow the overall flow of the story line from beginning to end, with a brief note at the top of the synopsis stating the story contains flashbacks? What method would worry you less, as an agent, that an author knows how to handle flashbacks in their story?
Flow is best - I don't think it works to divide the synopsis into two sections. You have some leeway for jumping around in time, but I think you have to kind of show how the stories interweave.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 29th, 2010, 4:16 pm

Nathan, I've got a question about word count. I know you say you're a hands on agent and you've always said, when in doubt: query you, but I wonder what the maximum word count you would ever consider is.

Example: I wrote my fist novel last year. The first draft was around 475,000 words long. No, that is not a typo. It was LONG. In my ignorance I started querying after only the third draft which I had revised only for grammatical, spelling and style errors and the length was essentially unchanged. I had a lot of early failure querying (for obvious reasons, see my blog for more info). Eventually I started to cut and connected with 4 agents who requested either partials of fulls. 3 out of 4 said they liked the voice and the premise but could not seriously consider the MS at its current length (at the time). I've cut and cut and cut and I've managed to get it down to 300,000 words. I figure if I could cut 50,000 more and then maybe do a minor re-write I could split the MS into 2 separate novels, but I'm a little uncertain about that.

The problem is I worry that I've already cut everything that I as the author can sensibly cut and that in my desperation to reach this word count rule I may cut something that should not have been. So without going on forever I suppose my question is this: Would you ever consider working with a novice writer on revisions that were this major if you found the premise and voice compelling enough, or would you refer them to an editor, or would you suggest that they just keep plugging away at self-revising and/or editing for length?

I've struggled a lot with this because of course most of the books I love are much longer than the rule of 120,000 absolute maximum that I hear from most agents. Of course most of those books are not debut novels.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 29th, 2010, 4:56 pm

Matthew Rush wrote:Nathan, I've got a question about word count. I know you say you're a hands on agent and you've always said, when in doubt: query you, but I wonder what the maximum word count you would ever consider is.

Example: I wrote my fist novel last year. The first draft was around 475,000 words long. No, that is not a typo. It was LONG. In my ignorance I started querying after only the third draft which I had revised only for grammatical, spelling and style errors and the length was essentially unchanged. I had a lot of early failure querying (for obvious reasons, see my blog for more info). Eventually I started to cut and connected with 4 agents who requested either partials of fulls. 3 out of 4 said they liked the voice and the premise but could not seriously consider the MS at its current length (at the time). I've cut and cut and cut and I've managed to get it down to 300,000 words. I figure if I could cut 50,000 more and then maybe do a minor re-write I could split the MS into 2 separate novels, but I'm a little uncertain about that.

The problem is I worry that I've already cut everything that I as the author can sensibly cut and that in my desperation to reach this word count rule I may cut something that should not have been. So without going on forever I suppose my question is this: Would you ever consider working with a novice writer on revisions that were this major if you found the premise and voice compelling enough, or would you refer them to an editor, or would you suggest that they just keep plugging away at self-revising and/or editing for length?

I've struggled a lot with this because of course most of the books I love are much longer than the rule of 120,000 absolute maximum that I hear from most agents. Of course most of those books are not debut novels.
I think you have to get the manuscript into a place where you're comfortable with it and with a word count that will give you a decent shot at a fair number of agents before you start querying. I don't name numbers when it comes to word count, but even two novels of 150,000 each is a whole lot of words. That's the author's job and I don't think I'd jump in until it was at least at the stage where it was a reasonable length, properly paced, and ready to go. There may well be edits on top of that, but if the author's not already in the ballpark I'm probably not going to be able to help.

This isn't the question you were asking and it may not apply to you, but just in general I don't know that I'd worry about cutting something "that should not have been." Part of the writing and editing process is cutting out 8 or 9 of your good ideas for every one that remains. In my experience authors who have very very long novels worry about cutting out all of the good stuff when they should be more worried about keeping in only what's best.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 29th, 2010, 5:46 pm

As usual Nathan great advice. Thanks so much. I won't seek out a freelance editor and I will continue to cut until I can cut no more.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 31st, 2010, 8:08 pm

Okay, it's beginning to look like I'm the only person who keeps coming back to this thread. That's alright with me though. You, Nathan, have an amazing wealth of knowledge and as long as you keep giving it away for free I'm going to keep tapping it.

So, to the question. I am doing a guest blog post for Justine Dell next week (one of the nicest and most helpful users on your forums). It's going to be about gender in writing, mostly regarding novice writers in the blogoshpere but also touching on professionals in the publishing industry. Can you think of any resources to suggest where I could find statistics on things like:

How many men vs. women were on the NY times best seller list in a given year?
How many agents representing a particular genre are of which gender?
How many editors of certain imprints of a particular publishing house are women or men?

There are lots of other points within this topic that can be touched on but I'm sure you get the idea. Obviously these things can be Googled and I will certainly do that ... and I can check Query Tracker for agents representing per genre but I'm guessing that gender in these situations would have to me manually counted. I'll do that if I have to but I thought you might have another super-secret WONDERBAR source for this kind of thing.

Thanks in advance.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by BlancheKing » March 31st, 2010, 8:13 pm

This has been bugging me for a while, so I would really appreciate your opinion.

For an agent, how much of his decision is based on diction, and how much is based on character/plot/voice? For example, if a story's good but has a few excessive words/moments here and there, would that be detrimental? Should everything be plot related, or can pieces of the story be about the scenery, or daily life?

edit: I should be more specific. One of my biggest concerns is that my story spends a paragraph here and there talking about college life, New England scenery, and modern trends (since fashion is the main character's lifetime passion.) All of these are slightly tangential, but not long (as in two - three sentences tops). Should I cut them out?
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 31st, 2010, 10:07 pm

Matthew Rush wrote: How many men vs. women were on the NY times best seller list in a given year?
How many agents representing a particular genre are of which gender?
How many editors of certain imprints of a particular publishing house are women or men?
1. I'm pretty sure you can find the bestseller lists on the NY Times site
2. Probably would have to compile that from Publishers Lunch data, though that doesn't represent all sales
3. Same

I honestly don't even have a guess for you about these breakdowns! It would be interesting to see the results, though as always in this business I wouldn't draw too much from the numbers because there are no hard and fast rules.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 31st, 2010, 10:08 pm

BlancheKing wrote:This has been bugging me for a while, so I would really appreciate your opinion.

For an agent, how much of his decision is based on diction, and how much is based on character/plot/voice? For example, if a story's good but has a few excessive words/moments here and there, would that be detrimental? Should everything be plot related, or can pieces of the story be about the scenery, or daily life?

edit: I should be more specific. One of my biggest concerns is that my story spends a paragraph here and there talking about college life, New England scenery, and modern trends (since fashion is the main character's lifetime passion.) All of these are slightly tangential, but not long (as in two - three sentences tops). Should I cut them out?
I wouldn't be able to weigh in on one particular section, but I usually start by looking and seeing if the writing is of publishable quality - if the writing isn't there it doesn't matter how good the idea is. This isn't based on any one or two sections in a book but rather a general feeling. It's important that the manuscript is as polished as possible though.

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