This is Part IV of Book Country’s Ask an Agent Blog Series! Literary agent David Fugate of LaunchBooks answers questions about representing self-published authors and what he looks for in a writer. Check out Part I, Part II, and Part III of Ask an Agent.
1. Assuming the query letter generates your interest and the writing is strong enough in the chapters you see (and yes, that’s a big assumption), what kind of things do you look for in the writer’s personality? Or is the writer somewhat irrelevant when it comes to closing the deal with the publisher? – Steve Yudewitz
The writer is never irrelevant in any circumstance. I think any agent will always look first at the work, as if it’s not there on the page there’s not much an agent can do. Beyond that, I look for authors who I feel a strong connection to, as for me the relationship I have with my authors is a very personal one. I intentionally don’t have an assistant or use interns, and so every interaction with each author I represent is directly with me. I answer the phone, write the checks, negotiate the contracts and read the royalty statements, and I talk with my authors every step along the way so it’s important to have a great feel for working together.
When it comes to publishers, there’s a significant difference between fiction and nonfiction. With fiction, great writing is enough to carry the day, though it of course helps to have a strong track record in terms of sales. However, in nonfiction an author’s platform becomes a critical factor. Whether that’s through a successful blog, Twitter feed, website, Instagram feed, or whether it’s from more traditional sources like writing for a major magazine or teaching at a top university, that’s something every editor now looks for on the nonfiction side. Beyond that every publisher looks for an author who’s committed, and who has the proven ability, to get out and market their book effectively, but it’s not so much about personality. That’s something that comes out further along in the relationship.
2. What do you think about including prologues in submissions?- Lucy
I don’t have a particular opinion about prologues, but I do always suggest that authors include a sample of their writing along with their query. Usually I’d recommend including the first 30 or 40 pages or so, wherever a natural break falls in there. I know some agents advise otherwise, but whenever I receive a pitch that I’m on the fence about, if there’s a sample attached I’ll dig in and start reading it. If there’s not, I’ll usually pass and I suspect many agents are the same way, just because of the number of queries that come in and the time it takes to consider them.
3. What advice would you give for writers of sci-fi and fantasy?- Janet
It seems there are as many ways to succeed in sf and fantasy as there are personalities of people who love the genres, so it’s difficult to generalize. One bit of advice I’d give authors in this space is to read deeply in whatever area of sf and fantasy you’re writing into. I know some writers are concerned about being influenced by other authors’ work, but in a space like sf and fantasy it’s critical to produce something original from a conceptual and content point of view, and sometimes the only way you can do that is to know what other authors are already doing.
Aside from that, write what you love. Failing that, write that you can’t not write. The great thing about publishing today is that no effort is wasted effort when it comes to writing. If agents or publishers won’t go for a project (or if you don’t even want to try that route), it’s no longer a question of if your work will be published, but how. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.
4. Would agents be typically open to self-published works, or perhaps, an author who is interested in hybrid publishing? – Jaycee Ford
I can’t speak for all agents, but for me the answer is an unqualified yes! I believe now is the best time in the entire history of the written word to be a writer and self-publishing is the reason why. Authors now have more opportunities to connect with an audience and more ways to make that connection than have ever existed. Today bestselling books come everywhere from book length self-published works, to 144 character Twitter feeds, from blogs to Tumblr feeds and just about everything in between. The only question is whether an audience loves the author’s work and my job as an agent is to help my authors navigate all those possibilities as successfully as possible.
Many of my most successful authors either started out self-publishing, or still self-publish certain kinds of projects. For instance, Chris Guillebeau, the New York Times bestselling author of THE $100 STARTUP publishes a big book every 18 months or so. The idea with his traditionally published books is to reach out to as broad an audience as possible, not only in the United States, but internationally, as well. However, in between those big books he also self-publishes a variety of projects, including courses, smaller guides, etc., so that he can interact directly with his audience.
In fact, Chris isn’t just my client. He’s also my publisher. After I spoke at Chris’s internationally recognized conference The World Domination Summit, he suggested that I write a book that could serve as a sort of Publishing 101 course to take new authors from knowing little about publishing to knowing more about it than 99% of humanity. The result was a 55,000 word book that we combined with audio interviews with top editors and book marketing experts, as well as some terrific sample proposals, to create an information product that Chris now publishes as THE UNCONVENTIONAL GUIDE TO PUBLISHING directly through his site (it’s not even available on Amazon).
Another major author I work with is Andy Weir, who wrote the New York Times bestselling novel THE MARTIAN. Andy started out by giving THE MARTIAN away for free on his website. He had given away about 6,000 copies over the space of a year and a half or so and figured that was about how many people there are out there who wanted to read it. After all, you can’t do better than free. Then one day someone asked Andy if he wouldn’t mind putting it up on Amazon so that it could be easily downloaded onto his Kindle. Andy priced it at 99 cents, just because that was the lowest price Kindle would allow. Sales started out slowly, but then shot up, selling 5,000 copies one month, 10,000 the next, and in the month I sold the book to Random House and the film rights to 20th Century Fox, it sold an incredible 20,000 copies.
Crown’s edition of the book came out earlier this year and spent eight weeks on the New York Times fiction list. It’s also being translated into more than 25 languages, has sold well over 100,000 copies, and Matt Damon is slated to star as the lead in the film version, while Ridley Scott is attached to direct. And all those amazing things started with a self-published book that readers loved.
I represent a host of authors with similar kinds of stories, from D.J. Molles’ originally self-published series THE REMAINING, which we sold to Orbit, Peter Clines’ terrific Ex-Heroes series, which was originally published by Permuted Press, but which we ended up licensing to Crown, and many others.
About David Fugate
David is the founder of LaunchBooks Literary Agency. David has successfully represented more than 1,000 books to over 40 different publishers and has generated more than $16 million for authors. Follow him on Twitter!