Monday, November 26, 2007

The Agented-Only-Proposal Dilemma

I'm still in a turkey stupor today and finding it hard to get back into the work routine. Of course, after a long holiday absence, on top of the standard Monday work fare, I opened my inbox to find a stash of unsolicited incoming proposals. So many, in fact, I'm seriously considering adopting an agented-only policy for incoming proposals to the mystery book club line. (And mystery book club ONLY.)

On one hand, I realize Barbour has a reputation for being one of the few publishers willing to review non-agented and unsolicited fiction proposals. And I truly sympathize with pre-published authors and their quest to find anyone willing to give their work a fair review and possibly invest in publishing their literary baby. I've been on the writer's side of the page and I know how frustrating the expedition to find a publisher can be.

But I also have an obligation to provide Barbour the best possible stewardship of my time. After I've waded through a stack of off-the-mark proposals, I'm questioning the investment of time and resources involved in reviewing these unusable projects when I've got other tasks screaming for attention.

While I reserve the right to make the final decision, I am very open to advice. If you were to objectively view the pros and cons of an open submission policy versus an agent-only policy, which would you choose?

Ah, back to stacks. . .



Nancy said...

I don't envy you, Susan. As the club grows in popularity (and it will!), agented proposals may be your only solution.

I know some publishers use "readers." People who understand just what the editor is looking for. They weed through the piles and send on the proposals that "could be" possibilities. At least it can bring a six-foot stack down to a more manageable three-foot stack! LOL!

Will keep you in my prayers. (Smile)

Nancy Mehl

Karen said...

No one would think less of you, Susan, if you get a reader as Nancy suggested. Even the agents have readers--of course I think some of them are family members. Should you elect to go with agent-only submissions, the agents actually become your readers.

While I'd hate to see another publisher fall to agent-only, I can certainly understand the reasons for doing it.

Jess said...

Awwwww, how sad. Even though I have an agent, I still hate the thought of you going to agented proposals. However, if you decide to hire a reader I want you to look at my resume. :-)

Mary Connealy said...

I think I'll skip the opinion and just let you decide....however...
It's kind of exciting to be receiving all these proposals. It means the line is building name recognition and some excitement is gathering about it. Which could hopefully translate to readers as well as writers.

Blissful said...

Having a reader preapprove, so to speak, the mss before they land on your desk makes sense. Especially with a genre like cozy mystery that needs to fit a specific bill of faire in order to work. Going the agent route means the agent too needs to know what a cozy entails. Employing your own reader, knowledgeable of the genre, would help sort it out.

Pam Hillman said...

Blissful made some good points. A reader who is very familiar with what you're looking for in a cozy might be ideal. Of course finding someone whose tastes mirror your own might be harder...and more time consuming...than actually reading the submissions yourself! lol

Vickie said...

While I understand your dilemma, I'd hate to see Barbour stop taking unagented proposals. I got published without an agent, and still don't have one, and I've rejoiced with friends of mine who sold their first book to Barbour, even though they didn't have an agent. The reader idea might be the best solution.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I'm currently a reader for a large publisher, and have also done this kind of work for agents, too. It is one way to deal with the onslaught. And even my workload has gotten huge, and I've had to take a break from a couple places.

But that is sometimes an expensive option, unless you can get locals or your assistant or in-house people/family talked into it (and put them on a deadline.) You only want to use readers for those manuscripts which show promise.

I've waded through proposals, too, and that is tough, as well. I haven't kept track, but I'd guesstimate that I reject about 90 or more per cent of what I see.

I like it that Barbour/Heartsong is still open to unsolicited proposals. I can only see accepting agented-only proposals if you are going to "up" your contracts, and that means your books are going to cost more, too. It's a bit of a Catch-22!

What happens at most companies is that you have to just get more doorkeepers, one way or another.

The dream for us is to make it over the transom, though. That is romantic

I do see that you are going to have to do something because it would be incredibly overwhelming and I sympathize.

Probably the cheapest solution in the short run is to adopt an agented-only solution--but with that territory would come "negotiations," I would think.

Lots of good comments here.

Susan Downs said...

You've all given me food for thought. I don't know what the going rate would be to hire a reader. I also wonder what it would entail to train someone to "think like I think" in regards to potential acquisitions. Since I've almost made it through the latest onslaught of submissions, maybe I'll postpone making a decision one way or another for now. :-) I'll keep you posted! SKD

lisalickel said...

It would be just as hard to find someone who thinks like you think...I think. There are reasons to post guidelines, and those who don't follow them can be easily pushed away a half hour a day. You know my circumstances, and although I had an agent, I almost wish things had gone differently from the start, but there's room to grow. Having a different perspective from your own looking at acceptable proposals for eight-ten hours a week would be refreshing and not too outrageous. I hope you find some way to make it work.

Anonymous said...

Being a reader for a large publisher, I would suggest this as a wonderful route to cut down that slush pile. I've learned a great deal about the craft of writing while providing a service and making contacts(and friends)with a publisher I'd like to write for one day.

It wouldn't take much to find you a great reader, especially within a writing group like ACFW.

Patty Smith Hall