Tools for Writers



Book Writing Seminar for Medical and Legal Professionals

Class Description

 Discover the secrets to getting your first book published from a veteran New York agent and author in an intimate environment limited to 40 participants. Learn what fiction and nonfiction genres are hot right now, as well as how to create book ideas with commercial appeal. Better understand the publishing world, what to expect for your first book contract, and the pros and cons of working with a book doctor. In addition, gain the vital information you need to decide which routes to publishing will work best for you, whether you self-publish, work with an agent or contact publishing houses. Discuss how to best pitch your book and how to write a query that will grab any agent’s attention. Submit your query in advance and the instructor, the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, will critique it for you. The instructor, a favorite presenter at the SEAK Cape Cod Writing Conference for Physicians and Lawyers, is an expert at helping professionals attain their publishing goals. Pay only $299 if you register by Sept. 23. The first three participants to register will receive a free copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published.


Listen here to Sheree’s LIVE INTERVIEW on the Internet Radio Show “Proceed and Succeed, Fearless Business Success with Joe Graziano”

Sheree speaks about:
  • The differences between fiction and non-fiction publishing
  • What’s the status of publishing today?
  • When should you, as an author, find an Agent
  • What is a book proposal? Does an author need one?

Hear the answers to these questions, and so much more.

Joe’s Internet Radio Show is extremely popular.  In it, Joe covers business topics that help business owners, managers, sales people and entrepreneurs, achieve the business success they’ve always wanted.
Sheree loves to listen to Joe’s show on Tuesdays at 3 EST.


Ask yourself these questions and as you write your answers, your proposal will develop before your eyes. If you have the time and want more detailed guidelines, get one of the many excellent books on writing proposals from the writer’s shelf at your library or local bookstore. I highly recommend Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal.

All good non-fiction book proposals should contain the following, and query letters should contain (concisely) the relevant main points and the most compelling highlights:

  • I: COVER PAGE WITH GREAT TITLE, AUTHOR, YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS OR AGENT’S NAME AND ADDRESS (Your work is copyrighted by virtue of having written it. Typically it is the publisher who registers the copyright with the copyright office in the name of the author. You may want to consult a lawyer if you feel you need special protection against infringement.)
    • 1) Repeat title.
    • 2) Describe your book in one sentence.
    • 3) Elaborate on that in a paragraph or two. Describe the contents of your book enticingly and thoroughly.
    • 4) Who is the audience? How big is the audience? Who will actually walk into the bookstore or library and request this book? Why will the audience need or desire the book? It’s important that prospective readers won’t be embarrassed to buy the book and that they can recognize the need. For example, a book called Why I’m Such a Stupid Jerk wouldn’t fare too well in the self-help section of the bookstore; however, it might not do too badly in the humor aisle.
    • 5) Where will they find it besides bookstores? General or specialized libraries? Catalogues? Garden supply stores? Gift stores? Hospitals? Hardware stores?
    • 6) What important, enticing and special points and features does this book have? For example, will there be sidebars, interviews, quotations?
    • 7) Ideally, what will the book look like as you see it? Do you see it in paperback or hardcover or both? Does it require a special design? What trim size (width by height)? Number of pages? Number of entries? Number of essays? Will the book benefit from illustrations? If so, how many and what type? Line art? Photos? Do not prepare a cover or jacket to go with your proposal. Be respectful in advance of the publisher’s art department. But if your book is about your famous grandmother and you have an authentic reproducible photo of her square dancing with Abraham Lincoln, say so.
    • 8) What are your sources? How do you intend to do your research, if any? If any special permissions or releases are required, think about how you will get them now and what they will cost. Be certain this will not be a problem before you approach publishers, not later.
    • 9) Do you consider the book humorous, touching, poignant? Attribute as many adjectives as you can. Then delete some.
    • 10) Why are you the perfect author to write this book? Include your writing experience, publishing experience, work experience, educational experience, and special experience that makes you uniquely qualified to write this book.
    • 11) What is the book’s genre? Visit a bookstore and imagine where on the shelf your book will go (or could go).
    • 12) What are some of the titles that your book will sit next to when it is published? This is the competition. The competition analysis is perhaps the most important part of any book proposal and should be done before you get too far along with your proposal or even before you start. Do a thorough search of books in print and read the books that are closest to yours in subject matter. How is your book different? How is your book better? Ask the bookstore owner or manager how these books are selling and work that information into the proposal in a way that will cast your book in the best light. It will backfire if you say that there is not now nor has there ever been another book that competes with yours. Publishers will usually be wary to publish such a book. They will either not believe you, or they will think that it is therefore not a publishable topic. Perhaps, they may think, it is more suited to a magazine article or a TV movie.
    • 13) Are there special times of the year when this book can be promoted in a special way? Does it speak to a growing or renewable trend (such as turning fifty) as opposed to a short-lived fad (remember pet rocks?)? If your book needs to be timed with an event (for example, the new millennium), make sure there is plenty of time to publish it and that you are ahead of the field.
    • 14) Are you a promotable author? i.e. If this is the kind of book that would benefit by a national author tour, do you and can you tour or speak in public (such a statement wouldn’t be relevant if, for example, you propose to write a dictionary)? Do you have any other promotion ideas (that are not outlandish)?
    • 15) Have you already cultivated an audience that would buy the book (publishers refer to this as “having a platform”). Do you have other affiliations or contacts that could prove useful when marketing the book?
    • 16) Can you get glowing endorsements from famous writers or experts prominent in the field about which you are writing? If the book is written, it would be useful to get a quote or two in advance of marketing the manuscript to agents or publishers.
    • 17) What is your style? Work it in somewhere. What famous authors, if any, do you think your style can be compared to?
    • 18) Anything else you think is relevant?
  • III: DETAILED TABLE OF CONTENTS A short paragraph to describe each chapter or section should do the trick. It is usually more important that the headings be descriptive than clever.



As a service to writers, I used to provide a column of answers to readers’ questions about the publishing industry on,, Iuniverse, and AOL, with a special focus on the process of shopping a book proposal around to publishers, which is what agents specialize in.

Writers send me general questions about publishing to, and I invite you to do the same, provided you understand they may be posted anywhere my column appears. (Be assured that I only refer to authors’ screen names and am careful not to publish authors’ ideas or personal details.)

Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 1

Thank you, everyone, for your terrific response to ASK THE AGENT.

In the few short weeks since my column appeared, I received a tremendous number of interesting and important questions. In this, my first q and a column, I will try to answer the most urgent, basic and repeated questions. I am especially eager to address your concerns about fees, exclusivity and other protocol, and I am taking the liberty of editing your questions for conciseness, privacy, and clarity. Keep sending your ASK THE AGENT questions to me here via E-mail (

Thank you also for querying me via “snail mail” with SASEs about representation of your proposals and manuscripts. Note that after June 1st, my address will be Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc., 16 West 36th St., New York, NY 10018. This month, we’re busy moving the office and selling the books under contract. I appreciate your patience. Sheree Bykofsky

Subj: Fee-charging agents

From: DeVitis

Dear ShereeBee,

[Agency name deleted] in New York has shown interest in a fiction novel after receiving the first three chapters. They want a $95.00 reading fee with the entire manuscript. Have you heard of them? Are they legit or do they make their money collecting reading fees instead of representing authors? I’m hesitant about reading fees. What do you suggest? Thanks.

Dear DeVitis,

I have never heard of the agency you mentioned. That does not mean they are not legitimate. And the fact that they charge a fee does not automatically make them crooks or preclude them from being effective agents. I would, however, make an effort to find a non-fee charging agent before considering one who charges fees. I think you will be surprised that my answer to you and Gradunc (following) is not exactly the same.

Subj: Fee-charging agents

From: Gradunc94

Dear ShereeBee,

I have received a letter of interest to see a manuscript in response to some sample chapters I sent to an agent in Manhattan. It is a nonfiction book, one which would be controversial in the sports world if it is published. He has asked for a handling fee of $95. Is this a standard practice?

My money is very, very tight, and I may have to send it without the requested handling fee. Also, my friends insisted I check with the New York Better Business Bureau, and he has two unsettled claims against him in the past two years. They rate him as unsatisfactory. Should I pay attention to this?

I really want to give him a chance, he is the only agent who has shown interest in helping me. But I need those questions answered first.

Dear Gradunc94,

It is interesting that, while the amount of the fee is the same, the agent you mentioned and the one DeVitis mentioned are not the same. It is my opinion that you should not send this agent your manuscript. It is time-consuming to read whole manuscripts, and so I understand why some agents charge fees, but the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives) thinks that the practice of charging fees can lead to unethical practices (such as the one that DeVitis is suspicious of) and severely restricts or prohibits its member agents (which I am) from this practice.

Most literary agents do not charge fees, nor do they provide readers reports. They will simply tell you if your manuscript is suited to the agency or not. If it is not suited to them, they are therefore not qualified to give you proper feedback. And if it does suit them, they will represent you.

I hate to say that if so many non-fee charging agents have responded negatively to your proposal, it is very unlikely you will find a major publisher to feel otherwise. Therefore, your $95 would be better spent on an independent editor or a writing class or book doctor. In other words, you are wise to seek feedback–just don’t seek it from agents. There are many more qualified and objective sources. If you do decide to pay a fee, be sure you get something for it, such as a detailed report. You should not get representation in exchange for a fee. And, yes, I would be concerned about the BBB report.

You can get a list of non-fee charging member agents from the AAR. Send an SASE to the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc., Ten Astor Place, Third Floor, New York, NY 10003.

I wish you the best and hope my answer helps you.

Subj: Interest from more than one agent

From: ImTuthill

Dear ShereeBee,

I’ve sent queries to four agents I’ve qualified. Two have responded wanting to see a book proposal. I’ve sent a proposal to the first. Having just received the second request, I want to be sure that I follow an appropriate protocol on this.

Would you suggest I send out the second proposal?

[While waiting for my response, IM Tuthill again wrote:] Before hearing your response, I sent the proposal to the second agent, as well. In the cover letter, I mentioned that another agent was looking at it.

This is new for me and I’m not interested in doing something inappropriate that may jeopardize my chances for success. Everything I’ve read to date stresses being honest with an agent up front.

Dear Im,

I agree with your information about being honest with agents, and on behalf of agents, I thank you for having that attitude and for asking this question. The answer, however, is not simple. The second agent knows that the first agent has it, but did you inform the first agent that you have sent it to others? Presumably, the first agent wouldn’t care or he or she would have requested an exclusive look at the manuscript. On the other hand, the first agent may have been neglectful in not asking for an exclusive look or may have gotten the false impression from you that the submission would be exclusive. In any case, not all agents feel the same about this issue. I will tell you how my agency deals with the issue of “exclusivity.”

When I get a query, I appreciate when the author tells me that other agents are being queried as well. It is perfectly acceptable to send short multiple submission letters with SASEs to several agents that you have determined would be acceptable to you should they be interested. When I get a query that makes me want to see a long proposal or whole manuscript, I immediately call the author on the phone to determine if there is chemistry, to answer questions about my agency, and to request the material. I always ask for a three or four-week exclusive period from the time I receive the manuscript to make my decision about representation, and I usually can respond much sooner than that. I also request that the author confirm in the cover letter that the submission is exclusive and that no publishers have seen the manuscript in any incarnation. And I request postage and a mailer to return the manuscript if it turns out not to be for me. That is the ideal situation for me. If there are variables, I learn them on the phone. For example, an author may tell me that they have already sent the manuscript to one agent but that agent has held the manuscript for six months and has not returned phone calls. I would then say that instead of exclusivity, I want “first dibs” on the manuscript. In other words, if after reading the whole manuscript, I determine it is something I wish to represent and feel I can sell to a major publisher, I do not then want the author to tell me she is using another agent or that every publisher in town has already rejected the manuscript.

I think the fact that I respond in a reasonable period of time makes it a fair deal for agent and author and hope you will agree.

Subj: Agents and poems

From: Browchomp1

Dear ShereeBee,

I am a young poet living in Albany, N.Y. I am the proud father of one unpublished chap book and three unpublished collections of poetry (one of which is poems dedicated solely to the self-portraits of VanGogh). How can I get an editor, or otherwise break into print? Any advice or feedback you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Brow,

Although there are exceptions, most agents will not represent poetry–especially by unpublished authors. Most publishers who publish poetry expect to hear from authors directly. I would recommend you seek out published poets and find out how they did it. For the most part, agents tend to represent books that they feel they can sell to large publishing houses. The reason is that large publishing houses tend to pay higher advances than small presses and the agent’s commission, at least theoretically, has to seem worthwhile. Many agents, however, will place books with smaller publishers when they’ve exhausted other possibilities or when the small publisher is best suited for the project. Some agents specialize in a certain kind of book, like sports books, or cookbooks, and some are eclectic like me, but most independent agents have to draw the line somewhere, and, sorry to say, poetry usually falls in the category of somewhere. This is in no way a reflection of your talent which, in my unqualified judgment, you have.

Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 2

Subj: Independent editor

From: Terriellen
To: ShereeBee


I am interested in the possibility of becoming an independent editor. What qualifications do I need? What would a job description for an “Independent Editor” look like? Thank you.

Dear Terriellen,

I believe an independent editor is another name for a freelance editor, that is, someone who works at home and takes on editing projects from a variety of sources, such as publishers, agents, writers, corporations, and others. “Editing,” however is a slippery term. At large publishing houses, there are editors in the editorial departments with varying titles. Some are Senior Editors; others are Associate Editors, Managing Editors, Executive Editors, Editors in Chief, Editors at Large (who work on staff but from home), Editorial Assistants (the first rung on the ladder), and others. The job description for each of these titles varies from publisher to publisher. Most editors (with all of these titles) are informally known as Acquiring Editors. That means that they decide which books they wish to publish. Some editors sit with blue pencils and manuscripts; some develop books with authors via modem and on the phone; and some never lift a pencil but merely acquire books and run the show. In the production department are the copyeditors, who edit manuscripts for style, grammar, spelling, accuracy, and consistency.

I believe there are two basic types of freelance editors who work at home or as temporary employees. Some would do developmental work on manuscripts and others would copyedit. At this stage, I recommend you look at books about copyediting and proofreading, and I think you’ll find your answer. Also, look in the Literary Market Place under Book Doctors and Editorial Services and write away for brochures. Some of the editors you write to may also be interested in serving as consultants.

Hope I haven’t confused you utterly.

Subj: Inquiry from Ruth

From: Thinkinpix
To: ShereeBee

Do you have copies of what contracts, submission & release forms look like. You could attach a file if possible.

Many thanks for the offer and opportunity to receive this assistance.

Dear Ruth,

I highly recommend that you and everyone reading this get a copy of Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents (the most current edition; it is updated yearly). Also, I believe you will also find the forms you are looking for in a book by Kirsch. I don’t have access to it now, but it’s a legal book for writers. It may be called something like Handbook of Literary Law. I will print the exact title in my next column.

Subj: Was I Right or Was I Wrong?

From: Shultzyee

Dear Shereebee,

I had written about 200 pages of a novel. It was not complete, but I had won several awards for what was in progress and (probably my first mistake) I began marketing what I had. It was rejected a zillion times, but there was lots of interest. Finally, I snagged an agent. He never mentioned that the book was unfinished but said he loved it and I signed a contract.

Let me point out that this was an agent with a well known, very well known New York agency with a serious track record.

Anyway, my agent turned out to be what I finally determined was a frustrated writer and simply edited me into a supreme state of confusion. Xing out whole chapters, rejecting the very heart of the lead character. I tried very hard not to be defensive and that might have been my second big mistake. Because after a few rewrites under his direction I was a mess and simply had very little notion of what the hell the thing was about in the first place. I finally wrote him a wimpy note that just said I didn’t want to write a novel this way and sorry charlie I’ll see ya around.

My award winning 200 pages sits in a kinko’s box at the bottom of a file drawer under my phone books, has been for two years. Am now writing something completely different and am happy with it.

My question: Is this what agents do? Is it normal for an agent to work a novel over in such a way? I certainly hope I’ll have another one someday and want to know what to expect.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Shultzyee,

Were you right or were you wrong? In my unequivocal opinion: yes, no, yes, no. I believe you had a series of unfortunate miscommunications and that, if I were to hear your whole story and the agent’s whole story, I would be sympathetic to both.

Different agents operate differently, just as do different authors. What’s comfortable for one person or two people together does not work for others. In an ideal world, the author writes a bestseller (the whole manuscript if it’s a first-timer’s work of fiction or creative non-fiction), polishes and edits it and sends it to an agent, who then sends the author a contract and sells the book to a publisher. Rarely is the ideal met, and any number of alternatives may then ensue.

Had you sent your promising work to me, I would have asked you to finish it and send it to me when it was finished or when it was as good as you can get it. If I felt it needed just a little work, I would have told you what I felt it needed and asked you if you agreed and felt you could do it and wanted to. If we saw eye to eye, you would then proceed and send it to me again. If I felt it needed a lot of work, I would recommend you hire an independent editor or book doctor (they are listed in the Literary Market Place and sometimes I can recommend someone appropriate). Your arrangement with that person would be between you and him or her. I would hope that when you and the book doctor were satisfied you would then return to me to inquire about representation.

I have found myself in situations where I did more developmental work than I could afford. This is costly for an agent who works on spec and does not charge fees. I especially do not want to involve myself in it because some authors resent it and do not appreciate the cost to me. Other authors, however, appreciate it beyond measure!

I used to say that I would represent a book if an author did xyz to it. Now I say I will not represent the book but if the author cares to do xyz I would be happy to consider it again. The burden is on the author.

But all is not lost in your situation. Obviously you are meant to be a writer as you are working on your next bestseller. When it is completely ready and you are happy with it and have gotten feedback from such people as writers, editors, honest friends, and teachers, then begin your search for an agent, and I hope you will start with me.

If you will send me your next novel whenever it is ready and give me a three-week exclusive period to decide if I wish to represent it, assure me that it has not been to publishers, and include a s.a.s.e, I will give you a prompt response. After you sell a novel or two and become famous, you will then be able to dust off your first novel (like John Grisham did) and sell it.

Did I answer your question?


Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 3

This has been an incredible month. I have met so many wonderful, new authors and have made more than one new lifelong friend. My new office seems to be bringing me magic, and I’m making many positive, personal changes in my life as well. I hope that I can continue to do justice to your excellent questions and answer them in a timely enough way to be useful to you. I want to thank everyone who has given me encouragement and support. It gives me a great lift to know that I am helping, because it’s a tough business for authors and agents. Unfortunately, rejection goes with the territory, but thankfully, that’s not all there is. May you all prosper and grow and always do what you love.

First, I promised this title from my last column: Kirsch’s Handbook of Publishing Law by Jonathan Kirsch, and I continue to recommend Jeff Herman’s Insider’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents (although the name will be changing in September with the next edition to become part of Prima’s Writer’s Guide series).

And now for your questions:

To: ShereeBee

I need some speedy advice and hope you can help: Is there any type of standard industry for artists’ fees relative to a non-fiction book? I have a completed manuscript that requires some interesting art/photography and graphic design and I have an artist who has done a preliminary concept to submit with the manuscript. So far, this artist’s work has been on spec., and we have no type of agreement about future work. Assuming I get a contract for the book and the publishing house likes what this artist is proposing, is there any type of industry standard relative to paying this artist for doing the entire book? Royalties. . .direct payment. . .? This was not originated as a collaborative project, so 50/50 does not seem appropriate. I really need some advice on this — thanks for whatever you can do.


I always believe that whatever the interested parties agree is fair is fair, but there are books that I think will help you:

Business Forms and Legal Forms for Illustrators by Tad Crawford (Allworth Press) and the National Writer’s Union Guide to Freelance Rates & Standard Practice (212-254-0673). If those books don’t do the trick, try calling or writing some organizations of professional illustrators and ask them. Please let me know what you decide.

From: Onyourear
To: ShereeBee

Should sample chapters be written single, double, or triple space? Should paragraphs be indented the normal five spaces, or should the start of a new paragraph be indicated by skipping down a space?

Thank you in advance for your attention.

Dear Onyourear,

Content is much more important than form, but book proposals and manuscripts should be double-spaced. Except for that, just be neat and professional, and use your best judgement. The most important information to impart is: what is the book, what stage are you at with it, why is it a great idea, why are you the best person to write it and what are your credentials to do so? In addition, it’s always helpful to know if it has been submitted to publishers. Be concise but thorough.

From: WESPublish
To: ShereeBee

Hi Sheree,

I’m a new purchasing agent for a publishing company. We’re in the process of adding some new kinds of publications to our company. Could you give me some idea of what the customary rates are for purchasing contract manuscripts? Are fees based on a number of pages, quality of the manuscripts, etc.? Any information you can give me would be a great help!

Dear WESPub,

This question is usually asked by authors and tends to make me squirm a little. I always tell authors that I like to let the publishers make the offers and then see if it feels worthwhile and reasonable. Of course, I always try to get for them as much as possible. Depending on the demand (among publishers and for the book), the advance will vary. If more than one publisher is interested, the advance will tend to be higher, especially if the book is sold at auction. Or if the book requires a tremendous amount of work on the part of the author. Or if there is a huge demand among book buyers.

What the publisher typically pays is an advance against royalties (and royalties are somewhat standard), half on signing of a contract and half on delivery and acceptance of a final manuscript. After the advance is earned back from the sale of the book, the royalties will then dictate how much the author earns. Hardcover royalties are typically 10% of the cover price on the first 5000 copies sold, 12 1/2% of the cover price on the next 5000 copies sold, and 15% thereafter. Paperback royalties vary from 6 to 10% and mass market royalties are usually about 8%. Some publishers, particularly textbook publishers, pay on net (amount they receive from booksellers), and the royalties, at least in theory, should be higher. But even so, this is less desirable to the author.

I believe that publishers determine what they expect to sell in a first printing of a book, what the book would cost to produce and sell, and then offer a percentage of what they would expect to pay in royalties for that printing. Perhaps you can get a publisher to tell you their formula? Let me know.

To: ShereeBee

Thanks for the quick response. I guess what I’m asking is, how does one determine the “worth” of a manuscript. I am buying manuscripts for a publisher. This publisher would like me to have the full rights to the manuscript before he buys them from me. Therefore, manuscripts I am requesting would be considered “contract” work, right? I was wondering how to determine the amount I should be spending on these manuscripts.

Is cost determined per page, per word, etc.? Also, should I be paying more for published writers? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Dear WESPublish,

I do not recommend that authors write whole books on a work-for-hire basis. Occasionally, portions of books are written in this way, but no writer should undertake to write a work-for-hire without a complete understanding of what the term means. This is a question for a lawyer. I believe the American Society of Journalists and Authors (where I am a member) also provides information to writers regarding the issue of work-for-hire. They are in New York at 1501 Broadway, #302, New York, NY 10036 and the phone is 212-997-0947. The National Writers Union also should be of service: East Coast Office, 113 University Place, 6th floor, New York, NY 10003 (phone: 212-254-0279) or West Coast Office, 337 17th St., Suite 101, Oakland, CA 94612 (phone 510-839-0110)

To: ShereeBee

Dear Sheree,

[An agent–name deleted] wrote that my work has “great potential” but that he did not want to represent me until my work had “developmental editing.” He went on to recommend that I speak with [names deleted] of [company name deleted], a “book doctoring” service. He said that he had contacted them and told them about my ms. in case I decide to contact them. He then invited me to resubmit to him if I incorporated [company’s] suggestions.

My question is……..does this sound “kosher” to you? Or do you have any comments on the use of “book doctors”?

Many thank as always,


Dear Suzanne,

Yes, this sounds kosher to me. But you should shop for a book doctor as you do any other service, and you should only work with one that you feel comfortable and in synch with. You will be hiring them and paying them and there should be no kickback to the agent. If you suspect otherwise, choose your own book doctor.

From:The Bob K
To: ShereeBee

I’m still trying to locate a home for my first novel, and I bumped into an “opportunity” which involves a book doctor. I was hoping you could offer some guidance on the issue of book doctors in general and the following story in particular.

One of the agents who requested my novel [agency name deleted] wrote back a very nice rejection letter. He made numerous and specific references to the work so I’m confident that he read it. [agent] referred me to [name deleted] of [book doctor company deleted–same company as in above letter] who could help me objectively revise the novel.

I spoke with [book doctor] who indicated that he would critique/edit the work for about $1,200. I contacted [agent] and asked him if representation by [agency] was ensured provided I worked with [book doctor]. [agent] responded in the affirmative.

I then surfed the Net looking for additional information on [book doctor], [agent] and book doctors in general. I found two negative comments, one naming [book doctor] in particular. In a follow-up with the author of the negative [book doctor] comment, she acknowledged that she never worked with them but felt that all book doctors were a rip off. [Agency] is listed as agency, but I found no other references — authors represented, third-party comments, etc.

I was hoping you would offer your opinion. Do I keep plugging away with other agents/publishers, or do I go the book doctor route to get representation via [Agency]? Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

Dear The Bob K,

It’s impossible for me to answer this entirely or to have an opinion about what you should do with your manuscript unless I see the manuscript and feel comfortable critiquing it myself. I can say that it is my opinion that there are many excellent book doctors and that when I recommend one, I trust in their general abilities but do not know if they will be in synch with the material or what they will charge the author. I also cannot read the future and determine that the end result will be one that I wish to represent. I can only hope that the author has liked my recommendation so much that they will be happy with the results and try me again first to consider representation. I’m surprised an agent would guarantee representation without seeing your book in final form and being pleased with it, but anything is possible. Has this agent offered you a contract? Will you be offered a contract when the book is ready? What if you and the book doctor do not see eye to eye on what the book needs? What if you and the book doctor are happy with the end product but the agent is not? These are all questions you should ask yourself now before making up your mind. I have no personal experience with the agent or book doctor you named.

To: ShereeBee


I’ve written what I’ve been told is a wonderful children’s story and would like to have it published. Manuscripts and/or queries have been sent to numerous publishing houses, each returned rejected. I’m not discouraged (yet), but feel an agent could better present this manuscript to publishers with promising results. Can you give me any advice on how to obtain an agent and/or any other pertinent information. Thank you.

Dear Angels3321,

I do not represent children’s books but keep the following children’s agents in my Rolodex:

Allan Hartley, Four Harts Inc., 70 Grandview Drive, Glastonbury, CT 06033 Olga Litowinsky, 80 Cranberry Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

I make no representations about any of them (or anything else for that matter) except that they told me they represent children’s books. Also see Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents and The Literary Market Place.

There are many good books on the subject of children’s book publishing.

Good luck.


Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 4

From: CreateB
To: ShereeBee

You are providing a valuable service by answering questions in this manner. Thank you! Here’s one I’d appreciate an answer for. I’ve been offered a contract by a literary agency to represent my novel, but the contract calls for a $650 advance as a “retainer fee for out-of-pocket expenses such as photocopying, calls, etc.” This concerns me. I understand the need for covering expenses, but why the need for an advance? What’s your take/advice on this? Much appreciate your time! I look forward to your response.

Dear CreateB,

I am not completely aware of what the common practice is. I will tell you what I do: My contract provides for the author to pay for expenses such as photocopying, postage, foreign shipments, and long distance telephone calls and allows me to either bill the author or deduct the expenses (up to a lifetime cap of $150) from the publisher’s payment. In practice, I rarely bill authors. If I do fail to sell a project after many attempts, I ask the authors to pay what they wish, and they’re usually delighted to give me the $150, knowing how hard I work before I give up. I usually find that the expenses are $300 – $400 if the publisher controls foreign rights (thus costing me $150 – $250) and more if I control foreign rights. But I set the cap at $150 to make the authors comfortable. As an author, I would be uncomfortable giving an advance of $650 for expenses. I would want to know from this agent: would the expenses be documented and would you get a rebate if the whole amount were not spent?

From: CBR60095
To: ShereeBee

I am a first-time novelist. I have just received a contract from Commonwealth Publishing Co. in Canada. They have proposed a deal which I have never heard of. They call it a “joint venture” contract. In it, they propose that I pay them $3850. This is non-refundable. In return, they have agreed to pay me royalties of 40% of the retail price on the first 2500 copies sold and 15% of the price of all sales over 2500 copies. (They intend to begin with 10,000 copies.) The retail price will be $4.99, and the total royalties add up to over $10,000 (less my contribution). They put forth plans to market the novel aggressively. What should I do?

Dear CBR,

I have heard of “joint publishing,” but I am wary of it. To me it smacks of vanity publishing. I do not believe in paying to have your book published, unless you are self-publishing. I know nothing about Commonwealth, except I have seen their contract and personally would not sign it. In the publishing world that I’m familiar with, publishers pay authors advances against royalties for the right to publish their books and distribute them in bookstores. I would want to know foremost if Commonwealth gets its books into regular trade distribution and whether authors whom they’ve published have earned any many.

From: Phylwriter
To: ShereeBee

May I ask you a question? I’m curious to know what are the most important things that you need to know, as an agent.

Publisher names, contacts, numbers, what they’re looking for…etc?

And information you need to have available to writers and publishers:

What you represent, years in biz, phone, address, submission info…etc?

How do you normally go about finding out all of this information, and/or having information about yourself listed? Does everyone do this the same way? Is it cumbersome? Time-consuming? What does AAR do for you, exactly?

Dear Phylwriter,

These are all excellent questions. I will try to answer them all.

The answer to your first question is yes. The most important thing I need to know is what publishers are looking for and, more specifically, what individual editors’ tastes are. Or more broadly, what is the general public hungry for when they go into a bookstore or what will they want to read two years from now.

This September I am celebrating my fifth year as a corporation. After establishing my agency in the 80’s and years of hard work and no payoff, I finally sold four books in a single month in 1991. That’s when I incorporated and I have been selling books steadily ever since. Last year I sold 31 books. In the first two weeks of August, I sold 7 books! I am looking for whatever appeals to me in both fiction and non-fiction, and I love when my books do some good for the world: handbook for the Soul; Volunteering in New York City; Successfully Self Employed; The Hidden Face of Shyness, etc.

I am listed in just about every book on agents. I have a web page ( I update my listings annually.

It is very helpful for me to be a member of the A.A.R. (Association of Authors Representatives). The meetings are informative; I love to associate with other agents and get advice from them and share stories with them; and I feel it is a prestigious membership. In order to be a member, I had to sell 10 books and agree to abide by their Canon of Ethics. I feel confident in recommending authors to A.A.R. members and proud to say I am a member.

From: LaRitaMari
To: ShereeBee


I have a question for you. (Whether you answer this via email or post it in the “Ask the Agent” section is your own choice.)

I have been published in several magazines, but now am working on my first novel…It is a mainstream thriller, of the John Grisham/Mary Higgins Clark/Sidney Sheldon type genre ( if that is such a genre ). Do I need to finish the book before I go about finding an agent, or can I begin the searching process now? I am less than half-way finished on the book, but do have an outline done.

Thank you in advance for your advice!

Dear LaRita,

You don’t have to do anything, but it is advisable to finish (AND POLISH) the book first before seeking an agent and certainly before showing it to publishers. It is very rare when any novel gets sold based on a proposal–unless you are John Grisham or, ahem, Joan Collins. If you are John Grisham, you don’t even need a proposal or a title. Finishing the book should pay off for you, too. The finished product, if it is publishable, has got to be more valuable than the promise of a good book. Thus your advance will be higher. It’s hard enough to sell fiction. Do it the right way. Give it your best shot.

From: Sarah CET
To: ShereeBee

About getting published, Where do I start? Who do I contact, where do I go and what do I say? I’m just starting to write, mostly short stories, but I would like to get them publish[ed]. Any info would be really great. Thanks! -Sarah-

Dear Sarah,

The best place to start getting published–especially short stories–is in magazines. Get a copy of the Magazine Market Place and look at the writer’s shelf in your local bookstore for specifics on how to submit pieces for publication. Once you are a published writer, it is easier to find an agent for a book deal and easier for an agent to place you with a publisher.

From: JMontel738
To: ShereeBee

Congratulations! I just read your column for the first time. It’s very good!

I have a question for you. When representing a book to foreign agents what commission do you charge and what expenses do you recover?

Thank you.

Dear JMontel,

Thank YOU! Generally I split a 20% commission with foreign agents or split 15/10 with sub agents (with the author’s approval). See my prior posting about expense reimbursement.

From: Wafnamage
To: ShereeBee

Dear ShereeBee–

I just found the internet writer’s club area, and I have been reading through some of the letters and messages posted there. I came across your questions and answers, and after reading through them, I am troubled. I have several questions, so please bear with me.

Is it common for agencies to refer potential clients (or anyone, for that matter) to editing companies, and do editing companies normally charge fees into the thousands to do a critique or line-by-line edit?

About querying — from what I understand, it is acceptable to query more than one agency at a time. When sending out manuscripts to agencies, partial or complete, should you restrict yourself to one agency at a time, or can you send the same manuscript out to more than one agency at the same time? What about sending out different manuscripts to different agencies at the same time?

Will agencies only accept work that has not already been submitted to a publisher? I ask because I have completed 2 romance books, one of about 65,000 words and the other of about 85,000 words. I sent 2 chapters of each book, along with a synopsis and query letter to one publisher, and only a synopsis and query to a different publisher. Are these manuscripts now ineligible for consideration by an agency?

I don’t know if you normally e-mail each person back separately and then put together the article for the Writers Club, but if it is possible for you to e-mail me back personally, I would appreciate it. I am waiting to send out my sample chapters until I hear from you. Thank you!

Dear Wafnamage,

First, regarding independent editors, it does happen that agents refer writers to independent editors when the book shows promise but is not representable in its current form. When I make such a referral, I make it clear that I make no representations about the editors and I do not receive any commission from them. In fact, I don’t have a clue what they charge and want to remain in the dark about it. If and when the author and editor put together a revised proposal that they are satisfied with, I hope they will ask me again to consider it for representation, but no one is under any obligation. It is just a courtesy. If other agents make other arrangements than what I have just described, I am unaware of it, and I can’t say whether or not I would approve unless I heard the situation.

Regarding exclusivity, I believe I have answered this in a prior posting. If I have not been clear, please let me know. Third, having submitted your manuscript to only one or two publishers should not preclude you from finding an agent. Just be honest with agents when you approach them about the submission history of each work.

From: Bumsaway
To: ShereeBee

Like many writers fortunate enough to get an agent I feel somewhat frustrated by his (so far) failure to find a publisher for a —what else?—terrific thriller I wrote. This agent prefers thrillers and mysteries which is all well and good—but now, I’ve written a comedic screenplay. Let’s assume what I’ve written is actually a knee-slapping, rib-cracking barrel of yucks—what do I do if he literally “doesn’t get it”????

Can I keep him as agent for the thriller and seek representation for the screenplay? I’m not sold on convincing this agent that the screenplay is wonderful—If he doesn’t get comedy he certainly won’t market it as aggressively as I’d like.

If I seek an agent who enjoys thrillers AND comedies, haven’t I shot myself in the foot by signing with an agent who has already made some submissions to publishers?

So, what do I do? Can I have two agents that represent different properties?

P>S> By the way, should I query you about thriller and comedy? I found you thru the mentor program but wasn’t certain how to ask my question(s). E-mail or some other way–hope you don’t mind E-mail.

Dear Bumsaway,

Thanks for asking, but I don’t do screenplays unless there is a book first. You can have different agents for different things but they should not be out with your projects simultaneously and should both be informed of the other’s efforts. I would consider any book manuscript that has not been to more than two or three (non-choice) publishers. I tend to sign a book by book deal with my authors. Although I am interested in representing their career, I do not want to find myself representing something about which I am not enthusiastic and I don’t want my authors saddled with an unenthusiastic agent. I do, however, try to influence my authors to keep producing things that I do love, and it’s worked very nicely so far.

Good luck,



Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 5

1. What is a typical agent’s day like? (or Why should I not call agents on the phone?)

This is a particularly good question. No matter whom you are contacting, it is always a good idea to imagine how your communication is likely to be received. And there are so many different methods of communication available to us, it is worthwhile to think each time we decide to contact someone in business which method is most likely to achieve the best results: e-mail, fax, phone, snail mail, Federal Express, etc. This is especially important with agents, considering that a typical agent’s day is a hectic whirlwind of communication with editors, authors and prospective authors.

On a typical day, I receive a mail bag filled with mail, which might include 50 queries, several requested manuscripts, rejections from publishers, forms to fill out, contracts, royalty statements and, thankfully, a check or two. During the day, I receive regular visits from my friends at UPS and Federal Express. Each of these transmissions must be read, dealt with in some way, or delegated. Which queries do I wish to pursue? Which requested manuscripts do I think I can sell? Which forms must be dealt with today? Which contracts negotiated? Which authors must I communicate with? Should I write them letters or call?

Meanwhile, I must make several phone calls. I must call publishers to excite them about the book I am selling today. Then I must write to them and send them the proposal or manuscript. Many of the publishers I call are not immediately available, and so I leave a message for them to return my call. I also need to speak with certain authors. One of them did not get the proper promotional support from the publisher. Another has a question about a royalty statement. Another saw books in the store before getting his author copies. Another is excited about her review in The New York Times. Another has a question about the contract. I have to speak to all of them. Sometimes I must take action as a result of these calls–such as calling or writing to their publishers–and then get back to them.

Also, I am busy developing proposals with authors who have projects I wish to represent. It’s necessary to do some bookkeeping, to oversee workers, to go to the bank, and almost every day I have a lunch with a publisher and a professional meeting at night. Sometimes one of my out of town authors is in New York and wants to come by for a quick visit. At the same time, the phone is ringing constantly with people returning my calls and calling with reasons of their own.

Once you assimilate this vision, you’ll understand that it is impossible to be a good agent and still take calls from prospective authors who call to say, “I met you at a conference six months ago and am terribly sorry that I waited this long to send you my manuscript, a heart-wrenching autobiography called Why is it so Hard to Get Published? I know that you’ve been eagerly expecting it, but I caught the flu from my cousin Doris, and it was pretty nasty. Anyway, I’m sending it tomorrow by Express Mail and you should have it by Wednesday. It was only seen by Joe Smith of St. Martins who is my cousin’s brother-in-law (actually, he’s only in the mailroom), but he says that St. Martins will only consider agented manuscripts, so please let me know when you receive it, and if you don’t like it, I want to know why. I’ll call you on Thursday to make sure you received it, and I’ll call you on Friday to find out what you thought of it.”

Please forgive me the sarcasm, but every day brings several calls that are not very different from this composite, and because I believe in niceness in business, I answer my own phone whenever possible and take and return nearly every call. That’s why you can usually make the best impression by sending a professional query with a self-addressed stamped envelope concisely stating everything that needs stating. A good agent is equipped to deal with your query by mail in a timely manner.

Once an agent has expressed interest in representing you and certainly after the agent sends you a contract, you should expect to have reasonable phone access

2. To save time, can I send my manuscript to more than one agent at a time?

After researching qualified agents whom you think might be compatible with your material, it is reasonable to send a short query letter and s.a.s.e. to any number of agents. Although, everyone likes to feel special, and so when you tell an agent that she is the only one seeing a particular query, you are very likely to get special attention. It is when you are sending a large volume of material such as a long proposal or an entire manuscript that many agents, like myself, require an exclusive period to decide whether they wish to represent you or not. Some agents do not require that your long manuscript be exclusive, but this is not necessarily to your advantage. Often such non-exclusive submissions will sit for months or forever on such agents’ over-piled desktops or filing cabinets.

I, on the other hand, feel I have devised a fair solution that works for me and the author. When I see a query that I like, I call the author and ask for an exclusive THREE or FOUR-WEEK period to decide about representation. This way authors know that if it is with me alone for three weeks, they will have an answer–and sometimes I can provide an answer even sooner. Because I make this promise and am devoted to keeping it, I’m very selective about the number of manuscripts I request. I understand that if it turns out that I am incompatible with the author, we may not actually end up working together, and that would be fine, albeit a pity (and unlikely). The only situation I wish to avoid is reading the entire manuscript, loving it, telling the author I want to sign her up and having her tell me she is going with another qualified agent. I want authors to choose me first; then I’ll choose them back.

Incidentally, when I request an exclusive, I also request that the author tell me in writing if the manuscript has been to publishers, and if it has, to whom and what they said. Furthermore, I always request a s.a.s.e. with which to respond.

3. What can I expect from my agent in terms of correspondence, phone calls, and information?

Agents appreciate authors who respect their time and do not call when it is completely unnecessary or when a note or fax will do. That said, I believe strongly that it is an author’s right to receive copies of all correspondence between the agent and the publisher pertaining to the book–and in a timely fashion. When I receive a rejection letter from a publisher, I immediately have it copied and sent to the author. This not only keeps the author informed of who is seeing his manuscript but it also allows the author to determine if the rejections have a common theme in order to decide if the proposal or manuscript needs further work. When an editor calls to express interest or make an offer, I immediately call the author. When an editor sends a contract, the author sees it before I negotiate so that I can answer any questions and present a united front to the publisher. When royalty statements and other correspondence arrive, they are immediately examined and copied and sent to authors.

I remain available to the author to answer all questions and to troubleshoot in case there are problems between the publisher and the author. I also try to lend moral support and offer publicity and marketing suggestions to both the author and the publisher. Sometimes the author has a favorite publisher to whom she wants the manuscript sent. I always make every effort to comply with such requests.

4. How do agents sell books? or What happens after I have given you an acceptable proposal or manuscript?

When I am ready to start submitting a proposal or a manuscript to a publisher, the first thing I do is write a compelling submission letter and think about a concise but irresistible phone pitch. Then I make a list of all the publishers whom I think would like the project. Next, I call them all and pitch the pitch. I then send over the material to them all, telling them each that it is with other publishers and asking for a response by a particular date, approximately three or four weeks in the future. If several publishers are interested, I set an auction date and hold an auction. If only one publisher is interested, I try to negotiate a fair contract, which includes a reasonable advance against royalties.

Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 6

Thanks everyone. The questions are still terrific. Keep them coming. I want to mention that the current edition of Jeff Herman’s fabulous book is no longer called The Insider’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents. It is now called The Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers Editors and Literary Agents. It is published by Prima and available in most bookstores.

Warm regards to all, Sheree Bykofsky

Subj: Proofreader fees

From: Shanmarie
To: ShereeBee

Hello! I was reading the Writers Club message boards and I ran across your name. I know that you have plenty of experience in this industry, and I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I need a rough approximation on how many hours it should take to proofread a book approx. 325 pages long (with a handful of charts and pictures). The non-fiction book focuses on Judaism and Psychology. The publisher says that they need it back in about two and a half weeks. I need an estimate of how many HOURS a job like this should take. Thank you so much for your time.

Dear Shanmarie,

When I used to proofread fifteen years ago, I figured on 5 to 10 long galley pages per hour (5 if it was very technical and 10 if it was very simple), but since long galley pages no longer exist, I would probably say 9 to 13 pages per hour now . If I had to estimate more precisely based on your subject matter, I would probably figure on 10 pages per hour. Let me know what’s decided, ok?

Subj: Hello

From: Kim168
To: ShereeBee

Hello, I was wondering how I can get started in publishing and if I am too young. I am 14 and I think some of my work has potential. In your opinion, do you think I am too young to get anything published? If so how can I start smaller? I love to write and I have been writing stories since I was four years old. Please respond. Thank you.

Dear Kim,

You certainly do seem bright, and if have been writing since you were four and are asking this question now, I don’t think I need to be Nostradamus to predict that you have a career as a writer ahead of you. I would be happy to look at a little bit of your work now, but chances are if you wait a few more years, you’ll look back on your 14-year-old work and say, “that was great for 14, but look how much better my work is now!” and you’ll be sorry you started too soon. When you or any writer make a first attempt to be published, it should always be your best shot and never just to “test the waters” (i.e. “Let’s see what an agent thinks of my work or my work-in-progress”). With fiction, the work needs to be completely finished, edited, and polished. With non-fiction, you need to think about a book proposal and sample chapters and/or an edited, polished manuscript.

I don’t think it’s too soon for you to start submitting your work to magazines. If the work is of publishable caliber, you shouldn’t need to mention your age. On the other hand, if you have something terrific for a 14-year-old, you just may convince a sentimental editor to run your piece with your byline: “Kim, Age 14.” Remember that there are large magazines, which are harder to penetrate and smaller magazines, local magazines, newspapers, and newsletters (that are all easier to break in with). Look at the most current edition of the Magazine Market Place in the library. And when you’re ready to publish a book (you’ll know when), please remember the agent who gave you this terrific advice!

Subj: Manuscript Guidelines

From: JD444ART
To: ShereeBee

Dear Sheree, An agent recently told me that manuscript submissions should follow these guidelines:

  • 1) 1.25″ margins at top, left, and right.
  • 2) Type twenty-five sixty character lines (about 250 words) per page.
  • 3) Use serif font such as Courier or Times Roman.
  • 4) At 1/2″ from top of page, include last name and first major word in title (left margin) and page number (right margin).
  • 5) Double space lines.
  • 6) Never send manuscript bound!

These guide lines have increased my manuscript (originally 410 pages: double spaced, helvetica 12 pt) over 200 pages! Are these margins, fonts, and words per page standard? Also, should a manuscript be sent unbound? Thanks, JD.

Dear JD, To my knowledge, agents aren’t terrorists, and no agent will sit down and count whether you have 60 or 65 characters on a line (Beware of the agent who has time for that!) But what you have described does sound soothing to the eye, and that should be your main goal: big, readable type, double-spaced, unjustified right margins (I would add), reasonable margins all around, numbered pages, and yes unbound, undecorated, and undesigned. And, of course, you should identify your work with the title and your name and address and phone number on the first page. When an agent chooses to represent you, she will have you replace your address with her own. Most manuscripts, JD, are not as long as the one you describe. Is there anything you can cut before you start submitting it?

Subj: Readers

From: Ztee
To: ShereeBee

What is the best way to go about being a publisher or agent’s reader? What is the average pay?

The best way is to learn what publishers publish and what agent’s represent and send your resume around with some samples of your work and a terrific cover letter describing your qualifications. See the Literary Market Place or Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. Regarding the fees, that will depend on your experience and skill. See the Writer’s Union publication that deals with fees. I believe I mentioned the book’s name in an earlier column.

Subj: Queries and book proposals

From: SauronIV
To: ShereeBee

Dear Ms. Bykofsky:
I have an idea for a non-fiction book and am currently preparing a proposal and two sample chapters. In seeking an agent to represent me, I am wondering if it is appropriate to send the book proposal, outline, and sample chapters along with the query letter for a non-fiction work. Or is it better just to describe the idea in a paragraph or two and offer to send more if the agent is interested. I very much appreciate your guidance in this matter. Thank-you for your kind assistance.

Dear SauronIV, Hey, don’t be so formal. Call me Sheree, ok? But I am going to answer for me alone, since all agents react differently to submissions. It is always safe to send just a query and a s.a.s.e. to any number of agents. If you wish to send more than a short query, you are welcome to send me anything short of a whole manuscript (i.e. the proposal, outline and sample chapters) PROVIDED you include a s.a.s.e. and you tell me I am the only agent considering it and that it has not been directly to publishers. I will always give you a response as soon as possible within three weeks (occasionally four). I hope to hear from you.


Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 7

Wow! Did I have a busy end of year. Sold 20 books in December, including three at auction. January’s been good, too, and I am eager to see many of my author’s books hit the bookstores this year. Thank you everyone for your lovely letters. I’m so glad that my column has been useful to you. Please see my home page on the world wide web. The address is:

From: [name deleted]
To: ShereeBee
Dear Ms. Bykofsky:

I just discovered AOL’s Writer Bulletin Boards and your column is most helpful for both new and established writers. Thanks.

I wonder if you would care to give me your opinion on the following problem. I am represented by an excellent agent who sold my book proposal to [Publisher] very quickly. During my query for agents phase, she was prompt, professional and had a good reputation for solid non-fiction sales. I have been quite happy with her and I actually turned down two other agents to work with her.

Now that she has sold the book, [Publisher] has told her that it will be 4-6 weeks until the contract will be prepared and perhaps ten weeks for the first half of the advance. In order to finish the book by [Publisher’s] deadline, I must take a leave of absence from my law practice to finish the book. I am concerned that I am making this commitment without any contract other than my agent’s assurances that the deal is in place. I have let my agent know these concerns, and she is understanding but tells me that the deal is 99.9% sure and that I must be patient with publishers.

Is it unusual for a large house to take so long ? Is my agent sugarcoating something I should know about ? I’d appreciate your view at your convenience. Thanks again.

Dear B,

What your agent describes, I’m sorry to say, sounds typical. I don’t want to be responsible, but if I were you, I would certainly believe her and be happy that I had found a good agent. [Publisher] can be impossible–but they’re not so different from other publishers. It is always advisable, however, not to work too hard until you have the contracts signed. If that will make the deadline impossible, now might be a good time to speak up so that the deadline may be extended as long as the contract is delayed. Ask your agent about this option. Good luck.

From: BarcIntl
To: ShereeBee

Hi Sheree,

I saw you speak at this year’s ASJA and remembered you had a column here, I hope you can help.

I’ve recently started writing a humor book. It’s similar in genre to those “101 Things to Do with a Dead Cat” books, but more original (yeah, I know, everyone says that). My problem is that I don’t have an illustrator and I know I’ll need cartoon-type art to make the book saleable (or longer than 4 pages 🙂

How would I go about doing this? Could I submit my book to a publisher without the art and tell them that if they want the book, I’ll resubmit it with art? Or do I need the illustrations first? And when I hire, can I just pay the person for the work or do I have to cut them in on the book’s profits? (Yes, I know, I’m perpetually optimistic). If I have them do the work on spec, and promise them a piece of the profits, what’s a fair percentage? Since I had the idea, did the writing and will be taking care of the business end, it seems like 50/50 would be a bit high a split…is 30% fair?

Thanks for your help!

Dear BarcIntl:

There are conflicting answers to almost every one of your questions. The possible deals are as diverse as pawprints. Sometimes the publisher supplies the art and pays for it. Sometimes the publisher supplies the art and the author pays for it. Sometimes the author supplies the art and the publisher pays for it. Sometimes the author supplies the art and the author pays for it. The amount that is paid varies from author to author, publisher to publisher, and illustrator to illustrator. Sometimes the deals are flat fees and sometimes the illustrator gets a percentage of the royalties. Whatever all parties agree is fair is fair. Sorry I can’t help more!

From: Bonwritr
To: ShereeBee


Enjoying your column immensely, and who knows – I may be one who contacts you sometime in the next six months. After eighteen years’ writing experience, I’m seeing for the first time (thanks to the info you are providing in The Writer’s Club forum) that an agent could free me up to do what I most love doing – WRITING!

Thanks for the encouragement, as well as practical, forthright information. You are appreciated!

You said: “I continue to recommend Jeff Herman’s Insider’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents (although the name will be changing in September with the next edition to become part of Prima’s Writer’s Guide series).”

I checked at our local Waldensbook store, but they did not have a copy. Their records show that the new one should be out soon. Can you tell me when it will hit the shelves? Do you know what the new title will be?

Thanks, and continued success to you.

Dear Bonwritr:

Many thanks to you. I hope by now you have found the new edition. It is called the Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents. I do hope to hear from you again when you’re ready to query me.

From: RusHoward
To: ShereeBee

I’ve had three novels published, and now I want to market a nonfiction book. However, my agent refuses to handle nonfiction and is concentrating on genre fiction.

I would like to send this ms. out myself, but I’m not quite sure how to handle this.

1. In the cover letter, do I state that my agent will handle all negotiations for me? (He has done this before with fiction.)

2. I’d like to send this out as a multiple submission. If I refer to my agent in the cover letter, how do I let him know about the multiple submission?

3. Should I just try to get a new agent who handles both fiction and NF?

In advance, thanks for your help.

Dear RusHoward:

I can only tell you what I would do were I the agent in question. First, I think you should pose each of these reasonable questions to your own agent. What I would do is tell my author that I don’t wish to represent a particular books of his or hers and I recommend another agent to query. I always wish that the author will come back to me with the next book after this, but they are under no obligation. Remember, multiple queries are o.k., but I don’t recommend multiple submissions of manuscripts. Let me know what happens.


Sheree Bykofsky’s Ask the Agent, column 8

Hi Everybody! It’s been a busy year in publishing, although in the summer, people tend to slow down a bit. And it looks like in a few years, there will be one publishing company and one bookstore (more on that in my next column). Non-fiction continues to be much easier to sell than fiction, although I hope you’ll all look out for a new novel by my author, a first time novelist, Barbara Seranella. I met Barbara at a writer’s conference and recognized her talent immediately. The novel is a mystery, and it’s called No Human Involved (St. Martins). I continue to enjoy your questions. Keep them coming. And do continue to look on my website for updates: Your questions continue to intrigue me:

From: DGOOD009
To: ShereeBee


How much “pull” does an agent have when it comes to getting a contract? What I mean is this: Does the “well known” agent’s clients have a better chance at getting published or is the merit and marketability of the ms the only consideration?

Dear DGood,

Provided you have a reputable agent, one who has or works for an active agency, who is willing to spend the time necessary to market your books to the appropriate editors at the appropriate publishing houses, the question of being “well known” should not be a factor at all. In fact, sometimes an unknown or first-time author will get lost at an agency that spends most of its time nurturing celebrities and proven best-selling authors.

Subj: agent’s job

From: SueRich
To: ShereeBee

What do you do for a published client after the sale, or several sales? How do you help your authors achieve greater goals? Do you have some kind of career planning system?

Dear Sue, It is the agent’s job to remain the author’s advocate for the life of the book, and sometimes beyond. Whereas after the sale is made to a publishing house, it is typical for an author to be in touch with the publishing company directly about editorial and publicity matters, the agent stands ready to troubleshoot on the author’s behalf–hopefully before a potential problem becomes a real problem. The agent also receives and carefully verifies all payments and royalty statements and relays them promptly to authors. Sometimes the editors contact the agent regarding changes at the company or news pertaining to the authors’ books and it is the agent’s job to report relevant news to the authors in a timely manner.

Subj: advances

From: Rochgwc
To: ShereeBee

A question for you: How hard is it for an unknown writer – one doing a first non-fiction book – to secure an advance that would allow one a little breathing room to take time off from work and complete the job? The book requires time-consuming reporting, and I was unsure how common advances – even small ones – are for unknown writers.

Dear Roch,

What a person can live on varies so much from person to person and the size of a book advance against royalties can vary from a few thousand to a few million dollars–depending on what the market will bear; nevertheless, most agents will only represent books that are likely to command advances that will make their small percentage worthwhile. That’s why agents usually maintain their closest contacts with large publishing houses that can afford to pay larger advances. It is typical to receive half of the advance upon signing a contract based on a non-fiction proposal and the remainder upon delivery and acceptance of the final manuscript. Whether you are writing for a large or small press or a university press, you should expect at least some advance against royalties. It does occasionally happen that a reputable house, like McFarland, will pay you no advance.

From: Wealth19
To: ShereeBee

Dear Shereebee:

What publisher or publishers would be my best bet for embracing a sports related book? I am interested in knowing both small and large publishers that publish such interest books. I really appreciate you responding to my questions in the past. Your e-mail accessibility is a real help to aspiring writers. Thank you! Sincerely, wealth19

Dear Wealth,

You’re most welcome! To find agents and publishers who deal with sports books, look in Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents. See also the Literary Market Place. Another place to look is on the sports shelf at your local bookstore and library. As usual, I urge you to seek an agent before you query publishers. May your wealth increase exponentially.

From: JayAnt677
To: ShereeBee

Dear Sheree,

I just read your column for the first time. It’s a great column. I (of course) had my doubts going in–fully expected to be browbeaten into BUYING something, if not bamboozled outright (cynical that I am).

So, here is a sincere thank you, although I know beforehand that it may sound like a left-handed compliment: Thanks for being on the up and up, thanks for being honest, thanks for helping me.

I really mean it.

Dear Jay,

Wow! Keep those letters coming!

From: West Wood7
To: ShereeBee

Dear Sheree,

I enjoy reading your section in The Writers Club on America Online! It is great to know that there is somebody out there willing to shed some light on the mysterious industry of writing. I wasn’t sure just where to go for answers! You said that you prefer to have queries and bios, so I hope that I do not bore you with mine. I have been writing since I was very young, about the second grade. Now, I didn’t say I was writing great stuff since second grade, but writing and loving it nonetheless. I am fifteen years old now and want to advance to the next level of writing: publishing. I have researched publication a lot. I am taking the first step—literary magazines and writing contests. While I am going slow (requesting theme lists, guidelines, collecting addresses), I have submitted one short piece to a magazine called Journey. I like to write many different types of writing—short stories, short shorts, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama, fantasy, sci-fi—the longest pieces I have written are a mix of fantasy and sci-fi. So, background information covered, here are my questions:

· A lot of the publishing guidelines for literary magazines use terms such as “first-time rights” and “one-time rights.” It would seem that before I do any serious submitting, I should be aware of the meanings of these terms so that I do not run into any trouble elsewhere. Would you please explain them to me? · I have read that to gain a professional look, one should have cover letters with their manuscripts. But I have not learned how to make a cover letter, or even what one is. What does a cover letter need? · I also read in your section on America Online of certain guidelines for submitting manuscripts to publishing houses. The writer listed a variety of requirements, such as margins. How strict are these requirements? Do publishers want manuscripts very plain and uniform? I ask because one of the stories I have written, which is “published” online, has a lot of special formatting on it, such as embedded pictures, music, special fonts, colors, etc. Due to certain circumstances, I do not plan on attempting to publish this in a real book. But I also have other stories that use more simple formatting, such as colorful titles, different fonts for chapter headings. Should I make my manuscripts very plain when submitting them? · Say I won a writing contest, one which did not publish the winning piece; would it be appropriate to use that writing in other areas, such as for publication or other writing contests? · What is the most appropriate way to request an author’s representation? When I am ready, I plan to start with you, if that is okay.

If you would like to visit my online story, it is at [web address deleted]. While this is not my best writing, it may be of interest to you. Thank you so much for your time and assistance!

Dear Westwood,

Your questions are brilliant and you have “professional writer” stamped all over you. I will be honored to have you query me when you are ready, although I hope you will understand that first-time novelists rarely get their first novel sold. Usually it takes a few efforts to truly get the hang of it. But despite rejections, writers just keep on writing, and eventually, most good and persistent writers do get published.

One of the answers is already in a prior ASK THE AGENT column, regarding margins. Double spaced, one inch all around is typical, although guidelines are just not that strict.. First North American serial rights is the most typical way an article gets licensed to magazines (you do not sell your rights but rather license them). The magazine buys the right to publish your article in North America first before any other publication. You maintain the copyright and can sell it again if anyone wants to buy it.

Most of your other questions require long answers. There are several excellent books in libraries and at bookstores regarding how to write query letters to magazines and explaining the magazine publishing business thoroughly. I recommend you read them before submitting your work widely.

Yes, you should make your pieces plain before submitting them. Publishers like to handle design decisions, although where art is required, authors are usually required to supply it.

I urge you to visit my website, but I am sorry to say that I do not have the time to visit yours. Whenever you have something to submit, please send it via snail mail with a s.a.s.e. to my office at: Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc., 16 W. 36th Street, New York, NY 10018 and assure me that you have not queried publishers directly. I will usually respond very quickly and rarely take more than three weeks.

Thanks so much for writing! Keep it up!

From: Wheelgnnr
To: ShereeBee

What should a person include in a bio when looking for an agent?

Dear Wheel,

Include the credentials that make you an expert in the subject you are writing and state what you have published, if anything. Don’t forget to mention if you have won any awards or received special honors. Say what you do for a living and anything else you feel is important or impressive.

From: LGLCom
To: ShereeBee

What a generous soul you are for providing this forum. I am a real newcomer to the writer/agent relationship. I have an agent in NY who read my non-fiction proposal and sample chapter the day she received it. She returned it to me with a few comments. I incorporated the changes, wrote an additional chapter and mailed it off to her in mid-November. She sent it to an editor at a major publisher in the middle of February as an exclusive first look. She requested the editor to get back to her by 2/27. It’s 3/20 and presumably she is still waiting to hear. I think she wanted to garner some feedback from the editor assuming he was not interested in buying the book. That makes perfect sense to me–that way we could make an necessary changes before submitting it to other publishers. My question is this: how long should I be willing to wait? I hate how that even sounds; I am grateful, you must know, that I have an agent to begin with. Another agent wanted to work with me, but I selected the one I have now really because I admired her experience and hard work. I hope I’ve given you enough information. I will look for your response. Thank you very much.

Dear LGL, Wow, that’s a little tough. I think it sounds like a good time to call your agent and express what you expressed to me, i.e. how happy you are to have such a good agent (couldn’t hurt to remind her that you selected her over another agent in case she wants to get out of it now; perhaps she got busier than she had anticipated or something). And ask her how long she advises you to hold on to the exclusive with the one publisher. She may have some interest from the publisher who begged her for more time (it happens!). On the other hand if the publisher is just not responding, then it’s time to tell that publisher something like, “take your time, but I want to show this to other editors” and make it simultaneous. I always show my authors the written rejections and you should request these (hope you don’t get any, though!) Best of luck. I hope I helped.

From: Chadwrite
To: ShereeBee

Hi! Thanks for all you do, it’s appreciated out here! My question: I’m an unpublished novelist. Among many, many others, I have queried [Agency name deleted]. Her first response from the query was to request a 50 dollar reading fee. I did not respond. Several months later, she requested the manuscript again, saying that her new association with “The [name deleted] Publishing Group” no longer made it necessary to ask for a reading fee. I mailed the manuscript. She sent back a one-page contract, and a glowing cover letter. In it, she requests 190 dollars to cover the cost of photocopying five sets of the 380 page manuscript– ten cents per page. The contract is for one year, and includes all projects I write during that period. Am I being scammed, or should I be popping the Champagne? The contract does stipulate that she is to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses from the proceeds of a publishing deal. I’m ready to pay up front but the price seems a little steep, and I wonder if there won’t be future requests for money. She says she only sends out pristine manuscripts on top-quality paper. What am I to do? Thanks in advance.

Dear Chadwrite, You are correct to be careful, especially when you have to shell out money in advance for books as yet unread by the agent. I don’t know anything about the agency you named. I ask my authors to photocopy their manuscripts themselves. I also ask to be reimbursed for mailing and messengering costs (up to $150 for the lifetime of the book–I believe in a cap for that sort of thing but not all good agents do), and this I take out of the publishing proceeds too. I would feel most comfortable with an agent who is a member of the A.A.R. Perhaps you can query some publishers about her. And why don’t you see who else she’s represented and ask to talk to them. I always suggest to my prospective authors that they contact some of my clients.

From: BG Lady
To: ShereeBee

Dear ShereeBee:

I have a children’s book that has been rejected, a number of times, but always with an encouraging letter. I decided to seek out an agent and he thinks it has potential and referred me to a book doctor. I need to know if this is a standard practice or if maybe the agent and book doctor have some kind of agreement. This will not guarantee the agent will handle the book and I could be out $500 + dollars.



I sometimes recommend book doctors that I know when I believe in the project but have trouble with the execution. I don’t have a clue what they charge. There’s no kickback to me, but it is certainly an area where an unscrupulous agent can make money. So without knowing who referred you or the book doctor, I can’t say. Sure, it’s possible. But how established an agent and book doctor is this? Is the agent a member of the AAR? If so, I would trust him or her. And does the book doctor have any happily published clients that you can talk to? That would clinch it for me. Best wishes, Sheree

From: EKesend
To: ShereeBee

Dear Sheree,

Thanks for your reply re. my two-book lit fiction “series.” It was helpful.

My thinking re [agency name deleted] was that I would send the book back to the agent interested, but that I would query other agents while I was waiting for her reply, so that I would be ready to send out the ms. to others in the event [the agency] turns it down. Thus far I have only sent it to one at a time, and it took half the year to get four responses. As I am a writer by profession, this certainly nips the old income in the bud. I will certainly be honest if I multiply submit, and will respect any agent who asks for an exclusive.

I have another question for you. I am a screenwriter and have an agent in Hollywood who is interested in finding me a book agent in NY provided she gets to help set up “the film.” I have been hesitant because I wanted to keep my new career as a novelist separate, and I wanted to test the waters myself and thereby learn about the book world. If the…agent (my own contact) doesn’t work out, and I let my Hollywood agent help me get a book agent, do you think she should refrain from sending out my ms. to producers until the book has been submitted to publishers?

From: ShereeBee
To: EKesend

That is very hard. It helps and hurts. A bestseller is more likely to get picked up and for lots of money. On the other hand, if there is movie interest, that might entice some publishers. On the third hand, some publishers are unimpressed with options, stating that the films rarely get made. My own choice, I think, would be to wait on Hollywood until there is at least a book deal brewing. Hope that helps.

copyright (c) Sheree Bykofsky Associates, Inc.