Welcome to Part I of Book Country’s “Ask an Agent” blog series! Literary agent Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency answered some of your questions that were posted on our discussion board and on Twitter. We hope you find her answers just as insightful as we did! Feel free to post any questions you would like to ask an agent on our discussion board, Book Country “Ask an Agent” Blog Series.
1. I have read that agents are far too busy to pick through the offerings on these sites (Book Country), yet several people here have announced that an agent contacted them after reading them on here. Which situation is closer to reality? – Mimi Speike
With agents, there is no single “reality”—we all have different strategies for finding our clients. Some agents keep a laser-like focus on the Amazon self-published books, a group that seems to grow exponentially by the day! Others troll obscure literary magazines, reaching out to writers who have piqued their interest with a short piece: is there a novel in progress? Still others are “far too busy” for anything but referrals, in which case you don’t have a hope of reaching them without a connection. In short, it all depends on the agent and their personal method of finding talent.
Sites like Book Country allow us to read portions of your actual work, which can reveal so much more than most query letters, and doesn’t leave us with an obligation to respond, which is probably why it often seems like we aren’t checking in. All I can say is that there are more benefits to Book Country than agent-fishing, but agent-fishing is a lovely side-effect of joining a community where agents have access to your work.
2. Do agents who represent historical fiction also represent historical adventure fiction? From what I’ve seen from agents who represent historical fiction, it’s mostly romances and dramas. Most of the agents I’ve come across who represent historical adventure fiction specifically are only interested if it’s YA. – Ian Nathaniel Cohen
Unfortunately, this isn’t a question that one agent (myself) can answer on other agents’ behalf! We all have unique combinations of taste, and it’s pretty nuanced—no hard and fast rules apply to the agenting community as a whole in terms of what attracts us. When you make your submissions, the best rule of thumb is to determine what components your novel shares with other fiction that is currently in the marketplace. It can and should go beyond genre. For example, if your historical adventure novel features a protagonist that is a sort of vigilante taking the law into his/her own hands, think outside the genre about other protagonists who might be described similarly, and you can include those books in your sense of “comps” as long as you ultimately make it clear that you’re working in a different genre. There are infinite ways to personally solicit an agent, so the more fluidity in your approach to pitching, the broader you can cast your net.
3. Are agents becoming interested in representing non-traditional, that is to say, independent or self-published works? If so, what could an author expect from them? – Robin Gregory
Absolutely. As publishers become increasingly wary about which projects to invest in, a book that can present an argument for a pre-existing audience can be an appealing acquisition. Before e-books, a self-published novel couldn’t present impressive numbers because the author had no means to distribute the print product on that level. But now, the distribution is the easy part, and books that are popping up in the top ten on self-published e-book lists are definitely getting attention.
For agents, the situation is slightly different for self-published works vs. independently published (i.e. small press) works. If a small press has published your novel successfully, an agent can come along for a NEW project and lend you a better negotiation with your small press OR wider submissions to the major publishers if your small press is unable to offer you satisfactory terms. But until you have a project that isn’t under an exclusive contract, an agent can really only be a fan, or sell ancillary rights (translation rights if you retained them, film & TV, paperback if your current contract didn’t include it). For a self-published work it’s fairly easy for an agent to step in at any point because YOU control all rights and can remove the self-published (e-book) at any time in order for a traditional publisher to come on board.
4. Who should I be trying to please when I write? My audience or myself? – Elena Kirby (on Twitter)
It can never be solely one or the other. If you aren’t writing to please yourself, it simply won’t be your best work. But if you disregard the market, you’re risking everything for the sake of stubborn integrity. It MUST be a balance. If your book was your clothing, you could certainly argue that your personal statement is all that matters, but don’t expect a black tie event to welcome you in the neon green Nike sneakers and ripped denim overalls. You have to find and negotiate a balance for yourself—an expression of what you care about that is tempered with the context of a marketplace, a community.
About Lucy Carson:
Lucy Carson graduated from The University of Michigan and promptly joined The Friedrich Agency in early 2008, where she is now a full agent as well as the Director of Sub-Rights for the company. In addition to brokering domestic publishing deals for her own clients, Lucy also oversees all foreign and film business for the agency list. During her five years with The Friedrich Agency, Lucy has worked with such authors as Sue Grafton, Lisa Scottoline, Ruth Ozeki, Terry McMillan, Jane Smiley, and Elizabeth Strout. Her list is focused on fiction and (narrative) non-fiction for both adults and teens. Lucy previously reported on the 2013 Bouchercon convention.