More of Your inFAQs Answered!

questionsBecause one post wasn’t big enough to answer all the questions you all asked of us a few weeks back.

Q: Can one actually make a living as a writer without acheiving a megalomaniac dream’s of fame?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Good question. But what is “a living”? And where? And how good? And …  Really, this is a question better directed to working writers.

Q: When it comes to YA specifically, do you have any guidelines in mind for what you want? (i.e., word count, age range, topic, morality…)

Well, the “morality” question is one we don’t have any clue as to how to address. We disdain moralistic fiction, disdain moralistic people (even John Gardner in his woefully ill-advised and specious On Moral Fiction, though we kind of sort of adore Grendel and much of his other work), and feel that good writing is, by definition, moral.

As for word count, age range, topic … if you know the realm of teen fiction (and please say that you do), you know that there is no set answer for any of these things. Word counts tend to be on the higher end—circa 75,000 words—though there are some teen novels that are so spare and short that they are like long short stories (for example, Angela Johnson’s stunning The First Part Last). Super-long manuscripts are very off-putting and a sign that the author likely hasn’t edited herself.

But the answer: There are no guidelines and easy answers, sorry. Your story will be as long as it wants to be, about who and what it wants to be about.

Q: I know you’re new as far as a company goes, I couldn’t find anything regarding your actual “founding” date, but maybe that’s because you’re so new that you want to keep things on the low-low until you get a few years under the belt.

Tempted, here, to point to this newfangled wonder of the internet, Google: Just type in “Upstart Crow Literary” and the third, fourth, and fifth entries link to things that give the company start date, more or less. But for the record, we declared ourselves “in business” on 1 August 2009. We’re not hiding anything. Or if we are, are doing an exceptionally poor job of it.

Q: Some writers actually function well when given a specific assignment. As an agent, would you ever consider providing a plot summary and general story guideline for a writer to pursue?

This is more the job of a packager. We market and work with our authors on their projects, not dictate to them which ones they should be writing. For marching orders, look to book packagers and write-for-hire projects from publishers, not to us.

Q: Some agents don’t respond to a query if they are not interested. Is there ever a reason Upstart Crow would not respond to my query or status check inquiries at all, even with a form rejection? (Assume query was confirmed received.)

There could be a delay in a response if the person queried has been traveling or direly swamped. But generally, we will get back to you within a month to two months.

Q: How do you feel about prospective writers making contact with you via Facebook, or Plaxo, or Goodreads, or LinkedIn?

We dislike it mightily. We love to connect up with others who love the things we love (assume I mean children’s books), but such connections are tenuous at best. And the email functions of those programs are not the proper route to use to make a query. Your query isn’t so important (sorry) that it needs to be looked at along with those pictures of our friends’ dogs/babies/weekend outings/what-have-you. Trust that if you query us through an email on Facebook, we will just delete your email. Life is too short.

Q: Would you prefer to receive a manuscript submission before or after a conference both you and the writer are attending?

After. There likely won’t be time to read your manuscript before the conference, and then we’ll have that deliciously awkward moment in which you wonder why we haven’t read your 350-page novel in addition to the ten-page critique sample. And we’ll explain that there wasn’t opportunity, and that we felt it was more important to read and critique the paid conference submissions before addressing those submissions.

Q: Is a “no thanks” from one agent a “no thanks” from the whole agency?

Yes, thanks.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Janga724 and Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: More of Your inFAQs Answered! ( […]


  2. About making a living as a writer and is it possible without being a MAJOR MEGLOMANICAL BESTSELLER.

    Short answer: Yes.

    Long answer: Possible, if you put in a lot of butt-in-chair work, don’t take rejections personally, and have a major Luck Fairy following you around. Oh–and a Time Fairy, too. (And no, I am not sharing mine with anyone.)



  3. Whoa, Jane Yolen’s hanging out here. She was very nice to my wife (Katherine Applegate) so I am a big fan once removed.

    Re: making a living. Yes, of course it is possible. If you have some talent, (doesn’t take much as my career demonstrates) and are hard-working, and can find the sweet spot between gauging the marketplace and writing what you like.

    Now, I have a question: is there some universe in which book-touring makes economic sense? I’m sitting at JFK on my way to Amsterdam to do a couple of bookstore things and some interviews. In a couple of weeks I do a thing in NYC with Scott Westerfeld. And it’s all fun, but seriously, how does it make economic sense for the publisher?


  4. Would like to catch a Luck Fairy of my own. Have built the trap. Now if only I could figure out what to use as bait.


  5. I sort of suspected I might get a word from Jane on this topic, and almost addressed it directly to her. Am glad the instinct was right on.

    As for book tours, they are horribly expensive and don’t sell all that many copies. Certainly not enough copies to justify the expense of the tour. (The exception being if your name is Meyer or Rowling or …)

    What they do sometimes accomplish, however, is to get a book or two on the bestseller list. And once there, a book can hang on and its bestseller status become self-perpetuating. People, it seems, buy books simply because they are bestsellers. (“Everyone else is reading this DaVinci Code book, so it must be good.”) So publishers try and game the list and tour authors quickly to as many markets and as many NYT-reporting stores as possible within a week in order to get the book lofted onto the list. And then they cross fingers and pray.

    So it makes some sense, but only a little. Worth pointing out, though: Some weeks book sales are so sluggish that the bottom ranks of the list can be reached with sales of only a few hundred copies. I’ve seen books sit on the list for a month during doldrum periods, and, after that month, the book’s total numbers had not reached as many copies as other titles did weeks when competition was much more fierce. Kind of a drag, as you can imagine.


  6. I think it’s really rare to make a living writing books. Wonders like Jane Yolen and Michael Grant do it, but I’d venture that most people with books on the shelves also have day jobs.

    It is possible to make a day job out of writing. I do and make a really respectable living. I have: written for a game company, columns for various entertainment outlets, articles for assorted magazines, marketing copy for assorted products, scripts for short movies and even blog posts for outlets willing to pay (I do not write for free for for-profit companies, though I edit for several nonprofits). I’ve also been flown to places like London for assignments.

    I almost never have to pitch my work. I can’t actually remember the last time I did, though I never take a single assignment for granted. Once you develop relationships with editors and do consistently good work without being jerky or high-maintenance, the editors tend to recommend you to their colleagues, and they take you with them to new companies.

    You do have to be willing to live with a lot uncertainty. If you have a lazy day, you don’t get paid. It’s also not glamorous, like publishing books (oh, hush, you jaded authors—you know everyone envies you).

    But it does pay the bills. When you write 200,000 or so words a year freelance, you don’t fear the keyboard or the blank page. With practice, you also get fast enough at the work that there are windows of time to write those books that you dream of doing. It’s easy to get bogged down, as you would with any day job. I’m really happy with it, and hope to keep on going for the duration.


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