QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, April 29, 2013

Agent Stalking

by Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL


You’ve finished the final edits to your manuscript, and your query has garnered great feedback. Now you’re ready to query.

Or are you?

You’ve identified your initial list of agents you want to query, and they all represent your genre. Except, how do you know if these are the right agents for YOU?

Every year, hundreds of writers land representation with agents. And a year later, many of these professional relationships end. Some writers fire their agents. And some agents, to the surprise of the writer, fire their client. Reasons for these terminated relationships vary. Many could have been avoided with prior research.

So, how do you learn more about your potential dream agent without asking the FBI to do a background search (which they won’t do unless said literary agent is on the FBI’s most wanted list)? You stalk them*. But I don’t mean “stalk” them on Twitter two days before you query them. That’s too late. You need to start several weeks in advance, sooner if possible.

Here’s why.

Two weeks ago, an agent (Agent #1) tweeted that she was interested in New Adult books. She explained what she was specifically looking for. This is great information to know if you’re querying a New Adult novel (or will be), since it’s not mentioned on her website.

Agent #2 read this tweet and responded. He complained that writers are asking him about this category at conferences. It was obvious from his tweet that he has low opinion of the category. Good to know if you’re writing YA (which he represents) and NA books. Now you know not to query him if you want an agent who will represent all your books.

Agent #1 replied and explained that she didn’t get the category, either, but she was willing to check it out.

Red Flag #1

Why would you want an agent who doesn’t “get” your genre? How would she be the best advocate for it? That’s like letting a surgeon who doesn’t “get” the function of your pancreas perform surgery on it. You want someone who not only gets your genre, she understands what criteria readers expect to see.

Now, if you really like this agent, because you’ve “stalked” her for a while, and you decide to query her, the above information is important. If she offers representation, you can ask her what books she’s read in your genre and what she liked about them. If she has only read two, you’ve got a problem. Also, make sure she does understand the genre. For example, if you queried her for your NA novel and she tells you NA is really YA erotica, then you need to keep looking. This is not the right agent for you. She’s clueless about the genre.

Or, you might not care either way and decide to sign with her. But at least you’ve made an informed decision.

Let’s get back to the Twitter conversation between the two agents.

Agent #2 tweeted back that he hoped Agent #1 enjoyed the porn that would now fill her inbox.

Red Flag #2

I have no idea how Agent #1 felt about the condescending tweet, but it upset the individual who emailed me the conversation. It showed a lack of respect toward a colleague in the industry. Plus Agent #2 was miles out of the football stadium when he referred to New Adult stories as porn. What is ironic is that his attitude mirrors those of individuals who try to impose book bans on certain children’s and Young Adult books, and this includes some of his clients' books.

For some writers, the agent’s comments aren’t an issue. But for those individuals who don’t tolerate this level of disrespect and close-mindedness, it’s best to delete him from your list. He might not be the best agent for you, because his tweets could be an indication of how he treats his clients and others in the industry.

If you decide to query him, you would do well to check if any of his clients have left him and find out why. The more you know about the agent before you make a decision to sign with him (should he offer you representation), the more likely your client-agent relationship will be long term.

As you can see from the conversation between the two agents, it’s important to start your agent research early. Otherwise, you’ll miss vital information that could impact you in the long term and have a negative (or positive) effect on your writing career.

Are you following agents through any social media sites? What is your primary reason for doing so?

*Stalking in this sense means the legal kind done through social networking. I’m not referring the kind of stalking that will put you on the NYPD’s radar and land you in jail.

I hope this post is a good reminder why it’s important to filter your thoughts when using social media sites. You don’t want to say something that could damage your reputation. 

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes young adult and new adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

Publishing Pulse for April 26, 2013

Around the Internet

A brand new literary prize, The Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction will be awarded to author Don DeLillo.

World Book Night was this past Tuesday, and 500,000 free books were given out across several countries. Did you participate? If you'd like to be a World Book Night giver next year, follow the project here.

GalleyCat reported this week, from info found in Amazon's financial filings, that the Amazon Kindle Prime lending library now contains more than 300,000 titles. Publishing business nerds might also like to note that Amazon's quarterly sales were up a healthy 22% over the same period last year. But net income was down. (Translation: economy 1, bottom line 0.)

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. Her most recent book is Julia’s Child. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What’s the Difference Between a Freelance Editor and a Literary Agent?

Guest blogger Kate Epstein
Today's guest post is by Kate Epstein, who is both a literary agent and a freelance editor. Here she helps you understand how the two are different, when you should seek out each one, and why it's still true that you will directly pay a legitimate freelance editor, but never a legitimate literary agent. 

 A key similarity between freelance editors and literary agents is that both typically edit manuscripts. Years ago literary agents did less editing, and the need for a freelance editor was less urgent, because acquiring editors at book publishers had time to edit. A few acquiring editors still do, but for at least 15 years there’s been an axiom that “editors don’t edit.” It’s come to rest with others to do that.

Enter freelance editors and literary agents. Someone like me, who’d rather edit than do almost anything else, is a good fit for either function. Yet every writer should know the differences between a freelance editor and a literary agent, and when to seek out each.

1. One you pay directly…one you should never pay directly. Reputable agents don’t send you a bill. They don’t have to. If you have a reputable agent, she’ll do what she thinks makes sense to get you a publisher and take her money as a commission out of whatever the publisher pays you. The more you earn, the more she earns. She may well edit your manuscript (if you write fiction, she’s almost certain to) to try and increase your chances, but she doesn’t bill you for editing time (or reading time, for that matter). But an editor will charge you for her time and effort in improving your manuscript, and that may mean she has more time to improve your work.

Most other distinctions between editors and literary agents stem from this basic distinction as to how each gets paid.

2. Freelance editors may not bring other expertise to the table. While many editors have a background in other positions in book publishing, a freelance editor’s job is to know how to improve your manuscript, nothing more. A literary agent must also have expertise in what sells, relationships with acquiring editors, and the expertise to negotiate your contract. She needs all those to make her business work. A freelance editor needn’t bring all this to the table. This specialization can be a strength--she concentrates her energy on improving manuscripts. But it also means that her opinion as to whether your project will sell to a publisher (or to consumers) may not be much use to you. Not only do freelance editors not need expertise in this area; they may tell you what they think you want to hear. Literary agents hurt people’s feelings all the time and they’re less likely to shrink from that.

3. An editor may take you on when an agent will not. Editors can take on projects without regard for their commercial potential. They can take on projects that have commercial potential, but that don’t make sense for an agent because they’ll take too much time. If your manuscript isn’t ready for a literary agent, an editor may be able to help you to get it ready.

4. An editor really does work for you. A literary agent works…with you. I don’t believe that this distinction should make a huge difference, because in any case the relationship between you and another professional should be based on mutual respect, especially when it comes to something you care about as much as your writing--respect for one another’s feelings and opinions, but also respect for one another’s time and resources. But the tenor of the relationship with a literary agent and with a freelance editor really does sound quite different.

One upshot of all of this is that you should never plan to turn your freelance editor into a literary agent. Some people actively agent and edit--including me. Personally, I don’t take on projects as a literary agent in any category that I will edit. Turning your freelance editor into your literary agent is a little like turning your therapist into your boyfriend (if less illegal). While an ethical person can be someone’s therapist or freelance editor and someone else’s boyfriend or literary agent, an ethical person doesn’t try to be both to anyone, as the transformation from one to the other can involve exploitation.

Yet, just as a therapist might make you better at having a boyfriend, a freelance editor might make you more ready to have a literary agent, and a publisher, and a wide readership. You can learn a lot about writing from a freelance editor, because she has the time to teach. And that’s a good thing.

Kate Epstein offers editing services at EpsteinWords, www.epsteinwords.com. She also offers literary agent services to crafts authors at www.epsteinliterary.com.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Know Your Best Alternative

"Have you ever heard of BATNA?" said my Patient Husband.

I had no idea what kind of acronym this was, since it seems every aspect of my life has its own shorthand. It turns out this is a management and negotiating term: the Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement. It also turns out everyone needs to have one.

Let's back up a bit. You're querying a manuscript and an Agent, Annie Awesome, calls to offer representation. You hit it off on the phone, and she sends you her agency contract. But in that contract, you find something you don't feel comfortable with. What do you do?

It's not time to panic. It's not a question of either signing over your soul or losing your publishing dreams. Instead, it's a question of negotiating.

Business negotiation has taken on something of a pejorative meaning lately, the idea that each party seeks to protect its interests while feasting on the hearts of their business associates. That's not going to be true in an agent-client relationship, nor in an editor-author relationship. 

Instead let's reframe the idea of negotiation: you and Agent Annie Awesome both want the same things, and in the long run, neither of you benefits if either one of you is contractually abused. What you're working out are the details.

It's true that every so often you'll hear a horror story about an agent who dropped her brand-new client because the client asked a few questions. I think the real truth in those cases is that the agent is a lousy agent, and I say that because agenting is all about negotiating. Questions are part of negotiation.

If an agent cannot negotiate, she is not a good agent. If an agent cannot negotiate with you when she wants you to become her client, then how is she going to negotiate with potential editors? 

So when you find a problem with the contract offered to you by an agent or an editor, steel yourself to negotiate. It's fine. Agents are good at negotiating. But first, figure out your BATNA.

The "best alternative to a negotiated agreement" is what you're going to do if you and the other party do not enter into an agreement at all. 

It's your Plan B, to some extent, although it's more sophisticated than that. In the case of Agent Annie Awesome, your BATNA might be to continue querying other agents, since now you know you can attract an agent's attention. Your BATNA may be to self-publish your manuscript or to market it to editors yourself. Figure out what that is, its benefits and drawbacks.

And here's the key: when you negotiate, you should never settle for anything less than your BATNA. There's no reason to. If you can achieve a specific good without the other party, then you don't need to pair with them in order to achieve less.

Obviously your BATNA is stronger if you also have an offer from Agent Spencer Spectacular, but the object isn't to pit one agency against the other. The object is to reach an agreement both you and your future agent can live with.

The other thing you need to do is figure out the other party's BATNA. Agent Annie Awesome's BATNA is in all likelihood to let you go and sign a different client. But remember that she loved your manuscript enough to want to be a part of its future. Also, she believes she can make money off your manuscript. Therefore she's got some incentive to use her skills as a negotiator to solve any problems you have with the contract.

I know sometimes writers are a little socially awkard (and I'm their poster child), but reassure yourself: this is not adversarial. 

Explain the aspect of the contract you take issue with. Explain your reservations. Ask for the change you want to the contract, keeping in mind that the agent or editor is going to have specific needs as well. Doing this will help you solve your problem with the contract in such a way that it doesn't create a problem for the other party.

Negotiating should be about meeting both parties' needs in such a way that both are satisfied with the outcome. Many agency and publisher contracts, for example, have a paragraph in which the author indemnifies the agency or publisher against actions committed by the author. That's fine. They seldom contain a reverse paragraph, in which the agency or publisher indemnifies the author. I've asked in each of my contracts for mutual indemnification, and every time, the other party has agreed this is perfectly fair.

Keep in mind that if there's one paragraph in your contract where you read and hope it will never come to bear -- it's going to. 

The key here is not to settle for less than your BATNA. If your BATNA is to continue querying, then don't reluctantly lock yourself into a five-year contract with an agency. If your BATNA is to self-publish, don't sign with a small press that withholds royalties until their operating expenses have been recouped. Know your BATNA, and keep that in mind before you sign.

(For more about BATNA and negotiation, check out Fisher and Ury's book Getting to YES. As an added bonus, my Patient Husband tells me that from the spine side, it looks like Getting TOYS.)

Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or brokering peace between warring children. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please come up with your BATNA and negotiate with the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Publishing Pulse: April 19, 2013

This Week at Query Tracker

The profiles of several agents were updated this week. Please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before querying.


Congratulations to the writers who recently signed with agents…Holly VanDyne and Richard Pearson! And to the writers who are thisclose to signing: keep up the hard work. We look forward to seeing your success stories.

Ready to write your own success story?

If you're a QueryTracker member (membership is free) you can view the database of more than 1200 agent and publisher profiles. Premium Members can be notified whenever an agent or publisher is added or updates their profile, in addition to receiving access to several other enviable features.

And remember--you'll reach success when you find the agent who is perfect for your work. Be sure to read each agent's profile carefully and visit other links such as company websites and blogs. Follow them on social media sites and get a feeling for what they really want. The better you know the agent, the better you will know if they are the right representative for your work. Blindly querying agents without regard for their guidelines or repped genres will only delay the process--not only for you but for other writers.

Using QueryTracker.net will help you become a well-informed querying writer. Use the resources to your advantage and seek the fastest, straightest path to finding your ideal agent today.

The Indie Writer-Agent Cooperative

Many traditionally published authors are choosing to self-publish follow-up works--and some are doing it with the help of their literary agencies.

The Twitter Feeds

NYC teacher becomes toast of publishing world overnight at LBF | Page Six http://pwne.ws/13klCYp

RT @sourcebooks: . @draccah There has never been more opportunity in book publishing than there is today #pclive

How to Survive and Thrive in the Publishing House Slush Pile http://dld.bz/cy4MQ  via @romanceuniv

How to Get Your Second Job in Publishing http://shar.es/JCciN  via @sharethis http://ow.ly/2wfwkJ

Self Publishing A Book: 7 Mistakes Of Indie Authors and How you can fix them http://bit.ly/xOvJgV

The Bloggity Blogs

Rachelle Gardner talks about writers and their potential--if they had the courage.

Kristin Nelson blogs (from her new blog location) on the New Adult "trend" and why it may not be new at all--it's chick lit with no holding back.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press). Book Two "Blood Rush" will be released May 14, 2013. Currently, her urban fantasy novella "Stranger at the Hell Gate (The Wild Rose Press) is available on Amazon's KDP Select.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Five Dialogue Dilemmas to Avoid

by Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL

Not long ago, I read a self-published novel that drove me crazy. I enjoyed the story and liked the characters, but the author made several mistakes with her dialogue, again and again and again. It didn’t happen every time she wrote dialogue, so she did know what she was doing. Just chalk it up to sloppy proofreading (and the lack of a copy editor).

The mistakes were inexcusable, but they are a good reminder to scour your manuscript to ensure they don’t exist. Some of them are easily missed if you are not paying attention.

1. “I’m hungry.” She whispered.

The question I’m wondering after reading this is what did the character whisper? The author incorrectly punctuated the dialogue. It should have read: “I’m hungry,” she whispered.

2. “I’m hungry,” she frowned.

Frowning is a physical action. It doesn’t describe how the dialogue was spoken. Again, this is a case of incorrect punctuation. The correct ways to write it would be:

“I’m hungry,” she said, frowning.


“I’m hungry.” She frowned.

In the first sentence, the character is frowning at the same time as she spoke. In the second situation, the character spoke then frowned. You can’t laugh, frown, smack, or wink dialogue. You can yell and whisper dialogue. You can say dialogue with a laugh (“I’m hungry,” she said with a laugh). And you can say dialogue low so that no one else can hear you. Whenever you use a dialogue tag that isn’t said, make sure it really is a dialogue tag and not a physical beat.

3. “Fine.” I spat, jumping up.

When I first read the sentence, I wondered if the character had spat at the other character or if she had spat at the ground. Again, this is example of improper punctuation. The above sentence means something different to what the author had intended: “Fine,” I spat, jumping up.

4. “I’m losing!?!”

The above abuse of punctuation is fine for comics, text messages, and blog comments. It is not appropriate in dialogue. In the above example, the author would use the question mark and show (not tell) that the character is surprised that she’s losing.

5. “I’m not sure that’s—“

The second quotation mark is backwards. The easiest way to avoid this is type a random letter after the dash-em and then the quotation mark. The correct form will appear. Delete the letter and you’re golden.

To avoid missing these errors in your manuscript when you edit, go through the draft once, reading only for dialogue and dialogue tags. This way, you will be more likely to catch the errors than if you are paying attention to a different element, and hoping to notice your typos. If you read the first three chapters and find you are frequently making these mistakes, you can guarantee the rest of the story is riddled with them, too.

Are there any errors in dialogue mechanics that you’ve seen that drive you crazy or that you struggle with?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes young adult and new adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found hanging out on her blog