Friday, January 3, 2014

Best colleges for publishing?

Hello! I am a junior in high school and I am starting to look at colleges that I might want to apply to. My hope is to become a literary agent or an editor for a publishing company. Do you have any advice on how I should pick the right college for this? on YA or adult?

This is an excellent question, and you are clearly way ahead of the curve to ask this. I am sure that, given how determined you are, and how early you are starting your search, you will have no problem finding a job.

That said, there is not one particular college that agents or editors recruit from. The best thing you can do to set the stage for a job, possibly even more important than the college you attend, is to have as many internships as you can before you graduate. I would advise lining up internships every year during college (typically during the summer, though could be anytime). Keep in mind, some of these internships may require your applying many months early, for example in the fall for a summer spot. In this regard, it would obviously be helpful if your college was in or close to New York City--unless you are willing and able to travel back and forth to NYC for interviews and internships.

How long should I wait to hear back from an agent?


So when I first heard back from an agent at a respected NY agency she requested the rest of my manuscript, but told me very clearly that she never officially represented a novel until it had been written three times. She gave me great advice on the first draft I sent her, providing excellent line editing and assistance with plot and character. The book got better. She worked with me on the second draft and we went even deeper, sometimes working together in person. She even told me it might take years to get the draft just right. She even told me she had spoken to publishers about the concept and they had asked to be kept informed about the development of my book over the months and possibly years to come. About a year and a half later I resubmitted what I hoped was a pristine (or close to pristine) draft, but now it's been 6th months and she still hasn't read it. I know this business takes time, but should I be seeking representation elsewhere, or is this wait time normal? I know I'm not required to stick with her, but I feel bad looking elsewhere because she put so much work into it with me. Thoughts? I don't like feeling like I'm waiting for just one possibility to work out, especially with the weeks flying by. But as I said, we HAVE put a good chunk of work into this manuscript together, so this long wait seems odd. I just feel like if you're really interested, and you've got publishers interested, wouldn't you want to push that particular manuscript closer to the top of the pile? Maybe I'm wrong. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

First, I address this very topic at length in my FREE ebook HOW TO LAND A LITERARY AGENT. I also address this topic in my FREE ebook ASK A LITERARY AGENT. Both are available for download here on this blog. I suggest you read them both.

That said, I will repeat again that one should never wait this long to hear back from an agent. It's absurd for any agent (or editor) to make an absolute statement like "I never represent a novel until it's written three times." Every novel is different. Some may need to be re-written more than three times, and some may be perfect the first time you read them. How can one possibly apply an arbitrary number like 3 to all novels? That would be a major red flag to me.

Additionally, no agent should take so long in working on revising a novel, and/or in waiting to read your book. An agent telling that you it will "take years" to get it right is another major red flag. I know of no legitimate agents who would do this. Most agents tend to either want books that are ready to submit and/or to want to take on books that can be revised relatively easily and quickly.

I would move on. Query many agents at once. Agents should reply to a query letter within 2-4 weeks. To a manuscript within 10 weeks. It's your career. Do not put it on hold.

Publisher copies of book returns?

Can an author purchase book returns from the publisher? (I'm thinking of trade paperbacks.) What percentage of the original price would the author expect to pay? Could the author sell the books? Use books as door prizes? Give books to people doing reviews, to people winning contests and other promotional uses? It seems like this would help both the publisher and the author and make it easier to promote the book.

Typically, there is a clause in your contract with a publisher stating that you can buy copies of your own book at a discount of 40 or 50%. You can do this at any time, from day one.

There is no standard clause for buying returned copies. It can be complicated. Some publishers may choose to destroy returns--it might be cheaper. In other cases, publishers may want to keep them on hand and see if they sell down the road. You may get most of your books returned, but then sell them all (and go back to press) a year later. So I don't see publishers rushing to sell these at an even deeper discount.

That said, you can indeed buy books at a very deep discount if they are REMAINDERED by the publisher. Sometimes, thousands of them, for as little as $1 or $2 a book. Once you own them, you can do anything you wish with them.

How to land a job in publishing?

Hello. My question is about getting your foot in the door of the publishing industry without a college degree. I left college after a year to travel & after completing two novels while living in Australia, I decided I didn't want to go back to school. I consider myself very knowledgable about writing, publishing, & the industry. While considering both the traditional publishing, and self-publishing route for my novels, I spent years doing extensive research. In addition, I'm extremely passionate about all things literary & I would love to be surrounded by it all on the daily basis. I've applied to everything from internships to secretary positions at agencies & publishing houses, but I quickly learned that not having a degree makes it wayyy harder.

My question is, is it impossible? I don't mind difficult, as I'm extremely determined. I just want to learn more about the industry I plan to make a living in & be able to submerge myself in something that I love SO much. I have the skills & I know I'm completely capable of handling whatever is thrown at me, all I need is for someone to give me a chance to prove myself. But what are the chances of that happening without a formal education?

Thank you for your question.

Usually, the best way to land a job in publishing is to do an internship--or several of them, if need be. It is not always easy. When I was starting out, I'd already had 3 summer-long internships at great publishers, and even then, it took me many months of interviewing (and rejections) to land an assistant job.

It is hard for me to answer about whether not having a B.A. would prevent your landing an internship. On the one hand, it is true that most other interns will have a B.A. or equivalent--but that said, I don't see why not having one should make it impossible. I would imagine that if you tried hard enough and long enough, you should encounter at least one person smart enough to take you on for an internship, especially if you are so determined and passionate.

In your case, since you are serious about your writing, another possibility is that if you, as an author, land an agent or publisher and establish a good relationship with your agent/editor, then possibly they might be more open to hiring you as well. It can't hurt to try everything.

No matter what, if it's your dream, don't give up, and somehow the door will open.

Novel length

Mr. Lukeman, I've been reading your blog for over a year and have learned a college degrees worth. What I appreciate most is your willingness to give examples of the principles discussed in your free e-book How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. You must get frustrated repeating that which is free for the reading but for this middle aged writer...the duplication is greatly appreciated. I do find it sad though that authors may end up writing shorter and shorter novels not because the content is best covered that way but because so few people have the attention span to finish an average sized book. on How long is a novel?

Thank you for your post, and I am glad this blog has been helpful.

While your comment is not a question, I will address your point on novel length. Yes, I agree that there is something sad about our society's inevitable drift towards a shorter attention span, towards sound bytes and text messages and 140 character means of communication. That said, keep in mind that there have always been successful short novels, all throughout history, and that numerous long novels are still being published today, every year, and some doing quite well. I think the longer novel will always survive--indeed, one can argue that readers may end up turning to books precisely for that longer hit that other forms of media won't give them. As a writer, I would not advise setting out by paying attention to length; just focus on writing a great novel, and that is all that matters, whether it ends up at 120 pages or 1,020.

To use italics?

Hello, Mr. Lukeman,
Thank you so much for "The First Five Pages".
I have a question regarding italics, and I feel that I really cannot continue editing until I know more.
My novel is a historical fantasy with elements of time travel and telepathic communication. There are conversations between characters that occur both telepathically and vocally. There are also many POV portions that focus on characters' thoughts. In both situations, I use italics extensively; in the dialogue, especially, this is an issue, as there are places where the only way that the reader can discern telepathic from vocal communication is font change (italics).

Removing the italics is possible, but it will make much of the text difficult to understand, and when I change things in POV from italics to regular font, it will change the tone entirely.

For example, the very first sentences (which use italics in this way, although I cannot use italics on the blog post and have indicated them by asterisks before and after):

"*Bloody good time for Angela to die*, Daniel thought as he navigated his rented Mercedes out of the crowded airport parking lot. The sedan had been Arwein’s single concession to Daniel’s comfort after they had gotten the call. The cream-colored leather driver’s seat smelled of cheap polish, somewhat diminishing the effect Daniel sought as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Glancing with annoyance at something flickering in his vision, Daniel noted a ridiculous pine-tree air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, which he promptly yanked down.

*Stupid thing.*"

I could change it so that it reads: 
'Daniel thought sarcastically that it was a bloody good time for Angela to die. He navigated his...'
'Daniel considered the poor timing of Angela's death as he navigated....'

But that really changes the flavor of the text such that the reader is a bit more removed from Daniel's thought processes... and Daniel's thought processes form the backbone of the book. And what to do about "stupid thing" eludes me entirely.

And then, for the telepathy, consider:
“My Lady, this is a most gracious offer, but I must decline. I have been given a charge, and I must submit; I cannot well protect Her Grace from halfway down the hall, though I am certain that I would be well-fed and well-attended. Please extend my thanks to His Grace.” *I can protect you both here; I can keep Thomas in his place. Leave me.*

In this passage, Daniel is injecting subconscious thoughts into Catherine's mind. How to do that without saying something awkward and clunky like, '...Leave me, Daniel projected' for every instance will make the text unwieldy, especially if I have to do it in paragraph after paragraph.

And then for dialogue (this example comes from the second book, which I am currently writing):
'“Lie down, Daniel,” Arwein said, rather more gruffly than he intended. Stepping to the boy’s bedside, he pressed Daniel back into the mattress.
“What are you doing?”
“Staying with you for a few days, while you get better.” Arwein arranged his documents neatly before turning back to Daniel. *“Would you like to practice?”*
Daniel looked a bit startled, but responded after a few moments, *“With you?”*
Arwein felt a sharp pang of regret at the boy’s surprise. *Ah, what a mistake it was to let this go*, Arwein thought. “*Yes, Daniel; with me.”'*

I really am at a loss about what to do. The first book is over 400 pages; the second is at 250 and is about 2/3 done. Obviously, it doesn't matter at all what the content is if nobody reads it, but... the content will be drastically changed by removing the italics.

Please, I could really use your input. And (she chuckled ruefully), if you should see in the above that there are significantly greater issues than italicizing, don't hold back.

Thank you again. I know you are tremendously busy, but... I really want to get this right.

Take care;
Julie Hoover


Thank you for your question.

The mission of this blog is to answer general questions about writing and publishing, not to address specific editing and revision issues. Thus I will not be able to comment on your piece of writing.

That said, to answer your general question about the use of italics: there is no absolute right or wrong. It is not a science. However, personally, I always prefer to err on the side of caution: if you fear you may be overusing italics, you probably are. In most cases (not all) I find that a heavy use  of italics tends to be distracting. The main point here--and this applies to many aspects of writing, not just italics--is that you never want to yank a reader out of a text, to call attention to your writing, to do anything that might make her have to re-read for clarity and/or put down a book. Your goal as a writer is to make your writing invisible, to allow the reader to settle into a read, deeper and deeper, so they never want to put a book down. If you are using some device that may counteract that effect, then I'd err on the side of caution and do away with it.

Negative reviews

I noticed another literary agent knocking your book, The First Five Pages, which has always been inspirational to me and got me multiple publishing contracts and several good book deals. I thought I would let you know because much of the blog post by this literary agent is taken out of context. Here's a link where you can read it for yourself.

Thank you for pointing this out, and I appreciate your support and am glad to hear the book has been so helpful to you.

While this is not a question, it is good to know for writers: once you are published, your book may find much praise and, no matter how good or helpful it is, it may also meet much criticism. It is a perpetual lesson for us writers to steel ourselves, daily, from criticism, and to stay focused on our work. In some cases, criticism will be warranted, and we can learn from it. In other cases, such as this, where the critic takes something out of context and clearly has not even bothered to read the book, it will be unwarranted criticism--which, in my view, does not even merit a response. Better to focus on replying to the people who actually take time to read a book and who have something intelligent to say (positive or negative), than those who are too lazy to do so and have nothing intelligent to add.

And best of all just to stay focused on your work, and to focus on the people who appreciate your work, and to keep writing every day, no matter what. There will always be people who try to keep you down--don't let them! As James Patterson said: "There are thousands of people who don't like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do."