Saturday, December 26, 2009

Schiavone Responds to Frequently Asked Questions

In his resource guide on publishers, editors, and agents, Jeff Herman asks agents to describe their concept of the "dream client." I envision the dream client as one who has done his homework. This author has researched agencies that handle his genre, knows about query letters and how to write them, and has read sufficiently to determine which agents are best suited to handle his representation needs.

The best approach to my agency is through the query letter, preferably via email. The telephone call is the least effective method. A call to my office will only elicit my suggestion to write a query letter. I am sometimes surprised when an author making a cold call asks, "What's a query letter?" I can only suggest that he visit a library or book store to find the info he is seeking. Bottom line: forget about cold calls to agents.

On the other hand I find the telephone the most effective form of communication with my author/clients. Once representation is established I maintain close contact with each of my authors through telephone conversations. I work out of my home office in Florida and in NY and I'm generally available after normal office hours and on weekends. My authors are free to call at any time to discuss their concerns and questions. I will also call my authors when I have important news to share with them.
Close communication between author/agent is of paramount importance to the business relationship.

My authors ask: "How do you keep your clients informed of your activities on their behalf?" This is a legitimate and important question. To enter an agreement with an agent and then to be left in limbo is unfair. The author needs to be kept informed as to each and every submission. He needs to know which editor and publishing house has received his proposal and or manuscript. With today's technology many of the larger publishers accept electronic submissions from agents. I always copy my authors on these submissions and when a response is received, I forward the response to my author.

"Do you consult with your clients on any and all offers?"

Absolutely. When an offer is made I inform my client to let him know that I will negotiate a publishing contract on his behalf. Initially, the publisher's boilerplate is sent to me. From that I begin my negotiations to insure that each and every paragraph is in the best interests of the author. We discuss the advance, the time for final submission of an acceptable draft, the escalation scale for royalties, and all of the essential elements posed by the contract.

When I'm certain that the terms and conditions of the contract are in the best interests of the author, I advise that it be signed. Of course the author may consult with an attorney. The author is the bottom line and he makes the final decision to sign on with the publisher. Ordinarily the agent is not a signatory to the publishing agreement but the agreement will contain an agency clause which authorizes the publisher to conduct all business relating to the book, including the payment of royalties, directly to the agency.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rejection Letter

Rejection letters are not unknown to authors. Even the top best selling authors have had their share of rejections. And having a best selling title is no indication that others will follow. While published authors stand a better chance of getting new books published, there is no guarantee that this will happen. It is not surprising that a published author may not get published again. This means that successful authors are not immune to future rejections. Obviously form letters cannot possibly have any degree of redeeming value. For the most part established agents receive an inordinate amount of queries, many of which describe projects that they can't sell. Since rejections are of no benefit to the agent, any attempt to respond with specifics is not practical and results in a loss of valuable time. In short, agent rejections are for the most part handled with the short, polite rejection slip. Often the rejection is a result of a poor match. Perhaps the author did not do an adequate research of agents handling the genre in question. There are times when an agent is overloaded with incoming queries while working on current projects for submission, or negotiating several book deals and publishing contracts. These conditions often prevent the agent from considering less profitable projects.

It is generally accepted that agents will send out form rejection "slips," rather than a more formal 8 1/2 x 11 letterhead. Hence the established practice of including an SASE with the query. Nowadays, with the convenience of email, most agents accept this mode of communication and have a prepared "form" rejection delivered with the click of a mouse.

On the other hand, rejection letters from editors may have in some instances occasional redeeming value. Seasoned, highly successful editors do not send form letters - certainly not to an agent. On rare occasions I have received such a response. I then notify the editor that this is unacceptable and that I am removing his name from my submissions data base. Authors need agents, and agents and editors need each other as well as authors to keep the industry functioning. Protocol dictates that an editor needs to respond to an agent in the form of a letter, however brief. With a hard copy submission most editors who reject a work respond with a letter and a return of the material. With an email submission via attachment, it is appropriate for the editor to respond via email.

Essentially then, a rejection letter from an editor is more apt to have important clues for an author, than one from an agent. The editor sends the letter to the submitting agent who then shares it with his author/client.

Sometimes the editor rejects the work because it would compete with a forthcoming or published title and will state this. Or, there are currently several competing titles already out there. At times an editor will remark about plot, pacing, characterization, mood, etc. My advice to authors is that if they take every remark as gospel they will surely go bonkers. If the same clue appears from two or more editors, then there may be something to consider. On the other hand five different objections from five editors may not amount to a hill of beans.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Author Credentials for Works of Nonfiction

Sheri Rosen raises a key question. She asks "how much of an 'expert' must a nonfiction writer be for agents to be interested in representing him?" While each agent spells out specific submission requirements (and writers will save valuable time and effort to check these out), most have the expectation that an author must be qualified in the subject matter of the book. It is therefore essential that one's qualifications and expertise be stated in the query letter. For example, an author who writes a memoir of personal child abuse, is not an expert in child psychology, and is no authority in that field. Likewise, an author who writes about conquering obesity, may offer a compelling memoir about his/her success with dieting, but is in no position to write an authoritative exposition on any aspects of nutrition.

While life experience is essential in writing both fiction and nonfiction, books on self-help, health and nutrition, medical procedures, investing and finance, politics and current events, etc., require expertise in the area as well as specialized formal training and often university degrees.

As I stated, agents have specific submission requirements. Some accept query letters accompanied by a formal proposal. Agents like myself accept query letters only, so it is imperative to state in one or two pages the concept of the book and indicate the qualifications of the author. I'm especially sensitive to highly qualified nonfiction writers, as my overall goal as an agent is to bring important works to press. It therefore behooves the writer to let me know why he/she is competent to write about the proposed subject.

Given the fact that my agency receives about 7,500 queries annually, and that we offer representation to only a few projects at a time, many well written letters are rejected due to a multiplicity of reasons. Therefore, the diligent writer needs to persist in searching out the right agent for representation.

In addition to the author's qualifications, is the all important platform. But that's another subject.