Old Ask Nathan Thread

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 19th, 2010, 11:15 am

Why not just put the links without mentioning the possibility of a self-pub venture?
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Scott
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Scott » May 19th, 2010, 4:19 pm

Ink wrote:Why not just put the links without mentioning the possibility of a self-pub venture?
I thought they needed further explanation. For example, if an agent were to click on the website of the book, they may think my head isn't into "working for someone else", say, or that I'm not open to major changes and/or re-imaginings of the marketing approach that a publisher will most likely offer. In short, a prospective client of two minds may raise some red flags.

In the end, I wanted to be honest. And if I'm lucky, the agent may (correctly) feel I did my homework on them and really believe we're a match.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 20th, 2010, 9:57 pm

emptyrefrigerator wrote:Dear Nathan,

Thanks for this feature on your forum. Here's my question: How many form rejections does it take to get a clue?

To explain -- I've sent out 21 queries (lit fiction). The first 5 were with a sucky query letter; the next 16 were with a better query letter (I think). So far, I've gotten 14 form rejections and 7 are pending. No partial requests. Do I take that as a sign that I need to rework my query letter yet again? Or are 14 rejections too few to base that on?

For the record, I have definitely solicited and received lots of feedback on the query, and I have revised it heavily in response to the feedback. This is to say that I really don't think I'm making basic query mistakes. But, something is wrong. Or is it? Do I just need to keep submiting? That's the heart of my question.

I realize you can't give me a magic number (unless you can) but I would love to hear your general thoughts on this.

Thank you.
Yeah, I might try tweaking it further at this point. It's tough to say though - if you're getting good feedback on the query it may just be chance at play.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 20th, 2010, 9:59 pm

Scott wrote:
Ink wrote:Why not just put the links without mentioning the possibility of a self-pub venture?
I thought they needed further explanation. For example, if an agent were to click on the website of the book, they may think my head isn't into "working for someone else", say, or that I'm not open to major changes and/or re-imaginings of the marketing approach that a publisher will most likely offer. In short, a prospective client of two minds may raise some red flags.

In the end, I wanted to be honest. And if I'm lucky, the agent may (correctly) feel I did my homework on them and really believe we're a match.
Oh - and actually, I agree with Ink. Based on this follow-up I'm not sure that I fully understood what you were asking (I thought you were saying you had ideas for self-promotion and that you could fall back on self-publishing if the traditional route didn't work). I don't think I'd mention the possibility of self-publishing with an agent. Some agents may be disposed to helping you self-publish, but probably not too many. If they like you're work an agent is probably going to want to try first with the traditional method even if you are planning on falling back on self-publishing.

Also, if your website for whatever reason conveys that you're not open to suggestions on things like marketing and editing I wouldn't include it. And if you're really not open to flexibility on those points you're probably better off going straight to self-publishing (and I don't mean that as an insult or a slight - it's just the only route where you retain total control)

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by JenLT » May 21st, 2010, 11:59 am

Also, now is a good time for me to advise everyone to hurry hurry hurry and buy the domain for your name or pen name if at all possible. Then you can set up a very professional e-mail address along the lines of yourfirstname@yourfirstandlastname.com
My name is fairly common, and the domain name is already being used. If I'm ever lucky enough to become a published author, would it make more sense to use a pen name simply because I couldn't have a website under my name? I know that I always look up authors online and usually just try www. authorsname.com first before googling. Sure, at this stage it's not something I necessarily have to worry about, but I'm just curious. Thanks!

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by JadePhoenix » May 21st, 2010, 3:32 pm

You could always publish under your full name or a different form of it - John Fitzgerald Smith for example, or John F. Smith, J.F. Smith, J. Smith, etc. That gives you a few more options when trying to get the domain name. People will search whatever the name on the book says - once they get there you can then start a bio out with whatever you want - "Welcome to JSmith.com, John Smith is blah, blah, blah,...."

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by WilliamMJones » May 22nd, 2010, 12:14 am

Hi Nathan,

I had a question about copyright laws. I just finished my first novel, and about halfway through one of my characters quotes the first part of a poem.
"I’m Nobody, who are you? Are you Nobody too? Then there’s a pair of us, don’t tell! They’d banish us you know.”
I just stared at her.
“It’s a poem by Emily Dickinson.”
I read that copyright lasts during the author's life plus seventy years. Emily Dickinson died late 1800s, but could a publisher still own the copyright to her poems? If so would I need to get permission to use the lines?

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by knight_tour » May 22nd, 2010, 2:56 am

Nathan, I wonder if you might address something (perhaps even in a blog post?!) that has been bothering me for years. Publishing is a business, and is supposed to be about making money (regardless of what writers feel about that). However, it feels to me and to many of my friends that publishers/agents are ignoring a large group of people. There are hundreds of thousands of us who grew up on Dungeons & Dragons and love this Tolkien-style setting very much. Everything that I read online suggests that agents/publishers automatically dismiss any work that gets near to Tolkien-style elves and trolls as derivative. Well, it's fine that their artistic sensibilities are offended by such work, but what about the huge fan base? If publishing is about making money, then shouldn't they be giving us what we want? The official D&D novels are not realistic enough, giving us practically superhero type characters. George R.R. Martin showed the way with his gritty realism. When the rare derivative work does get published (see the first two Shannara books and the Iron Tower trilogy) they sell very well. So, why won't agents and publishers take on works like mine that seek to fill this gap by bringing Martin's realism to the high fantasy of Tolkien? It would certainly sell, especially with the Hobbit movies about to come out.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 22nd, 2010, 6:13 pm

JenLT wrote:
Also, now is a good time for me to advise everyone to hurry hurry hurry and buy the domain for your name or pen name if at all possible. Then you can set up a very professional e-mail address along the lines of yourfirstname@yourfirstandlastname.com
My name is fairly common, and the domain name is already being used. If I'm ever lucky enough to become a published author, would it make more sense to use a pen name simply because I couldn't have a website under my name? I know that I always look up authors online and usually just try www. authorsname.com first before googling. Sure, at this stage it's not something I necessarily have to worry about, but I'm just curious. Thanks!
Some authors also use their middle initials, so you might consider that route as well.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 22nd, 2010, 6:15 pm

WilliamMJones wrote:Hi Nathan,

I had a question about copyright laws. I just finished my first novel, and about halfway through one of my characters quotes the first part of a poem.
"I’m Nobody, who are you? Are you Nobody too? Then there’s a pair of us, don’t tell! They’d banish us you know.”
I just stared at her.
“It’s a poem by Emily Dickinson.”
I read that copyright lasts during the author's life plus seventy years. Emily Dickinson died late 1800s, but could a publisher still own the copyright to her poems? If so would I need to get permission to use the lines?
I'm not an intellectual property attorney, so take my response with a grain of salt, but I believe Dickinson's poems are in the public domain. Though if you wanted to use a publisher's typesetting or interpretation or anything like that you may not be able to.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 22nd, 2010, 6:31 pm

knight_tour wrote:Nathan, I wonder if you might address something (perhaps even in a blog post?!) that has been bothering me for years. Publishing is a business, and is supposed to be about making money (regardless of what writers feel about that). However, it feels to me and to many of my friends that publishers/agents are ignoring a large group of people. There are hundreds of thousands of us who grew up on Dungeons & Dragons and love this Tolkien-style setting very much. Everything that I read online suggests that agents/publishers automatically dismiss any work that gets near to Tolkien-style elves and trolls as derivative. Well, it's fine that their artistic sensibilities are offended by such work, but what about the huge fan base? If publishing is about making money, then shouldn't they be giving us what we want? The official D&D novels are not realistic enough, giving us practically superhero type characters. George R.R. Martin showed the way with his gritty realism. When the rare derivative work does get published (see the first two Shannara books and the Iron Tower trilogy) they sell very well. So, why won't agents and publishers take on works like mine that seek to fill this gap by bringing Martin's realism to the high fantasy of Tolkien? It would certainly sell, especially with the Hobbit movies about to come out.
I think it's a dangerous game to assume that your novel is definitely going to reach a certain market, definitely going to sell, definitely going to take off, etc. etc. because it hits certain notes. There's really no such thing as a paint by numbers route to getting published, and just because a book combines a little of this with a little of that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be something that resonates with agents, editors or readers. The Shannara books didn't sell solely because they had X, Y, and Z in them, they sold because they were really, really good books.

The second dangerous game is believing that agents and publishers to a certain blindness in seeing the market. There are thousands upon thousands of books published every year, across nearly every spectrum and every possible permutation of genres under the sun. Publishers may be getting somewhat reactive these days and may be chasing what's been popular rather than what will be popular, but even still there are lots of different books hitting the market across the spectrum. I don't trend chase or look and the market and think, "You know what I need: X genre with Y spin" and then take on something that meets that description whatever the quality. I look for the stories that resonate with me the most and which I think I can sell.

While it's tempting to think that one's novel simply isn't finding its place because of the blindness of agents and publishers, that's just not a good mindset to be in. What agents and publishers take on is way outside a writer's control, and there's just nothing you can do about it. Better to channel that frustration and just use it to keep trying to get better. Focus on what you can control. If you start worrying about the whims of the marketplace it will drive you crazy. Just write the best story you can and see what happens. If that doesn't work, write another one and see what happens. That's all you can do.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by knight_tour » May 23rd, 2010, 1:34 am

Thanks for the answer, Nathan. I didn't write the question out of frustration at my own responses, because I have never queried yet (except to you this weekend, as you're the one agent that resonates with me). It's more about the things I keep reading on agent blogs or Absolute Write or Authonomy. I've never assumed anything with my book given that it's my first attempt at fiction, except to know that it is in a particular area that seems to be languishing. That's why I wrote my book - because this is what I want to read more than anything, but no one is publishing it anymore. Oh, the 'it would certainly sell' part didn't mean my book (though I believe with the pro editing one gets from an agent/publisher it could); I meant any good story along these lines. It seems to me that publishers are only allowing unserious work of this kind, while Martin has shown that there is a great hunger for more serious adult fantasy.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 23rd, 2010, 1:59 pm

Ted, there's actually a lot of serious adult fantasy out there right now, stuff that's winning awards and selling really well. Along with Martin, there's Steven Erikson, Ian C. Esslemont, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Richard K. Morgan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Paul Kearney, David Anthony Durham, David Keck, Robin Hobb, Robert Redick, Ken Scholes, R. Scott Bakker...

A long way from Harry Potter, these fellows. There's stuff out there if you look for it.

Best,
Bryan
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » May 23rd, 2010, 2:11 pm

knight_tour wrote:Thanks for the answer, Nathan. I didn't write the question out of frustration at my own responses, because I have never queried yet (except to you this weekend, as you're the one agent that resonates with me). It's more about the things I keep reading on agent blogs or Absolute Write or Authonomy. I've never assumed anything with my book given that it's my first attempt at fiction, except to know that it is in a particular area that seems to be languishing. That's why I wrote my book - because this is what I want to read more than anything, but no one is publishing it anymore. Oh, the 'it would certainly sell' part didn't mean my book (though I believe with the pro editing one gets from an agent/publisher it could); I meant any good story along these lines. It seems to me that publishers are only allowing unserious work of this kind, while Martin has shown that there is a great hunger for more serious adult fantasy.
Ah, ok - my answer still stands though (just without the frustration part). All a writer can do is write the very best book they can, be as professional as possible through the query process, and see what happens. Can't worry about agents' taste and publishers' taste and what's selling because it's outside of your control.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by FK7 » May 23rd, 2010, 2:51 pm

I was wondering what happened to promised advances in a multiple book deal if the contract is forfeited for whatever reason by the publisher (bad sales on first book for example).

Say someone is promised a 35k advance for a 3 book deal in 7 settlements (1/7 at signing, 1/7 at delivery & acceptance of first book manuscript, 1/7 on publication date of first book, 1/7 at delivery & acceptance of second book manuscript, 1/7 on publication date of second book,....), what happens to the rest of the advance if the first book didn't sell well? Is the rest of the advance forfeited when the contract is annuled?

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