Ask an Agent: Ryan D. Harbage Answers Your Questions!

Posted by July 22nd, 2014

Book Country Ask an AgentWelcome to Part III of Book Country’s “Ask an Agent” blog series! Literary agent Ryan D. Harbage of The Fischer-Harbage Agency answers your questions about re-querying agents, social media, and what to submit to agents. Read Part I and Part II of “Ask an Agent.”

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1. In today’s market authors are very involved with promoting their work via Twitter and Facebook. When looking over a query, do agents look at the author too and evaluate their networks? Does this have any weight?- Danielle Bowers

When it comes to nonfiction, one’s platform is a big deal. Social media is less impressive to me than an established following in traditional media—print, radio, television and/or film. And authority and expertise are even more important, most of the time. Twitter and Facebook followers usually don’t impress publishers unless the writer has a celebrity-level, or near-celebrity-level following. I encourage my clients to spend more time writing than promoting. The work is always the most important thing.

2. I had done a couple of rounds of querying agents a couple of years ago. I admit, the books (I wrote a science fiction trilogy; I’m not a published fiction author) weren’t really ready for prime time then. I’ve been doing a lot of rewriting and revising and just good ol’ fashioned editing and am wondering if it’s okay to re-query agents I had approached in the past. – Angela Martello

Yes! Asking someone to read a query letter is offering them an opportunity. And good agents like good opportunities. It’s impossible to know who remembers what, and you might find that someone remembers your work. Often agents suggest that a writer try them again, but usually after reading a manuscript or proposal that’s not quite ready.

3. I’ve self-published three novels, going back to 2008, and my books have been a Spur winner and a Spur finalist. I realize that an agent’s job is changing and everyone has a different approach. But I’d still like to ask: What can an agent do for a self-published author that I can’t do for myself?- CarolBMT

First, congratulations on your accomplishments. Increasingly, major publishers are in the bestseller business. So agents are, too. It’s our job to give them what they are looking for. But there are still publishers and agents who know that there are two kinds of huge hits—instant hits, and slow-build hits. Sometimes it takes a few books to grow an author into a bestselling franchise. It used to take more than a few, but publishers rarely have the patience for that anymore. A good agent helps a writer maximize their strengths, helps acknowledge and grow their assets. A good agent also helps build a good author-publisher team, or better yet, a good author-editor-publicist-foreign agent-film agent-speaking agent-business manager team. If a writer can accomplish their goals without an agent, great. If a writer wants a colleague to work with, there are several hundred agents looking for clients. Obviously agents work on commission.

4.  Some of the best, catchiest writing in my book is a bit of an amble in–the kind of thing that could be broken out and submitted around as a short story, but does not work as an opening chapter. When querying an agent, is it ever okay to submit work that is not from the first three chapters/first fifty pages? If this is ever okay, is it smart to highlight what you’ve done? – ocapmycap

The smartest thing to do is to write wonderful first pages. The first page needs to be amazing. The first five pages need to be great. Most of the time it’s better to submit the opening pages than an excerpt, because that way you can create a page-turner, can’t put it down feeling in the agent. That’s how you hook one. It’s increasingly difficult to hold someone if you don’t grab them on page one—that’s true of agents, editors and most importantly readers.

5. I  have an eBook about to be published in the UK. It is historical fiction, romance and sci-fi. It contains graphic pictures and something like footnotes, since terms in the story won’t likely appear in a dictionary provided by the eReader. My publisher doesn’t or won’t give me much say in the final production. How do authors acquire some leverage in this respect? Anyone with foresight can see that eBooks will dominate the future of literature, but so far the vendors have too much say in how a property is sold and displayed. I’ve seen eBooks that are horribly formatted. I want mine to be easy to read for the most number of readers. – J.O.Quataman

As an agent, it’s my job to send my clients’s work only to publishers who work well with their authors. So I do my best to only submit to publishers who value an author’s input and direction, that way we can prevent problems like the one you’re describing rather than be forced to fix them. And the best publishers generally hear, value and use an author’s direction in every way, from the editing to the interior design to the art to the promotion. If I were in your shoes, first I would also ask myself if the publisher might be right, if they are doing the book, and the reader, a favor by doing things that I don’t agree with. If they are just cutting corners, or making mistakes that don’t serve the book and the reader, then I would do my best to succinctly and diplomatically explain to them how to sell the most copies of the book, i.e., to format it in the most user friendly way. If you’re trying to sell books, the reader is the most important person in the equation. So in short, logic is the best leverage. If that fails, selling a high number of copies is the best leverage. Like everything else, one usually has to work their way up.

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About Ryan D. Harbage

Ryan founded The Fischer-Harbage Agency in 2007.  He has placed books for seven #1 New York Times bestselling authors. 

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