Query

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Query

Post by ebyss on Fri Mar 06, 2009 2:45 pm

This is just something that interests me.
Has anyone ever queried an agent?
Did you get back any positive response?
What about rejection?
Why do you think your query letter received positive response, or rejection?

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Re: Query

Post by NaClmine on Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:14 pm

I querried numerous lit agents for my current book, The Last Human War. Most sent back rejection slips saying, in essence, it doesn't matter how good your book is, we already have all the sci-fi writers we want. One, however, asked for a copy of the first three chapters and called me about two months later. She said the book started good and if the rest of the story was as good or better, then she felt she could sell it to one of the publishers. She asked for the rest of the manuscript.

I asked her what that meant to me in financial terms. My question surprised her. SHe mentioned that most "first time" authors are delighted at the prospect of being "published" and never ask about money. She went on to explain that as a newbie, I could expect an initial check in the $300-800 range, probably the smaller. I would then earn about $.40-.45 per book and I would not receive and of that "sales" money for at least two years due to reserve account requirements.

Reserve accounts are royalties that are "held back" by the publisher after the book begins selling. Book stores have a return policy, such that, they actually "pay" for the books at the time they order them from the distributor or publisher. If those books are not sold within a set time, usually a year, then they can be returned for a full refund. Since the author's royalty is based on "sold" books, the publishers hold back enough royalties to cover any returned books a year later. If a book becomes a best seller, those reserve accounts can become quite large.

The author never has to pay back that $300-800 "advance", but he/she will not receive any more royalties until the initial advance has been recouped. Between recouping the advance and holding back for reverves against returned books, a new author is unlikely to ever see another dime on an average selling book. The annual average sales for first time authors is less than 1000 books -- more like 300-400.

After talking with the agent, I did the math. I could expect an advance of $300 (less 10% for the agent). If I then sold 1000 copies, the total gross royalties would be around $400 to $450. BUT!!! I already received the advance. The agent would receive 10% of the sales commissions and the rest would be tied up in a "reserve account" . . . easy conclusion: I would get the advance, and not much else. $300-$800 (probably the smaller sum)

I have been a business owner for 32 years. I am an entrepreneur; a risk taker, in exchange for greater opportunity. Hence, I looked into self publishing. I studied all the major POD companies. Contacted all the major vanity presses. They were all a rip off. So, I decided to build a publishing company from scratch. I spent over $6000 setting up the company and getting my book printed. It took me almost a year to get the book into a national distribution bookstore (Barnes & Noble - only two weeks ago. BTW - Barnes and Noble is already sold out of the book!).

The distribution system takes 55% of your book's face price, the publisher gets the other 45%. My book lists for $12.99 so my publishing company gets $5.85 for each book sold. I can print a book for under $4.00 per book so the profit is $1.85 per book, instead of the $.40 - $.45 per book from the traditional publisher. That's 4 times greater earnings for my writing effort. Easy decision for me.

Now, yo might counter that the traditional publishing company has marketing and advertising that can help one's book sell in large numbers. Hence, their lower royalty could become a much larger total profit on the book. Not true! Traditional publishers do NOT assign any advertising budget to first time author books. All their promotional money goes for the established authors and big name first time authors like Hillary Clinton. Sales of books by first time authors is left up to those authors . . . book signings at stores, talking with book clubs, guerilla marketing like setting up a booth at the local colleges, reverse shop-lifting . . . the things that sell books are entirely the responsibility of the author. So, I figured, if I have to do all the sales work anyway, why not get paid 4x more for the effort!
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Re: Query

Post by NaClmine on Fri Mar 06, 2009 3:55 pm

As far as your last question, here are the places I go for advice on query letters. I used one of these formats and I believe all the letters were recieved positively because they were professional. (this was a post I made on another writing site):

They pretty much repeat a theme and each offers their reasoning for the design of each paragraph in a query letter.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
http://www.sfwa.org/writing/query.htm

AgentQuery.com
http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

Tara Harper - editor and successful sci-fi writer
http://www.tarakharper.com/faq_qery.htm

Robert Sawyer - award winning sci-fi writer
http://www.sfwriter.com/agent.htm

As far as mentioning sequels, Robert Sawyer says, "Agents have no use for one-book clients, since almost all first novels sell for peanuts — the agent makes no real money unless you have an on-going career."

Several other query letter sites I use say the same thing. If you have potential to write one successful book, that's nice, but if you have already planned several sequels, then your potential profitability to the agent and publisher is far greater.

The vast majority of rejections are for three reasons:

1. Failure to submit a professional query letter that follow the format demanded by the literary agent. Deviation from their format = instant rejection.

2. The agents are just not in the market for "new blood" at the time. Why take on a newbie writer if you are completely booked up with a stable full of experienced pros?

3. Relevance. Literary agents know their specialty and rarely wander into unfamiliar genres. A literary agent who specializes in sci-fi/fantasy might not be interested in your story about sci-fi/horror. Hence, instant rejection slip, without ever reading beyond the paragraph stating the basic theme of your book.

Hope this answers some of your questions.
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Re: Query

Post by ebyss on Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:19 pm

LOL!!
Ya, you answered some of the questions. I was kind of curious why your query did, or did not, do well, and how it made you feel.

I thought it would be a fun for up and coming, or already publish, to vent, and tell their stories.

Hey!! Grats on your book. That is excellent!!! Are you planning on expanding? What are your future plans? Do you have other sequels to your book?

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Re: Query

Post by NaClmine on Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:45 pm

How did I feel after receiving rejection slips? They didn't bother me because I had researched the entire process and I expected exactly the response I got. One thing it DID do was to instill in me a bit of contempt for the present publishing system. I'm certain there are some outstanding new writers who never will get the chance to "show" their stories because of the current essentially closed system.

I am presently completing several books for publication this year or early next year. Palace Dawgs is a Vietnam War story. It is a brutal fiction but based on real life. Then there's my cookbook, Kids, Pancakes and Sunday Mornings, a pancake design cookbook for parents and young children. Rice Wine, is a modern day adventure/thriller that takes place in Cambodia. And, last but not least, is the sequel to The Last Human War.
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Re: Query

Post by ebyss on Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:42 pm

Wow!! You have lots on your plate. My ms has sequels that are currently having stuff added to them, and I am also working on a novel about a witch, who is reincarnated. I am pretty excited about that one. It is a pretty good story. (LOL! At least from my point of view, i think so.)
Your cookbook sounds very fun. I bet it will sell well. Many parents are always looking for fun things to do with kids.
Is your book at Barnes and Noble or is it one that you have to order? I would like to read it.

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Re: Query

Post by NaClmine on Fri Mar 06, 2009 6:47 pm

The Last Human War is stocked at Barnes & Noble but several people who tried to purchase it this week sent me emails saying the B&N is out of stock and awaiting a new order from the distributor. You can either wait for them to re-order or purchase the book directly (at a discount) from my website through PayPal:

www.lasthumanwar.com

If you do purchase it through me, make sure I know it is "you" and I will include a free poster and sign both the book and poster.

I actually wrote the pancake cookbook many years ago (late '80s) and I self-published it in manuscript form. It sold every copy locally so I am now going to clean it up and offer it nationally. And, you're right, it is all about parent/child fun, with pancake designs as the excuse.
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Re: Query

Post by MC on Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:03 pm

I love the sound of that pancake cookbook. My kids love to cook with me. And they love pancakes. Perfect comination really.
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Re: Query

Post by willow on Wed May 06, 2009 7:55 pm

As far as mentioning sequels, Robert Sawyer says, "Agents have no use for one-book clients, since almost all first novels sell for peanuts — the agent makes no real money unless you have an on-going career."

Several other query letter sites I use say the same thing. If you have potential to write one successful book, that's nice, but if you have already planned several sequels, then your potential profitability to the agent and publisher is far greater.

I have queried at least 30 agents. 18 have bothered to reject me. lol Being a newbie writer, I have believed a lot of the bs I was told by other 'more experienced' writers. I agree with you 100% Dean. I think if I had done what I first intended to do and told them my ms was the first of four in a series, I might have had better luck.

The ms is all the better now for the extra time spent in editing. I have learned since then to pay close attention to each individual agents site. They tell you what they want and how they want it. Give it to them in exactly the way they ask for it!

That's what I'm going to do next round of queries!!! smiling
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Re: Query

Post by NaClmine on Thu May 07, 2009 12:28 am

willow,

Be sure not to take any of those rejections personally. Most good agents routinely reject query letters because they can't represent an unlimited pool of writers and they are already at capacity. The quality of your story doesn't make much difference as they are far more interested in spending their time promoting an established author whose fan base creates an instant market for a second novel.
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Re: Query

Post by willow on Thu May 07, 2009 7:05 am

Thanks Dean. I'll admit I did to start with. The first few really hurt my feelings! lol But as time has gone by, I find that now I feel a sense of relief when I get them. (2 more in my inbox this week)

It probably sounds strange for me to say that I'm relieved, so I'll explain that. I really had no idea when I finished my ms what editing entailed. I thought I should go through and make sure there were no spelling errors and that I didn't have any extra words...easy stuff like that.

I had no idea at the time that editing would mean, rewrite--then rewrite--then rewrite some more. lol I just hadn't the foggiest idea what I was getting into. Had I known back then, I probably would have given up! I can't do that now though, I have way too much time and effort invested in it now.

Hence the relief I feel. I don't WANT someone to ask for it right now. I know that it's much better than it was(and I thought it was pretty darn good back then) and I want to have it completely ready. I should have picked up a book about writing and read it before I started querying.

Just for anyone else that might go over this site (an for future reference): I never could understand why authors only put out one book a year. I took me a little under 3 months to write an 86k word novel. Just so you know...it's the editing that takes so much time. Plan on spending months going over it. Plan on finding help to go over it! And under no circumstances query until you know without a doubt that your ms is entirely edited!

It will save you a ton of stress and worry. At first I was worried no one would ever want it. Now I'm scared to death they will!!! I'm stressing all the time spending hours everyday doing rewrites trying to finish it fast, in case someone sends me a YES!

One last thing. I did get two requests for partials. I sent them out right away. I haven't heard back from either of them, but I'm pretty sure it will be a no. I jumped the gun and it wasn't ready. Don't make the same mistake!!!! smiling
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Re: Query

Post by NaClmine on Thu May 07, 2009 12:31 pm

Great advice, willow. One more tidbit -- the hardest thing to write is a three or four paragraph synopsis. Yet, this little blurb will have more impact on literary agents than your query letter. It is often your SINGLE opportunity to change casual interest by an agent into a serious "please-send-the-whole-manuscript" request. This synopsis must be compelling, complete (including the ending) and brief . . . that's tough to do in 300 words!
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Re: Query

Post by Garmar on Thu May 07, 2009 4:57 pm

I'm beginning to think writing the first draft is the easy part.

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Re: Query

Post by Guest on Mon Jun 22, 2009 1:04 pm

If you re-read with a critical eye and evaluate the advice and criticism impartially and are not an experienced writer, the first draft is 15-30% of the writing time. A profession author (NYTBSL level) told me that he now spends les than 10% on editing & he has convinced (with some difficulty)the proof editor at the publisher to stop deleting/changing certain features that are grammatically incorrect but are intentional and linked to certain characters.

For the rest of us the learning process goes on.
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