Writer's Digest asked me to answer some questions for an upcoming article, but I missed the deadline (it was less than a week and I just had too much to do for you), so I'm posting my answers here. But do look for the articles when they run (and let me know when they do).
Article No. 1: SELF-PUBLISHING
Q. Do you review queries where a writer wants you to take on their self-published book?
If yes, what are you hoping/looking for?
If not, you can be candid about why not.
We get many queries for self-published books. I have taken on a few. I have one I'm selling right now, but they are never easy to sell.
Q. Is there a "magic number" - number of sales you need to see before you will consider the book?
No. I've had books with fabulous quotes or sales of over 10,000 that haven't resold. It's depends on the market.
Q. Have you ever taken on a self-pub book before? Were you successful in finding a traditional publisher? How did that work?
I have a self-published cook book that I am selling now. I read about it in an article about self-published titles. I have not sold it yet.
I have found it really hard to place self-published bocks, both fiction and nonfiction, but I know other agents who thrive on this practice.
Article No. 2: CHAPTER ONE PET PEEVES
Dennis Lehane once said that the sign of an amateur writer is that they start a story with the cliché of the protagonist waking up from a dream, then staring out the window, then staring in the mirror, then finally leaving the apartment on page 4.
Q. What do you hate seeing in chapter 1? What are your pet peeves
This can be anything:
It can be something the protagonist does
It can be some aspect of writing or storytelling
It can be that the chapter is too long, too short or too unfocused
What will immediately turn you off in chapter 1?
It's not so much the first chapter, as book length. More than half the queries are rejected because the books are too long or too short.
A publishable novel today needs to be about 80,000 words - 120,000 if it is epic fantasy. Anything longer, and/or shorter is unsellable in today's market. When I write to new authors and inform them of this they argue with me citing Jonathan Livingston Segal or some tome by Stephen King, both of which were products of the 70's. Today's market cannot support first novels that are less than 300 pages (who wants to pay $24.95 for a 180 page book?) or much over 350 pages.
Of course, with the faster paced movies we are watching, books really have to start off with a rush. Dean Koontz wrote in the classic, but out-of-print Writer's Digest book, How to Write Best-Selling fiction, that your novel should open with your main character in terrible trouble and then be in even more grave danger within 5 pages. This always works.
So your novel has to grab me by the first page, which is why we can reject you on one page.