Some advice from an agent

Recently I decided to present my mental chaos to a professional.  Agent, not psychiatrist, I mean.  From Query Tacker I found Ms Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Literary Agency.  As she kindly presented some very helpful answers I decided I would share them with you all.

First, a little about the agent.

Jordy Albert is a Literary Agent and co-founder of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. She holds a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University, and a M.A. from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She has worked with Marisa Corvisiero during her time at the L. Perkins Agency and the Corvisiero Literary Agency. Jordy also works as a freelance editor/PR Director. She enjoys studying languages (French/Japanese), spends time teaching herself how to knit, is a HUGE fan of Doctor Who, and loves dogs.

She is looking for stories that capture her attention from beginning to end; stories that have heart, and characters that are hard to forget. She loves intelligent characters with a great sense of humor. She would love to see fresh, well-developed plots featuring travel with unique, exotic settings, competitions, or time travel. Jordy is specifically looking for:

* Middle Grade: contemporary, fantasy, action/adventure, or historical.
* YA: sci-fi, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, contemporary, historical–Though I am open to looking at other sub-genres, I’m looking for YA that has a very strong romantic element.
* NEW ADULT CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
* Romance (contemporary and historical).
** I am open to YA LGBT, and would love to see a YA or NA romance set during WWII (and/or the 1920s) with a time travel element.

Please do not send:

* short stories
* non-fiction
* poetry
* mystery/thrillers, or suspense.

E-mail Jordy at jordy@thebookeralbertagency.com
Befriend Jordy on Facebook
Follow Jordy on Twitter

And now the Q&A:

Ms Albert,

I’m an author with a dilemma and would appreciate your professional take on a matter if I may have a moment to trouble you for it, please.

I’ve begun a four book series.  Two books are written, one could be published tomorrow if I chose to self-publish it.  This one, though, is presenting my dilemma.  I know nothing about the YA/Teen market (and haven’t a clue what this “New Adult” mentioned on your agency’s site even is), I know nothing about the market for romantic-comedies.  Or, more to the point, I’ve researched it enough to know:  I’m really confused.

New Adult is a relatively new genre, but it has gained momentum in the last year. In fact, a number of self-published New Adult titles have gone on to do amazingly well. New Adult falls in the age range 18-25 (college age or just out of college).

On one hand I’ve found a lot of things saying there’s nothing a traditional publisher + agent can offer me that isn’t perfectly counterable with a plus of being self-published.  On the other I’ve learnt that this may not be true.  I’d appreciate the voice of experience to untangle this nonsense.

Examples:

“You get no more or better promotion from a publisher — they just stick an ad in the trade mags which are only seen by bookstore book buyers”.  A counter to that I’ve seen is that one shouldn’t underestimate the power of being on a physical bookstore shelf; something that CreateSpace can’t offer, as their sizes are non-standard and there’s nothing to influence the store’s buyer to pick it over Penguin or Tor’s latest offerings.  The counter to that, being that word of mouth is the most important thing, just get some people talking, sit back and wait.  Then there’re arguments that a good agent is also a good publicist and would get your book talked about by … Ellen, Oprah, or whomever.  I assume that’s true to some extent, but can imagine the person saying it was being overly optimistic.

Publishers have resources that an individual might not have, such as contacts as newspaper, magazines, etc….publishers also have years of experience. While the publisher does help market a title, how well the book sells or does not sell doesn’t rest solely with the publisher. It’s important to market yourself: do a blog tour, do book signings, review another authors’ work and see if they’d be willing to return the favor, have a cover reveal, etc. 

“You’ll never get a movie deal as a self-published author, no matter how well you sell.”  Now this one I did hear from someone in the publishing industry as a reason to take an agent.  Supposedly, a traditionally published book with 2000 copies sold is actually going to have less trouble selling movie rights than a self-published book on any best sellers list you care to name.

I would sort of agree, and not just about a movie deal. There are foreign rights, audio, tv, merchandise, etc. Agents will be able to negotiate to make sure you get the deal that’s in your best interests.

My own comment on this is, and was in my reply back to her:  most major self-publishing options do include foreign publication.  This is not the same as translation and what have you.  Just, take Apple iBooks for an example:  put your book up there, click a few things, and you’re in 52 countries.

“The publishers are just trying to rip you off — you’ll have to sue to see your royalty cheques.”  Now, admittedly, this was from an author who had to do just that, and then had to sue (then fire) his agent for lying about how much the royalties had been and embezzling some of that.

While I can’t say this has never happened, I think it is really rare. 

While it’s true — she has a vested interest in saying this isn’t true or is rare, but think on it this way:  she could say it’s very common — for the publishers — and that it’s a good reason to have the agent who can keep on them about it.  Either she’s none too clever or this is a perfectly legit answer.  I’m inclined to feel it’s the latter, especially since she acknowledges that it does happen.  Still, we must all make our own opinions.

And one specific to my own newest title(s):  “They’ll never accept a book over 100k words, let alone any kind of series.  You may as well DIY”  I’ve seen little to counter this, actually.  I mean, obviously, someone takes series or Twilight and Harry Potter wouldn’t be with major publishing houses.  And, unless I’m mistaken, Ms Meyers’ book 1 is quite a ways over 100k words.  Still, it does seem to be exceedingly rare.

This is somewhat true. There are exceptions to the rule, as your examples demonstrate. But an agent/editor is unlikely to look at a full manuscript if the word count is over 100k, especially if it a debut author. I’m not saying they won’t, but it would be unlikely.

Looking around you in a given work day … well … what would you say to any or all of those points?  What other critical arguments in favour of one model or another would you care to chime in on?

For a new author, I would definitely recommend trying to secure an agent. Agents will help guide your career, and steer you in the right direction. Also, while I think self-publishing is a wonderful option for an author, I think that it can saturate the market with books that might not be edited, polished, or all that well-written.

Ah, editing.  She’s right, really.  If you do not have a good friend who can edit — and I mean well — and you can’t afford the rather high prices to hire your own professional editor (one who, please remember, is only looking for you to pay them that once — they don’t have any incentive to care if your book does well as the publisher’s professional editor (theoretically) does) then I second her recommendation:  get an agent and/or publisher!  There’re books out there which could be so wonderful, but are unreadable for all the grammar, orthographic, and layout problems!

One point of my own:  I noticed you specifically are looking for YA LGBT stories.  The very few agencies or publishers I ever found looking for those directly — sans your own agency — all seemed to be the very … I tend to put it as the “We’ll get you in every gay pride store in America!” but are no more likely to get me on a B&N shelf than CreateSpace kind of crowd.  Is there any special difficulty, any special … anything … that one ought to look for or consider if their story is LGBT themed that a more old fashioned boy-meets-girl writer would never have to?

I’m open to stories that feature LGBT themes…it might be more difficult to find the novel a home, but it seems like it’s a little more common in the market today.

is there any resource you might recommend for “how to write a query letter”?  I mean, logic and knowing what the word Query means told me most of what a query letter is (thank you Georgia public schools for the fabulous and indispensable education).

From the Query to the Call by Elana Johnson. You can download a copy at http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/p/books.html …Also Querytracker.com. It lets you search agents and keep track of your queries.

Which brings me to my final decision:  I’m going to continue gathering and examining a list of potential agents.  In the mean time I’ve contacted some options that might make for a resounding voice to start the word of mouth with a bit of a shout.  If I secure that, then I will self-publish.  If I don’t … I believe I will try some more agents.  I just can’t bring myself to give up.  I’m stubborn that way.  I rather sincerely thought I could just give the agent thing a go and then move on if it didn’t pan out, but it’s become something of a challenge.  I’m a sucker for challenges, especially ones I’m sure I can win if I can out-stubborn the problem (Why yes, I do have cats and have had them all my life! How could you tell? ;))

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One thought on “Some advice from an agent

  1. Pingback: Difficult decisions, difficult thoughts | Jaye Em Edgecliff

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