Ask the Agent: Options For Novellas and More Advice on Query Etiquette
Navigating the rough terrain of today’s publishing industry shouldn’t be a solo event. This week in Ask the Agent, I’ll explore and dissect two of the industry’s mysteries, straight from the shoulder.
Question from Courtney
What types of options are there for novellas within the traditional publishing industry? Would I be better off going with self-publishing or should I send out some feelers first -- and to whom? Agents within my genre, or are there novella-specific agents I should research?
I’m really glad that you asked this particular question this particular week because the timing couldn’t have been better. A few weeks ago, the launch of HarperTeen Impulse, an imprint focusing on Young Adult short stories and novellas was announced. It’s a digital imprint and started releasing books last week. You can read more about it here.
While I truly believe we will start to see this pop up throughout various traditional publishers and imprints, landing an agent based exclusively on your novella is going to be very difficult. It’s more the type of thing you would do after you already have an agent and want them to pitch your novella. Many agents won’t look at novellas for representation because there are just not enough places to pitch them.
There are some smaller indie publishers that have novella lines such as Entangled. These places often do not require agents. You don’t have to jump to self-publishing, try an indie press.
If your goal is to write novellas, start small with indie presses, perhaps self-publishing, and build a name for yourself as a novella author. If you only have a few novellas and your ultimate goal is to write novels and obtain an agent, perhaps pitch your novella to indie presses as you work on the novel that is going to land you an agent.
Pro tip: You can always try querying agents with your novella pitch. Seek out agents who represent your novella’s genre and query. But PLEASE use full disclosure that it’s a novella. Don’t purposefully leave out the word count in hopes they will request thinking it’s a novel.
Question from Becka
I have several manuscripts in the midst of rewrites and editing. My question is: when is the right time during this process to query an agent? Do manuscripts have to be finished, or can you query an agent while you are still working on a manuscript?
I’ve responded to a question much like this in a previous Ask The Agent, but given that I am still asked this question quite frequently—I wanted to touch on it again. So I brought in two agent friends to reiterate:
The lovely Molly Hawn of The Bent Agency says:
Not only does your manuscript need to be finished, it needs to be revised, critiqued, revised, mulled over, and absolutely one hundred percent DONE before you even think about querying. If you’re still tinkering with that one awkward sentence, or you’re dithering about a plot point, or you haven’t definitely decided what to name your character’s dog – you’re not done. Your manuscript needs to be the very best book it can be before it's ready to face the world.
If you’re not part of a writing group, seek out other writers in your genre to be your critique partners. There are plenty of Internet venues for aspiring writers – a few of my clients swear by AbsoluteWrite.com, for example, while others are active SCBWI members. Don’t rely on your friends and family for opinions; they’re never totally honest, and only rarely do they have any expertise (or even interest) in the genre or age group for which you’re writing. An agent should never be the first person to read your manuscript… and trust me, we can usually tell when we are.
Once you’ve digested feedback from your critique partners and finished your final round of edits to your manuscript, put it away. If you can let it sit undisturbed for a few days and then say truthfully that you don’t feel there’s anything more you can do to refine it, then go ahead: start sending queries to the agents you’ve carefully researched. But if you begin querying any sooner, you're doing your work a disservice.
The dashing Gordon Warnock of Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management adds to that:
On that rare occasion in which the stars have aligned and pigs have taken flight, I've requested [a manuscript] the minute a query has come in. If you send me something incomplete, I'll assume that you can't follow directions. If you take time after I request to complete the manuscript before you send it, I'll assume that you don't work in a timely manner. And if you send in an early draft, I'll assume that you're a bad writer.
Pro tip: I’m very certain that all literary agents would have to agree.
Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor
Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 13 of Ask the Agent. Issue 13 answers will be posted Wednesday, December 26th.
To leave a comment