Getting Published Ask Me Anything-a post by Jenny–HAS CLOSED TO QUESTIONS

Hi guys,

A few weeks ago I did a query letter AMA (ask me anything) after my talk at SCBWI ran long and I ran out of time for questions.   It was a lot of fun and so I thought I’d revisit it today but open it up even wider–an AMA on getting published.    So if you have questions on anything related to getting published/finding an agent/etc., please go ahead and ask me in the comments.   I’ll do my best to respond to everything for the rest of the day.


Hi guys,

I’ve closed the AMA for questions but never fear, I’ll do another one soon.


Jenny's posts

44 Responses to Getting Published Ask Me Anything-a post by Jenny–HAS CLOSED TO QUESTIONS

  1. Vicki Leigh says:

    Hi Jenny! Thanks for doing this!

    My question is: If we've received an offer from a publisher, can we email agents after receiving the offer to ask for help negotiating the contract?

  2. Alison says:

    I'm getting a lot of "this project is not right for my list" responses, which is a little too diplomatic for my tastes.

    Does "no" always mean no? Or could it sometimes mean "query me again when you have a better query letter/have made changes to your manuscript"?

  3. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Vicki! Yes, absolutely, you should do that. And if for some reason you can't find an agent, do get a publishing attorney to look over the contract for you–never sign anything without having an industry expert make sure that your rights are protected.

  4. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Alison, I can only speak for myself, and a "no" for me means I am responding to whatever particular project you sent me, and not to you as a writer for all time. Which means you are always free to requery me with something else, or with an improved query letter. I would say that this is probably true for other agents as well, but with the caveat that you probably shouldn't query the same project (even with a revised letter or ms) more than twice.

  5. Amy Mackin says:

    Hi Jenny. Thank you for doing this today.

    I wonder if you have any tips on getting a shorter novel published. My novel is about 59k words–no shorter than many other popular women's fiction/suspense novels by writers like Janet Evanovich and Mary Higgins Clark–but I'm a first-time novelist with no proven track record to offer a publisher. This novel is the first in a series, and although it's a complete story in its own right, it also serves as a prologue, almost a pilot episode–setting up the conflicts, introducing the characters, offering a little backstory, and, hopefully, leaving the reader wanting to learn more.

    I would be happy for this work to fall into the realm of "paperback originals," but I fear the lower word count is another strike against me as a new author. I'm starting to wonder if I should tackle the word-count issue head-on within the query and acknowledge or explain the shorter word count. That seems unprofessional to me, but would an agent appreciate that type of directness?


    Amy Mackin

  6. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Amy, I fear that even if you explain it, agents are going to be wary (I would be). A novel that short could work as an e-original, but not in print. For print, you want it to be about 70,000 words.

  7. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    Do you recommend an aspiring author hire a proofreader?

    Also, does light chick lit still exist as a genre or is it considered contemporary women's fiction, romantic comedy or some other name?


    Jennifer Ammoscato

  8. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Jennifer, unless typos are a really big issue for you, probably not. Even a copyeditor would make more sense, since they will look for grammatical errors that can potentially really turn off an agent/editor. Chick lit is a very tough sell these days, so most people do tend to call it women's fiction or romantic comedy, as you say.

  9. exactwords says:

    Hi Jenny–thanks for this : )

    I've often seen a lot of tips about how to structure a query letter, what to think about in terms of pitching the book, characters, plot, etc. But is there anything you typically like to see about the author in query letters? I've seen advice ranging from "say nothing about yourself, only your book" to "include a paragraph about how you'll help market the book and your background."

    Conversely, is there any specific thing that absolutely puts you off immediately in a cover letter?


  10. Jenny Bent says:

    Well, this is controversial, but I really like to know what life experience you had that inspired you to write this particular book. I also like to see whatever relevant writing experience you've had.

    What seriously turns me off in a query letter is when people tell me the book doesn't contain vampires, as if that's some sort of fantastic selling point (or particularly clever or original thing to say). That's probably my top pet peeve. I also don't like it when people say negative things about the romance genre, since I represent many wonderful authors who write in that genre.

  11. Unknown says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for doing this!

    1) This probably varies, but what is it about sample pages that makes you request a full manuscript? If you like the pages, will you request even if the query letter itself didn't grab you? Or will you request even if the pages aren't as strong for you, but you thought the query had potential?

    2) Do you skim requested manuscripts when they arrive, then set them aside if they don't grab you right away/you plan to reject? I'm asking because if an agent's had your manuscript for a couple of months and not responded, does that mean it's going to be a reject? Or could an agent not have even glanced at it, and there's still hope?

    3) What is the typical word count for a YA novel?

    Sorry for the multiple questions!


  12. Jenny Bent says:

    1. Usually voice or quality of writing is what grabs me right away. Yes. And sometimes yes.
    2. Sometimes, but more often I just don't have time to look right away. If an agent hasn't responded, there is ALWAYS hope. In my case, anyway, it usually means I haven't looked yet.
    3. 50-70,000

  13. exactwords says:

    Thank you for the super-fast response : )

    Just that bit of insight really opens a window into what it must be like to read through query after query. And it reinforces how often people equate "standing out" with denigrating other authors/genres as comparisons. As someone who reads across a lot of genres, I've never understood why people do that.

    Ok–last question: I have an assumption (perhaps misguided) that your contacts at publishers often tell you what they "want" or are looking for–if so, 1) what are they telling you lately?, and 2) does that influence you to keep more of an awareness for that type of project?

    Ok, that's two questions! But I'll stop after this : )

    Thank you again!

  14. Jenny Bent says:

    They do often tell us what they are looking for. In YA, that's voice-y, sincere, emotional contemporary like Rainbow Rowell and in adult fiction, they want stuff like The Silent Wife. Basically, editors want whatever is currently working, but what is *recently* currently working. So even though there is dystopian out there that is working, editors aren't looking for it, because it was really over-published for a while.

    And yes, it definitely influences me! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Jenny – thanks for doing this!
    My grandmother and I wrote letters for a decade to each other before she passed last year. I was 30 and she was 84. I'm now writing a memoir (I'm about to be 40) using those letters to weave the story. Each chapter will open with actual snippets of her letters. I've written the first two chapters and am now getting started on the proposal. The question I have is – which should I do first – send it out to agents or send it out to publishers? Or both at the same time?

    Also, do you recommend hiring a professional to edit your proposal?

    Thanks so much!

  16. Hi there, Jenny, from a blustery and wet Scotland. I have a question about length. I am forever seeing agents and pubs alike state they want ms's of no more than 80-90, 000 words. Ever since I was twelve, I have carried around a story line in my head and last year, I finally completed what I call my 'dream' novel. It is basically a return to the Thorn birds style of drama but set in the present. My problem? It comes in at a whopping 160,000 words. I have had it read by beta readers who all assure me it needs to be this length. Most readers I speak to mourn the passing of the 'blockbuster'. My question is, are you open to such a project? Thanks for taking the time.
    Viviane Brentanos

  17. Caitlin says:

    I'll follow that up with: how do you pick agents to ask, and how do you approach emailing them with this request?

  18. Inola Writes says:

    Hello Ms. Bent,

    Thank you again for this opportunity!

    I greatly appreciate your comment about re-querying agents. Recently, I received feedback on my manuscript and was informed that the pacing was slow in the first chapter, causing the editor to be turned off by the story. I had queried a few agents with that chapter, so I am fairly positive they had the same reaction. I re-drafted the first chapter and re-worked the entire manuscript to keep in line with the first chapter. In a few months, I may re-query some of the agents who seem willing to look again at projects.

    On to my main questions. My MC is a baby boomer. Through my own research, I have found two publishers who have stated their interest in seeing older characters. Outside of my weak chapter troubles, I am wondering if some agents are rejecting my story because the MC is too old. It seems that NA is the growing category trend. Would an agent reject a manuscript because they fear that no one would want to read about older characters?

    Final question – For weeks, I have been trying to understand the difference between Horror and Paranormal. I understand that paranormal will involve undead characters such as vampires, zombies, and the like. However, a paranormal novel doesn't really include gruesome scenes, correct? A horror novel can include paranormal characters, but it tends to feature body counts. Is that right?

    Thank you!

  19. Suzanne says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for the AMA session!

    I'm on submission right now with my agent and it's been almost 2 months with no responses from editors, positive or negative. I know there's no typical submission experience, but have you noticed any trends in editor respone times at all? Are quick responses indicative of greater interest or the opposite? Are there some times of year when things move more slowly? Am I reading too much into all of this? ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Jenny Bent says:

    You would ideally send to agents first, get an agent, and then the agent would submit to publishers on your behalf. For this kind of project in particular, it would be better to have an agent first I think.

    As to hiring a professional, if you have the resources, it certainly couldn't hurt, but really do your homework before you hire someone, check references, research their track record, etc. A bad editor is worse than no editor at all.

  21. Jenny Bent says:

    I have to say, and this is based on over twenty years of experience, that I am skeptical that it "needs" to be that length. I read very few novels that need to be over 120,000 words. I am always open to anything and wouldn't reject something I initially loved just because it was extremely long, but to be honest, I can't remember the last novel I read on submission that wouldn't be improved by judicious cutting.

  22. Jenny Bent says:

    There will always be a market for fiction featuring baby boomers, I don't think that's why agents are rejecting your book.

    It's a good question about horror vs paranormal. Basically, horror is meant to scare the reader. Think early Steven King. Paranormal features characters who are not part of the "real" world, but they are not meant to be scary.

  23. Jenny Bent says:

    Quick responses can indicate greater interest but they can also, as you say, indicate no interest at all. I haven't noticed a real trend in the length of time it takes an editor to respond, but I do know that once you get one positive response, you will get many other responses, whether good or bad. So hang in there! My fingers are crossed for you.

  24. Heather says:

    Hi Jenny –
    Thanks for doing this.
    I wanted to follow up on someone's earlier question about the current trend in contemporary YA fiction.
    With the news that S&S is launching a new imprint to publish SciFI/Fantasy/Horror, can we assume that there is still an appetite for that genre among publishers even though the current trend is more contemporary/realistic?
    OR because of the trend, if you have an ms that's YA thriller/romance/smart-science, should you just hold off on submission for a while?
    Finally, if you're a first-time author coming from another profession, are agents likely to be less interested in you because your author platform is still in its (early) growth stages?
    Thanks again,
    Heather Murphy Capps

  25. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Heather,
    A trend is just a trend, it doesn't mean that no other genre is popular or will or won't sell. Plus, sci fi/fantasy/horror is an evergreen genre, like romance or mystery–it's never going away. If you have a YA thriller/romance/smart-science, that sounds pretty great and I wouldn't hold off on submitting it (now if you had said YA paranormal or dystopian, I might have a different answer).

    And I sell plenty of books by authors who really don't have any platforms at all. It's always easier to sell a first novel by an unknown author than an author who has already published but doesn't have a strong track record.

  26. 1) When an agent has had a full manuscript for a while, after a request, is there ever an appropriate time to "nudge" them for an answer? Say three or five months?

    2) I want to build a media platform in order to show agents and editors that Iโ€™m ready to manage marketing. Social media is a big part of that, and relies a lot on sharing news. Iโ€™m querying agents. Is it bad form when agent requests a full to post the good news online (keeping the agents in question anonymous)? Writers are told to query widely and some get multiple requests. If an agent stumbles on these good-news posts, is that like one boyfriend learning there's another?
    Thanks so much!

  27. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Nikki, I think it's fine to nudge even after one month. As long as you are polite, it is perfectly appropriate. I think it's bad form to post the news about an agent request online, however. It's not that it's bad or wrong to send your work to multiple agents, it's more that agents want to know that you can be discrete throughout your publishing process. Sharing on social media is great but you need to know where to draw the line and agents feel more comfortable when you do.

  28. Pen Avey says:

    Hi Jenny,
    I wondered how you felt about writers querying agents in other countries? I have written a MG novel in the same vein as Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid books, and though I'm English feel the US market would be a better fit.

  29. KrisM says:

    Good morning, Jenny!

    Hope this question isn't too late, I didn't receive the blog notice until now.

    My MS (contemporary suspense) includes references to several real TV celebrities. I haven't consulted a lawyer regarding whether I should request permission to use any of the names. Should I fictionalize the names before I query or not worry about that until after I (hopefully) have representation?

    I appreciate your time answering questions. I've enjoyed scrolling through both of your AMA posts!

    Kris Mehigan

  30. Chris says:

    Hi Jenny,
    I've been published twice by a Canadian independent publisher. My second book even won a legitimate national literary award this year. However, sales of both books were largely limited to Canada and, to be honest, aren't very good. I've never had an agent & want to start looking. I'm concerned that agents will look up my rather unimpressive sales figures use them as a reason to pass on my new project.

    1). I believe I'm an under-published author. I also believe my new project is much more commercial in nature than my works for the small press. Do I address this in my query letter? Or do I leave it out?

    2). Moreover, is there a stigma to a small press author who hasn't sold many books?
    Thanks! Chris

  31. Jenny Bent says:

    I think it's okay. If you were just published in Canada, I don't think that would affect your US sales track. I would mention it, particularly if reviews were good, etc. and I would stress that this new book is much more commercial.

  32. Jenny Bent says:

    I would fictionalize the names. Theoretically, you don't need to worry about it until it's time for the book to be published, but you don't want to have stuff that is going to concern an agent right off the bat–why not just make it simpler from the outset.

  33. Jenny Bent says:

    That's fine. Or you could query one of the British agents at our agency, who sell books in both markets! ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. I love your AMAs. I learn so much.

    I know small press/self-pubbed novels with poor sales records can put a damper on one's chances when pitching subsequent novels to agents or editors.

    But how about published works such as not-so-short stories or novellas–stuff around the 25K mark? Does the fact they've been sold at all work in an author's favour, or would track record be more important?

  35. Jody Genessy says:

    Hi Jenny! I'm late to the party, but I have a couple of nonfiction book questions:

    1. As has been suggested, I'm trying to build a larger platform. Now I find that I'm spending so much time writing for my blog (along with daily duties as a writer for my paying job) that it's taking away from book-writing time. Any suggestions for that quandary?

    2. Also, is it generally best to have a complete manuscript written for a nonfiction novel before querying agents? (My first project is a humor/personal nonfiction akin to a diet book version of "Ketchup is a Vegetable").


  36. Hello, I hope it isn't too late to post this question. My family has been on the road and I just barely had time to check my email.
    I mostly write picture books, but I have a couple of MG stories in the works and I have 2 questions for you. First, what is a good word count for MG? Most research I do gives a page count. Second, many agents ask for the first 10 pages of a manuscript with the query letter. Is this a standard double spaced 12 font page, or is there some other page measurement standard I need to be aware of?

    Thank you for this, and thank you for your blog. It is really helpful for writers just starting out like me.

  37. Sarah says:

    Hi Jenny,

    Hope I'm not too late to the AMA party! It's so awrsome of you to do this.

    If you're working with an agent who finds you a publisher, but you aren't sure it's a publisher you want to go with, is it bad form to ask your agent to help you find a different one?


  38. Team Sparkle says:

    Hi Ms. Bent, perhaps this is too late for the AMA but thought it wouldn't hurt to try.

    What do you consider an appropriate length for a MG novel? Is it different for upper or lower, and is one more elastic than the other? Mine comes in around 30,000, and the number sounds short (even though the story feels finished, at least the first installment of it!).

    Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  39. Jenny Bent says:

    30,000 is just fine for MG!

  40. Jenny Bent says:

    You should always have open lines of communication with your agent. If you don't feel comfortable, you absolutely should have that conversation–it may be that the agent can allay your fears, or they may be perfectly open to trying to find a new house for you.

  41. Jenny Bent says:

    See here for advice on word count:

    And it should be a standard double spaced 12 font page, yes.

  42. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Jody, you just gotta get it done. I'm not a time management expert, so can't help you with that, but without a platform, you're not going to be able to sell your non-fiction, so you have to figure it out.

    And for humor/personal nonfiction it's good to have the whole thing or at least a very substantial chunk.

  43. Jenny Bent says:

    Track record is still the most important, I'm afraid, but I do look favorably on past publishing experience because it tells me you've already reached a certain skill level in your writing.

  44. Jody Genessy says:

    Don't want to deluge you with comments here, but I do want to thank you for taking time to respond to me (and others). I live by Franklin Covey's HQ, so I'll see if they can help me on that time-management issue.