Sunday, February 10, 2008

From the mailbag -- reader questions

Two reader questions were posted to us that I'd like to answer.

#1- Do we help authors revise?

Ah, tricky question, because you and I both know that the wrong answer could encourage many authors to send in something that isn't quite perfect yet!

So on a general note, I will say no- we don't help authors revise. Here's why: A work needs to be in pitchable form for us to take it on. Agents are looking for projects that are market-ready -- ready to be taken out and shopped... and sold!

The situations where we are most likely to become involved with an author's revision are with a nonfiction book proposal. Let's say someone is a renown expert in their field and has a fantastic book idea-- they just don't have the quite right angle to their sample chapter. In that case, we might offer a few tips and help the author shape that up. But again, this only happens if we're overwhelmed by the potential for the project and can clearly see in our minds what needs to be done.

For fiction, it's much harder to revise, not to mention time-consuming. If there's a small polish that needs to be done before a book is sent out, sure, we'll address that with the author, but on the whole, if we think the book needs a good edit, we're more likely to pass, possibly with an offer to revise.

(note: these offers to revise are generally explicit. Authors often ask whether they can resubmit to the same agents they've pitched to- industry wide it's pretty standard that the agent will explicitly leave that door open for you. Short of that invitation, I would only requery them if you've completely overhauled the manuscript, for example with professional assistance.)

I wish I could tell you that agents know everything- what we pride ourselves on is knowing our limits. What we're best at is identifying what will fly in today's fickle marketplace. With the wealth of fantastic freelance editors out there, if a serious edit of your work is needed, there are better places to get that, with individuals who have dedicated their careers to helping you get your book agent-ready.

#2- What is the potential for turning blogs into manuscripts?

The Blog Phenomenon! It came out of nowhere, didn't it? All of a sudden there were blogs, and suddenly all of those bloggers had book deals.

Here's where a blog can be useful in nudging a book deal:

*if it's extremely popular
*if it supports what you're writing (for example, if you're writing a book about the environment and your blog is about green living and is, again, very popular
* if it has branded you
* if it has received media attention

Someone asked whether blog STORIES could be expanded into a full-length book. In the case of essays, I'd have to say unlikely, short of the blog being, again, extremely popular. If you've got tens of thousands of readers, it's entirely possible.

Blogs seem to do best for authors when they are topic-specific and very popular on a nonfiction topic (think crafting, parenting, etc.) Even if you're writing fiction this could be true. Consider: if you have a hugely popular blog about gymnastics and you write a fiction novel about the life of a gymnast, you've done some great marketing for yourself already! (remember to enable your readers to sign up for a feed, so they stay current on what you post and stay involved as readers) Monitor how your stats are doing. If you are growing your readership, it's entirely possible that a book could come of it (as it did for on of the first bloggers-gone-novelist, the Washingtonienne, Jessica Cutler).

As for short stories in blogs then becoming books, here's where it's tough: if you're trying to compile your short stories but the same material is available on the internet, where does that leave your investor (here: publisher)? If you post stories and have gotten a regular readership from it, perhaps there's a market for a *separate* collection from you, fresh stories. But you won't want to give the milk for free, so to speak.

Blogs are a very exciting new medium, and, for authors, it's a way to get that satisfaction of seeing your work in print and sharing it with others -- while building your audience for whatever masterpiece you're working on!

Thanks for the questions- feel free to keep 'em comin!

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