Common Questions Answered
Thanks for all the questions you sent me on Friday’s post! I answered most of them in the comments, so be sure to check that out. But there are a few questions that I seem to get repeatedly, so I’m addressing some of them here.
What is the appropriate length of time to follow up with an agent who requested a full manuscript?
Agents typically take a long time to respond to partials. Two to six months is common. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to follow up after two or three months, but you’re likely to get no response, or just “I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.” Personally, I don’t like to make people wait that long for an answer, but I know I have partials that have been in my stack for longer than that. (See my post on A Day in the Life for an explanation of agent priorities.)
What differentiates YA fiction from adult fiction? Is it all in the age of the protagonist/main characters?
Obviously it’s not in the age of the protagonist, since there have been many adult novels that feature teens or kids as protagonists. (To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, or a more recent one would be The Lovely Bones). You should read widely in both categories so you’ll get a feel for the difference. It’s not always cut and dried, but the themes in women’s fiction will generally be more mature, and the voice, even if it’s a young protagonist, will probably have a maturity and sophistication beyond her years.
As you know, plenty of adults read YA fiction, and plenty of teens read adult fiction. Make a decision based on who you’re writing for. What’s the age of your intended audience? Does your particular story lend itself to a YA or adult reader?
How do I decide the genre for my novel, when it has elements of several genres?
It’s time to be practical: Where will your book sit in the bookstore? It can’t sit in more than one section. So pick a genre. And yes, you can say “mystery with fantasy elements” or “suspense with romantic elements” but that first genre you mention IS your genre.
Having trouble deciding on a genre? Sit down with your critique partners and make a decision based on the overall feel of the book. Also ask yourself which audience would more likely enjoy your book: the typical fantasy reader? Horror reader? Romance reader? Don’t be surprised if later, when working with an agent or editor, they advise you to change it. These genre distinctions can be fluid. You just have to pick one and go with it until somebody tells you differently.
I’m writing fiction, but I’m unpublished, I don’t have a platform, I don’t have an MFA, I haven’t been published in literary journals or won any contests, so I have no idea what to write in that last paragraph of the query where we’re supposed to put our personal information. What do I write?
Don’t stress about it. Write a nice closing sentence, perhaps mentioning that you’re a first-time author, or that you read the agent’s blog or you’ve enjoyed a book they represented, and that you look forward to hearing from them, and leave it at that. First time novelists DO NOT need a platform or previous publishing credits to get plucked out of the slush pile.
Will the fact that I don’t live in the U.S. hurt my chances of getting a U.S. agent and/or publisher?
Many U.S. literary agents take on clients from other countries; some do not. The paperwork between countries, when it comes to money and taxes especially, can be a headache and some agents prefer not to deal with it because there are plenty of U.S.-based writers they can work with. But I believe most agents look at all submissions with the same criteria: Do I like this book? Can I sell it?
With non-fiction, this can be more problematic because of the platform issue. If you’re not going to be available in the U.S. to promote your book (depending on your book’s topic, of course) a publisher may not want to partner with you.
What is considered to be “good blog traffic”? How many hits per week or month?
I get this question quite often, and I’m not sure how to answer. Different kinds of writers need different size platforms. If you’re getting 2000 hits a month that’s a good start, especially if you’re a fiction author. But for a non-fiction author, be aware that there are many blogs getting 50,000 to over a million visits a month. Is that the expectation for your blog? Not necessarily, but you need to be aware that these are the kinds of numbers we sometimes see. Bottom line, just keep doing the best you can. It’s terrific to show agents and editors that you have a start on gathering an audience.
Also, keep in mind what Seth Godin says in Tribes: You don’t need an unlimited number of fans; in fact, all anyone needs is a solid base of 1,000 people to have a successful “Tribe.” Those 1,000 have to be completely committed. They totally believe in you, talk about you and bring other people to your books and websites. You can’t count a one-time blog visitor as part of the Tribe. But Seth seems to think 1,000 is the magic number.
Hope that helps! Any further thoughts?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent