Caroline Carlson’s debut middle grade novel, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot, is now available from Harper Children’s!
Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency.
Go to her Books page for links to get your very own copy!
Add it to Goodreads
What advice would you give to querying writers?
Be patient with yourself, and be patient with your work! I think a lot of writers feel pressure to sign with an agent as soon as possible, but that pressure is usually self-imposed and mostly imaginary. The first manuscript you complete may not be the first manuscript you send out to agents. You’re allowed to have one or two or twenty drafts of unfinished or abandoned books on your hard drive, and you’re allowed to linger over revisions if that’s what you feel your work needs.
There were times when I felt like I was falling behind my writer friends because they were querying or agented or published, and I was hacking out yet another round of revisions or shelving yet another manuscript. Now, though, I’m really glad that I waited to query until I’d written a book I absolutely loved. Giving yourself a few extra weeks, months, or years to hone your craft and polish your manuscripts until you’ve written the very best book you know how to write can make the actual querying process go a lot more quickly.
What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?
One piece of good advice I got from other writers was to look for an agent whose strengths complemented my own. In other words, it can be helpful to identify your own weaknesses and then look for an agent who is strong in the places where you are weak. If you have a hard time looking objectively at your own work, for example, you might want an agent with a keen editorial eye. If, like me, you cringe at the very thought of asking people for money, you’ll probably want an agent who’s a fierce negotiator.
What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?
My querying strategy was pretty weird. I did a ton of research and talked to many agented friends before settling on three wonderful agents as my top choices. Then I queried only those agents, figuring that I might as well go all in. I don’t necessarily recommend querying only three agents, but if you feel strongly about working with someone and she feels equally strongly about working with you, it can work out for the best!
I did have a list of other agents I’d planned to query if I’d been rejected in my first round of submissions, but even that list wasn’t particularly long. I think that if you get to the point in your querying process where you’re sending your book to agents you’re not so sure you actually want to work with, it’s probably best to put those queries aside and consider how you might revise your pitch or your manuscript instead.
Did you sign as a client of a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?
It was very important to me to sign with an agent (Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency) who would be willing to take me on over the long term and help me grow my career. There’s already a lot of flux and volatility built into the publishing industry, and many authors bounce from editor to editor or from house to house over the course of a few years. In that context, it’s reassuring to have an agent who’s a somewhat permanent fixture! I can trust my agent to consider both what’s best for a particular book and what’s best for my career, and I feel like I have the creative freedom to experiment with new projects. If I try something crazy and my next manuscript is a mess, I don’t have to worry that Sarah will dump me immediately, though she might strongly encourage me to try working on something else instead!
How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?
My agent is very editorial—she worked for many years as an editor—and I know she’ll never send out a manuscript of mine until it’s as strong as it can be. When you’ve been working on a book for ages, it can be hard to look at it objectively, so it’s nice to have an extra set of trustworthy eyes on your work.
Although I have an editorial agent, I don’t revise every manuscript for her. We didn’t revise my first book before submitting it to editors, and now I’m working on books that are already under contract, so Sarah leaves the revision suggestions to my editor. Still, I’m glad that she is available as an editorial resource if I need her.
What is the next step if an editor shows interest?
The writer’s next step usually involves waiting while the editor gets her colleagues to read the book. Then, if those readers like it, the writer waits some more while the publishing team decides if the book is likely to be profitable, and if it’s a good fit for their list. Some of these decisions happen at meetings that can be weeks apart (and can sometimes be rescheduled). Did I mention there’s some waiting involved? Even if you only have to wait a few days for a publisher’s decision, you’re likely to have bitten your nails down to stubs by the time you get the good news.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Work on breaking that pesky nail-biting habit. Accept the fact that, even though you know you are supposed to be writing something new and focusing on other things, the only things you will actually end up doing are eating chocolate-based foods, obsessively refreshing your e-mail, and googling phrases like “does manuscript rejection cause instant death?”.
How much contact do you have with your agent when you are out on submission?
When MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT went out on submission, my agent called or e-mailed me whenever she had news to share, which was several times a week. She let me know who was reading, who was interested, and who’d turned down the book and why. I’m sure there was plenty going on that I didn’t know about, but Sarah gave me enough information that I always had a good idea of how the book was doing on its journey around the editorial world.
Thanks so much, Caroline!