Saturday, December 7, 2013

How long is a novel?


GONE WITH THE WIND is 423,575 words. A novella is about 50K words.


This is an inaccurate comment. 423,000 words is not a typical novel length. The typical novel length is 75,000--100,000 words. But I have sold novels as short as 40,000 words for major advances. And there are many great works of literature--like THE STRANGER--that fall far short of 50,000 words, and yet are still considered novels. There is no absolute word count or line in the sand that demarcates a novel from a novella. 

Typically, if a writer asks me how long a novel must be (minimum), I'd say to aim for at 60,000 words, though at least 70,000 would be idea, and if it's even longer, that's great--though if it exceeds 100,000 words then I might start to worry (unless it's in the hands of a master).

However, do keep in mind--and this is the important point I want to make here--that with the ebook revolution, many self published authors are discovering that many readers are just fine with reading shorter novels, especially if they are priced at $2.99 or less. Thus if an author of commercial fiction came to me with a 100,000 word manuscript that could easily and naturally be divided into two books of 50,000 words each, and he asked me if 50k words was too short for each novel, I would say no, and in most cases suggest he split them into two. For me to tell him not to do it, and that 50k words is just a novella, would be bad advice.

Should I use a pseudonym?


I self-published 2 books under a pseudonym. They did not do well. How do I tell if they did not do well because I failed to market or because no one is interested? I'm trying to decide whether to invest a lot of money in marketing. I did get one nice review from a professional in the field that the fiction was written about. Also, the books were previously only available as trade paperbacks, which were over $20. I recently got e-book format available, and the price for that is only $2, so it might be a good time to launch some marketing. Or to go back and edit the things and repackage them, but, since I wrote them a long time ago, I'm not sure my heart is still in them enough to re-write them. I now have a third book that I am trying to market to agents. Should I use this same pseudonym, or should I concoct another?


If you've written two books with a particular pseudonym and they did not sell well, then there is not advantage to you to approach agents using that pen name. If anything, there is a disadvantage. So I would advise to choose a different name.

You ask if your two books didn't sell well due to your failure to market them or because no one is interested. It would be simplistic to answer that it was definitely due to one of these two reasons. There are dozens of reasons why a book might not sell well. First, of course, one has to look at the concept, the writing, the execution, etc. But assuming the writing is excellent, there are still many reasons a book might not sell, including the competition, the jacket, the synopsis, the categories, the pricing, the keywords, the timing, etc. etc. Even with excellent marketing, if a book is priced too high, or has a terrible jacket, or title, etc. it might still not sell well. There is no black and white answer, and it is not a science. But in my view, lack of marketing is usually the last reason a book does not sell well. Usually it's something else. I've seen many great books have paid advertising and not sell. And many books with no marketing take off on their own. $20 for a trade paperback is typically too high. And if your heart is not in your books enough to rewrite them, then that might be the most telling sign there. If you don't care enough about them to revise them, then it may be your readers don't care enough either. Writers must be completely devoted to their works, and willing to revise them countless times to get them to be as great as they can be.

Why would I want a literary agent if I'm already published?


The problem with literary agents and publishers is they now look for well established authors. No one wants to take a risk anymore on an unknown. I recently wrote a novel and tried to get a literary agent to represent. 90% of them wanted to know if I had previous published works. Correct me if I'm wrong but if I had previously published works why in the world would I be looking for a literary agent? Wouldn't I have one already? I have found in this field especially with literary agents themselves they want to do little to no work. They want to represent authors who have already established themselves and that these authors are shopping for a new agent. They are actually the ones who have created a countless number of self publishers because an unknown can't get representation anymore. Publisher's like Tate publishing is quite different from a self publishers. First off Tate publishing puts up 26k of their own money if they choose your work. The fee they ask for is to pay for the promotion of the book. They do this for one reason, they are a small company. Everything from print to cover of your book is done in the same place, because of this they can't take the influx of submissions that your traditional publisher like Random House could take. They want a smaller amount of submissions and one way of doing that is by charging a fee, and that is why if you sell a thousand copies they refund you your 4k


I am not sure if your comment is a question or just a rant. But I will address it as if it were a legitimate question:

First, I will not get into a conversation about Tate publishing. The scope of this blog is to address general questions about publishing, and I don't want to comment on specific houses or agents, especially since I am no expert on Tate publishing's practices, and can only go from what I hear. That said, I will say in general that, regardless of who the publisher is, I always advise authors to never pay a fee (of any sort) to have their work published, since there exist too many vanity publishers who prey on unsuspecting writers by charging fees--and since there are many legitimate publishers who will charge no fee--and pay you an advance.

If authors are unable to land a deal with a legitimate house and are contemplating self-publishing, I would be much more inclined to recommend they self publish in ebook format via KDP, B&N, Google Play, Kobo, Apple, etc.--where there are no upfront fees, and authors control all rights, and there is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

I have been a literary agent for 20 years, and you are inaccurate to say that the problem NOW with literary agents is that they only want established authors. Literary agents have ALWAYS been more inclined to represent established authors. Nothing has changed in that regard. That said, you must keep in mind that there are also agents who pride themselves on discovering unknown authors. There are thousands of agents out there, and one cannot make sweeping generalizations.

It is standard operating procedure for an agent to want to know if you've been previously published--that does not necessarily mean the agent is biased against you. Indeed, if you've published with a major house and your sales tanked, then an agent would be LESS likely to want you. So sometimes being unpublished is an advantage. That said, any good agent will want to know your complete publishing history upfront, and you should already know that and include it in your author bio.

You are completely wrong to say that if you've been published, then you don't need an agent. That is absurd. I could rattle off a dozen reasons you'd need an agent even if you were a bestselling author (from contract negotiations, to subsidiary rights, to legal issues, etc. etc.) but I have already done this in my free ebook HOW TO LAND A LITERARY AGENT. The link is on this blog. Read the entire book. It's free. In fact, I give away over 500 pages of information in these books, and it amazes me how many people ask questions who have never even bothered to read the books--which answer all these questions and more, and in greater depth.

I don't agree that (legitimate) agents want to do little or no work. Most agents work tremendously hard and for salaries that are not great. I'd put it 12 hours a day at my desk, then come home and read for 3 hours--then read all weekend. Many agents do the same. Again, one cannot make generalizations. The key is choosing agents who are excellent at what they do. There are lazy people in every profession, and also hard-working people who take price in what they do. You have to choose the right people.

The only thing you say in your post that is somewhat accurate, and that I would somewhat agree with, is that agents are the ones who have created many self-published authors, due to the difficulty of landing an agent. There is some truth to this. It can be very difficult to land an agent. Many years, I'd receive 10,000 queries, and take on 1. The numbers are overwhelming, and an agent can't represent everyone. But the solution isn't to rant against the industry--that won't get you anywhere. The solution is to become better at researching the appropriate agents for you, and at improving your query letters, proposals and manuscripts. (Again, I teach you how in my free ebooks.) And, of course, perseverance. Not just for a few months, but for many years. And if you still can't land an agent, that might just end up for the best--many self published authors on Amazon and elsewhere have found their ebooks are earning them more than a traditional publisher might.

Is it OK if English is not my native lanuage?

Mr Lukeman, I am not a native English speaker but I write in English for various reasons. I live in the USA and finding classes/writing groups in my native language would be impossible. Furthermore, the market for science fiction is much bigger in English than French. My question is: should I mention I am not a native speaker in my query letter? Would that scare away agents? I have to say my accent gives me away over the phone. I don’t have the typical French accent -it’s less pronounced- but still you can tell. Thank you very much for your thoughts on the topic. Merci beaucoup!

It is fine if English is not your native language. There is certainly no requirement that English be one's native language in order to pen a great book in English, and there are many authors throughout history who have proved they can be masters of the English language without its being their native tongue (i.e. Joseph Conrad). The issue is not whether it's your native language: the issue, really, is how strong of a writer you are, whether in your native language or in English. The other issue is whether you are as proficient in English as in your native language. Even if you master the English language, it still won't make you a great writer. So continue to improve your writing skills, no matter what, and also continue to work on your English. In the end, you might actually have an advantage, as you may work harder and longer to perfect your English, whereas a native speaker might become lazy over time.

Either way, do not mention this in your query. It won't help, and it may hurt. Besides, it's irrelevant: the writing must speak for itself, regardless of where you are from.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

YA or adult?

hi, my question is about genre. yikes!! but anyway, i'm having trouble with this. all of my stories naturally open up to me with the main characters as young adults. i say naturally meaning i don't purposely make the main characters young, the stories always unfold that way. so young adult fiction right? not so fast. my stories are not necessarily geared to the issues that 13 to 21 year olds face and thats the only reason why i cant simply call them young adult fiction. so i dont know where my stories fit (genre wise). young mc's but not young adult issues. its like they are written for adults but with young mc's. any thoughts? thanks. 

Typically, if a protagonist is 13 to 21, then it will naturally draw (mostly) a YA audience. There of course are examples with crossover, such as the Hunger Games or Twilight, and of course it is great if your novel can crossover and reach all ages. But in my view you must appeal to your core audience first and foremost, especially if you want word of mouth to spread, and that tends to mean touching on issues that are important to them. So if you are drawn to write in that age range, then it would be ideal if you can touch on issues that are natural to them. If you cannot, then perhaps you should ask yourself why you are choosing that age range, and perhaps change the age. YA is a very strong market, so if you can appeal to that market, it is a plus.

Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule and a multitude of classical adult literary works that feature younger protagonists. So I cannot speak in absolutes. But as a rule of thumb, it is ideal to appeal to the core audience you are drawn to writing for.

Indemnity clauses

Hi Noah, What's the current state of the industry in regards to indemnity clauses in publishing contracts? In particular how often are these clauses "fair" (i.e. for breach of warranties only, indemnities only become active on final sustained judgment) and how often are these clauses "unfair" (i.e. indemnify for ALL claims, even frivolous ones). I ask because I've received a publishing contract with an indemnity clause which is, in my estimation, unfair. My agent says that's just the way it is now, but I'd like to be sure. 

I don't want to get into specifics in giving legal advice, but I will say this: if you are dealing with a major, reputable publisher, then in my experience, most of the time, boilerplate legal clauses such as the indemnity clause, tend to be boilerplate and major houses rarely modify them. So if you have a reputable agent and a major, reputable house, I wouldn't worry too much. The concern tends to escalate when you go with smaller or unknown houses or agents.

Is there a role for the agent in self publishing?

What role does your agent take on if you published your first book (with the agent;s help), but are choosing to self publish your second book?

This is an excellent question, and you have touched on what is probably THE question of our time.

As always, it depends on many factors. It depends primarily on who your agent is, and on the nature of your book. If your agent did well by you the first time around, and if your agent is well versed in the ebook world and will actively help you self publish and guide you through issues like tech issues, jacket art, title, synopsis, pricing, etailers, etc., and if he only wants to charge you the same standard 15% commission, then I would advise you stay with your agent. As a compromise, you might want to limit the term on the agreement to 1 or 2 or 3 years, since ebooks technically never go out of print--at which point you can mutually renew if he is doing well.

If your agent did a lousy job the first time and/or if your agent is out of touch with the ebook world and has nothing to offer you that you cannot do yourself, then there is no reason to use him. There is a broad spectrum of expertise among agents and ebooks: some can bring a tremendous amount to the table, and others will only get in your way. Ask him on what specifically he will give you that you cannot do yourself. Good ebook agents can make a big difference by guiding you through issues like title, length, plot, pricing, jacket art, etc. Bad agents cannot and may take a fee they don't deserve. Some authors will really need a lot more help, and others will not. Each case will be different.

Should I break up my long novel into several shorter novels?

I have completed and polished a 277,000 word manuscript of mature adult fiction. It is obviously large for one book, but I am unsure if I should break it into two or three smaller novels. Would I be wrong to offer it as one large submission to a literary agent and let their expertise determine the best way to handle the manuscript? 

A tough question to answer without actually reading the book. Of course, one can point to many longer novels throughout the course of history that needed to be as long as they were. But those tend to be the exception.

In general, the average novel is 75,000 words, so what you are proposing is nearly 4 times as long, with nearly 1,000 manuscript pages. This is sure to intimidate most agents so, especially given that it's a first novel and especially given it's genre (mature adult) I would indeed suggest breaking it into multiple works, each approximately 75,000 words, give or take. Of course you must find a natural place to break and begin each book. You may also find you need to add new chapters to end each book properly and/or to begin each new book properly.

Finally, because this is the mature adult genre, you may want to consider first trying to self publish as an ebook original and see how it performs. If the sales are astronomical, then you may decide not to find an agent. And if not, then you can always find an agent then. And if you break it into 4 books, then you will of course earn a far greater income.

How can I find an agent?

Thank you for your efforts to educate the unexperienced such as myself. Since YOU are not taking any new clients, can you direct me to one who has the intelligence that you seem to possess. I have two non fiction books that HAVE been self published, and have and still are selling with my own ISBN#s through Amazon & B&N on special order. But I know they would do great if handled by an agent who could get them published under the publishers ISBN and distributed professionally. The reviews for these books are amazing, and exclusive,by well known leaders of both industries. Your advice would be most appreciated 

As I have mentioned before, I have written several books on this topic which I give away for free: HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER, and HOW TO LAND (AND KEEP) A LITERARY AGENT. Please visit and download the books for free, and you will find over 500 pages of information that will help you land an agent that is appropriate for your work.

Should I prod agents?

Hi! My question is about receiving editorial feedback from a prospective agent. If you speak to an agent on the phone and they send you detailed notes and ask that you revise and re-submit, is it appropriate to contact the other agents who have your full manuscript and let them know that you are doing an R &R? Or just say nothing and hope that they get back to you. I want to use the best professional etiquette. I have three fulls out there and am about to begin a revision and wondered if I should prod these other agents again or let it go. The other fulls have been out from 6 months to 3 months. Thanks! 

In general, an agent should respond to a query letter within 2-6 weeks, and to a 300 page manuscript within 8--12 weeks, or 16 at the most. If that time has come and gone, feel free to prod the agent.

In this specific case, I would not necessarily tell the other agents that you are revising, because, while it is hopeful, nothing has actually happened. The agent who likes it may still reject it. And if you force other agents hands with a tight deadline, and the original agent does not offer, then the other agents may think he didn't like your revision. Plus you don't want to bias them, to tell them that the work you first submitted needs, in one opinion, revision. Let them read and decide on their own--especially since hearing another agent wants a revision won't help land anyone else.

So just revise as requested, and continue to wait to hear from the others--unless the aforementioned time limit has passed, in which case prod them with a quick, general request for a response.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How long should I wait for my agent to respond?

Dear Mr Lukeman, I have been offered (email) representation by a very prestigious agency. I really wanted to go with them, so I responded with an immediate acceptance. The agent emailed back that she was thrilled, and would be sending out an agency contract, and was looking forward immensely to speaking with me on the phone. Since then, (two weeks ago)nothing. I have sent two tiny, non-'prodding' messages, and received a brief response to each, to the effect that the agent is very busy, but will contact me soon. I asked briefly about the contract. No response. Is it likely she has changed her mind? Does that happen after an extremely enthusiastic and firm offer of representation. I am so bewildered. Please help.

To begin with, I covered this topic in depth in my free ebook. Please visit and download it for free and read it.

That said, in this case I would back off and give it 2 more weeks and see what happens. In the scheme of your career a few weeks is not a big deal, and if the agency is as great as you imagine then it may be worth it. It can take you a lot longer than that to find a new agent. Also, the fact that she said she would contact you and you, instead of waiting, emailed her twice in 2 weeks, might raise red flags for her. Not to excuse her behavior--she should have followed up if she said she would--but this might be her perspective. Agents are swamped and it was also a holiday week.

If nothing happens in two more weeks then you can be more alarmed and outright prod her. If she still doesn't respond then you may want to look elsewhere. As I say in my book, every agent and author have different styles of communicating, and if you two are not on the same page it might never work. The real question is whether her silence now means she will do a poor job with the submission--and one can never know the answer to that. An agent might be in touch always yet ruin a submission--while another might never call you but do a great job!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Should I pay a publisher any sort of upfront fee?

"I have completed my (memoir) manuscript and submitted it to Tate. I was offered a contract and had it revised by a lawyer. When I talked to someone in aquisitions about the revisions they were not willing to negotiate any changes including the $3990.00 for marketing because I am a new author and they don't know how my book will sell. When they said that to me it threw me through a loop because at first they said I had a great and powerful story. ( I grew up in childrens homes and foster homes for 14yrs never having a family of my own)I guess my question is "Where do I go from here?" I don't mind paying for services when I get paid but I don't have money to put up front to get the book going. This is my first book (I am starting my second book about what it was like for me once I was out of the system) and I'm not sure what the best avenue is for a first time author. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated."

As I have answered numerous times on this blog (please visit and download the free ebook, which has the entire blog and all the past questions answered) NEVER pay a publisher any sort of upfront fee to have your work published. It doesn't matter if they call it an "editorial fee" or a "reading fee" or a "marketing fee" or whatever they call it. A legitimate publisher should NEVER ask you to pay an upfront fee. On the contrary, they should offer you an advance against royalties.

So keep your money and instead look for a legitimate literary agent. That begins with writing a query letter, and a proposal, and the submission process. Again, my free ebook will help walk you through all the steps.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Can I revise after editors rejected by manuscript?

Hi Noah, I read your book but am still in a quandry: My agent sent my thriller to 26 editors last year. All were passes, with some very encouraging reject letters. Things went downhill at that point: I had to ask my agent 3 times to send me the reject letters. The last time he sent them with a curt comment, "Now I've sent you all the letters." I proposed a major rewrite based on some of the comments, he responded enthusastically, and I turned in the revised manuscript to him in November. He didn't respond, and didn't respond to the next 2 emails. On the fourth try, he gave a curt response..."I'm discussing with editors will let you know when there's feedback". I let him know I was attending the SF writer's conference 2 weeks ago, and he did respond to say I could pass out a "pitch" sheet with his info. 6 major editors expressed interest in the book!! I gave him the incredible news 2 weeks ago with the names of the response or acknowledgement of my email, which contained a ....

Your post got cut off, so I will respond just based on what I see here.

I answer very similar questions in depth in my free PDF, which contains 600 pages of information. Please visit and download it. I keep mentioning this because I keep finding people post questions that I have already answered. Please read the book.

That said, I will answer it again here:

If publishers reject your manuscript and do not specifically request (eagerly) to see a revision and do not offer comments for specific changes they would like to see, then they are most likely wasting your time to try to revise and please them. 99% of the time, if they pass and don't ask to see it again, then they don't want to see it again. If they do want to see it again, they will make a very clear point of it, and will make very clear suggestions. Thus your agent's resistance. I would let it go with that novel and write a new one. Sometimes publishers will buy your new novel, it will come out and do well, then they will buy the old one, years later.

Additionally, just because editors tell you at a conference that they want to see your manuscript, it doesn't necessarily mean they really do. They can often be put on the spot in such an environment, especially in one-on-one pitches. Plus, 26 editors is a good number, and if he is a good agent and did his job properly and covered 26 good publishers, then either these  6 editors work at houses that already rejected the ms., or they are not great publishers--either of which make you start off with less than a clean slate. Thus nothing is impossible, but I wouldn't put too much hope on the conference.

That said, this doesn't excuse the agent's lack of response. If you are unhappy with him then fire him and find someone else. But make sure you are unhappy for the right reasons.

Any advice on surroundings that can boost one's 'muse'?

I have been working on several projects for many years now. With several setbacks, including the loss of my computer, the death of my Mother and my own cancer diagnosis, I find myself easily distracted, even defeated. I've had to start from scratch on two major projects due to the loss of the computer they were saved on. I was wondering if you had any advice on surroundings or atmospheres that can boost one's 'muse'. I write fantasy/fiction. My brother, who is my biggest critic and supporter, tells me that I seriously need to submit the material I do have to see if a Publisher will bite. This all sounds well and good, unfortunately I've gotten myself into a rut of 'side stories', and I believe this is due to being so distracted. Any advice you may have regarding this would be most appreciated. Thank you in advance. 

I am so sorry to hear of your hardship.

I cannot tell you exactly where to go to find inspiration--it will be different for every writer. Some find inspiration by retreating into nature, or by attending writers' colonies, where they can have isolation to work. Some find it in a quiet room at the local library. Other needs to travel to other countries; others find it by reading other books or watching films or listening to music; others still find inspiration right smack in the center of a loud and crowded and busy house!

While I cannot tell you where to go, one thing I can say, in my personal opinion, is that the best way to draw inspiration is to write every day, no matter what. I find that often by the sheer act of writing, one thing leads to the next. The best advice I can give you is to force yourself to sit down every day, for a certain amount of time, and meet a quota of a certain amount of pages, no matter what. Writing is a muscle, and the more you use it, the easier it will be. It is possible your finished draft might not end up being great, or even good. But then you can embark on revising it--and for some writers, inspiration comes even more so during the revision than during the first draft, since the pressure is off of facing the blank page. Some writers may even need to write an entire book and throw it out in order to get the momentum and inspiration that the process gives them to leap into the next book, which is the one they really want to write.

So just write. Write every day, no matter what, and write more than you ever thought was possible. Sometimes increasing your quota helps unlock something. Sometimes writers believe they can only write 2 pages a day--and by forcing yourself to write 20, you tap some part of yourself you didn't know was there and find a new source of inspiration. You can also experiment with writing in different rooms of your house, in different chairs, at different desks, and by computer, by typewriter, by hand--and even by dictation. Experiment and have fun. But don't stop writing.

How long does it take for publishers to respond?

My agent, a very good one from one of the best NYC agencies, has submitted my memoir proposal to 14 publishers last week. Though I've asked him, he can't really tell me how long it will take for each to respond one way or another, whether wanting to read the entire manuscript or not. So, my question is this: in general, how long does it take for a publisher to READ and then RESPOND to a proposal?

I've answered this question in past posts, so please visit and download the free PDF with 600 pages of information, including the answer to this question.

But I will answer again here: there are many variables. A lot will depend on how long your memoir "proposal" is--i.e., is it 10 pages or 200? In general, a typical non fiction proposal runs around 30-40 pages, and typically publishers will respond at varying times, ranging from a few days up to around 8 weeks. If it were a finished manuscript, then it could take 12 weeks. 

A lot will depend on the agent's style, too--i.e., is he aggressively keeping the pressure on editors, doing his best to build a buzz, setting an auction and naming a closing date? Some agents will set an immediate closing date to try to build a sense of excitement, and might close within 1 or 2 weeks. That can backfire, though, since sometimes editors won't have a chance to read in time. Other agents are more laid back and will just wait to hear. An agent's approach may also differ if he feels your proposal will garner a 10k advance or a 1 mil advance. A good agent will know how to handle it, and no one way is necessarily better. As I said, there are a lot of variables.

But all things considered, for a typical non fiction proposal, if you haven't heard in 8 weeks it likely won't sell in that round of submissions. And if you are going to sell it for a large advance, often that happens quickly, sometimes even within a few days.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Free e-book

I am receiving many repeat questions on this blog, and I realize that some of you are not scrolling through all the answers going back several years. Thus, to make it easy for you, I have compiled all of the questions and answers into a PDF, which you can download here:

I have also included in this PDF for free my two books HOW TO LAND (AND KEEP) A LITERARY AGENT and HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER. This file has over 400 pages of invaluable information. Please read it before posting questions here.

Below is the table of contents of questions asked. All are answered in this file.


Table of Contents

*  Should my agent let me know which publishers/editors have read my work, and provide me with copies of the rejection letters?
*  I am just starting out and have never been published. What should I put in my bio?
*  My agent is unwilling to sell world rights to my book. What should I do?
*  How does one land a job as a literary agent?
*  Should I revise my work for a prospective agent?
*  Can I fire my agent mid-submission?
*  Should I query an agent with several books at once?
*  Once I land an agent, how long does it take to land a book deal?
*  What is the ideal page count for a first novel?
*  How many agents should I approach?
*  If my agent doesn’t like my next book, should I fire him?
*  Why won’t publishers respond?
*  How long should I wait to hear back about my manuscript?
*  How many copies must a book sell to be considered a success?
*  Will being published by a small press help my career?
*  Can self-publishing damage your career?
*  Is there a market for literary fiction set in a country outside of the United States?
*  Can I be represented by two literary agents?
*  Should I finish the manuscript of my novel before submitting to agents?
*  Do agents really read the first five pages? Or just the first five sentences?
*  What do you look for in a logline?
*  How do I find out what agent represents a novel in my genre?
*  Is my agent (even if fired) entitled to commission my option book?
*  Do some agents give up if a manuscript doesn't sell in the first round of submissions?
*  Is it normal to have different agents for U.S. and international publication?
*  Is it detrimental to have your book published as a trade paperback original?
*  Is editor turnaround so high that you can re-submit in just a few years?
*  Should I pay a fee to have my work published?
*  Should I pay to have my work published?
*  Can I self-publish my ebook while pursuing a print deal?
*  My agent is not responding. What should I do?
*  Is my age a problem?
*  Does my novel have to be set in America?
*  Should I use a pseudonym?
*  Should I serialize my entire novel on my blog?
*  How many revisions?
*  How long should I wait for my agent?
*  Was I correct to accept a deal directly from a publisher?
*  How should I handle my sales history?
*  Will an agent represent me just for one genre of fiction?
*  How do I switch agents?
*  Can I post excerpts of my work online?
*  Can I re-submit after revision?
*  Will my location affect my ability to land a deal?
*  Should I submit to magazines first?
*  Do I need photographs?
*  Which publishers should I submit to?
*  Can I submit requested material via email?
*  Can I submit to multiple agents simultaneously?
*  How to phrase my query letter?
*  Should memoir be treated as fiction?
*  Should I add anything extra in my query letter?
*  Is it more important for the story to be well done or marketable?
*  If I self-publish first, will it hurt my chances?

Should I pay a fee to have my work published?

In reviewing the stats for this blog, I was surprised to see there were a huge number of hits on this topic--more so than most. Which makes me realize that this may be a matter of pressing concern for many authors. Are any of you grappling with this issue? If so, feel free to ask any specific questions you like here and I will answer them.

If I self-publish first, will it hurt my chances?

"Hi Mr. Lukeman, thanks for fielding these questions. My question is related to this post, but perhaps a little more specific: does it reflect positively or poorly to self-publish first, then seek an agent later? The reason I ask is because I tried getting my memoir published, but despite pieces of my story appearing in the New York Times and the Chicken Soup series, I got no bites for a year. So, I tried my hand at self-publishing and sold about 2,500 hard copies of my book in its first year. I didn't pay for any book marketing, it was merely word-of-mouth that got any of the books sold. I'm hoping to start looking for literary agents again, but am not sure if mentioning that I self-published already would ultimately hurt or help my book. Thank you!"

I am pretty sure I answered a similar question in depth a year or so ago on this blog. Please check the archives for that response, too. But I will answer it again here:

First, we must distinguish between print and ebook self-publishing. To start with the former: if you self-publish and sell a huge number of copies, then it is a huge benefit to landing a deal, and may even make the difference. If you sell only a few copies, it won't impress agents or make a difference. There is a gray area in between. 2,500 hardcovers on your own is respectable. But it won't tip the scales. 25,000 would. 15,000 would raise eyebrows but not close the deal. Depends, too, on whether it's fiction or non-fiction and the genre and on your platform and how and where you sold them and the price point. Hardcover sales are much more impressive than trade paperback, and trade paperback much more so than mass market. In most cases, sales are nominal and there is no real distribution--in those cases, it shouldn't really make a difference. However, if you sell around 10,000 or so copies and get real distribution and your name is in the system everywhere, and especially if you already received a lot of publicity, then hypothetically that could be an issue for an editor, who might feel that their chance to launch the book in a clean way is gone. So it is a calculated risk. I would not recommend it, since in most cases it is very costly and time consuming and won't work.

Self-publishing in ebook format is a different story. It affords you much more flexibility, since it costs you nothing, and since you can use a pen name and thus allow for a clean slate in the system--and if it takes off, it can make the difference. So you have a lot less to lose and more to gain by going that route.

Is it more important for the story to be well done or marketable?

"Dear Mr. Lukeman, I've noticed a trend in YA books, that many follow the exact same popular formulas and are inhabiting an increasingly narrow scope. I keep hearing literary agents say they're "looking for something different", but I'm starting to doubt the validity of that. Why would you take a risk on something that might not make money in an industry that's becoming increasingly difficult to make money in, when you can just follow a formula that is guaranteed to make you money? I can't for one second believe that something like Watership Down would be published in this day and age, (and it definitely wouldn't be published by an American publisher), despite it never being out of print. My question is, when the average attention span of a literary agent is ten times less than that of the average reader, and query letters at best show the competence of a writer, is it more important in this day and age for the story to be well done or for the story to be marketable? "

This is an age old question, and not an easy one to answer. In the ideal world, a story will be both well done--and unique--and marketable. I don't necessarily view the two as mutually exclusive. If your desire is to write commercial YA, then there is no reason why you can not come up with a unique concept within that genre and to strive for the execution of the writing, word by word, to be as strong as possible.

If you are dealing with literary fiction and the writing is superb but the overall genre is not as commercial as certain genres of YA, then you may indeed have a harder time. Then again, if you are writing in commercial YA and your writing is not up to par, you may have a hard time as well. It is also possible that your writing is superb but you are not good at marketing and at summary, and your query letter doesn't get the attention of an agent. It depends on why you are writing--if you are writing to cash in, and chasing the most commercial genre of the moment, then your approach will likely be more marketing-focused. If you are writing literary fiction because that is your passion, then your approach will be different. You must follow your heart.

I would say that, as a rule, if an agent is looking to represent commercial fiction then he or she will scan a query letter with a different set of criteria--with an eye for marketability of the genre and concept. If an agent is looking for literary fiction he will be more drawn to your bio, credentials and the quality of your style. He might be more forgiving when it comes to plot. From an agent's point of view, if one is looking for commercial fiction it is always a nice surprise if the writing is particularly well done; and if one is looking for literary fiction, it is a nice surprise if there is also a strong plot. In this day and age I feel the gap has been widening between literary and commercial--but that needn't be the case. Those are arbitrary distinctions. A literary novel can be commercial and a commercial novel can be literary. Moby Dick is beautifully written, but also has a plot. So does Heart of Darkness. A hundred years ago literary authors knew they had to have a plot, not just pretty prose. For them, literary and commercial fiction were one.

Should I add anything extra in my query letter?

"Mr. Lukeman, If I can describe my plot in two sentences, is it okay to use the third sentence in that paragraph to describe the voice in my writing or is that amateurish? Thanks a lot," Donna Voss

I would really suggest sticking to the basics of what is necessary in a query letter, and keeping it as brief as possible. If you can summarize your plot in two sentences--great. That does not mean you should add a third sentence just for the sake of it. And in this case I would not attempt to describe the voice of your writing--that is the sort of thing that agents must judge for themselves, and which will come out in the writing as they read it. Voice is also subjective, and they must be left to come to their own conclusions.

Should memoir be treated as fiction?

"You say to treat memoir as fiction when querying, and that makes sense to me. My concern is, will I irritate agents if I don't follow their specific guidelines for submitting non-fiction?"

When querying, memoir needs to be treated as fiction in certain respects: as with fiction, the entire manuscript should be finished before you query; as with fiction, your concept won't matter as much as the execution of the writing; and, unless you are a celebrity or have a major, national platform, your background and platform won't matter as much. It is more about the writing itself, whereas with most types of commercial non-fiction, greater weight is given to your expertise, the competition, the market and other issues.

Most agents should specify guidelines for submission of fiction, non-fiction and memoir. If they don't specify, then at first you can treat memoir as non-fiction for the sake of initiating a submission. For example, most agents want you to begin with a one page query letter--and in that case, just send in a letter, and if they want more, they should tell you how much they want. If they ask for a proposal, the typical non-fiction proposal contains an overview, an outline and 1 or 2 chapters, and you can send that. Don't worry--these distinctions are not so important, because if they want more, they will tell  you exactly what they want. The important thing to remember is that, unlike other types of non-fiction, with a memoir you should not query until your entire manuscript is complete. You don't want to have an agent like the first two chapters and then not have the manuscript ready to show for two more years.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to phrase my query letter?

Dear Mr. Lukeman, Your books are among my favorite writing references. As I prepare my query letter, your advice on the topic has been particularly useful. I've composed a personal query that I feel reflects the type of novel I have written. Yet, frequently I've come across emphatic advice to place the hook in the first paragraph, leading with such phrasing as "When Jane Doe is faced with (random compelling crisis)" or the like. My tastes lean toward literary fiction, and when I imagine phrasing my query leading with a hook, it doesn't suit my story. In your query letter book, you mentioned how conflicting the advice is on the subject. Is it due to genre preference perhaps? Do you consider this type of format more typically used with manuscripts of commercial fiction?

It is impossible to say, to speak in generalities, without having a chance to read your query letter specifically. In every case it will be different.

The most important thing to realize here is that query letters are limited; you only have finite space. They are also showcases for writers to exhibit their talent with word economy and with their ability to grip a reader in just a few sentences. On any given day at a major literary agency, hundreds of queries might arrive. Yours must stand out. Not in a cheap, gimmicky way. But in an organic way, one reflective of you and your writing. That said, it is not a passive letter--it must be an active one, one that appreciates how much is at stake, and how much must be accomplished in a short period of time. Remember what Mark Twain said:

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

Can I submit to multiple agents simultaneously?

If an agent doesn't specify that they don't accept simultaneous submission, then can I assume that they do? I have my novel with one agent now, but would prefer to have it with more if possible. 

I always suggest submitting your manuscript or proposal or query letter to as many agents as possible--and to do so simultaneously. It is hard to land an agent, and hard to land a book deal, and it is also a very subjective and slow-moving business. If you submit to one at a time, or just a few at a time, you can be waiting years to further your career. I would always err on the side of a more aggressive approach. Even if three agents like your work, all three can still reject it when reading more. Don't wait on anyone--unless a bonafide agent takes a genuine interest in your work and is responding rapidly and requests a limited time window, say a few weeks, of exclusivity.

I speak to this topic at length in my book HOW TO LAND (AND KEEP) A LITERARY AGENT, which I give away for free. I suggest you read it.

Can I submit requested material via email?

I have a question in regards to publishing. i want to send a manuscript to a publisher who allows sending manuscripts either as a hard copy by post or by email. I wanted your opinion on which way is better.
If a publisher or literary agent specifies that they have no preference as to whether you submit via hard copy or email, then feel free to submit either way. Neither form of submission will necessarily gain you an advantage--or hurt you. In general, always follow an agent's guidelines. The bigger issue to worry about is your biasing an agent to your work because you submit a manuscript via email when he specifically requests hard copy--or vice versa. Just respect their wishes and all will be fine.


Which publishers should I submit to?

What are some good publishers that we can use? I have recently written a book and received an offer from Tate Publishing but turned it down due to their contract. So now I'm off to looking for another publisher. Any suggestions?

If your goal is to land a traditional publishing deal with a major publisher, then you should find a literary agent first. You should not submit directly to publishers, for many reasons (your not knowing which to choose being just one of them). In fact, submitting directly can do you more harm than good. I speak to this topic at length in my book, HOW TO LAND (AND KEEP) A LITERARY AGENT, which I give away for free.  I suggest you read the chapter devoted to this topic.

Do I need photographs?

Dear Mr. Lukeman, I have written a novel in the historical fiction genre, and I have identified seven photographs that I want to include. I have already begun the process of securing rights to them, and it doesn't look like there will be any problems. My question is: if I send out a query letter to an agent, and the agent wants to see part or all of the manuscript, I think it's important that I send the pictures along with the prose - do I need to have already paid for the rights to the photos, or can I just note that I don't have the rights yet (i.e. haven't paid for them) but that the owner is known and the rights are securable?
First of all, keep in mind that most novels, whether historical or not, do NOT include photographs. You might want them in, but chances are that, assuming you sell it, your editor will not. So I would not recommend your doing all this legwork.

For those of you who are considering inserting photos in your book, keep in mind the following:

If your editor agrees to insert photographs, then you will have to supply them (i.e. pay for them). This can be quite costly. I've seen photo permissions cost $400 to $1,000 or more per picture. Depends where you get them from. It's possible they can be less, but regardless, they will cost you. Unless you turn to public domain images--which editors may or may not want.

Additionally, it can take MONTHS to get all the written paperwork done for permissions for the photos. Thus editors begin this process early. Many times it causes a problem, when the work needs to go to press and photos are not signed off on.

Also keep in mind that you will need to secure WORLDWIDE rights to photos, something that authors frequently overlook. If your publisher controls world rights they will need this--and if you or your agent control world, then you will need this. The time to do it is upfront, not later. And this can increase the cost.

Also keep in mind that if your manuscript includes photos then legally the publisher only has to pay you on delivery and acceptance of ALL materials--thus if you deliver your manuscript and the photos aren't cleared for many more months, you won't get your advance delivery payment until then.

In any case, a discussion of photos is not one to be having when it comes to fiction--and especially at the stage of seeking an agent.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Is my age a factor--and how to land an agent?

"Dear Mr. Lukeman, I am an underage author, I'm 12 years old. I'm writing a book called The Blessed and I am not yet finished, but I would like to start studying up how to get an agent--any words of advice? I just really need to know if my age will be an asset or a turnoff to literary agents and any you would suggest...? Thanks. -Anonymous "

I salute you for starting so early and being so ambitious. Keep up the good work, and whatever you do, don't give up, and eventually, you will make it.

First, several other young authors have asked a similar question regarding their age on this blog. I have responded to it in depth numerous times. Please read the response in all the blog posts here, and please read all posts going back to the beginning. That will also help you with landing an agent.

Second, I wrote two books--which I give away for free--HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER and HOW TO LAND (AND KEEP) A LITERARY AGENT, which contain hundreds of pages of detailed information and advice that will help you land an agent. To download them for free, visit

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Should I submit to magazines first?

"Greetings Mr. Lukeman: For the sake of argument, let's just say I have a body of humorous non-fiction stories, well-written essays that comprise more than enough laugh-out-loud moments to capture the attention of an agent and/or publisher. Let's say I have enough material for several books and I'm the kind of author who's central character (in other words, his own personality) could be rendered for marketing purposes, much in the same way the "character" of David Sedaris is central to most of his work. (And please forgive me for being yet another one of the thousands of aspiring authors who directly or indirectly compare themselves to David Sedaris...) Once again I'll ask you to play along with me and pretend, for the moment, I'm the next great American icon of literature, as of yet undiscovered. Here's the question: should I submit one or more of these stories first to magazines for hopeful publication, or should I bypass that route and submit them (to an agent) as a full book?"

There is no black and white answer to this. On the one hand, if you are successful in landing one of your stories in a major, national publication, like the New Yorker, then yes, that can make all the difference in the world. On the other hand, if you are only able to land your story in a lesser known publication, that may end up not having any impact – and indeed, if you land your stories in too many publications, it could even potentially turn off an agent or editor, because they might feel as if the book has been over serialized, and overexposed.

The other issue is that if you submit your stories to all the major publications, and they all reject you, you've lost your one shot. It is possible that if an agent had submitted the same story, or a sub rights director at a publishing house, perhaps the same publications would have accepted your story. Unfortunately, who is doing the submitting can often make a big difference in how seriously your story is paid attention to.

But then again, agents rarely have time to submit individual stories to magazine, and the same is true with rights departments. It all depends on the book. For some authors, sub rights are very big deal, and a single story can demand six figures in a publication. But for the vast majority of authors, they will never sell serial rights, and if they do, it will be to a lesser publication, and for a nominal fee of a few hundred dollars. That is why it is hard to make blanket generalizations.

The other consideration is that it could take you many many months of trying to place your stories in magazines, and one does not want to put on hold his career or his search for an agent too long. Especially because the chances of your landing your stories in a place that can actually impact an agent's decision, like the New Yorker, are very slim. And you don't want to spend so many months to finally land your stories in lesser magazines, and then search for an agent only to discover that even these small successes will not impact the agent's decision.

Thus I would recommend just submitting directly to agents, and not waiting on magazines. If your writing is good enough, the agent should want to take it on anyway. And if it is not good enough, then landing a piece likely will not make much of a difference. Of course, if you have exhausted your agent search, and the manuscript is sitting there, you can always try the magazines then. And if you do land one in a major place, then you can reapproach the agents.

Also keep in mind that in this day and age, there are many ways to approach it. Some websites can have even more impact than magazines--if you get millions of reads on a site, that can influence an agent's decision. Or if you break your humor into tweets and have millions of followers, that can make the difference, too.

Will my location affect my ability to land a deal?

"Hi Noah, I'm a 13 year old writer from Singapore. As the arts scene is not very vibrant in my country, I wish to find an American/British publisher. Do you think they will entertain my requests, taking into consideration my country? Thanks! "

I wouldn't worry about this too much. Good writing is universal. When an agent receives a manuscript, he takes it on its own terms. He does not – or at least he should not – look at the author bio to decide what country the author is from when making a decision. Good writing is good writing. And bad writing is bad writing. I'd rather take on a good author from Singapore than a lousy one from New York City. I don't see readers discriminating when making their purchases either – and I'm sure we can point to a ton of bestsellers written by authors who live all around the world.

The bigger issue will be whether your book is strictly about Singapore, and in a very limited way. That is not to say that a book about Singapore could not become a huge international bestseller. But if your book, the way you have written it, feels very local and specific to publishers, and feels as if it could not translate to other places and other cultures, then that might give them pause. So it is really about the topic of your book – and your writing style and execution -- not about where you live.

As far as your age, it is possible that could give some agents or publishers pause. I would not necessarily advertise your age in your query letter. Let them read and accept your work on its own terms. Then if they decide to accept it, you can always tell them after the fact. Indeed, in some cases that could end up being a selling point, as well.

The most important thing for you to worry about, being 13, is that you should keep writing, keep revising, keep improving your skills, and keep reading. At your age, you are building the foundation and building blocks for a long and successful career as an author. No matter what, don't get discouraged. It can take many writers many years of rejections before they break through. Don't let it affect you, don't pay too much attention to it, and whatever you do, keep writing and keep trying.

Can I re-submit after revision?

"Hi Noah, I have a question about querying that I haven't been able to find an answer to. After sending out a few queries, I received some advice that I really thought would improve my book. I took the advice and made some changes to my manuscript that changed the opening of the book (which I had already sent with some queries) as well as the length of the novel. Here's my question: What should you do if your manuscript changes after you've already queried? Obviously the MS is different than your sample pages, so what do you do? Thanks, ALC "

I wouldn't worry about this too much. From your post, first of all, it sounds as if you have only sent your queries out to a few agents. Typically, it takes sending a query letter out to dozens and dozens of agents until you land one. It is a numbers game. Chances are that you will not land an agent based on your small initial round anyway. So if the work that you already sent them is not in the best shape, there is not much you can do about it now, but I wouldn't worry about it too much, either.

If you were to contact these agents again with the revision of a query, it would likely be perceived that you as an author are too high maintenance. An agent does not wish to take on an author who is constantly submitting them revisions and never happy with the work. I have seen situations in the past where some authors will never be happy with their books, and revise endlessly, all throughout the process, even going right up to publication day, driving their agents and editors crazy. While you do want the best work you can have, you don't want to be perceived as one of these. It is too much work for everyone involved. At a certain point, you have to lock it down and be happy with it. Of course, the very nature of revision demands that we will never be happy with our works as authors. Which is why this is even an issue to begin with. At virtually any point in time, any author could look back at their work and want to make changes. At some point, we have to move on.

The other issue here is that, if an agent likes your general concept and genre and bio enough, presumably the agent would be intrigued to see more based on your initial query letter. If you made some minor revisions, that shouldn't impact their decision too much anyway.

Also be wary in general of making revisions based on a single agent or editor's comments. Publishing is a very subjective business, and if you change your manuscript to suit one person's needs, you might find that the other agents or editors would have preferred it the way it was originally. It is good to listen to people, but it is good to trust yourself, too.

Can I post excerpts of my work online?

"Dear Mr. Lukeman, I was wondering if it was legal to post sample chapters of a book on, say, Facebook? I have been trying to publish for a while and want to establish my career as an author, so wish to create a Facebook page for my work. However, I am not sure if posting sample chapters would deter agents from picking up my work or if I could not do that because, once published, I would have restricted rights to post material. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks! "

There are two questions here. The first is whether or not, legally, you have the right to post excerpts of your own work on Facebook or anywhere else online. The answer is yes, you do. You own the work, and it is yours to do with as you wish. Of course, this is assuming that you have not signed any agreements with any publishers for its publication which might restrict such activity.

The second question is about marketability and overexposure. I addressed the topic of serialization and overexposure in a recent blog post. Please search this blog for the response to that. But just to recap briefly, you don't want to risk overexposing your book too much, giving away all of it for free online. It can certainly be a good strategy to give away a little bit of it, say one or two chapters – but I would not recommend serializing the entire book.

The other issue is whether this strategy would turn away a potential agent. It is doubtful. Unless your page is read by millions, usually posting a chapter or two of it will have such little impact that it is not likely to affect an agent or publisher's decision. And it can work both ways: if you're giving away the book for free, and millions of people are downloading it, that just might help you entice an agent or publisher to want to take it on. Keep in mind that while I don't recommend serializing your entire book for free, giving your entire book away, as an e-book for sale on the etailers with the price listed as free, is a different matter entirely, which I will not go into here.

How do I switch agents?

"Question: Does it reflect badly on an author (in regards to future deals) to change literary agents mid-contract? Obviously, my current agent is entitled to any monies earned by current and past deals, but I'm wondering how to professionally and ethically switch agents before I submit any more proposals to publishers. I hate that I'm even considering this-- I'm a very loyal person and my agent has sold several books for me-- but this last contract has revealed some ethical issues (dishonesty, missteps) that have made me feel like I cannot trust her. Also, if I were to switch agents, how would I start the process? By contacting the old agent? Submitting to new agents?"

To begin with, read these two posts from this blog, one from 2009 and one from 2010. They will explain a lot. I already covered much of this ground in previous answers:

There are several issues at stake here. First, you need to make sure that legally you are able to fire your agent. You will have to check the agency agreement that you signed with her. Every agency agreement is different. Some agreements commit authors to multi-book and/or multi-year obligations. The most important clause here will be the termination clause, if one even exists. That is a clause which allows you the right to terminate the agreement, and specifies upon what conditions. For example, a clause might read that you can notify your agent in writing and after 90 days notice, the agreement is terminated. 

But it is often more complex than this. From an agent's perspective, if an agent is working hard on a book and it is actively on submission and an author for whatever reason decides to fire him, the agent justifiably has to protect himself so that his work is not for nothing, and often there will be a clause stating that in the case of termination he is entitled to commission if that active submission should become successful. And it could take several months for publishers to respond. So there is often some sort of waiting window even after termination.

But after that window has passed, for example three or six months later, and the book is no longer actively on submission, then, assuming your agent allows you to terminate, there should be no reason why the agent continues to be entitled to commission. You don't want to end up in a situation where you terminate your agent, hire another agent, that agent sells your book, and the old agent comes out of the woodwork for commission on a deal that she did not make. Then you are stuck paying double commission. It all depends on what you signed.

Every agent has a different way of operating. Some agents will let you out of an agreement if you simply ask. Others will refuse. Some are litigious; some are not.

As far as finding a new agent, the big issue for them will be whether or not the current work has already been submitted, and how many publishers have seen it. If your old agent has already sent the work all over town, and there is nowhere left for the new agent to submit, then he won't want to take it on. That will be the bigger issue.

Ethically, if an author comes to an agent and tells him he has just fired his old agent, especially mid submission, it will certainly raise a red flag, and he will want to know why. If the old agent has acted unethically, and the author can prove it, then that of course explains it. But if the agent has not acted unethically, and the author is just demanding, then that is a different story and can turn off some agents. An agent's deciding whether or not to take on a book is always a combination of the book and the author behind it.