Wednesday 21 October 2009


On the one hand, you could call me lazy. On the other hand you could take into account that I am working about as many hours as I can stay awake, I have just finished a hectic round of school events up and down the country, I am putting together the whole concept of Pen2Publication and ... WE ARE PUTTING OUR HOUSE ON THE MARKET, according to my beloved. Which means that I have to keep tidying and putting things away and pretending I don't have a smelly dog. And baking coffee and brewing bread and trying to make it look as though I always have a house full of fresh flowers.

All of which goes to excuse why I am now going to post TWO questions from Simon, one of my lovely readers, and hand over to you all with only the briefest of answers from me. (Brief? Me? God, there must be something going on.)

Simon says:
"Re overseas agents? Is approaching one a good idea? There are quite a few agents in the USA who I'd like to approach but I'm really not sure if it's a sensible approach. It's obviously harder to build up a working relationship with someone so far away. But, with all thecommunication technology available to us, perhaps it can work."
I say: assuming Simon is in the UK (?) there's not really a very good reason for doing this unless for some reason his books are particularly US-friendly and not UK-friendly. This is possible but you'd want to be sure of this. If you have a UK agent, he/she will try to sell to the US anyway, or your UK publisher will if said publisher holds the US rights. Personally, I'd have my agent in the territory* where I live. And let her organise sub-agents for foreign** rights. And very hoorayishly, she's just sold Hungarian rights for Deathwatch, for which I certainly didn't have a Hungarian agent, just a hungry one.

Edited to add (sorry  -  I was tired last night):
* I should clarify: I'm really talking about US as opposed to UK. Australia and NZ are so similar in relevant ways to the market in the UK that there's no disadvantage for an Australian author, for example, having a UK agent. It's not a matter of living nearby and popping round for coffee  -  it's a matter of having the same writer-reader mindset. And the US, much as we love you Americans, is just different. Gloriously so, of course, but different.

** by which I mean foreign language.

Then Simon said:
"The other question is to do with sample chapters of a novel. I'm wondering whether it is a good idea to post some chapters of my a novel-looking-for-an-agent-or-a-publisher. Is that a sensible piece of platform-building or is it dangerously close to self-publishing and/or using up first publication rights?"
OK. What does this platform-building entail? Because if it's a couple of hundred hits and 25 comments, this is not a platform. It's very very unlikely that you'll build a platform so powerful that it would make any difference to their decision. Also, yes, you do risk technically blowing first rights. If this is genuinely a taster, a sample, hmmm, possibly  -  but actually it's most likely that an editor would want to edit it anyway, in which case you haven't acheived anything except confuse your potential readers. Also, a taster is not going to work unless the actual book appears very soon afterwards  -  for example, when publishers offer taster chapters this is always very shortly before publication.

So, I'd say that posting your chapters online can do very little good and could do harm.

Edited to add: Sarah, in one of the comments below, reminded me about this excellent post on Editorial Ass.  

And now, you people full of energy and without houses to sell, please help me out with more answers on those questions.

Meanwhile, I am off to copy all the many Hotel Choc comp entries into a doc for my secret judge to judge. I am stunned by how many of you entered. I am going to need a substantial amount of fortification even just to copy and paste them all.

And thank you Simon for asking  -  you saved me having to dream up something new on a night when my shoulders are screaming with too much keyboard time!


Karen Jones Gowen said...

No no a thousand times no...DO NOT post sample chapters on your blog!!! Oh, the humiliation I would feel right now if I had posted sample chapters of my current published novel some years ago, before an editor got at it.

catdownunder said...

Interesting comments about agents. I have never tried to find one but I think that, if I did, I would look for one in the UK simply because what I have written is set in the UK. It would be virtually impossible to interest an agent working here in Downunder. New writers, however ancient, are expected to adhere to locations and themes closer to home.
From work experience however, as a pure practicality, I would say stay at home where you are on the same time zone as your agent!

Sarah said...

I can't say anything about agents, but here's a great link about posting chapters from Editorial Ass.

Anonymous said...

Australia has very few literary agents. I can remember looking through the list last year and only two were accepting unsolicited submissions. I had a novel accepted for representation last year by my first choice UK agent and my locality was never an issue. Everything was done via email.

My opinion is that you research the agent that best fits your novel. With instant technology, the world has never been smaller.

Steph Bowe said...

I recently signed with a US lit agent, and I live in Australia. I queried overseas because we have a bit of an agent shortage here in Aus, and so far the time zone differences haven't affected anything, and my agent doesn't mind that I'm in a different country (my novel isn't particularly 'Australian' so I think it's sellable overseas).

I guess it depends on the author and the agent.

Thomas Taylor said...

I don't live in the same country as my agent (UK/France), and I don't see it as a major problem. But it is better to be on hand at short notice in my opinion.

Working as an illustrator, I had a US agent for a while, through a partnership with the UK agency. In fact, I got through two. The first split with the UK agency and second dumped me because I kept turning work down.

My impression is that there's a difference in ethic between the UK and the US. My US agent was forever phoning at inconvenient times (time zone issues) and offereing me bad work for little money and fewer rights. Such as a half-finished pic. book series that I had to finish in the style of the original illustrator for $1000 a book and no royalty!

In the end they found me something quite lucrative and interesting, but it had to be done immediately. As in NOW! But since I was already contracted elsewhere for at least six months I had to say no. That's when they dumped me.

Obviously working as an illustrator isn't the same as working as a writer, but my clear impression is that US agents have a more nose-to-grindstone-work-your-weekends approach, whereas my UK agent is very good at letting me choose the contracts that will help build my career.

Nicola Morgan said...

Really useful points from you all.

Re agents - yes, I should have made clear that i was talking about the difference between UK / US. I don't find the proximity of the agent an issue (mine lives in South East England and I live in scotland), because everything can be done by email and phone; but when the agent lives and works in an entirely different reader/publisher mindset, to the extent that different books sell differently there, I think it only works for you to have an agent in the country where your work fits. It works really well for Aus/NZ authors to have a UK agent, because the market is so very similar. (And, as two of you said, there aren't many agents in those territories.)

Re posting chapters on websites - yes, the point about being ashames in years to come is a good one! I am similarly thankful that my first beloved novels never got published because no one will ever see their faults now!

I knew I could rely on you all to step in in my hour of need. I am really pushing the boundaries of energy at the moment.

Nicola Morgan said...

Oh, and Sarah - indeed that is a great article. I remember reading it at the time but had lost it. Will now go and insert it in the post - thank you!

Simon Kewin said...

Ooh, I'm delighted to know I'm a "lovely reader"! Many thanks for airing these questions Nicola. I do, as you guess, live in the UK (although born and raised on the Isle of Man.)

Thanks also for all the excellent comments everyone - all truly useful. A UK agent would be much preferable, I see that. No sample chapters, absolutely. I'm wondering about a synopsis though? But maybe it's rather naive to think that would serve any useful purpose. I take your point, Nicola. There's no substitute for the conventional agent. Or even the unconventional one ...

Harry Markov said...

I have been lurking here for the past month or so without the chance to post a decent comment. [always on a fight with my Google Reader]

I want to ask the same as the first question and here are my specifics. I live in Bulgaria, which is in Eastern Europe and English is pretty much my second language, but I have published a few short stories and run a decent review blog as it is so I know my writing in English isn't sucky.

However I want to be a novelist and I am on my third manuscript. It will be a bit small niche work, so I don't think I will need an agent for that one, but nevertheless for my bigger fiction projects I would like an US agent and possibly have a breakthrough.

As experienced and oh so wise as you are and I seriously mean it, is a long distance relationship with an agent possible?

Kate said...

Good luck with the house sales. Good points on the agent and the sampling. I've never looked for an agent but I imagine if I did it would be UK just because everything would be so much easier being in the same country.

Kate x

Susan Wallman said...

I am amazed by your energy - just keeping up with the blog must take up so much time. You must be very focused.

Good luck with everything that's going on.

Re: agents. I very much appreciated being able to meet mine at the outset which I couldn't have done if she was based in another country.

Jo Treggiari said...

I had the urge to post bits of a sequel I had written to a published book, (for which I could not find a new publisher) on my website to keep any buzz I had established going but I resisted because I knew it could hurt any future chance of having it published. As others have pointed out I also know how vastly different a last draft(however polished you might think it is) can be after it has been through the hands of an editor. To keep the buzz alive a bit and also satisfy my desire to have something new out there, I celebrated by writing a short story (in 3 parts) which featured characters from my book and posted those. It generated a lot of foot traffic to my site.

Jo Treggiari said...

Before I was published (in the US and Canada) I tried to find a British agent. I was born in England and felt that my writing style was more british than american and that it would be a better fit for me. However most of the agents I contacted were not interested in working with an author living in America.
My current agent is in LA, 3000 miles away from where I live. Although we don't lunch together more than once a year when he visits NY, at least I know I can reach him without calling at some ungodly hour.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

When your book is published, your "following" will purchase it first. If you're famous, you have a huge, worldwide following. If you're an unknown, your following will likely be friends and family. Blogging creates a whole new circle of friends. Your followers literally become your following. As you blog about your WIP, it creates interest among your online friends. Possibly more so than if you were to actually post up the sample writing/chapters.

Sarah said...

You're welcome, Nicola. Best of luck with the move!

Frances said...

Nicola: Thank you for the generosity of your posts.

Nicola Morgan said...

Simon - as you say, no value at all in putting up the synopsis. In fact, I'd say even less point that putting up smaples of your actual writing.

Harry - hello and thank you for your question. (By the way, if you don't mind my saying so, your English is more than perfect. It feels entirely natural. Even the word "sucky" is fabulously confident!) I can understand why you'd want an agent in the UK or US. As far as distance is concerned, there's absolutely no problem. With email it just doesn't matter any more. (As Seymour says, it is nice to meet your agent face-to-face, but apart from that, distance is no disadvantage.) BUT, as I've said, the markets in US / UK are so different that you need to think carefully as to which one best suits what you do. If you have no one who can help direct you, a rather simply answer would be to try both and see what kind of response you get. Good luck!

To all you others - thanks for comments and suggestions and kind words of encouragement re the house sale and other things!

Harry Markov said...

Nicola: Thank you for your answer. I have targeted the USA market, since I have read and conversed with US authors primarily through my review gig, so I have a clear idea what the market there is to know I want to break through there, but the agent question has been plaguing me for quite some time even though I am not yet on that stage. Now I can rest a bit.

PS: Also thanks for the compliment. I try to pick up on as much as possible.