Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Ask the Book Doctor: A Few Questions about Agents
Q: Is it proper to resubmit an improved manuscript to agents who have previously rejected it? If it is proper, what additional information or explanation should I include?
A: If an agent has specifically stated that you may resubmit the manuscript if you make particular changes, then it is proper to resubmit to that agent. In such a case, the cover letter should thank the agent for the opportunity to resubmit and give a brief explanation of what has been changed. Include a copy of the agent’s request, to trigger the agent’s memory.
If an agent did not request that you resubmit the manuscript, don’t waste that agent’s time. Many other agents are out there. Submit the revised manuscript elsewhere.
Q: I have written a historical fiction that envelops both the Vietnam War era and my college days. It involves true experiences of government intervention in college antiwar factions. In trying to find an agent to assist me with publishing this novel, I have experienced those who profess interest and yet are allegedly unable to help me. What do I do, and how should I address this situation?
A: It’s hard to answer without knowing why the agents were unable to help. Is the book thoroughly and carefully edited and ready to go? Does it need more work? Did the agents submit it anywhere and get any feedback you could use? Did the agents not submit it anywhere? Did the agents charge you a fee? All the answers to these questions would require a different response from me, so without knowing why the agents could not help, I can’t really solve the problem.
What I can do, though, is warn against paying a literary agent any sort of fee. They should get paid by the publisher, not by the writer. Legitimate agents take their commission out of the advance and royalties and send the rest to you. If you pay agents up front, they do not have to sell manuscripts to make money; they can make a living charging fees, so they never have to bother to submit your work anywhere. It’s scary, and it’s a scam that’s going around, so writers beware!
Q: My story placed tenth place for the Fifteenth Annual Writers Digest awards out of more than 19,000 entries. How would I write that in my writing resume and is this a good enough accomplishment for an agent to represent me?
A: I'd probably write it this way: Placed tenth in the Fifteenth Annual Writers Digest awards out of more than 19,000 entries.
Is it enough to make an agent represent you? Who knows what makes an agent decide? Usually it's because they absolutely fall in love with your novel or nonfiction book; they have to be passionate about it, to sell it to a publisher. Will awards make an agent passionate about your manuscript? Probably not, but awards like this one may at least make an agent take your writing more seriously and actually read it and consider it.
—Do you have a question for Bobbie Christmas, book doctor? For a personal response, E-mail Bobbie Christmas at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.