Old Ask Nathan Thread

Questions for the resident (former) agent
Locked
User avatar
Dankrubis
Posts: 99
Joined: December 11th, 2009, 3:48 pm
Location: Irvine, CA
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Dankrubis » February 5th, 2010, 6:06 pm

SigorneySouders wrote:Nathan, your forum is truly amazing! I was wondering if you could take a look at Johydai's Query, something EMBERO. I know all we try to do is help, but she gets 5 posts with 5 completely different answers. I was about to give her a 6th different answer, but I figure I ask you, since you know more about this that I do, to take a second and look over her query and give her a more concrete answer. Her query doesn't POP yet, but it sounds like a potential bestseller.

Thank you for the wonderful forum,
Sigorney Marleen Souders
I keep reading this with this huge smile on my face. Thank you Sigorney Marleen Souders.

User avatar
Nathan Bransford
Posts: 1382
Joined: December 4th, 2009, 11:17 pm
Location: New York, NY
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 5th, 2010, 10:00 pm

Jaime wrote:Oh, the dreaded 3-0 is going to sucker-punch both of us this year, Nathan! It's no wonder you love monkeys!

I want to say that, personally, I wouldn't be too concerned about the age of an agent (both biologically and professionally speaking) - if they work for a reputable agency, then I would assume they have a grounded support system. If anything, an agent who is just starting out - and trying to build a list - would be a good thing. They may be more willing to take on debut novelists.

Oh, and I have a question I've been sitting on for a while. I have read that romance novels must, must, MUST have a happy ending. Does this apply to all categories of romance?

Jaime.
I don't represent romance, so I'm probably not the best person to ask on that.

User avatar
Nathan Bransford
Posts: 1382
Joined: December 4th, 2009, 11:17 pm
Location: New York, NY
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 5th, 2010, 10:01 pm

d minus wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:Now I know that there's nothing easy about this business in the slightest. Especially not now, when publishers are looking mainly for sure things.
do publishers ever tell you why they reject a manuscript? Do they ever explain (too x, too y, not enough z), or do they just pass with a simple No Thanks?
I'm sure it depends. I guess I don't know a lot about the agent/publisher relationship, if you can call it that.
Yeah, almost always they'll tell you something that wasn't working for them. The constructiveness and length of the comments vary a lot, but they'll usually give you something to go on.

Nick
Posts: 236
Joined: December 10th, 2009, 5:59 pm
Location: Pennsylvania
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nick » February 5th, 2010, 10:04 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
d minus wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:Now I know that there's nothing easy about this business in the slightest. Especially not now, when publishers are looking mainly for sure things.
do publishers ever tell you why they reject a manuscript? Do they ever explain (too x, too y, not enough z), or do they just pass with a simple No Thanks?
I'm sure it depends. I guess I don't know a lot about the agent/publisher relationship, if you can call it that.
Yeah, almost always they'll tell you something that wasn't working for them. The constructiveness and length of the comments vary a lot, but they'll usually give you something to go on.
Probably a painfully obvious question I'm going to kick myself for not recognizing the answer to, but just to be sure my brain isn't playing the vain optimist (and for as often as I tend to be cynical and fatalistic regarding my writing, you'd be surprised how often she likes to do this to me; yes, my brain is female), publishers aren't like agents then, in that it's possible to edit the thing and send it to them at a later date (not next day, but later) as opposed to rejected and sorry, find someone else, right?

User avatar
Nathan Bransford
Posts: 1382
Joined: December 4th, 2009, 11:17 pm
Location: New York, NY
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 5th, 2010, 10:07 pm

Nick wrote:Probably a painfully obvious question I'm going to kick myself for not recognizing the answer to, but just to be sure my brain isn't playing the vain optimist (and for as often as I tend to be cynical and fatalistic regarding my writing, you'd be surprised how often she likes to do this to me; yes, my brain is female), publishers aren't like agents then, in that it's possible to edit the thing and send it to them at a later date (not next day, but later) as opposed to rejected and sorry, find someone else, right?
No, once a publisher has considered something that's it, even if there are major revisions. Unless they specifically ask to see it again.

Username
Posts: 116
Joined: January 19th, 2010, 9:24 pm
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Username » February 5th, 2010, 11:19 pm

I don't know if this is true or not, but the story I heard was that JK Rowling's agent was informed by most publishers who rejected Harry Potter that her writing was... 'too literary'.

Too literary? How could her writing be any less literary?

Also, I have another question for the agent: Nathan, I'm not sure if I read it here at this website (I'm pretty sure I did), but am I correct that you wrote how the agent/author 'relationship' usually develops 'organically'? Would you elaborate please?

The reason I ask: there's a nasty rumor floating around about something the English literary agent, Ed Victor, once said - and in this case I suspect that the story is true. This story, by the way, should chill the blood of any unpublished novelist attempting to make contact with an agent (or at least a top agent). Ed Victor was paid to give a speech at a writers' conference. During his speech he made it known how he typically goes about finding clients: simply put, he said that he just 'gets to know interesting people' (usually by meeting them at social gatherings), and then asks them if they're presently writing anything. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred... guess what... they are! And so the bond is formed.

At the conclusion of Victor's speech there was a brief question and answer period, at which time a young man plucked up the nerve to ask Victor the following question: "So what happens then if I don't know you?"

And Mr. Victor smiled, and said: "Then you don't get published."

This story just bugs me. I believe that becoming a novelist is akin to becoming a surgeon or a lawyer in that, first and foremost, one must have an aptitude for the job (point blank: I believe that certain innate skills are required for a person to write fiction... or at least to write it well) - but that one must also spend at least a decade writing and studying commercial fiction (fifteen years is more like it though). I believe that a novelist can come from any walk of life, and that every now and then, our god, to demonstrate how little our social classes impress him, will throw down a great writer by depositing him on the trash heap - the poor fellow is not connected at all! Doesn't Mr. Victor's method preclude one such writer from getting published?

I mean, obviously not every agent is going to act in this manner, but it's disconcerting to think that any agent would be more concerned with who a person is rather than what they've written.
Last edited by Username on February 5th, 2010, 11:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Username
Posts: 116
Joined: January 19th, 2010, 9:24 pm
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Username » February 5th, 2010, 11:25 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:I can't tell if you're serious or not, so I'll just assume you are, and say that this: the genius-level writers I know spend most of their time fearing that they're not any good and trying to get better rather than wondering why other people don't recognize their genius.
I'll bet that Oscar Wilde never feared this.

User avatar
Nathan Bransford
Posts: 1382
Joined: December 4th, 2009, 11:17 pm
Location: New York, NY
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 6th, 2010, 3:03 pm

Username wrote:I don't know if this is true or not, but the story I heard was that JK Rowling's agent was informed by most publishers who rejected Harry Potter that her writing was... 'too literary'.

Too literary? How could her writing be any less literary?

Also, I have another question for the agent: Nathan, I'm not sure if I read it here at this website (I'm pretty sure I did), but am I correct that you wrote how the agent/author 'relationship' usually develops 'organically'? Would you elaborate please?

The reason I ask: there's a nasty rumor floating around about something the English literary agent, Ed Victor, once said - and in this case I suspect that the story is true. This story, by the way, should chill the blood of any unpublished novelist attempting to make contact with an agent (or at least a top agent). Ed Victor was paid to give a speech at a writers' conference. During his speech he made it known how he typically goes about finding clients: simply put, he said that he just 'gets to know interesting people' (usually by meeting them at social gatherings), and then asks them if they're presently writing anything. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred... guess what... they are! And so the bond is formed.

At the conclusion of Victor's speech there was a brief question and answer period, at which time a young man plucked up the nerve to ask Victor the following question: "So what happens then if I don't know you?"

And Mr. Victor smiled, and said: "Then you don't get published."

This story just bugs me. I believe that becoming a novelist is akin to becoming a surgeon or a lawyer in that, first and foremost, one must have an aptitude for the job (point blank: I believe that certain innate skills are required for a person to write fiction... or at least to write it well) - but that one must also spend at least a decade writing and studying commercial fiction (fifteen years is more like it though). I believe that a novelist can come from any walk of life, and that every now and then, our god, to demonstrate how little our social classes impress him, will throw down a great writer by depositing him on the trash heap - the poor fellow is not connected at all! Doesn't Mr. Victor's method preclude one such writer from getting published?

I mean, obviously not every agent is going to act in this manner, but it's disconcerting to think that any agent would be more concerned with who a person is rather than what they've written.
Different agents have different strategies when it comes to finding clients, and this is by no means the only way of going about it. Some are plugged into social circles where they find writers, some read literary journals and try to find people they like, some comb the internet, some, like me, are very public online. There's no one way to go about it, and I think most agents try to utilize their own personal strengths when developing their strategy.

And one agent passing on someone's work does not preclude that person from being published. Let's not exaggerate what's at stake with one rejection or one agent being closed off to unsolicited submissions.

User avatar
Nathan Bransford
Posts: 1382
Joined: December 4th, 2009, 11:17 pm
Location: New York, NY
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » February 6th, 2010, 3:05 pm

Username wrote:
Nathan Bransford wrote:I can't tell if you're serious or not, so I'll just assume you are, and say that this: the genius-level writers I know spend most of their time fearing that they're not any good and trying to get better rather than wondering why other people don't recognize their genius.
I'll bet that Oscar Wilde never feared this.
"The writer's apprenticeship -- or perhaps, the writer's lot -- is this miserable trifecta: uncertainty, rejection, disappointment. In the 20 years that I've been publishing books, I have fared better than most. I sold my first novel while still in graduate school and published six more books, pretty much one every three years, like clockwork. I have made my living as a writer, living off my advances while supplementing my income by teaching and writing for newspapers and magazines.

As smooth as this trajectory might seem, however, my internal life as a writer has been a constant battle with the small, whispering voice (well, sometimes it shouts) that tells me I can't do it. This time, the voice taunts me, you will fall flat on your face. Every single piece of writing I have ever completed -- whether a novel, a memoir, an essay, short story or review -- has begun as a wrestling match between hopelessness and something else, some other quality that all writers, if they are to keep going, must possess."

- Dani Shapiro
http://www.latimes.com/features/books/n ... 2903.story

User avatar
christi
Posts: 166
Joined: January 31st, 2010, 3:54 pm
Location: Texas
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by christi » February 6th, 2010, 7:42 pm

So... say a manuscript is requested. A hyphothetical writer sends in a manuscript they are confident in BUT know it's a little long. There's a chance it'll be published as is because it's within the usual word limit BUT they're super paranoid about being rejected for word count or pacing, etc. Is it weird to send in the manuscript with a blurb along the lines of 'This rocks, but if you think chapter 4 and 28 are unnecessary, I'm game.' The story (this hypothetical one, of course) is full and makes sense, etc. with all chapters, but the writer knows they can be sacrificed to the editing gods. Should a writer go ahead and cut them before sending in the manuscript, just to shorten the story, or go ahead and submit them with a 'hey, i'm totally open to revisions for size' note?
Would you sign my story for a Klondike bar?

http://christigoddard.blogspot.com/

User avatar
JustineDell
Posts: 293
Joined: January 15th, 2010, 11:38 am
Location: Indiana
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by JustineDell » February 6th, 2010, 8:09 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
Jaime wrote:
Oh, and I have a question I've been sitting on for a while. I have read that romance novels must, must, MUST have a happy ending. Does this apply to all categories of romance?

Jaime.
I don't represent romance, so I'm probably not the best person to ask on that.
What categories are you referring to Jaime?

Happily Ever After's (aka HEA's)
Series books? Yes.
Single-Title Romance? Yes.
Mainstream w/ Romantic Elements? Yes.
Romantic Suspense? Yes.
Erotica? Not always...but some pulishers have lines that require it and some have lines that don't.
Sci Fi Romance? Yes (normally) but think Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series where she's got a mess of problems along the way and one of Anita's lovers is going to be killed off soon (according to Laurell FB blog).
Women's Fiction? Ah...now this one is different. While a HEA is always nice, love stories in women's fiction can be heartwreching - think "A Walk to Remember."

So basically, most hard-core romance requires the HEA. Some don't, depending on the sub-genre.
I'm sure I'm missing some, I don't read/understand them all. Hope that helps.

~JD

http://www.justine-dell.blogspot.com/

"Three things in life that, once gone, never return; Time, Words, & Opportunity"

Username
Posts: 116
Joined: January 19th, 2010, 9:24 pm
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Username » February 6th, 2010, 10:39 pm

"I have taught in MFA programs for many years now, and I begin my first class of each semester by looking around the workshop table at my students' eager faces and then telling them they are pursuing a degree that will entitle them to nothing. I don't do this to be sadistic or because I want to be an unpopular professor; I tell them this because it's the truth. They are embarking on a life in which apprenticeship doesn't mean a cushy summer internship in an air-conditioned office but rather a solitary, poverty-inducing, soul-scorching voyage whose destination is unknown and unknowable.

If they were enrolled in medical school, in all likelihood they would wind up doctors. If in law school, better than even odds, they'd become lawyers. But writing school guarantees them little other than debt."

-----------------------------------------

Yeah, what she said.

But actually I've lived through most of this (which makes me think that I'm on the right track maybe?). Solitary - check. Poverty-inducing - check. Soul-scorching voyage whose destination is unknown - check. There's nothing new about any of this. Indeed, this Dani Shapiro seems to have been living a blessed life in comparison with mine.

I graduated from university twenty years ago, and instead of pursuing a career as a copyeditor, which was an option that was open to me, I chose to enter into a self-apprenticeship, which continues to this day. Nathan, somewhere at this website you've advised us not to quit our day jobs. But what if one has never even had a day job!

Personally, I would've said that quitting one's day job would be essential - fiction is the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the last thing on my mind before I go to bed. During the day it's a rare moment when I'm not either writing, reading, or thinking about fiction in some way. There's just no way I could've progressed like this had I been 'working' during the daytime: it astonishes me, by the way, that some people seem to think that writing a novel isn't work, or that it doesn't take much time - it is, and it does.

To pursue the career of a novelist likely means that one will spend most, if not all, of one's life living in poverty. It necessarily means that one will spend ridiculous amounts of time alone (which is something I happen to love - I can go weeks, months even, without verbally communicating with anyone... as Frank McCourt once wrote: 'When you teach yourself how to write then you're never bored or lonely again'). And obviously the pursuit of this endeavor means massive amounts of rejection. So you learn to live alone, and in poverty, and with rejection, and in constant fear that despite having learned a thousand things about writing you'll never even get your work published, let alone be able to live off the proceeds.

Personally, I've already committed myself. At 42 there's no turning back - not that I'd turn back anyhow. Had I accepted that copyeditor's position, twenty years ago, then, at least on a commercial level, I would be in a much greater position of strength today. But would I be half the novelist I am today - no dice.

So will I ever get to live the life I want to - probably not. But, you know what, Jesus Christ never got to live the life he wanted to either. I'm in good company - yes? Truly, we see so little during our time here. But I honestly believe that everyone has a purpose in this life... everyone... and that it's up to each person to find out what that purpose is.

When you get knocked down, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off... proceed!

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Mira » February 7th, 2010, 5:15 am

Nathan, you said:

"We don't have the query system because it's so great, but rather that no one has come up with an alternate system that's any better."

I was wondering if you'd thought more about my suggestion: request a query with the partial, and start with a fill-in form? It saves everyone a lot of time. It de-confuses the reason that the author was rejected and still gives you the information you want.

After all, why have someone put all their energy into a letter? If you turn down the writing instead, they'll focus on that. Then you can request a query from those you are seriously considering.

It's a simplified system for you as well - you only look at writing. As fast as you are, this would be faster.

Personally, I really like this idea. What do you think?

User avatar
johydai
Posts: 27
Joined: February 4th, 2010, 9:49 pm
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by johydai » February 7th, 2010, 5:50 am

Nathan,

If my novel has a big twist, should I include that on the query, or should I somehow state that there is a twist, but not tell what it is?

Thank you,
Johydai

casnow
Posts: 159
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 1:51 pm
Location: Cairo, Egypt
Contact:

Re: Ask Nathan

Post by casnow » February 7th, 2010, 11:04 am

Nathan,

I've got an idea for a project that is 1/2 fiction and 1/2 non-fiction, about the energy crisis and peak oil (i.e., one chapter non-fiction, one non-fiction, alternating).
Would it be better to pitch this as fiction or non-fiction (I know there are substantial query differences).

Thanks!

Locked

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests