Some of your inFAQs, answered!

raised_handsA few days ago, we asked everyone (or rather, those of you who are reliable readers of this blog, which is more or less everyone so far as we’re concerned) if there were any questions not covered in our FAQs section on our site that you were just dying—dying—to have answered. We wanted to hear all those secret questions that leave you lying awake at night, staring at the play of passing cars’ headlights on the ceiling and thinking, How will I ever find out the answer to my question about marbles?!?! and Is it really so bad to wear white after Labor Day? and Why “different from” instead of “different than,” huh? and other such dire burning issues that we all worry over but are too shy to ask about.

Well, now you’ve done it! You asked, and we are in the process of answering. We’ll post our answers here over the next few weeks, and—if we deem one of the questions as possessing that lapidary quality that means many, many, many, many people will ask it—we will add it to our FAQs page during our next site revision. Oh, glory! Oh, to dream!

So, without further ado:

Q: What should I do if you send back a rejection to my query, yet Upstart Crow is the agency I want to work with?

Oh, you flatterer, you!

Seriously, though, if we decline to review your manuscript, and you believe that manuscript is great, then chances are we are not the right match for you and your work. This isn’t so much a matter of declaring anything as being wrong with your work as it is a matter of our declaring that, for whatever reason, we are not the agents who will be most passionate about your work. And for whatever reason, your query and twenty pages haven’t clicked with us. So best to find that fierce champion elsewhere. Or to try us with a different project.

Q: If we’ve not heard back on a query or submission, how long after the stated time frame should we wait to contact you? And, in the case of a query, would you prefer an e-mail or re-query?

A few apologies here: Due to the labor-intensive nature of setting up a new literary agency, a few of us (read: Michael) have been dragging our feet in responding to queries. We are on them now, however, and both regretfully turning down submissions and requesting full manuscripts from others. Our stated time frame is our goal, and we will get there, but this first month has been a matter of getting up to speed. It will get better.

Regardless, feel free to requery, and expect to hear from us within a few weeks.

Q: Does a query rejection from one agent translate into a rejection from all agents at Upstart Crow? Some agencies say “yes” and some say “no.” What’s your policy?

Alas, yes: A “No, thanks” from one of us is a “No, thanks” from the agency as a whole. Really, you should submit to only one of us. While each of our preferences differ, our sense of quality and what we long for in a manuscript are pretty similar. If we see something that is great and not to our taste but perfect for another one of us, we will pass it along.

Q: What things should I do with my manuscript to make sure it’s really ready to submit?

Run it through a workshop of fellow writers you trust several times. Revise revise revise revise. Make your final drafts shorter than the previous drafts by at least 10% and preferably 20%. (This was the advice given to a young Stephen King by a magazine editor: “Revision = draft minus ten percent” or something like that. This is sound advice and should be heeded.) All good writing is endless vision and revision.* Have someone else proofread it. Let it cool in a drawer for a month before submitting, and then re-read it again cold, see if it holds up from a distance. Once you’ve done everything you can think of to fix the manuscript, then it is ready to submit.

Q: Does Upstart Crow Literary require exclusives?

Nope! But if you have sent it elsewhere, the wise and kind thing is to let everyone involved know. We won’t judge you for it or anything, but we will appreciate knowing that others are also looking at it. And especially let us know if someone else has contacted you with an offer.

Q: How do you become an agent? What would you tell someone who wants to go into the business?

The apprenticeship, as you’ve no doubt heard, is the stuff of legends and tales told round campfires: Agents are taken from their familes as wee bairns (and called that, “wee bairns” rather than the simple “babies” because a degree of literary pretention is instilled at an early age). Placed in bookshelf lined cages together, they’re raised by a succession of faceless stewards who insist the children express themselves via wooden alphabet blocks. Those who insist on spelling standard monosyllabic words (“cat,” “mat,” “drool,” “fool,” etc.) are ruthlessly culled. By the time they reach their adolescence, they are deemed ready for the arena, and placed into the so-called “grammarama games.” Words used as weapons? Books used as cudgels? Paper cuts across carotid arteries? Yup, that and worse: The few who come out the other end—bloodstained, the entrails of lesser agents dangling from their teeth, dull-eyed with a thousand-yard stare—those are the few who are turned over via indentured servitude to the literary agencies of the world.

And then the real horrors begin.

(Sorry. It is late as I write this and I am getting punchy. Seriously, different people come by it via different means. Usually the work stems from a love of books that overrides more commonplace influences such as parental career advice, university majors, and the desire of significant others for boodles of money.)

Q: How many manuscripts do you read each week?

It varies. I can say that I’ve received, on average, 100 queries each week we’ve been in existence. Is this standard? Beats me. But it feels like a fair number. Sadly, queries come last in the day, after we’ve taken care of the other business for the authors who are actually already signed up and among our clients.

Q: Do agents really have a black list of troublesome clients that they circulate? If so, will asking about it get my name on the list?

No, there’s no time to squander on the writers who are less-than ideal. If someone has had a number of agents, why, we may talk to their previous agents, see what the problems were. But mostly, if someone is on a black list, it is the black list of not writing well and ignoring responses from people that may point them to necessary revisions.

Q: Last but not least, sorry if I missed this news, but have you made your first sale as the Upstart Crows?

I can only say here that yes, we have made several sales. We will send announcements in the next few weeks to the usual places where one ballyhoos such things, but suffice to say that on our very first day we had someone take a manuscript through to acquisition. Which was a nice way to begin things, let me tell you. And since then have sold a property at auction and more and more so on and so forth.

Q: Why is it that 99% of literary agents appear to be female? Is there some sex-linked genetic component to this?

Wow, I wish I had an answer to this, but here at Upstart Crow, we are 66.6% male. Unless Chris is hiding something from me.

A footnote to the asterisk in an answer above:

  • For extra credit, who am I paraphrasing here? Hint: He and I share a name.
  1. Michael, First of all, thanks so much for answering all of these great questions (especially mine!). Regarding the answer to “How many manuscripts do you read each week?” you answered how many queries you read, but not how many manuscripts. I know, I know. You were tired. But I’d love to know how many ms’s you read, so could you clarify please? You guys rock. Thanks for your open communication and willingness to include your readers (“everyone as far as you’re concerned!”) in the ongoing development of this amazing website. (I know the word “amazing” is a bit overused, but it fits. This site is AMAZING!!)


  2. Extra Credit: T.S. Eliot (the “s” is for Stearns). I cheated though, I’ve read the “Ten Commandments of Writing for Children” in your writer’s toolbox.

    Do I still get a cookie?


  3. […] This post was Twitted by dlschubert […]


  4. Great stuff. But I am still worried about white after Labor Day…


  5. You should always write when you’re punchy. That story about the apprentice agents being taken as wee bairns is great.

    Oh, and I have also read the Ten Commandments of Writing for Children, but I had no idea you were paraphrasing Eliot. Nor did I know his middle name was Stearns. So, if you are taking a vote, I say that diligent Justina who pays attention in class, does, indeed, deserve a cookie.


  6. Really interesting information. I love the narrative on how to become an agent. I was going to ask how long it takes to reply to a query and wow, there was my anwser. Great job guys.


  7. I think the picture you chose of all of the hands raising… probably represents the amount of people that had to look up the word “lapidary.” At least… in my mind it does. Seriously? Forget T.S. Eliot… you just used the word “lapidary” in a sentence. That’s bold.

    Having said that, context and looking it up didn’t help me solve “lapidary” usage question I have. So, I’m forced to assume that I should indeed be filling out apps at Wal-mart… not that there is anything wrong with Wal-mart… they have great prices for printer paper and shampoo. I really should stop sharing personal confidences on-line. Now you all know that I print things and wash my hair. Crap.

    I have pervasive punchiness. It’s terminal.


  8. Oh… and if you’re not going to talk about marbles, I’ll be forced to write to agents throughout the world asking them to send me information on marbles… just to prove that I have lost mine. It’s a good thing I’m willing to be immortal to that cause.

    Yes, I need sleep.


  9. You are quoting from my “favorite” poem (title loosely bestowed), that I think of all the time!! It was from your P.S. that I learned his S. stands for Stearns, and then I had to check.

    The punchy story cracked me up.


  10. Great questions, great answers. Thanks for sharing your time, everyone who was involved!


  11. Rats–being here in Scotland where we really DO say “wee bairns,” my timing is off. I was about to send off the extra credit answer–Thomas Stearns Eliot–but was pipped at the post.



  12. Thanks for the information – this is very helpful!


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