New Girl on the Book(s)

An Internship Experience in a Literary Agency

Category: General

The Art of Letter Writing

It’s been two weeks since I posted last, but I definitely have kept busy in that time. Filled with letters both written and received, this is what I have been up to the last two weeks:

Pitch Letters:

Up until now, I’ve written only editorial letters. But, I got to write my first pitch letter this past week! After the manuscript is finished, the pitch letter is the next step in the process. The agent writes this 1-page letter to a publishing house that would be a good fit for the author and his or her book. Including marketing information for the book and author, the pitch letter serves to get an editor excited about the book. When writing the letter, there are a few things that you want to make sure you cover/watch out for:

  • Overselling- It’s easy to be excited about an author’s book, but it will also be easy for editors to tell whenever you’re trying too hard to sell it. Staying true to the manuscript and pointing out what truthfully stands out as the book’s strength will win an editor over more than over-glorifying it.
  • Comparisons- For editors to get a general idea about the book in terms of genre, audience, and voice, comparisons are key! However, comparisons should always be with bestselling books, because these are the ones that everyone knows and placing a book in the realm of popularity is best. Also, don’t compare a fiction book to a non-fiction book, and vice versa; this comparison just doesn’t work and will leave the editor scratching his or her head.
  • Fiction vs. Non-fiction- You have to pitch these two genres differently. With fiction, you want the pitch to interest the editor so much that she puts down what she is working on and picks up the book that very moment. One way you can do this is by pointing out what makes the book special compared to others (which is where comparisons come in handy). On the other hand, a non-fiction pitch should focus on the platform. You have to sell both the book AND the author. Do they have a social platform (i.e. a blog, website, or social media presence)? If so, make sure you include that information, too. With non-fiction, also focus on the target audience as much as you do the author and book topic.

Client Press Kits:

I’ve also been working on the client press kits with the rest of my team. Press kits, or publicity packages, essentially serve as a marketing tool for Paige when selling the subsidiary rights (such as the film, foreign, audio, and digital rights) to the author’s work. The kits include a few basic details about the author:

  • A biography
  • Author’s website, social media accounts, etc.
  • Most recent and notable works
  • Press clips, such as book reviews, of the most recent and notable works
  • Awards received
  • Bestseller lists a work has hit
  • Sub rights that are already licensed to a work
  • A listing of all other works, including series
  • Organizations the author belongs to

Compiling and updating these kits wasn’t too difficult once we found the information. The tricky part was researching and finding all of the details to put together. With a little team work (also dividing and conquering) we got them all completed and ready for use!


Query Letter Team:

This past week, Paige and Ana-Marie decided to form query letter teams within our already established reading groups in order to sort through the endless amount of unsolicited submission letters in the office. They asked for volunteers to read through the queries and make a decision on whether Paige should request the first three chapters or not. While reading through the submissions, I found myself torn a lot of times. Similar to when writing the reader reports, I wanted to say yes to every idea.  Unfortunately, that’s not realistic though and I had to rely on a few criteria that helped me make a decision. Here are a few things that have helped me in the deciding process (some that I found on CMA’s website here!):

  • Is the idea new and fresh? Would you want to buy this book in a store?  Sure, the concept of a book may sound interesting and exciting, but if it is the exact same as every other book on the shelf, then it will not make a reader buy it over any of the others. The book should have some unique feature, whether it be a fresh voice, independent and strong main character, or a compelling story line. Whatever it may be, there should be some aspect that makes it marketable.
  • Fiction or nonfiction? What is the genre? Manuscript length? This one goes back to one of my previous posts when I talked about the word counts for the different genres. For example, if the author proposes a Young Adult book that he advertises to be 100,000 words, you know that it’s too long and will probably take a lot of work and time to trim down and streamline. And in most cases, it will take more time and funds than what it will be worth.
  • How compelling is the proposal? Does the author have a sense of what he/she is writing? If the author describes his or her book and wins you over with the characters, plot, or general concept, then it will likely be easy to sell to an editor. Even though the author may seem excited and have what seems like a clear and developed plot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the reader will have a good understanding of the plot. If the author knows what direction he or she is going with the story, then the reader will, too.
  • Does the proposal letter flow and make sense?  The query letter is the vital step in kick-starting the publishing process for an author. So, the letter should be neat, polished, and clear. Not only will an agent get a sense of the book from the letter, he or she will get a sample of an author’s writing style. So, if the letter doesn’t flow or make sense, the manuscript likely won’t either.
  • How experienced is the author? Does he/she have an interesting biography or credentials?  An author with writing  experience or a fascinating biography will simply be more appealing to an agent and editor. The more professional or serious writing experience under your belt the better!

With all of the letters in my week, for the first time I am finding myself saying I’m glad old-fashioned snail mail is a thing of the past. (Could you imagine how much more time and resources it would take for this all?) That’s all I have for now! Until next time at least!

Let’s Get Down to Business

Since I’ve now got the hang of the processes for all of my tasks, this week was a lot more relaxed and less jam-packed. We still got our normal tasks of manuscripts, contact assignments, and updating client press kits, but this time around, I knew the drill. Now, let’s talk business.

This week, I had my first day as an in-office intern! Throughout the summer, I will be going into the office once a week to experience more of the business side of publishing. This past Wednesday, I did a few office task, such as filing royalty statements, organizing the filing cabinets, and making lists of clients in the cabinets to make it easier to access. So, no stereotypical coffee runs for this intern (possibly because we have a Keurig in house)! It’s all business while we’re there.

However, since I got to see in-person a little bit of what Paige and Ana-Maria do on a daily basis (believe me, I’m sure I only see a slight glimpse of what ALL they do), I thought it would be good to fully clarify something I mentioned last time: What exactly is the role of a literary agent?

It is defined by dictionary.com as “a person who manages the business affairs of an author.” But, an agent is so much more than that. 

A literary agent in the basic sense is the same as an agent for an actor or actress, except instead for books. He or she is essentially the middle-man between the author and the publishing house. After a writer finishes a manuscript, the literary agent is the first step moving forward in the process. Authors propose their raw manuscripts to agents in the form of query letters and decide to either enthusiastically pursue the book or respectfully decline the query. From there, an agent will make suggestions about an author’s book to refine it before proposing it to editors.

PublishingProcessLitAgent

This is the step in the process the agent comes in.

An agent also serves as a cheerleader and promoter for an author’s book. He or she has to be excited and attempt to sell the book to editors from varying different publishing houses and get them to take it on as a project. Once the literary agent finds an editor that is perfect for the manuscript, he or she will negotiate the contract and work on promoting the book to get it circulating.

So, you would think that a literary agent sits at a desk and reads submitted manuscripts all day long, right? Well, in actuality, an agent’s typical workday consists of administrative business and responsibilities. Only after these tasks are finished does an agent sit down to go through the piles of submissions.

An agent wears many hats, but possibly (in my opinion) the most important hat that a literary agent will wear is in building the personal relationship with an author. (More on the agent-author relationship later!)

For a more detailed idea of the steps it takes to get from a raw manuscript to a published book, check out Paige’s full guide: The Publishing Process. On the CMA website, there are also several other resources from interviews Paige has done, authors represented in the news, and just general information about the industry.

We have our second conference call for Intern Academy this week, so more on that next time!

Welcome to Publishing!

It’s been a whirlwind of a week! My first week working as an intern for CMA proved to be packed full of all things new and exciting about the world of publishing. I won’t be able to go into full detail about everything this week, but I promise you’ll hear about it all eventually! So, here is the overview of what my week consisted of:

Teams:

There are a total of 18 interns this summer and at the beginning of the week, Ana-Maria, the office manager, split us up into 7 teams with different responsibilities: Film Rights, Social Media, Contacts, Publicity, Foreign/Audio, eBooks, Client Press Kits.

The purpose of teams is to give an insight into the world of publishing in all areas, not just from the perspective of a literary agency. We will be working in more than just one of the teams, with most people working in 3. I am on the Contacts, eBooks, and Client Press Kits team (more about these to come later on).

This week, my work mostly consisted of contacts. Part of our task was to research potential contacts to other editors and publishers for Paige. Using several websites, like publishersmarketplace.com, we researched information on the individuals, such as contact information and genres of interest.

Manuscripts:

So, far I have read around 7 or 8 manuscripts. Mostly I have just been reading short submissions of the first three chapters and writing short reader’s reports for Paige. Again, since there are so many interns, we were split into different two different reading teams based on our preferences: Mystery/Thriller and Women’s Fiction/Romance. I am on the Women’s Fiction/Romance team.

We are only required to read those manuscripts that fall into our reading genre, but we have the option of reading those in the other genres as well.

Intern Academy:

We had our first of many conference calls of the summer this week. The topic of this call was “Introduction to Book Publishing- Proposals & Query Letters.” Paige began the call by telling just a little bit about her story and how she made the journey that ended in her founding CMA. She then talked about many aspects of how the internship is structured, the basics of publishing, the role of a literary agent, and lastly, proposals and query letters, or in other words, the beginning process of publishing.


Between reading manuscripts, researching, and digging deeper into all of the websites for publishing houses, I am slowly beginning to become familiar with many parts of the industry. Here are a few things I have learned so far this week:

  • Publishing House vs. Imprint- Two terms I quickly had to learn the difference between were “publishing house” and “imprint.” Everyone is probably familiar with a publishing house. But, did you know that a single publishing house can have multiple “imprints,” or trade names, that it publishes under? A publishing house could have multiple imprints in order to target a specific audience. Typically, imprints publish certain genres of books, which is why having multiple imprints within a single company is good. With a specific genre or type of book associated with a name, it reaches a certain demographic.
  • Do I really want to read this multiple times?- As I expected, at first I wanted to be enthusiastic and say yes in my report for every manuscript that came my way. But, this wasn’t realistic. Unfortunately, every manuscript is not meant to be turned into a book. Paige gave a very good piece of advice during our conference call that I thought about each time I began reading a submission afterwards: “Do I really want to read this multiple times?” If yes, then that’s a good indication that the manuscript would be a good project to take on. If no, then it’s a safe bet that although it may be well-written and a good plot, it is nothing unique or new to the industry.
  • Word Count– Believe it or not, each genre actually has an intended word count that most books follow. Here are the typical word counts that Paige provided us with to use as we continue reading manuscripts:
    • Most fiction – General, commercial fiction: 90,000-100,000, possibly a little more or less.
    • Literary fiction – 60,000 – 80,000, unless it’s historical.
    • Romances- Varies. If they are historical, they can be 90,000-110,000. If they are contemporary they can be 80,000 – 105,000. If they are series (harlequin) they have their own set of standards depending on the line (desire, super, temptation, etc).
    • Mysteries and thrillers- Varies. Cozy mysteries run around 60,000 – 80,000. Bigger mysteries are closer to 85,000 – 105,000. Juicy thrillers come in around 90,000 – 105,000.
    • Sci Fi and Fantasy- Generally longer at around 90,000 – 150,000.
    • Young Adult- Typically shorter around 50,000-70,000.
    • Nonfiction- Varies, but generally around 60,000 – 90,000.

These are just a few of the many things I learned this week. Next week should be filled with even more exciting things! Plus, I get to start my first day as an in-office intern! So, there will be more about that coming soon!