Chatting with an Agent

I won’t go into details about how this came about but yesterday I chatted with an agent about writing, what is expected in the industry and what an unpublished author should be aware of.

The agent was Brian Cook, a well known figure in the Australian publishing world.

Word count has always been an issue for me and I wanted to “know” what was really expected in the industry. He said that a lot of people say a story takes as many pages as a story takes, but if you’re an unpublished author then this is not really the case. For unpublished authors the rules change, and economics come into affect instead. Publishers won’t invest a lot of money into an unknown so an unpublished author should tell their story in 80,000 to 100,000 words. 80,000 to 90,000 for young adult (age 12 to 15) manuscripts and 80,000 to 100,000 for adult (age 16 and over) manuscripts. He said for each 1,000 words you go over the 100,000 words you lessen your chances of getting published. The publisher might stretch to 120,000 words but your story “better be bloody good”.

The ages for young adult and adult was a surprise to me. I told him that I was aiming for 16 and 17 year olds and had been saying that was the young adult market. He told me I was wrong and that I was an adult writer if I wrote for that age. This was a shock.

Also, at this stage I must mention that word count is NOT based on what Word or OpenOffice tells you you’ve written. It is based on the proper way to work out word count. See this previous post for how this is done.

Anyway, once you’ve been published the rules change and you have a higher limit to play with – especially in the fantasy and SF genres.

He went on to say that every single word must have punch, must have a reason. If there isn’t a reason, delete it.

I asked him how an unpublished author should handle trilogies in their proposal. He said that it’s unlikely that the publisher would contract all three books up front. Most of the time they contract the first two books with the third book as an option. Sometimes they will only contract the first book and wait and see how things go.

However, the publisher doesn’t want to risk investing in a new author unless they know there are more books in the planning stages. I told him that in my trilogy all three books are stand alone, although there is a thread that will link them. I asked if I should mention this when submitting my manuscript.

He said that I definitely should because it shows that I have plans for future writing but it means the publisher doesn’t have to contract more than one book, which will go in my favour. Any trilogy where the reader has to read all three books to reach a satisfactory conclusion will be difficult to place (unless you are already published).

Then we went on to talk about our CV and what should be included on there. He said anything that shows you are an active writer should be noted (even if you haven’t been paid). However, he said to be careful about which internet publications you note down. Naturally, high profile ezines should be mentioned but if you only submit to a shabby ezine that has no credability then don’t mention it (this is commen sense, of course).

Actually, most of what was said is common sense, and all is subject to an exception if you have a fabulously great manuscript, but none of us know if we fall into that category (we’d like to believe we do, but do we really).

If you are unpublished, and you’re writing an epic, maybe you should think about starting another story which is shorter and can be your first novel. Get a name for yourself before you try to sell something that the publishers won’t want – not because you can’t write, but because they don’t want to take a chance on you.

This was my chat with an agent. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.

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