Some things you should know

What´s a literary agent´s job, anyway?

A literary agency is putting manuscripts or book projects to the acid test, whether there´s any relevant exploitation potential – as book, audio-book, TV-production, e-book or in a pinch even as coffee mug or screen saver – hidden in them that makes it attractive for exploiters (publishers, film-, TV-, audio-book or e-book-producers). Or, in rare cases, only whether this book has to be published, this story has to be told at all costs (then the question of coffee mugs comes second). Basically an agency –compared to the author – tends to have better arguments then “it made my Mum cry out loud when she read it” or “this issue has been so underrated, the world really needs this book”.

And what´s in it for me hiring an agent?

Other than the author an agent spend a whole lot of time on keeping an eye on the book market, its´ moves, its´ players and its´ development. That qualifies the agent to offer a given work exactly to that exploiter/publisher offering the best conditions (and that doesn´t necessarily have to be the highest advance payment!). Half of an agent´s time is spent keeping track on which publisher has just been absorbed or offloaded by which trust, which editor formerly in charge of chick-lit at publisher A is now in charge of foreign-language light fiction at publisher B. Her time´s 2nd half the agent is devoting to hard business – negotiating contracts, selling licenses, payment of advances and royalties etc. Concernin the 3rd half of her time, she´s busy watching out author and book are appropriately promoted, attended to and boosted. So she still has the 4th half of her time to dedicate to her authors, to read new submissions and to answer inquiries.

How will I lure an agency into having a glance at my manuscript?

Well, for sure not by denominating your degree of kinship towards all those who were thrilled by your manuscript. Rather by dipping into the genres and authors the agency is representing. Does your project reasonably fit in there? If the answer is yes, definitely do abide by the submission guidelines, which may vary from agency to agency. Here at Partner + Propaganda, we don´t like to be called on the phone in any case, for example, others prefer submission by snail mail, the next one likes to be called animal names – so be sure to find out about the submission guidelines

How am I supposed to know which genre an agency is representing?

How do you know which shop is selling Italian leather shoes, where to find organic food and where to look for a shoemaker? There´s yellow pages and classified directories and literary agencies can be found via www.agentquery.com , preditors & editors, www.writers.net etc. Or google.

What does an agent expect from my query letter?

Your query letter (or rather query mail) is your first – and only – chance to make me want to read your manuscript. Your query needs to achieve two things: a) fascinate me as much as to read your synopsis and partials b) convince me that besides me there´s at least one editor and at least 1.000 prospective book-buyers who might be equally fascinated by it. Then – and only then – will I ask you to submit the complete manuscript. So if this is what your query mail is out to achieve you better spend some thought on it.

Can´t I just call you or drop a line about the plot and send you a link to my homepage?

Sure you can. Won´t help any, though. If you want me to concern myself with your manuscript, better adhere to my rules.

Will you charge me for reviewing my manuscript? No. And hands off agencies that do so. Agents are paid for selling manuscripts, not for reading them.

Do you accept debut authors?

Yep.

I´ve sent my query mail – what´s happening next?

Three options: 1. We don´t think your writing would fit in with Partner + Propaganda at all. We´ll tell you so and try to give you a little clue why. Doesn´t have to be true for other agents, though, so you might want to try there. 2. We do like what you sent. We´ll ask you to submit the complete manuscript. It may take another month until we´ve read, discussed and decided upon it. 3. Receiving no answer at all, not even a rejection, is a clear indicator you missed to study our submission guidelines.

How long will it take you to consider my query?

We´re trying to review any query within 2 -3 months. Shortly before, after and during bookfairs there may be longer delays, though. An agency´s main task is selling those authors´ manuscripts she´s currently representing. Let´s assume I´d dedicate 20% of my working time to reviewing manuscripts and answering queries, that would sum up to about 12 hours for reading synopses, partials and manuscripts. Given a reading rate of 50 pages/hour that would add up to 600 pages/week, which have to be shared among those waiting in the submission line.

Rejecting my manuscript was a big mistake. Will you give it another chance if I explain to you, why?

No. In case of doubt I´ll be hopping mad if I´ll track your book in the bestselling charts later on (already happened…). But I do decide very carefully which book I turn down and even more careful which book I adopt: books, that is, of which I can imagine I can sell them. Not, that anyone can sell them. If there´s another agent who has a different view upon your book, you´ll find him. Having collected more than 10 rejections, you should stop questioning only the agents, however…