• December 4, 2012

    Why does it take so long to hear from an agent?


    I’ve had several questions about literary agents recently, including…

    Some wrote and asked, “I just waited four-and-a-half months for an agent to give me a response to my proposal. Why does this take so long?”

    Well, any good agent is busy, so it takes a while to sort through the ever-increasing stack of ideas. We used to get in between 200 and 400 proposals each month, many of them from people I’d never heard of or had any contact with. Many of those we simply delete, since it’s not my job (nor do I feel a moral obligation) to personally coach every wannabe author. The ones with promise we’d review. But there’s no guarantee that I’ll respond to a cold submission. So let’s be clear about one thing: If you just send in a blind query, to an agent you’ve never met nor talked to, you may never hear from that agent. I don’t respond to most unsolicited queries. I have someone look at all of them, and if something strikes us as interesting we might ask for more information, but I don’t have the time or inclination to respond to everyone who wants to write me. On the other hand, I do respond to all projects I ask to see, and try to get back in a couple months. 

    I’d say the normal response time for most agents is usually in the 6 to 8 week range, and I think it’s fair to say at some times of the year we get busy, and it takes us longer. But it’s not that we’re trying to take a long time — I’ve got people I already represent who need me, and that’s the first priority for any agent. I state clearly on my website that I don’t have the staff required to manage every unsolicited request, since the bulk of my time goes toward my current authors, but I understand

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  • December 3, 2012

    Can I meet good agents at a writing conference?


    Someone wrote to say, “Authors spend big bucks to attend writers’ conferences and meet agents. Are most agents checked out and invited to participate because they have good reputations?”

    I think every conference director wants to offer the best faculty possible. None of them are going to bring in an agent who is a known scam artist. Everybody wants to bring in quality faculty, and a writing conference is generally a good place to meet agents. (In fact, it’s often one of the few places left where you can be face-to-face with literary agents.)

    That said, I’ve been on the faculty at more than 100 writing conferences, and on occasion I’ve certainly shared the stage with some agents who don’t know what they’re doing. (And in re-reading that, yes, I realize I sound like an arrogant putz. Sorry.) If you’re going to a conference and planning to meet agents, check them out. Look at their websites, check Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware, talk to editors and authors at the conference. Most importantly, ask questions of the agent. Who do they represent, what types of books have they placed, who have they done deals with, how many deals have they done recently, how long have they been in business, do they charge fees,what is their policy on collecting and distributing funds, what commissions do they earn, etc. (If you look through my previous “agents” posts, you’ll find a number of questions to ask.) Just because a guy shows up at investment seminar doesn’t make him a millionaire, and just because a guy shows up wearing an “agent” badge at a conference doesn’t make him a legitimate agent.

    You can still meet good agents at a writing conference, but you need to do your homework to make sure you meet someone who is a potential fit for you and your work.

    And someone asked, “If I meet an agent, is it

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  • December 1, 2012

    Can I make a living with freelance writing and editing?


    Lately I’ve been besieged with questions about writing and editing for a living. Let me tackle a handful of them…

    One person wrote and said, “I’ve been writing for six years, and I’m trying to establish myself as a paid freelance editor with a book publisher or magazine. I hear companies are outsourcing a lot of editing. What advice can you give me for getting started? Is it possible to break into an industry that relies so much on in-house connections and networking?”

    Publishers seem to always be on the hunt for good freelance editors. Just this week I spoke to two Associate Publishers who both expressed the need for more outside copy-editors and proofers. In these tough economic times, publishers are going to be sending even more projects to outside editors — thus saving themselves the cost of paying benefits to employees. So if you want to generate some extra income doing editorial work, the first thing I’d suggest is that you become a proficient editor. Make sure you can copy-edit quickly and thoroughly, then contact publishers to begin looking for work.

    It’s true publishing relies on networking… which makes it just like every other business in America. I don’t think publishing is any different from any other industry — all of us do business most often with those we know and trust. So that means if you want them to hire you as a freelance editor, you need to invest in networking with publishers and editors. Go meet them at conferences. Introduce yourself at industry events. Email them a friendly note and ask to introduce yourself over coffee. Get face to face and let them see you’re a normal, friendly, capable person. Then show them your work or ask to take their in-house editing test. Most houses have either a copy-editing test, or a developmental editing test, or both. Once you’ve shown them you’re able to do the

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  • November 29, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiques, Part 8


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    A few weeks ago, I offered free social media critiques to those who replied before the 14th. You see, social media is a specialty of mine. Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years as a social media marketer at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. A somewhat longer description of what I did can be found in the first critique post.

    1. Alicia Bruxvoort submitted her blog.

    • Overall, the design is nice, but it doesn’t seem to fit the space correctly. Your tagline is way at the bottom of your masthead, your post titles are scrunched to the left and you have some funky lines going through your email address submission box. I wonder if you’ve tested the site in multiple browsers?
    • Your font size is fairly small in your posts, and your post length is quite long. It may seem silly to point this out, but things like these encourage people to skim. The more they skim, the easier it is for them to stop visiting your site altogether.
    • There seems to be a lot of clutter at the end of your posts. You have prayers, praises, links to other bloggers, stock images, verses and a conversation-starter question. That’s a lot of takeaway, and it’s probably overwhelming readers.
    • I don’t see where I can share posts on Facebook or Twitter.


    View your site in multiple browsers and on multiple screen sizes. Tweak accordingly. You should also think about reorganizing your content so that you are flooding everything into your daily posts. I suggest leaving the praises

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  • November 29, 2012

    Can I re-submit to an agent who turned me down?


    Several questions have come in lately regarding relationships with agents…

    One person asked, “Is it okay to take a proposal that you previously submitted to an agent, rework it to resolve the problems, then resubmit to them, explaining that you took their advice to heart and made the changes they suggested?

    It depends on the agent and the situation. Here’s how I approach it… If I see potential in your writing, but I’m not crazy about the particular proposal I’m looking at, I may say to you, “This has potential, but it also has problems. Here’s what I’d suggest you do in order to improve it. Try this, this, and this. Then you’re welcome to send it back to me for another look.” I don’t do that often, but occasionally I’ll see talent in a writer and that causes me to want to work with them a bit more. Other times I’ll just say to an author, “You have talent, but this story isn’t working. Why don’t you write something else, then resubmit.” (I do this even less frequently.) If an agent invites an author to resubmit, that means the agent sees something they like in the author’s work — so by all means follow up, do the reshaping, and resubmit.

    The same person wrote this: “I had an agent send me a letter, but he didn’t really decline my project. He just said it’s not a fit for his agency. What does that mean? Should I reshape it and try again?”

    It means he’s declining the chance to represent you. I receive hundreds of proposals. Sometimes it’s clear the author just isn’t ready. The writing is weak or the story is bad. In those cases, I just decline. I’ll usually say we’re declining without giving a reason. Why? Because it’s not my job to fix all the bad writers in the world. Unless they’re paying me to do an

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  • November 27, 2012

    Does a second novel have to continue the storyline?


    Someone wrote to ask, “How do you handle the ending of individual books in a series that needs each book to stand alone, yet have threads of continuation? Is it possible to conclude the manuscript in the point of view of the antagonist?”

    Fiction series have a tendency to flow in and out like the tide. For a while, publishers wanted everything to be written in two-to-four book series. But then they noticed that the second and third books of a series always seemed to decline in sales from the first book, so they began moving away from series. If you’re creating a series of novels, the most important lesson is that each book must stand on its own. You can’t have a middle novel that feels as though it’s nothing more than a placekeeper — words on pages that spread out the story from its opening to its eventual conclusion. Each book must be able to be read and enjoyed without feeling as though the reader doesn’t have the whole story. So the threads of continuation are typically an unresolved story element or a continuing character, all within the same setting, presenting a similar theme, and offering the same style and voice as the other books in the series. So yes, it’s possible to conclude a manuscript with a short blurb from the antagonist’s POV, or perhaps an extended note or conversation with the character. Thomas Harris did this with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and Ed McBain used this device successfully with his antagonist The Blind Man in some of his 82nd Precinct books. The ending left the antagonist uncaught — and ready to go commit more mayhem.

    Another author asked, “Is it true the foreword of a book should be the author’s honest explanation of his or her novel? I ask because the author of the bestselling novel The Shack makes it sound as

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  • November 26, 2012

    Can my second book be in another genre?


    Someone asked a second-book question I’ve heard frequently: “If I’m writing a series, is it unwise to venture into a different genre? For example, if my first book is a fantasy, should the second book also be a fantasy, or is it acceptable to write a chick-lit? Will it be like starting from scratch, since I’d have no sales figures in the new genre?”This is a question every novelist must think through. Here’s the way I view it: An author must consider what he or she wants to do with a writing career. If you intend to make a living writing novels, you’ll find it best to figure out your voice, then write to the particular genre that fits it. In other words, as far as the marketplace is concerned, you’ll do best if you pick one category and stick with it. If you’re at the start of your career, you may be floating around a bit, trying to find your voice, so you may try a couple different genres. But eventually, most successful writers pick one area in which they write, and stick to it. That may change over time, as their voice develops and they decide to branch out, but for the most part, this is how we see a writing career develop. Of course, all the talk about “branding” lately can be tedious. A publisher telling a new author to “decide on an audience and write your books to them” seems like good career advice… but what if the writer doesn’t have enough experience yet to know where he or she should write? Or what if the novelist is multi-talented and feels she has stories to tell in various genres? I represent Lisa Samson, who many people believe is one of the best faith-based novelists in publishing these days. Lisa publishes her adult novels with Thomas Nelson, and she doesn’t really have a clear genre.
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  • November 22, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: How I Became an Agent


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled Social Media Critiques to wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

    I’ve been an agent for about two and a half years now, but I’ve only been full time for one of those years. So today, I’m reflecting on how blessed I am to have been doing this “book thing” full time for a full year.

    I met Chip about four years ago at an author book signing. I was working as an Admissions Counselor at a university where he was a visiting professor. My friend, who happened to be a student there, kept telling me about this big time agent who was on campus and how I needed to meet him. But despite it being a very small school, I couldn’t for the life of me  figure out who he was.

    So the only way to meet him was to trap him at an author book signing. At the time, I (ashamedly) didn’t know who the author was (Chip tells me it was Lisa Samson), and I honestly didn’t know very much about Chip other than the fact that my friend told me he was epic. So, we winged it. We walked in to the store, found Chip, and then I took a breath, walked up, and introduced myself.

    He said something sarcastic.

    I said something sarcastic.

    The rest is history.

    I started doing odd jobs for him (basically all the stuff he didn’t want to do himself), and in 2009 I was hired on as a part time assistant. In 2010, I was promoted to agent (though I maintained a full time job at a marketing agency). And last November,

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  • November 20, 2012

    What are the best books of all time?


    Someone wrote to say, “A couple years ago you talked about the important of reading great books, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you offer a reading list to authors. What books would you recommend?”

    Hmmm…. Okay, I think I did this once before, but here you go. I did some work on this, and I now present The MacGregor Recommended Reading List for Writers…

    Ancients (old books writers ought to at least have read once): Homer’s ILIAD and ODYSSEY; Sophocles’ OEDIPUS REX; Euripides’ THE TROJAN WOMEN and ELECTRA; Herodotus’ THE HISTORIES; Thucydides’ HISTORY OF THE PELOPPENESIAN WAR; Sun Tsu’s THE ART OF WAR; Aristophanes’ LYSISTRATA; Plato’s SELECTED WORKS; Virgil’s THE AENEID

    Classics (the classic books that every writer should probably be familiar with): Augustine’s CONFESSIONS; Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY; Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES; Shahrazad’s THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS; Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE; Miguel de Servants’ DON QUIXOTE; Shakespeare’s COMPLETE WORKS; John Donne’s SELECTED WORKS; Galileo’s DIALOGUE CONCERNING THE TWO CHIEF WORLD SYSTEMS; Hobbe’s LEVIATHAN; Descarte’s DISCOURSE ON METHOD; Milton’s PARADISE LOST; Moliere’s PLAYS; Blaise Pascal’s PENSEES; Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS; John Locke’s SECOND TREATISE ON GOVERNMENT; Daniel Defoe’s ROBINSON CRUSOE; Jonathan Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS; Voltaire’s CANDIDE; Henry Fielding’s TOM JONES; Laurence Sterne’s TRISTRAM SHANDY; James Boswell’s LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON; Thomas Jefferson’s BASIC DOCUMENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY; Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s THE FEDERALIST PAPERS.

    Moderns (a change here — we get into the modern version of the novel): Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; Stendahl’s THE RED AND THE BLACK; Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER; Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR; Dicken’s THE PICKWICK PAPERS, DAVID COPPERFIELD, HARD TIMES, THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP; Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE; Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS; Anthony Trollope’s THE WAY WE LIVE NOW and THE WARDEN; Herman Melville’s MODY DICK; George Elliott’s THE MILL ON THE FLOSS; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s FAUST; Gustave Flaubert’s MADAME BOVARY; Selected poems of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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  • November 19, 2012

    Career Planning in the Wild, Wild West



    While on an agent’s panel at ACFW in September, I sat next to Lee Hough, one of the smartest and hardest working agents in the business. While we all fielded the typical questions we get as panelists, someone asked a question about the current state of affairs in publishing, and how agents are faring.

     I tend to take a positive, entrepreneurial, and philosophical approach when answering questions about the challenges of publishing.

    Lee, however, hit the mark when he said “It’s like the wild, wild west out there right now.” His summation about the new landscape of publishing has really stuck with me. In fact, it’s a new constant on the landscape of my daily work life these days — right alongside MacGregor Literary’s long-standing company philosophy that “good is always better than fast.”

    As positive as I try to remain, I’ll admit, it’s felt exceptionally difficult to place books and find homes for authors these past few months. Even with the successes I’ve enjoyed this year in spite of it all, it feels like I’m on more uneven ground than ever. And I know agents aren’t the only ones who feel this way.

    Marketers are constantly scrambling to orient themselves to what it takes to get readers to buy in a noisy online environment. Sales teams are faced with succeeding in spite of the literal crumbling of their brick & mortar customer base. Publicists are being asked to do more with less. Editors are overworked. Authors are no longer just invited by publishers to help market their books, but are expected to do so. In fact more and more, the strength of an author’s proposal is weighed as much for the type and number of readers they bring to the table as it is for the quality of their writing. Maybe more.

    Top that off with the consideration that authors are not only competing with other authors for

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