Rx for Writers


"Do I Need an Agent—and How Will I Know If I Do?"

with Sharene Martin

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sharene Martin is a literary agent who represents both children’s books and adult books. Sharene co-founded the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency seven years ago with Robert Brown, with offices in Indiana, and now in California, too. Sharene Martin specializes in picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels, mystery, romance, some commercial chick-lit, gay/lesbian, and a few commercial nonfiction projects. Sharene teaches workshops and consults on manuscripts at conferences throughout North America and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She holds a Master's degree in Language Education from Indiana University, wrote and edited curriculum and educational materials for sixteen years, and is now a very successful literary agent for both adult and children’s writers. Literary Agent Sharene Martin also taught high school and college writing, and co-authored several articles on writing and education.  Most recently, Sharene’s "Fiction Tips for Writers" was published in the May 2005 issue of The Writer Magazine.

Mel is Mel Boring, moderator of this interview with Sharene Martin, and Web Editor of the ICL Web Site.

Green shows names or usernames of people and the questions they asked Sharene Martin.

Interviews are held every other Thursday evening for two hours, beginning at 9 CANADA/ 
Atlantic Time, 8 Eastern Time, 7 Central Time, 6 Mountain Time, and 5 Pacific Time.

Mel: I am so glad Dionna Mann recommended you to us, Sharene Martin! We have had so few literary agents in our ICL Chat Room that it is a great privilege to have you here with us tonight, Sharene. I am fascinated that you are a WRITER as well as an AGENT, and we'll be talking about that this evening. Plus we'll be interested in your writers conference presentations and your consulting of manuscripts at conferences, as well as the workshops you present. At one time or another, all we children's writers come face to face with that important question: Do I need an agent in order to sell my writing? I am very pleased to have you with us tonight, someone who can definitely help us answer that question. WELCOME, Sharene!

Sharene: Hello, Everyone! Thanks, Mel, for inviting me.

Mel: Sharene Martin, were you a children's writer OR a children's writers' agent first?

Sharene: I was a writer first, then an agent. It was a natural progression for me.

Mel: I think I speak for us ALL in saying that it is a great comfort for us writers to know that an agent is ALSO a writer, understands writing because of that. Can you tell us about what you have written—or are writing-for children?

Sharene: I wrote curriculum materials for educational publishers years ago, and when I became an agent my own writing became a low priority. But I still have the urge, so I write magazine articles and I do write picture books, although I have been away from trade writing for a long time except for one project in particular that I work with.

Mel: May I ask about that project, Sharene?

Sharene: Yes, it is a picture book for children in families with two mothers and it has had about three or four contracts on it, but niche markets are tough and it has never made it to publication because of the subject, though I keep it out there. And that is the only project of mine I work with at all, because I know that it will eventually sell...again.

Mel: Do you have favorite children's books to read that you have NOT agented?

Sharene: Yes, and some of them I wish I had agented. For example, I love Mac Side Up by Robert Elsdale. And I am a Sam McBratney fan as well; he wrote Guess How Much I Love You and You’re All My Favorites. Oddly enough, some of my favorites are my clients’ works, and that becomes more so the longer I agent. However, I also like books like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and Corduroy by Don Freeman. I was, too, a Nancy Drew fan, but the writing, is, um...hard to read sometimes.*SMILE*

Mel: Could you tell us about one of your client's books that is a favorite, without showing favoritism? J

Sharene: HA! An agent is supposed to play favorites, but yes, I can try. I really like Thomas Brodeur's Regina Silsby Series (Regina Silsby’s Secret War and Regina Silsby’s Phantom Militia) from JourneyForth (BJU Press). It does have a Christian theme, but he interweaves it beautifully with the American Revolution and gives the reader a sense of how religion played a role in our history. The great dilemma the heroine faces is whether her actions reflect her wants and needs, or God's. And even if you don't like Christian fiction this is a nice, fast-paced read with good characters.

Mel: EXCELLENT summary, Sharene! How did you go from writer to agent—and give us some gory details, please!

Sharene: *SMILE* When we, Robert Brown and I, first started the Wylie-Merrick Agency, we had both been writing and had editor contacts and we both felt like we wanted to do more than write. We wanted to work with other writers. It was kind of the way someone decides to become a matchmaker, because that is what I became. I went from working with my own writing, to expanding, to working with other writers. We discussed and planned at length, although some days we look back and think we must have been a little insane *SMILE* because this business is so complex, and started looking for clients through getting in the market guides and then a year later we created a Web presence which got us out there even more.

Mel: It seems to me—and I have just only now thought of this—that it would be more than TWICE as difficult to agent as it is to write and publish, because you have to receive and then sell someone ELSE'S work, not your own. Do you feel that kind of "double-difficulty" as an agent?

Sharene: Yes, there is extra pressure because it is not just about me anymore. I have clients who depend on me. Before if I screwed anything up it was just me but agenting is a huge, huge responsibility, and I think that is why many agents get out of the business or die of stress-related illnesses. I feel the rejections we get probably more so than our clients. And about contracts—don't ask!

Mel: My writer's hat is OFF to you, because I as a writer have never faced that doubled-up pressure! Here are the first few questions from chatsters, Sharene.

freelancer: I sent a picture book out six months ago. Still no response. Is it normal to take that long for a response?

Sharene: First, did you send it to an agent or publisher?

Mel: Publisher, I believe, Sharene.

Sharene: It truly depends on the publisher and a number of factors. Some publishing houses take a few weeks and some take a year. We as agents try to turn around queries here as quickly as possible, for example. But sometimes it can take three to six months instead of a week, depending on what is going on at the time and how much time we have to dedicate to looking at new material. It is the same for publishers.

Mel: So an agent MIGHT have, at any particular time, to spend a LARGE block of time working with manuscripts they've already taken on?

Sharene: Oh yes, that is their priority, our clients come first. So queries might have to wait. But then there are times when all manuscripts are placed and we are in a waiting mode for a majority of our clients. Then we can look at queries again.

Mel: And I think you've WISELY said it's the same with publishers; at any unpredictable time, they may have to spend ALL their time on the production of manuscripts they've already purchased.

Sharene: Yes, you are absolutely right, there are busy times of the year, which can be different for different publishers. And down times, too.

g_logger: Welcome, Sharene, and thank you for being our guest. I have more of a problem than a question. I have a story ready to be sent to Scholastic. It has been edited and checked by a published author, but now I can't or won't send it in out of my fears of rejection by them. I don't really know the next step in doing the cover letter so that is also a fear. How can a writer get past these fears, or do you perhaps feel the same at times?

Sharene: Like Nike says, "Just do it!" I know it is difficult because no one likes to put it out there for rejection. I face that, too, as all agents do, but keep in mind that if you never send anything in you will definitely never get published.

Mel: HA, the BEST of advice! DOing often strikes out FEAR, leaves no place for the fear, I think.

Sharene: No time for fear if you are writing a cover letter. *SMILE* You can't be in this business AND be afraid. I learned that years ago.

Mel: Sharene, could you tell us about YOUR feelings when a manuscript you send out as an agent is rejected—that's an interesting facet we may not have thought about!

Sharene: There can be a range of emotions, but mostly disappointment, like when a blind date doesn't go well.

Mel: A great analogy, that blind date!

Sharene: Do we get angry at editors? No, but we both experience the pain our clients feel, and then we have to tell them, which is twice as disappointing because we go through it all over again. Some folks think that you will never get rejected if you have an agent, but that is not true.

Mel: WHY do we writers think that if we have an agent we'll NEVER get rejected?

Sharene: Well, I have heard this a lot at conferences from writers who got an agent and it took a year for their book to sell, for example. And they say that they thought that once they got an agent the book would immediately sell because agents have contacts they don't. It is true, we do, but it is still all about matchmaking, and sometimes the match just isn't made.

Mel: So agents don't sell everything either? Is there a giveable percentage of what agents submit that they actually sell?

Sharene: The percentage varies greatly from agent to agent. No, agents let projects go all the time. I actually took on a project from another agent in California who just didn't have any luck with it. Every agent has a book or books that he/she just wasn't able to place for a variety of reasons.

Mel: GOOD, HONEST answers—thank you, Sharene! About queries, which is better, to start your query with a hook or a project's vital statistics?

Sharene: I need just the facts in the form of vital statistics, such as word count, genre/category, title, and a one-sentence synopsis in the first paragraph. Hooks tell me nothing about a person's ability to write or what the book is. I have gotten some queries where the hook is fantastic but the novel just is really terrible. I get the feeling the writer was really good at writing hooks, but not novels. Which isn't bad; it tells the writer what he/she should really be writing.

Mel: So you DON'T want to receive a complete manuscript first, just a query, is that a correct understanding?

Sharene: I need to see a query and ten pages for a novel, and I need to see a query and the whole manuscript for a picture book.

Mel: Is there any kind of book in particular that you are looking for right now?

Sharene: Yes, I am always open to original, terrific writing. I am looking for contemporary and edgy YA, as well as solid middle-grade, and although I am scaling back on picture books, I am still looking for great ones that I think will sell.

LL: It was mentioned that you take picture book projects. Would you ever represent a NEW author's picture book? I've heard that most agents will not because there's not as much profit in picture books. Is that true?

Sharene: Yes, I do represent new authors of picture books. And I have managed to get one published even in this market. But new authors in any area are a risk and especially in children's books, which overall don't net as much as adult projects.

OPC: What is the proportion of items in your "slush pile" that you respond to positively? Do you tend to have made some personal contact previously with the authors whose work you accept for further consideration?

Sharene: We request about 5% of what we see and sometimes those requests are for authors we have met at conferences, but sometimes not. It all depends on the writing. NOTHING else matters. The writing is really what we look for.

OPC: How strongly are you influenced by the manuscript and how much by the cover letter and supporting materials? If we don't have previously published works, are you okay with a brief cover letter? Do you like the cover letter to be in the same writing style as the manuscript itself?

Sharene: First, I love brief queries! I want to get to the writing sample as quickly as possible. I like the query to be in a business letter format. If you are worried that if you send an awful query letter that you won't get your work reviewed, remember that queries do make an impression, but I am not going to turn down the next Dr. Seuss because he had an imperfect query package.

Mel: Ha, LOVE that!

caq: Is it necessary for all writers to have an agent? How do you know if you need one? I assume, since legitimate agents get a percentage of your royalties, until you have proven yourself with sales, you will not be able to get a legitimate agent.

Sharene: No, not all writers need an agent. It depends on what you write and where you want to go with it. If you write educational materials or Christian fiction, for example, those markets are still somewhat open to unagented writers. But if you want to go trade, you really need an agent. Also, another consideration is whether you want to negotiate your own contracts and handle the accounting of royalty payments. You can get a legitimate agent as a first time author, but I will be honest and say every agent would love to take on a client who has an established name. It becomes a matter of having something publishers and agents want.

Mel: Some of us may not understand what you mean by "go trade". Could you clarify that, Sharene?

Sharene: What I mean is write for commercial publishers such as Simon & Schuster, who will not look at your work without an agent. And HarperCollins and Random House and Time Warner, etc. Trade usually means not specifically in the education or school/library markets.

Mel: Do you as an agent consider the VOLUME an author can produce? If I only write one book every two or three years, should I fear that an agent won't take me on because they would "starve on what they make from my books"?

Sharene: Agents handle careers, too, and it depends on the product. If you write Harry Potter books one will last a little while. If you write something that doesn't net a lot of income and you do so infrequently, then you might not be attractive to agents who rely on mass producers. There are some who have so many clients that they don't care if you write one or twenty books.

mewf: Could you suggest publishers to send our picture book manuscripts to for getting them published?

Sharene: There are not too many small publishers that handle picture books; most are currently generated by the bigger houses. I don't like to suggest specific houses that I don't work with because I am not always up on what they want. I don't tend to suggest my editors because they don't take unsolicited submissions. I wish I could be more helpful on that one.

caq: As an agent and picture book author, do you represent yourself as an agent/author or do you use a different agent? If a different agent, is it your choice or do publishers prefer an author with a separate agent?

Sharene: Publishers don't care if your agent is Godzilla. *SMILE* I have never had any of the editors who bought my book care one way or the other. Right now it is at a house and the editor couldn't care less whether I would work my own contract or my partner would.

Mel: I was just thinking about what if I told an editor my agent was Godzilla, and would be contacting them soon about my book! J

Sharene: Yeah, just tell 'em to reject Godzilla. *SMILE*

Mel: HA, imagine what Godzilla might do to them then!

dell: Thanks for sharing your time and expertise. Can you share, in general terms, what YOU look for in a client? Also, in light of the current tough picture book market, would you consider taking on a writer who only does picture books?

Sharene: Thank you for having me here, too. Yes, I still look at picture book writers, but I am really selective and won't take on anything I don't have an editor looking for specifically. I look for in a client someone who is easy to work with, someone who is an excellent writer in their genre, and someone who has a sense of who they truly are as a writer. Many writers are still figuring out who they are and what they want to write. Know that before you get an agent.

Mel: What a SUPER SUMMARY of a desirable client, Sharene! What would be the attributes of a nightmare client?

Sharene: Someone who never wanted an agent but had to get one and keeps telling me that. And one who wants to know why his/her book hasn't sold after two weeks out to editors.

Mel: How does your Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency find clients, exactly?

Sharene: Our early clients we got from our slush, and now we get clients from referrals from other agents, conferences, and still the slush.

writingmachine: Do you have any clients that you think will be superstars?

Sharene: All of our clients have the potential to go the distance, but are there some the market will favor over others? Yes, because markets are like that and you can have a super writer in a cruddy market, then the market opens up and voila—superstar.

omalizzie: Hi Sharene, do you work with Canadian publishers? There may be a bigger market here in Canada. How strong is the Canadian market as compared with the U. S. market?

Sharene: On a limited basis, yes, I do have some contacts in Canada, but not a lot. We have a lot of Canadian writers who want to get published here because there appears to be more opportunity. Canadian publishers tend to want to publish Canadian authors only and it is a different atmosphere in publishing in other countries in general. Not as weirdly commercial as the US. It still feels like there are publishers in Canada who value readers and other things in their lives beyond commercial potential and celebrity success.

Mel: Here are several similar questions, Sharene:

jule: When do you decide to get an agent?

inxxonu: How do you go about getting a literary agent?

charweb: How can we find agents and what's the procedure?

omalizzie: How does a writer go about finding an agent, do they query you?

Sharene: The best way to get an agent is to have an offer from a publisher. But that doesn't always happen. The other way is to make sure you know your craft inside and out. Once you have become a master at what you write then you have to decide if you want to bother with publishers or just post it on the Internet. It depends on your goals. Some writers who have been published have chosen to never submit again and post or publish on their own. Once you decide whether you want to be a professional commercial writer for children or not and you know what you have written and whether you want to deal directly with publishers or not, then you will know if you need an agent.

Mel: Do publishers in general respond favorably if I get an agent only AFTER they've offered to buy my book?

Sharene: It depends on the publisher, some expect it. Others don't like it, but will tolerate it.

Mel: Two very alike questions, Sharene:

gladys1: How does a new writer find a "good" agent without having to pay up front for the editing?

starraider: Should an agent ask clients to pay for a literary critique of their work?

Sharene: Never pay anything up front to any agent. If an agent offers to edit your work for a fee, run. These questions have so many angles I need to address. An agent doesn't critique a client’s work for a fee, as it is part of the job to review the writer’s next book.

Dionna Mann: Sharene, nice to have you as an ICL guest! When an agent uses the term "contacts," exactly what does that mean, and do agents only send manuscripts to their "contacts," and to no one else, and if so why is that? Wouldn't ANY editor look at a manuscript submitted by an agent?

Sharene: Hi, Dionna!

Sharene: Contacts are editors or publishers the agents has worked with in some capacity before. Some agents only send to people they know and some are continually cultivating new editor relationships, which may depend on the project. An agent may decide to branch out, or editors leave the business and new contacts have to be made.

WVStoryteller: I have ready a 451-word poem that would make a good picture book. I am struggling with where to submit this and the proper way to do so. Assistance on what steps I should take to get started with the submission of this would be greatly appreciated, and thank you!

Sharene: First decide if you want an agent, whether you want an agent or publisher. Do your research on either. Know what you have, which it sounds like you do, and find agents/publishers who take your type of work. Research should include libraries and bookstores, the annual volume Literary Marketplace <http://www.literarymarketplace.com/>

online research, etc. Once you find where to send your work, you need to create a query package to send. That is the simplified version.

Mel: Why don't agents comment on rejections?

Sharene: Agents really don't have time. Many wish they did, but honestly, we just don't. It is important to remember not to depend on agent rejection, or feedback to get your work ready to go. It should be ready before you send it out. If you are looking for comments to help you fix it you need to go back and revise on your own, or get a critique group to look at it.

Mel: Should I send illustrations with my manuscript?

Sharene: Unless an agent’s guidelines specifically say to send illustrations you should not.

Mel: Should I query on more than one manuscript at a time?

Sharene: Only query on one manuscript at a time. Focus your energy and your results will be better.

caq: I am assuming if you write magazine articles you will not need or most likely be able to get an agent (because they get a percentage and magazines pay so little it wouldn't be worth it for them). Is this correct?

Sharene: Magazine writers don't need agents. You can sell your own work, why give up 15%? The magazine market is open to writers.

Mel: Is the current earning for most agents that 15%, Sharene?

Sharene: Yes, 15% domestic and 20% foreign rights/movie rights is standard in the industry.

caq: If you sell a book through an agent and then years later drop that agent, will that agent still get part of your royalties?

Sharene: Yes, that agent is entitled to the commission from any books they have sold for you. He/she is considered the agent of record for the life of the contract. There is a clause in most agency contracts that states this.

cosmos: Do you like clients who want to promote their books?

Sharene: Yes! Writers have to be able to promote their own work no matter WHERE they are published. This is especially true for new writers.

cosmos: What does a writer do that turns you off?

Sharene: Refuses to revise or asks advice from other people who know nothing about his/her work. Calls or writes constantly, complains constantly, or has no faith in my ability. The same types of things that people in other industries do.

Mel: Here is an important question that MANY chatsters are asking, Sharene:

gladys1: Has Sharene given her Web Site URL? I was late coming in so may have missed it.

eggamy: What is the URL of your Web Site?

Sharene: www.wylie-merrick.com, and it connects to our blog, which is our lame attempt to keep our submissions and needs lists updated more frequently. *SMILE*

Mel: The Wylie-Merrick Agency Web Site is VERY informative and concise!

Sharene: Thank you!

omalizzie: Does an agent work with the writer on revisions or just to try to sell?

Sharene: I can't speak for all agents here, but we do work with our authors on revisions.

pjhausman: Are more publishers accepting only agented work than in the recent past? (I have a novel that I sent out to publishers a few years ago, didn't get accepted; I pulled it for a rewrite and when I went to submit again, it seemed that many publishers had closed to non-agented work.)

Sharene: Yes, more publishers depend on agents to filter manuscripts, which used to be the job of the assistant editors or interns or anybody they could coerce to go through the slush room door. But now most of those people were cut to save money and agents became the free slush pile laborers. Things have definitely changed.

Mel: That is one of the most ILLUMINATING explanations of that great change in our industry that I have heard! A question I see coming up often tonight is about your charges. Let me ask it this way: Is it correct that you charge NOTHING when you submit a manuscript for a writer UNTIL it is sold--except for phone calls and postage, maybe?

Sharene: We charge nothing until a manuscript is sold, and then we charge for postage. We do not charge for phone calls, and we have the client provide copies.

caq: Can an agent sell his clients to another agent without that client's permission? Same for when s/he retires, can s/he assign you to another without permission?

Sharene: Agents don't sell clients, but if an agent retires and sells his/her business the clients are a part of that until they say they don't want to be. You should always carefully read an agency contract before signing to see if they have an out clause in case this happens. Good contracts always have a way out for the writer.

caq: If an agent retires, does he give up all royalties to any works he "agented" into publication?

Sharene: This varies and depends on how the agency is or if it is dissolved when the agent retires. What continues after that depends on the agent and the writer.

caq: How does a person become an agent, and do you have to be licensed to be an agent?

Sharene: Most agents come from publishing or other agencies and there is no license you can get to become an agent, which many writers have complained about.

Mel: Does your Web Site show a way that any person here tonight could contact you and your agency?

Sharene: Yes, our site shows how to contact us, at http://www.wylie-merrick.com/html/submit.html.

lilyphenix: Thank you, Sharene, for your insight and encouragement. Is it okay to look for an agent only after we have written several stories? Can we submit two or three at the time to an agent?

Sharene: Only submit one manuscript at a time. Also, don't look at how many stories you have written to determine whether you should submit or not. Look at the quality and know that quality is rarely achieved until after many, many stories have been written and sculpted.

Mel: That's a GREAT word, "sculpted"—it says so much more than just revised or rewritten—a kind of multi-dimensional revision!

writersblock: So do agents only work with specific publishing houses?

Sharene: Yes, we have established relationships with certain houses, and those are the folks telling us what they want. But as I said before, we continually cultivate new relationships. Too many people leave this business for it to be static.

Mel: Sharene, would it EVER happen that a publisher would just contact you out of the blue and ask, "Do you have any strong manuscripts in the _____ genre?"

Sharene: Yes, and it has happened. We sold three books I can think of that way.

lilyphenix: Are multicultural stories easy to place?

Sharene: Not as easy as you think! The multicultural market is changing too. For example, African-American books need to have hipper, more urban lingo. A story in this market can't be quiet; it has to stand out for something other than that it is multicultural.

Mel: We've probably been led to think that about multicultural books because that was a "void" publishers sought to fill in the past—but maybe it's more filled up now?

Sharene: All markets are more filled up now. And part of the problem is you have the same writers who wrote years ago jumping genres because the publishers want the commercial name recognition.

Mel: I want to go back to a niche market you mentioned earlier when you mentioned your book about a family with two mothers. Is the resistance to lesbian and gay relationship books on the part of BUYERS or on the part of PUBLISHERS, or BOTH?

Sharene: The current political climate has held back some books for this audience. Publishers ARE hesitant to take on certain books because the audience is not as big as the general audience. It's big, but not as big and there is a risk of a backlash. Although many publishers are getting some cool Young Adult novels out there which I am glad to see. Picture books are expensive to produce for a niche market, especially when they could cause a backlash.

Mel: You also mentioned a genre that I've only recently read about, Sharene, "chick lit." At first I couldn't believe that girls/women would want to be given the moniker "chick." What are the characteristics of "chick lit" then? Who is it for? And is that a term PUBLISHERS—or agents—came up with?

Sharene: Marketers came up with it—who else? *SMILE*

Mel: I should have KNOWN it was MARKETERS! J

Sharene: Some characteristics of chick lit include punchy writing and situations like on "Friends" or "Sex in the City." It is mostly for 20-somethings, however it is growing and changing and now includes lady-lit and hen-lit in the parallel market in Christian fiction—I am not kidding. Some of it has trickled down to YA, but YA has always had its share of chicky books.

caq: If you have an agent and then send some work through without going through your agent, does that agent still get a percentage of those royalties?

Sharene: Not unless it was somehow in the agency contract. It should be defined in there what the agent represents and what he/she does not. If one of my clients sells a book on his/her own, I get squat. And I think that is how it should be. I only usually work on one project for a client at a time. If my client sells on his own, I don't have anything to do with it unless I work the contract, then I get royalties.

Mel: We have had so MANY questions for so LONG a time, Sharene Martin, about what literary agents do for writers and authors. You have explained that relationship so clearly to us, and THANK YOU so MUCH for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us here this evening. As I'm sure you could see, there were many more questions asked than we had time to chat about. What I'm wondering is if you would be willing to come back again at some later time to continue chatting with us about authors and agents and the author-agent relationship. Would you, please, Sharene?

Sharene: Thank you so much for having me. I would love to come back because there were some questions that I didn't really get to answer fully. They were more complex than what I could write. Thanks!

Mel: There will be NO Guest Chat on November 24, Thanksgiving. And our next chat will be on Thursday, December 8 right here. On that evening we will chat with the wife and husband, author-illustrator team, of Linda Lowery and Rick Keep. This duo is a New York Times best-selling author/illustrator team, who live and work out of San Miguel de Allende, a colonial town in central Mexico. Both Linda and Rick do both writing and illustration. A few of their latest books are Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead, and Clatter Bash! A Day Of The Dead Celebration. Linda and Rick are the creators of "Jalapeños: Hot Bites For Cool Kids." This weekly children's feature in the international edition of The Miami Herald is distributed to an English speaking readership throughout Mexico and the Caribbean. Come and chat with them on December 8. In the meanwhile, to all of you a VERY HAPPY THANKSGIVING AND LIVING!

Mel: Sharene Martin, we give you a huge bouquet of thanks for being here tonight, and answering so clearly and completely all of our questions about authors and agents and the author-agent relationship. It is often an unclear subject for those of us who don't have agents, and we are so grateful to you for clarifying it. We wish you and the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency the best of fortune and many profitable books!

Sharene: Have a great evening everyone!

Mel: THANK YOU, and goodnight, everyCHILDREN'Swriter!

+ + + + +

After her November 10 Guest Chat, Sharene Martin kindly agreed to answer questions that had been lost in my spambin, plus the leftover questions from the evening of November 10. They are added here:

Hope Marston: How many children's manuscripts did you place with a publisher last year?

Sharene: In the last year, I have placed four, and I am working on the fifth right now.

Hope Marston: How many children's writers do you represent?

Sharene: Currently, I represent five children's writers.

Hope Marston: Are you currently looking for children's writers?

Sharene: I am always looking for children's writers with great talent and highly commercial projects, but I am very, very selective because I have to be.  The children's market is very tight in some places right now.

Hope Marston: Considering how difficult it is to get a manuscript published today, what advice would you give to a children's writer who's already been successfully published by respected children's publishers?   Should she seek an agent rather than spending so much of her writing time on marketing?

Sharene: This is a complex question because of the terms you use.  Do you mean "marketing" in the sense of promoting your work after it is published or in the sense of getting your work to the appropriate publishers?  It can be used both ways.  If you mean "marketing" in the first sense, then you must realize that the author NEVER stops promoting her work.  Shameless self-promotion is part of the job.  However, if you mean "marketing" as in getting your work to interested publishers, then, yes, you should consider getting an agent, because many children's markets are unapproachable, even for a published author, without one.  An agent will most of the time have access to editors that a writer doesn't unless she takes the time to cultivate those contacts.  One thing that I need to mention is that being "successfully published by respected publishers" is relative to each prospective agent and publisher.  The sales numbers on an author's previous books are what count and are what will likely determine if an agent thinks his/her current project is saleable.  In other words, an author is only as successful/marketable as his/her last book.  Sometimes it is better to not be published than to be published and have low sales numbers.  Another thought is that sometimes agents don't consider certain publishers "respected" based on their past dealings with them, which isn't to say the publisher isn't respectable, but in that agent's view, that publisher may not be one that the agency can work with.

LG: Do you have many clients who write for children, teens, and adults, too—all three of those groups?

Sharene: Yes, we have a couple who write in more than one area; however, we tend to only represent, in most cases, one area or the other.  If we do go ahead and represent books in more than one area, it is only after we have built the client's audience in one enough that it makes a successful move to another category/genre viable.  Many writers write more than one type of book, which is fine, but it is IMPERATIVE that writers really, really hone their craft and build their audience in one area before looking at going to another. Craft before you are published is everything, and after you are published, audience is everything.

dell: Sharene, how "hands-on" are you with the manuscripts of your clients?

Sharene: I am not sure exactly what you mean by "hands-on," but I am assuming you mean helping with revisions or edits.  I don't take on a project unless it is ready to be marketed to editors (which means it is great enough that it could be published tomorrow without editing, although 99% of books will require some revisions just to make it perfectly fit a certain editor's needs).  However, I always read my clients' next books and give professional feedback.  It is important to remember that as a client, you need to be to the level where you don't need that much input from your agent.  I read my clients' books as a reader because all of our clients need little help with editing or revision; they were way past that when we took them on.  I might give some direction as to how the story reads and be a sounding board for some ideas, but our clients know what to do and how to do it.  When we discuss manuscripts with our clients, it is more along the lines of professional to professional, not teacher/mentor to student as many writers believe, so it is important to be at that level before seeking an agent.  Agents develop talent, but this doesn't mean they teach people how to write.

arjaymg: What percent of your clients are new, unpublished?

Sharene: At the beginning, they were all new and unpublished except for one.  Now we are running at about 35% unpublished/new.

eggamy: Is the market good for Christian fiction?

Sharene: At present, I think all markets are tighter than they were a year ago, but some are easier to break into, depending on what you write.  Right now, we are scaling back on working with Christian fiction, so I am a little out of the loop except for romance and YA, and I know that publishers are looking for good books in these, but they must be very specific and fit the house's guidelines exactly.

writingmachine: A Canadian publisher wants to publish my book, but I am afraid it would limit me; should I seek an American agent?

Sharene: I have read this question a number of times, but I get a different take on it every time.  What is your thinking on the advantage of getting an American agent for this deal?  Do you want to go with an American publisher?  Do you want the agent to negotiate with the Canadian publisher, and, if so, to what end?  Without knowing more, I can't really answer the question properly (I have tried twice and decided I needed more information*SMILE*).

dell: How much does it cost a publishing house to produce a picture book?

Sharene: The cost of producing a picture book can vary widely from house to house, based many factors involved, so I can't adequately answer this one.  Getting the best quality for the lowest price is always a publisher's goal, and houses are always looking into new technologies or avenues to reach that goal.

tripoli: Where is the best place to learn about agents and the process of agenting?

Sharene: There are several ways to learn about agents and the agenting process.  Online and print resources including forums and boards like this one from ICL, as well as joining writers' organizations like SCBWI, the Author's Guild, etc., are good ways to get information.  You can check out http://www.aar-online.org, and, if you can afford it, I suggest attending writers' conferences or taking courses in publishing (there are more and more available now).  Keep in mind, though, to get your money's worth at conferences, select those that will have the workshops and agents that apply directly to your type of writing, and the same goes for classes.

inxxonu: Can I use the same agent for adult books as for children's?

Sharene: You can use the same agent if the agent represents both and has agreed to represent both. Know at the beginning if that is the type of agent you want and make sure there is an understanding between you and in the agency agreement.  Also, be aware that some agents specialize in their areas of expertise only, and a writer who wants someone who does both needs to make sure that the agent has knowledge in both areas.

cosmos: Do you like clients who write screenplays based on their juvenile or YA novels?

Sharene: I don't represent screenplays, only novels.

lilyphenix: Where would you say there is a biggest demand, picture books, middle-grade books, or YA books?

Sharene: In my opinion, based on what the editors I work with ask me for, YA and middle-grade are the biggest markets, with YA being the most in demand.

tech: Do you ever represent writers who write inspirational\religious books?

Sharene: Yes, our agency represents two writers who write inspirational/religious; however, we are scaling back on taking on those types of projects.

use2bzoie: How long should a summary be for a YA novel of 20,000 words?

Sharene: Trade YA novels should be way more than 20,000 words, so you don't really have a YA novel unless it falls under a particular house's guidelines (meaning they do books for special markets like hi/lo or they do audio books).  A summary—and I think that you mean synopsis here—can be anywhere from one line to a paragraph to three or four pages or more, depending on what the house/agent prefers to look at.  I always tell writers to write all kinds of synopses for their work, in addition to a chapter by chapter synopsis.  This is one of the best writing exercises you can do, and will bring to light any problems in your story you didn't realize you had.  If you can't condense your  story into one line or a paragraph especially, then you need to go back and look at it again.  Writing synopses of any kind will help you learn to control your craft.

kaye: Do agents prefer series books?

Sharene: I don't, but that depends on the agent and the agent's contacts, so some agents might because they know editors who are open to new series ideas.  Those are few and far between right now, and most editors are only looking for people to write for an established series, but not create a new one.  I have only worked with a couple of editors who are actively looking for series anything, and so I keep my eyes open for those types of projects.  However, those editors have very specific ideas and needs.  In general, I don't seek out series projects.  Most houses have established, money-making series in place, so I might look at something that would go along with that, however, you don't necessarily need an agent to break into writing for a series that is in place. One thing to keep in mind: Is your project really a series or do you have one book with several sequels?  There is a distinct difference.

Mel: THANK YOU, Sharene Martin, we are all very grateful to you for answering our "afterquestions," and with such thoroughness!


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