Chip MacGregor

February 23, 2015

Ask the Agent: Should I write for a specific publisher?


Questions from around the world today, in our International Version of Ask the Agent…

Someone from the UK wrote in to ask me, “Should I write my proposal for a specific publisher? I was at a conference recently and an agent suggested we identify and target one publishing house for our manuscripts. Do you agree?” 

I think that’s one way for a category writer to get ahead of most other writers who are submitting proposals. If you research a publisher, you can often find out things like the word count they want, the types of stories they prefer, the topics that interest or don’t interest them, etc. That allows you to shape your proposal specifically for the publisher. That may not work for literary fiction, but it certainly helps with romances, romantic suspense, thrillers, historical romances, cozy mysteries, westerns, and other “category” lines.

Someone from New Zealand (I just thought it was cool that someone in New Zealand was sending me a question) asked, “When I’m sending a query to an agent, should I tell him or her that this is a series?” 

The answer probably depends on the series. It’s always easier to sell one book than to sell a series, just as it’s easier to sell one car than a fleet of cars. But at the same time a publisher will often want to know if your novel idea, if successful, could be turned into a series of stories. So don’t pitch the series — pitch the book, but mention the series, probably at the end of your proposal. That answers the “sequel” question without making it seem like you’re trying to get someone to commit to an entire series of books.

And keeping on our foreign-soil theme, someone from Germany sent this: “What advice would you give to an author who self-published a book, only to realize later it was a mistake? I posted my novel on Amazon, then later was told about the problems with the manuscript, and now I wish I’d waited.”

Well, the immediate solution is easy: take the book down. If you’ve got something for sale that is replete with errors, or has structural problems, you’re not going to impress anyone. So take it down, get some editorial help, and fix it. Then you can choose to re-post it, or to pitch to an agent or editor. You may want to retitle it, to get some separation from the previous iteration of the book. But this gets into the larger question of self-publishing… While I’m a fan of authors self-pubbing their books, I remind then they should ONLY do that if they have the time, money, and know-how to market and sell the book. Just posting it and waiting for the Magical Money Fairies to show up is a mistake. All those stories you’ve read online from people claiming they posted their book and suddenly they’re making millions? They’re balderdash. The vast majority of writers posting a book on Amazon are selling fewer than a hundred copies and making almost nothing. If you’re going to self-pub, educate yourself on how to create a good book, invite the involvement of a good editor, invest in a great cover, and above all, learn to market your title so that it garners some attention and sells some copies. There’s money to made selling books on Amazon, certainly, but usually it’s for those who are investing resources into marketing their title.

And an author in France sent me a very nice email, saying, “An agent that does not normally accept unsolicited manuscripts requested a work of mine at a conference. It’s been eight weeks, and I have not heard from her. Is it proper protocol to contact her?”

If she actually requested it (that is, if she said, “Yes, please send that to me — I’d like to take a look”), then I think it’s fair to write a polite note and ask for an update. I try to get back to people in three to six weeks on submissions, but it sometimes takes me longer. Just drop her a quick line and ask her what she thought. Don’t whine, don’t scold, and don’t threaten with “I’m going to talk to other agents.” Just check in, keep it positive, and ask if there’s any news. But be aware that some editors and agents at conferences can sometimes get fatigued and say, “yeah, okay, send it along” with resignation, not really wanting the proposal, but too tired to reject another author. I’ve often had authors at conferences get excited and say to me, “so-and-so REALLY wants to see this,” when in reality the editor simply said, “Look, I’m so tired I can’t see straight, the last woman with an appointment started crying when I told her I don’t publish epic poetry, so if you want to send me your manuscript, I’ll have a look when I get back to the office next month…”

And, to complete our world tour, an author who says he is from Addis Ababa said, “In your view is Facebook and Twitter vital to a writing career?” 

I think it’s essential for an author who wants to be successful in today’s culture to have some sort of online presence, since readers today want to be able to research and potentially connect with authors they like. But I’m not certain there is any one required social media outlet that all authors need to be on, nor am I convinced that one’s presence on social media will sell more books. What I AM convinced about (particularly for writers such as yourself, who don’t live in this country but want to sell books and build a readership here) is that the web offers the best opportunity for authors to connect to readers, so exploring the best method for you to do that is probably important.

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