Friday, February 22, 2008

Am I Believing in Something Bad?

In my post on Am I Missing Something Good?, there was a comment by Anonymous 11:59 that I wanted to point out to readers and ask your advice on. Since the comment was made the day after the original post I suspect many of you may have missed it. Rather than quote Anonymous directly, I’ll paraphrase and let you read the comment for yourself. I also want to note that Kim did comment and had a brilliant answer, but again, I felt strongly enough about Anonymous’s accusations that I felt I should comment as well. I also wanted others to see what people are saying.

What Anonymous essentially said, or maybe accused me of, is that because I choose, and most agents choose, to represent only those books they “like” or “believe in,” we are bad salespeople. In addition, making a decision based on a single query shows that we are also bad agents. And, it’s because of us that the publishing industry is being run into the ground (which I didn’t know was happening).

An interesting theory, but one I heartily disagree with. However, maybe my world is too insular. Maybe all writers feel this way. Maybe you all think that agents should represent everything that’s well written, even if they don’t have the contacts or knowledge of the genre. Maybe I should represent children’s picture books simply because they’re well written, despite the fact that I don’t know the first thing about what makes a children’s book successful, marketable, or enjoyable for children.

Let me address one issue first, and that’s the issue of selling something we like or believe in. I believe that most people who choose to work in sales prefer to sell something they like or believe in. I know a real estate agent, for example, who never in a million years would sell cars. Cars aren’t his passion, homes are. The truth, though, is that liking or believing in something is only part of what goes into an agent’s decision process. Yes, we have to like the book and yes we have to believe in the book, but we also have to feel that it’s marketable to publishers as well as readers, we have to feel that the plotting is strong, the characterization good, and the writing has to be terrific, and those last three things are all subjective and come down to my belief that the writing, characterization, and plotting are good. And not all editors, agents, or readers will agree with me. That’s why I need to believe in this book and believe that I can find the editors and readers who will feel the same way I do. Because if no one feels that way, the book will not sell.

What I’m saying is that the difference between selling cars and selling books is that what makes a book good is subjective. A car has a concrete value that can be judged against all other cars. A book does not. I don’t just sell my books to editors who are looking to buy books. I sell my books to editors looking to buy books in a specific genre and with a specific voice, because whether we like it or not, we all buy books because we like them and believe that they are good and enjoyable. We buy cars because we need cars. We might pick the color or the features because we want them, but in the end it’s more of a need-based item than simply want-based.

So yes, in order to successfully sell books I need to have a solid understanding of the market and of what makes a good book, and I need to believe in it and love it. Because honestly, with the way publishing pays, I don’t think any of us would be in it otherwise.

As to the second point, judging a book based on a query letter. I think I addressed this in my original post, but I’ll address it again since I don’t think Anonymous read very carefully. I judge material based on query letters because I know I can. If you write your own query letter and you’ve written your own book I should get a sense of voice from that one page. If you’ve written a strong pitch I should also get a sense for the market the book is aimed for, or the marketability of the book. And if you’ve written your own query letter I should get a sense for how strong your writing is. I do base my decisions on the writing, but writing isn’t everything. Not to readers, not to agents, not to editors. It takes a lot more than good writing to make a query letter and a book.

But what about readers? Would you all simply prefer that agents take on whomever they choose and whatever book they choose because the writing is good? Or would you want an agent who believes in your work, likes your work, and specializes so that she understands the genre and the market? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this because, believe it or not, I get this a lot.

Jessica

115 comments:

D. Renee Bagby said...

I agree and disagree. ;P

I agree with selling something you're passionate about and have knowledge of. Working in retail, I sometimes get stuck in sections I know absolutely nothing about (and no, the store doesn't give a handout or any type of training). That's frustrating to customers who come to me asking questions, because I have no clue and wouldn't know where to begin.

Not to mention, you are more enthusiastic when you are selling something you personally like. When I worked in a video store (not saying which one), I could pretty much sell any movie I liked. It was my excitement about the movie that made the sale more so than the plot or the actors. Some people actually said they wouldn't have considered the movie if I hadn't recommended it. But I made sure the movie I recommended fit the person's tastes first. OT - I'm an eclectic movie watcher so I could usually suggest something for everyone.

The part I disagree about is the query letter. That's technical writing and is vastly different from romance writing. Many, many authors dread writing blurbs and synopses (even tag/loglines) because they now have to condense a 60+K story into two pages/paragraphs or less while keeping the essence of the story intact to hook the reader. One of my publishers actually hired someone to write blurbs (or revamp the ones we authors submit) so they would be better.

And then take into account some authors are new to the game and have no clue how a good query letter should look. I searched online and found five different sites with five different examples of how a query letter (romance specifically) should flow. I picked the one that made sense to me, but what if the agent I submit it to doesn't like that style? I got shot down before I even started.

Out of all the rejections I received before my first book was accepted, I dismissed and ignored the query letter only rejections, just as easily as they dismissed me. Why? Because at no point did they read a sample of my writing. My strong point (I think) is my dialog not my description, but at what point does a query letter only submission show off that good side?

Granted my first book was waaaaaaaay rough when I first submitted it. I love it now and thank my lovely editors for helping me make it look so good, but I didn't learn any of that until AFTER I was signed. And I'd like to sidenote that a lot of things my editors tagged me on were things I'd read in many NY published novels. And saying, "But so-and-so did it that way" wasn't a valid excuse.

Wow, I got long-winded again, sorry about that. In conclusion (what is this a dissertation?), I still hate, with a burning passion, writing a synopsis once I'm done with my ms. Don't even get me started on blurbs and tag/loglines... grrrr. I have no clue what a good query letter should look like (according to whoever) and I thank my lucky stars everyday that the publishers I submit to want a partial (or full) and judge based on that rather than a query letter that kept me up all night worrying about whether I should start with "Dear" or just their name, or use a colon or a comma, or if I should have said "sincerely" or "much appreciated" or what have you and all the other junk that comes with technical writing.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the original Anon 11:59 poster, whose argument boils down to his/her own quote:

"The ability to write a query has no bearing on the ability to write a novel."...meaning that lit agents, who primarily select works for representation based on a 1-page query letter, must be missing out on many great (presumably 'salable') works.

But the fact of the matter is that if one can write a commercially viable novel, one should also be able to sum up that commercial competitiveness in a 1-page pitch. To not be able to do this indicates a lack of understanding of how their particular product--and it does help to think of them as products, widgets off an assembly like that will keep coming regardless whether anyone picks up the one currently dropping out of the pipeline)--fits into the marketplace. If the writer comprehends where on the bookshelf their novel will be placed, then they should be able to imagine that jacket copy and proceed accordingly.

Part of the problem with new writers, I think, is that by the time theyve finished writing the novel, revising and editing it, they are in an anxious rush for feedback--to market it--to the point that the query writing process is overly rushed. If you spend a year writing the novel, I'd say you want to spend 3 months writing the query and synopsis--absoultely no less than 1 month. So it comes down to perfecting the craft of the query.

And besides--even if the can't-write-a-query-b-ut-can-pen-an-asewome-novel writer managed to land an agent who then secured a publishing deal...what then? IT all comes down to some customer in a bookstore with 2 minutes to kill while his wife's in line already, flipping over the back of thaqt novel and reading the jacket copy. So getting good at writing that kind of copy is only going to help you.

Diana said...

This is a very timely blog entry.

Very recently, I sent a full manuscript to an agent at the agent's request. Her e-mail back to me said, "I can't say that I love it." but she offered to represent me.

As this is my first manuscript, I felt a little jitter of happiness that someone wanted to represent me, but I mostly felt icky about it. If this agent can't say that she loved my manuscript to me, the author, she certainly wouldn't want to say it to anyone else, right? It's her reputation on the line.

I knew this was not a good match and thanked her but declined.

I can't imagine expecting an agent who doesn't like science fiction or children's lit taking on such a manuscript unless there was something really compelling about it. It would also seem that the author didn't do his or her research if he or she queried an agent who doesn't handle the author's particular genre.

A question about that: say you're an author who normally writes romance, and your agent represents romance. If you write something in a totally different area, like horror, would you still talk with your own agent about it, or would you immediately proceed with finding an agent who represents that area?

I can understand how an agent might get a sense of whether or not someone can write if the query letter is filled with funky grammatical constructions and typos. But I'm curious - if the book is a crazy fantasy targeting pre-school kids, how does a query letter give you a glimpse of that style and still sound professional?

whimper1823 said...

I agree with anon 2:59. We spend so much time writing a novel-- working plots, sub plots, back story and descriptions--we can't take the time to write a simple one page query letter.

I think people give up to easily or experience some sort of stage fright. If they wrote the book, spent hours editing it they should know the book inside and out. For someone to say they can't write a hook to save their life seems unbelievable. I think they may not be able to only for the lack of trying.

You spent hours crafting the novel sitting in front of you. Instead of worring about what the agent is looking for--a comma or how to address them in the query--use your knowledge and voice of the book. Get back into your characters and tell us the conflicts and highlights.

I would also rather have an agent who knows my genre and is excited about my book. If I settle for someone who signed me for the simple reason that I write well, I wouldn't trust that agent to push my book as aggressively as one who loved. Matter of fact, I think my book would be sitting on a shelf while the agent pushed something she/he did fall in love with.

CM said...

Having been a salesperson at a much earlier time in my life, both for things I liked and things I didn't care about, I can say with certainty that I did a MUCH better job selling things I liked. Even though the things I sold did have objective value in a bluebook, the "fit" was individual and subjective. Who was going to use it? Was it a family or an individual? What did they want it for? I really enjoyed finding that fit and making people happy.

There is no way I would want an agent who was in some way reluctant about my work. It shows. I want an agent who is passionate about it, and who desperately wants to make it "fit" with that right editor.

Finally, as to the query letter--yes, it's hard. Yes, it's a different kind of writing than you'll have to do to get a novel done. But why not spend the time to do it? These days, there are no excuses. You have hundreds of pitches critiqued here on Bookends, a smattering of queries discussed on Kristin Nelson's and Nathan Branford's site, and another hundred or so on Evil Editor's site. Before you send your query out, you can send it through wringers on Evil Editor's site and Dear Author and the occasional pitch contest. Why wouldn't you invest the time and energy into getting feedback on this crucial introduction to agents and editors?

The query is not a great metric for evaluating whether the pages will be good. But it does, at a minimum, show whether someone is willing to do homework--and a lot of it. It's not a bad metric, and I challenge anyone who thinks queries shouldn't matter to think of a better way to filter out manuscripts. Keep in mind that the method you choose should allow agents to consider thousands of manuscripts a year instead of hundreds.

Usman said...

I agree with everything that Jessica said; other than the query letter.

IMO it should be standard industry practice, that a query letter be accompanied with the first chapter or 5 pages of writing.

Some query letters are probably too bad to worry about. some would be brilliant.
There would be those straddling the line. I guess a quick peek at the partial sent in the first place would mean fewer slips of good books in the first instance.

Inspite of all the advise available at blogs, drafting a query letter is more a technical job.
Perhaps agents are requesting more partials based on the sizzle of a query than the book itself.

Katie said...

Absolutely not! I, for one, do NOT want an agent offering to represent me if they don't love my book! How could I possibly win? Sure, their sales skills might be so good that they'd still sell it... but I bet if my book was also simultaneously being sold by another agent who loved it, that agent would get me a better deal. Why? Well, simply because their excitement would be contagious, and they'd be a lot more likely to get editors excited about it!

As for query letters... I have yet to send any out, but I've studied them and the whole query-writing-and-mailing-and-reviewing process quite a bit. I have come to think that many writers don't understand the significance of one little phrase you said once or twice... if the author wrote the query letter themselves. When agents explain why a query letter "caught" them, sometimes they only mention the story line. But just as often, if not more often, it's the voice that comes across, even when "rules" are broken! I've submitted query samples for critiquing, and had some people insist that sentences should be written differently. The problem is... their version of the sentence doesn't sound like my writing! What would be the good of their sentence capturing an agent's attention, when their sentences aren't filling my book? If my sentences and writing style can't capture an agent, then neither will my book.

My only caveat is that yes, it is a little rough on those of us whose strong points are dialog or romantic tension. All I can hope is that, since those alone can't carry a book, hopefully I've got enough other writing skills to capture an agent someday, anyway.

One more note... for those that are having a rough time condensing their finished novel down to a paragraph or two... try writing those paragraphs as you write the book. I didn't on my first book, and realized that I didn't have enough "at stake" only when I went to write the query letter. Now, as I re-write it and work on my second book, I'm writing those paragraphs simultaneously. Having what I think is a good summary from the beginning really seems to beneficial. (And it's, surprisingly, not ruining my pantster-ness.)

beth said...

There have been times when I've purchased books by an agent who rejected me, and the books I read were in my opinion quite poor--they were in my genre, should have been perfect for me...but I didn't like the writing. In particular, I recently read a book rep'd by an agent I'd kill to have who rejected a work I felt was PERFECT for her based on what she wanted. The book seemed so amateurish and I really simply didn't like it.

My immediate response was anger--how could this agent get this book pub'd when mine is obviously so much better?

Then you have to be logical:
1) I'm biased. Of course I think my work is better.
2) The fact that I DIDN'T like this book means good things about how I didn't get picked by this agent. This agent's taste is clearly different from mine.
3) This is a BUSINESS. Writing isn't--but publishing is. I'd do better to figure out how this book got published and learn from it instead of gripe and complain that a work that wasn't good got pub'd before me. Even though I didn't like the writer's style, I learned things. The main character was annoying self depreciating--but considering it was written for teen girls, perhaps I should look into adding an element of that in my own writing. There was a more conversational tone in her novel than in mine; ditto. And most importantly, even if I didn't like the writing, there was a pretty unique idea driving the story, something that I need to develop more in my new WIP.

Long story short: it's a business. Get over it.

green_knight said...

I don't agree that query writing and novel writing are the same skill - anymore than I'd expect a novelist to excel at nonfiction articles or poetry, and vice versa.

And I have to admit to being worried about the trend that writers are more and more expected to fill roles that publishers used to fill - not only are they expected to write a good story that needs only light editing (so far, so good - I actually don't think that so-so text polished to brilliance by editors is the best way to get great books) but they're supposed to provide their own marketing plan and target a niche and bring a following of people who will buy their books... and all of this means that we're likely to be losing out on the next Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norris: a book, written by a fairly reclusive writer that fits no existing framework whatsoever, but which is utterly, utterly wonderful (and commercially successful, too.)

That said, if you get ten wonderful submissions each month by new authors - books that are well written and marketable - you somehow *will* have to whittle down the pile, because you can't represent all of them fairly, and not picking the ones you adore first seems rather silly.

Keri Ford said...

Originally, I would not query agents who were 'query letter only'. I wanted to get my work in front of them, not a paragraph. I didn't understand how somebody could read a paragraph and get the gif of my whole story. I mean, one of my characters has TWO identies! It's too complex to sum it up and pitch as a letter. Boy, I was stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I've attracted more attention from agents I've ONLY sent the query letter to. Why?

Simple, it forces me to put a little extra umph in my pitch:

-Now I have the task of lacing my voice in (something I didn't do before, because I thought, hey, they have pages RIGHT THERE if they want to see my voice).

-Also, I have to get my hook in there. I didn't do this as well as I should have before, because they would clearly see my hook when they looked at my pages. Instead, I had worked harder at telling more of the story. Clueless me figured agents took the time they didn't have to scan through pages that didn't have an interest to them.

-I try to swell out of that standard query format a little to stand out from the crowd since I didn't have my pages to do that for me. As d. renee pointed out, there are different versions of different query letters all over the place. How are you supposed to know which one to use? You don't, so I looked at them, closed my windows and did my own thing which was a combination of everything I read.

All-in-all, I've got a stronger pitch in my letter now and I also know how to sum a 80k story into ten or so words. Something I could NOT do before I broke down and started querying 'query letter only agents'.

Whether we like it or not, authors are more than just writers nowadays. If I can't sell my book to somebody who's looking for my genre, somebody whose looking to bust their backside to sell me, then how the heck do I expect to stand in a bookstore with 30 seconds and sell to a customer who might have a few extra dollars to spend?

Jodie W. said...

Hi, coming out of lurkdom to support and agree with what others have said.

I have a few ms almost finished, I haven't submitted anything yet, but I know I would only want an agent who was excited and enthusiastic about my work.

In my past life I was a media buyer for an advertising agency. If I didn't fully believe in a TV show (regardless of ratings, low rate, blah, blah, blah) and believe it was a good match for my client I couldn't recommend it. It didn't feel right, I didn't feel good about doing it and I didn't feel like I was doing the right thing by the client. And that wasn't even a personal "baby" that I was selling.

Uh-uh, I want someone who loves that baby as much as I do and has a strong belief in it and in me. I also want someone who's going to find the very best home for it, and that requires someone who is knowledgable about my genre and knows where the best home would be.

This might be totally unfair, and is purely speculaion, but I'd say the anon poster has probably reached their breaking point in receiving rejections and is lashing out. Like some one else said, it is a business and it's a tough one. I think there needs to be a strong relationship between author/agent - with a passion for what they're selling - or the two will end up at odds and not really working together. IMHO

Amy Nathan said...

I think that what some writers fail to admit, is that agents call the shots here. If Agent A uses the query letter and goes no further, that's his or her prerogative. If Agent B wants to read 50 pages before making a decision, then bully for him or her. I am a published writer but a not-yet-published author. I have every intention of sending out a query letter that the best representation of my writing and my book. I wouldn't do anything less. I'm selling myself!

And personally, if I don't find an agent who devours my book and is chomping at the bit to represent me, then I'll write a new book. I want my book sold with gusto. I want my agent to love it - and to find an editor who loves it.

I think writers who want special treatment right from the poorly written query letter on, are going to be an agent's nightmare.

Mark Terry said...

I've thought about this a lot, actually. For instance, if I were a literary agent, what kind of books would I represent?

Based on my own reading tastes, it would have to be mysteries, thrillers and action-adventure. But even in mysteries, I might have problems. I'm not a fan of cozies. Should I take on those books? Well, although the publishing industry like the cozy hook--the caterer sleuth, the wedding planner sleuth, the B&B owner sleuth, the knitting shop owner sleuth, etc--I am not a fan of those books. I have problems suspending my disbelief.

Unless they're funny, like, say, Jeff Cohen's books.

Funny I can do.

So my tastes tend to be a little bit hardboiled.

Yet I read a decent amount of YA. That might be an option, especially if it's YA in the fantasy/SF genre, rather than the straight YA stuff, which tends to bore me.

Romance? Couldn't do it. It would a waste of time.

Nonfiction? History if there's a strong narrative; medical and healthcare, absolutely. Politics, if there's a strong narrative.

See, why would I focus on things I don't like just because they sell? Not only might I not be a good judge of it, if it's going to be a chore just to read the material, why put myself through that if I don't have to?

Maybe that's the bottom line for agents.

D. Renee Bagby said...

Wow! I only posted 4hrs ago (or thereabouts).

I hope you like your can of worms fresh.

I'd just like to add that I've since figured it out and little by little I've learned to boil it down to the essentials for the purpose of synopses (in a way that works for me). Actually, my editor of my latest novel said I boiled it down a bit too much 'cause I left out something that got her upset -- upset because she empathized with the story not because of the story itself. But I left out that little tidbit on purpose. Hey, I may have to give away the ending but I don't have to give away all the surprises. ;P

And, even though I've learned how to do it that still doesn't mean I like doing it -- or even want to. It's why I leave it until the very end -- and I don't know how the story will end until I'm done. I'd rather let my characters have their way with me (boy does that sound wrong) than summarize. But my characters can't write the query, though that would be an interesting query letter... hmmm. Must remember that for later. ;D

I must say I agree with Katie -- it's about voice and that's why a query letter is important. Though there is no way I'm putting my sarcasm/cynicism in a query letter, I'd get myself in trouble.

I also agree with Beth. This is business -- an expensive business at that (I haven't looked at my credit card in two months, I just pay the stupid thing and hope for the best). When I first started out there were tons of sites that all said the same thing and I pass this bit of knowledge on to every author who asks advice: Writing the ms is the easy part.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that passion is important. It doesn't matter what the product is, I wouldn't want someone trying to sell it who didn't really believe in it. But, more than that, I just wouldn't want to work with someone who disliked my work (and probably makes that clear, whether they mean to or not), yet is selling it because they believe it is a valued commodity in the modern market. I mean, how big of a blow to the self esteem would that be?

It's too bad the anonymous poster was frustrated, but I think that's all this boils down to: frustration

Anonymous said...

I agree with selling something you're passionate about. No argument there.

Now...the query letter. I do agree that if you have a lousy query letter, then the agent shouldn't want to represent you. It does reflect your writing, even if it is "technical."

Here's my dilemma. I've received a fair share of rejections strictly on my query letter. I finally re-vamped it last month and I think it's now worthy (no idea what I was thinking when I sent out the first one). So, I have a great query letter, but I can't show it to the agents I've already sent the lousy one to! I think the term is I "burned all of my bridges"...

So, what are a writer's options when the "query only" agents shoot down your query and you can't re-submit a polished query? I think the rule of not re-querying agents who only accept queries is very frustrating and that's another way a good ms can slip through the cracks. Does anyone else have this problem?

Kimber An said...

I think these attitudes are simply a part of the maturing process. Writers either grow out of it or they get out of the process of seeking publication.

Stephen Griffith said...

As a former agent (15 years) I think it is hilarious to think agents are powerful enough to run publishing into the ground. Agents are not 'movers and shakers.' Agents are knowledgeable reactors. People buying books set the agenda for publishers. An agent's job is to know, and anticipate, what the publishers want (even though sometimes they're unaware) and how a particular author fits the vision. The agent/matchmaker may see the potential of an author but decide they need cleaning up (haircut, plastic surgery, amputations) before they make the introductions.

It is the agent's knowledge, the ability to makeover a project, and the developed connections we potential authors need. If you want to influence the most important players, educate those who buy books.

Think of it in this way. Why is "Big Brother" popular on television? Is it the intellectual deficiency of the network or producers? No. People watch it. Networks make it.

BUT, one book I represented was a hard sell from the beginning. I felt like Max Perkins when he tried to sell F. Scott Fitzgerald to a resistant Scribners. He exclaimed in frustration, "if we aren't going to publish a talent like this, it is a very serious thing."

The book I was peddling was too pricey, an odd size, too many pages, too much color. Publishers didn't want it. Twelve rejected it. When it was finally picked up, the publisher still didn't know what they had. Their first print run was set at 10,000. With a few champions within the publishing house a battle was fought and the print run was upped to 120,000. Still not enough for me, the agent. But you can't win everything. That was ten years ago and the book is still in hardback and has sold over 800,000.

My point. Agents are not the oracles of the industry. But if the planets are aligned, a thousand details in place, their hangover dissipates when reading the query, and they are persistent, agents could change the face of publishing for the better.

By the way, I'm looking for an agent and I've got this fiction novel that will sell more than Dr. Spock's baby book and Harry Potter combined. Of course, I'm humble enough to know the book won't sell more than the Bible so please take that into consideration.

D. Renee Bagby said...

Hey Kimber, I love your optimism. Devil's advocate/die hard cynic that I am, I'm pretty sure they'll stick around and try to whine us to death.

But, I'll hope for your outlook and keep an eye out for mine. How's that?

((sorry, I had to say something. My imp is showing. I'll go back to lurking now... I think.))

Chris Redding said...

If you were a pilot and weren't good at landings, you hone that skill. Because your life depended on it. If you were a skydiver, but not good at packing your parachute, you'd learn because your life depended on it.
Well to be a succesful writer your career depends on you writing a good query letter. On writing a selling blurb. Is it easy? For some. For others not.
It's the business. It isn't agents and editors being arrogant. It just is.
They have the power. Is it fair? No, but most of life isn't.
As I tell my children. You have two choices.
You change the situation or you change your reaction to the situation.

Daryl said...

Jessica, you made a very strong point in defense of your right to choose. A book, that is. You wrote, "A car has a concrete value that can be judged against all other cars. A book does not." This clearly states what you believe, and it truly helps me understand why an agent says she has to have passion for a writer's work. Among my many jobs, I sold real estate, and it was very difficult to move a house that I didn't believe in. At first I would take on any house as a listing. Yes, a house is more "concrete" than a book, yet less "concrete" than a car. There are personalities to houses. My point: if the house didn't immeidately draw a passionate buyer, I wondered how I messed up. After a while, the "honeymoon" of liking the house or believing I could sell it waned. It would go, for a price, sure, but it wasn't special any longer. So, after reading your comments about why you need passion to sell a particular book, I think I truly get it now and thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is a tough business. We'd better like to write whether we get published or not. And we'd better not take rejection personally. My best wishes to all writers who are passionate and committed. Daryl

Just_Me said...

I'm split on this.

I do want an agent that loves my genre. I know sci-fi and fantasy aren't for everyone, if the agent doesn't love my characters I can guess our personalities won't mesh. I won't want to work with them and I don't see a reason to have that agent selling my work.

As for queries... Agents who look at no pages are red flagged in my book. They may be excellent agents, maybe I'd love working with them, but if they don't want even 5 sample pages they may be to busy. Those agents fall on the list right above the e-query only agents who don't respond unless they want you. I'd rather a rejection.

And while I think any author can learn to write a query it isn't the same as writing a novel. It's like assuming a genre writer can also write award winning scientific articles on research. They can't, not without practice, and not without desire.

I'm willing to believe that some agents can find a good book from just a query letter. But it's a harder playing field for the author, it weeds out authors who have excellent work and perhaps not the patience or understanding of sales that the agent wants. Which will probably lead to good fit.

And for the record I do love the blog, but I know I won't query the agency- I write sci-fi and it wouldn't fit the line up.

Sarah L. Catherine said...

I agree with Jessica and others. I want an agent who loves my work. No-brainer. This idea that an agent should be able to pick "quality writing" despite their personal likes/dislikes is ridiculous -- "quality writing" is subjective to every single person's likes and dislikes.

And I agree we, as writers intent on actually selling a book in the marketplace, should be able to write a query.
From what I've gathered, the query itself doesn't have to be an excellent piece of writing, it just has to capture the basic ideas and marketable pieces of your book. You just have to HOOK the agent with the query -- and let them LOVE you with your writing...

I'll admit I'm one of those who will slip in the first 10 pages with a query letter, though (even if the instructions are query only). I'm hoping that if the query is something the agent likes, the pages will only help. If the query doesn't work, they can ignore the pages.

It does give me a measure of just personal comfort to send pages, too.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I spent years in sales long before I began writing. I grew up with salesmen. Both my father and my brother could sell ice cubes to Inuits, but neither they nor I would sell products we didn't believe in. (Not that we couldn't sell them but it was a choice we made.) The best salespeople believe in what they're selling, and that's what I want in an agent. Why anyone would want an agent who didn't believe in their work is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

As part of my day job, I am a book reviewer. I really didn't get how agents are able to decide if they want to read a sample based on the query letter until I started receiving some of my own - from small press/vanity press authors wanting me to read and review their books.

I got one yesterday that was so bad, it put me off of wanting to read the book. The author was so arrogant about how fabulous his book was that I can only imagine how agents/editors would have reacted had he sent it out. I almost sent it to MY agent and said, "Is this what you get every day? I'm SO sorry."

Also, I make decisions on whether or not I want to request the book for review based on the back cover blurb, which is pretty much a query letter. Your readers are going to make a decision on whether or not to read the book based on the back of the book/cover/etc. They're not going to stand in the bookstore and read the first 50 pages.

And the agents that reject after reading the first three chapters? Never understood that until this job and then I got it. I have a stack of books this high, and if you don't grab my attention in the first couple of chapters, I'm sorry, but I've got to move on. Like I said, this is only part of my day job.

As for choosing only books you're interested in - I have a pretty eccletic taste as a reader, and I try to give people a variety in my reviews. But there are some that are going to have to be pretty compelling reading to get a recommendation from me because I don't happen to like the genre so it's hard for me to give a decent review. Not that this doesn't happen, just not often.

Anonymous said...

Let me be the lone dissenter.

Everyone will tell you this is a BUSINESS -- as writers we are told to put our emotions aside, cut this scene, come up with a new ending, slash this middle to death or it'll never get published.

Agents/Editors assume its a no-brainer for the WRITERS to set their emotions aside and rewrite this book the way an AGENT/EDITOR wants or you will simply not be published.

The reverse thinking there, and one that should have a little respect, is that the writer doesn't actually get that same courtesy from an agent/editor. No, the agent/editor must get all googly-eyed and star struck and LOVEY DOVEY for a manuscript. Or they don't buy it.

They buy stuff they love, not stuff that has a built in market. So their own actions are not based in a secure business model, but in emotion.

This is commonly known as a double standard.

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 9:23am:

I would understand that argument if there were one agent and one editor making all of the decisions in this business. But as you well know, there are hundreds.

If your book has a built-in audience, then a few of these editors are going to be part of that audience. It's your job to find the right ones. It's not our job to make ourselves part of that audience.

nnaigle said...

I think anon just doesn't get it.

I think of agents as niche marketers. (That's a compliment, by the way) They have their specialties, and they excel in those areas.

I want the right agent for my work and for ME. It takes an effort in both directions to make the right relationship, and ultimately the sale.

Unfortunately, people like anon are the ones that squeak the loudest ---- and ultimately even if anon has a great book, the skepticism and sarcasm will probably keep him from becoming successful in the long run.

It's not only the what ... but the how.

My two cents.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts from Bookends perspectives, and the chance to share ours.
Nancy

Linnea said...

I think you're absolutely correct. To believe otherwise is like expecting a writer to write murder/mysteries when their passion is romance, or in my case, historical. Just as a writer can't do justice to something they're not passionate about, neither can an agent. Nor should they be expected to. As far as the query letter goes, I think you CAN determine voice from a one page letter. Granted the title, word length and writing credits can be a bit dry but when you pitch your book your voice should shine through and not simply be a catalog of events.

Anonymous said...

Hmm - I just plain don't understand Anonymous 11:59. I read a lot and there are some books that are well written, the grammar is good, no word is misspelt, etc. but it just didn't grab me - I wouldn't go out of the way to recommend it to anybody. Then there are those that catch me up in the story and throw me into a different world that I just don't want to leave, for any reason. These are the books I hate to end. (Books like Dust by Elizabeth Bear, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, The Phillip Pullman trilogy).

I tell my friends about them. I tell complete strangers about them. I sing their praises everywhere as I just did on this blog.

If I were an agent I'd imagine it'd be the same situation - I'd get a mss that I love and I'd call up editors and rave. That's necessary. If I don't feel that passion, how can I persuade anyone else of its worth.

But Anonymous should also take heart from the fact that what one editor or agent doesn't love, another agent or editor might fall over themselves to acquire. Again it's just as it is with readers. I have friends who raved about the Da Vinci Code but it didn't really do anything for me. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.

Jodie W. said...

Maybe there is a misunderstanding in terminology. To "love" the work might not be stictly from an emotional standpoint but from a business standpoint as well. No one is going to buy a book they love emotionally if it isn't also marketable.

And it hurts to have someone tell you that a project you've spent a year or more on (and feel very passionately about) needs to be ripped apart and rewritten. I know!

But after taking a step back, letting the suggestions sit and actually considering what I was told, I realized the story could be so much better and so much stronger if I increased the conflict, upped the stakes and went emotionally deeper into the characters. I want these characters to mean as much to others as they do to me, so if I need to rip and rewrite to make that happen that's what I'll do. Then maybe others will love the book and them too.

Therapist/Writer said...

Sorry Anon 9:23, but I disagree with the comment "They buy stuff they love, not stuff that has a built in market." Whatever agent did that is a goof-ball, and should be avoided. First of all, agents don't "buy". They contract for commission so he/she better have a good idea of what will be marketable and not something just makes them twitter-pated. I've had an agent who thought she could sell my ms., but didn't love it. Not only did it not get sold, but now the publishing house doors are shut on that particular ms. unless something unusual happens. Which is not to say that my particular ms. may not have been at fault! But if I would have had an agent who believed in the project, I would be suffering far less regrets about the experience.

I think as writers, we would like to believe that we are not at the mercy of subjectivity. But this product is a visceral experience; one that has to move people emotionally if it's going to move people to purchase. It's the nature of this business. At the same time, being forced to depend on somebody else's likes and dislikes on a project I've created is scary. OK. Big deal. It's scary, but it's part of the deal.

If I can't find an agent who LOVES my book, how will I find an audience?

Re: query letters? It's simply office/time management, and not to be taken personally. It's part of the package. When we look at whether it's the best way to go about the business, we can't just look at it from one side. If we flood BookEnds with full manuscripts, because we want to be judged on the complete work, how long do you think it will take said agent to GET to our ms? Years or decades! We whine about the time it takes now for agents (in general) to respond to queries. If you add a full manuscript, or even just 5 pages, you lengthen that wait time even more.

All right, I'm done ranting. I doubt I've added anything new to the mix anyhow!

But I do thank Jessica, Kim and Jacky for this blog, and especially for the pitch and 100 word contests. Thanks for taking the TIME!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a double standard. More of the old gold standard (sorta): Them that gots the gold makes the rules. Agents/editors are a significant step on the way to getting published. A writer can try to do without, but the set-up of the market doesn't reward (financially at least) most writers who try to go it alone.

Perhaps it would help to think not so much of agents' love for their niche as to think of it as a specialty. You wouldn't go to a pediatrician and ask for a nose job. They're both doctors, but the pediatrician and the plastics person work in very different worlds.

R.J. Keller said...

As a rabid reader (at least one book a week) of a wide variety of genres, I think 'the system' works just fine. I am able to stumble into my local bookstore every week and find something worth reading. Sometimes I even find a novel that knocks my socks off.

As a writer, my brain exploded (figuratively speaking, of course) when I read the original illustration comparing representing books to selling cars. I suppose it's fitting to a degree, because an agent's job is to sell a client's book, but good gravy, Anonymous 11:59--have a little compassion on my frail ego!

And, in all seriousness, writing a query letter is no fun, and quite possibly the most difficult thing I've done (so far) as a writer. But if an agent reads a cold business letter instead of hearing my narrator's voice, then I haven't done my job...and need to keep working at it.

Jess said...

The author of that comment sounds horribly bitter.

The ability to write a good query letter is the ability to write well. If your query letter is awkward, chances are, so is your book. I have no problem with the query system. Yes, you can write a good book and not a good query letter, but chances are very slim that this is so, because good writing always stands out.

And based on this person's assessment, there are NO good agents. That's silly. The tone of comment, and particularly this section, are why the commenter just sounds bitter. Rejected too often perhaps? I wouldn't WANT an agent to take me on who didn't believe in me because then I'm just another commodity. I won't get the push I deserve, no matter how good the writing is, without an enthusiastic person behind it. I can see the point in the comment, a good writing is probably going to sell eventually, and being selective limits what's available but I don't see it as the doomsday process the commenter thinks it is.

I mean, how would someone who doesn't know about/like minivans going to know which one to sell anyway? They don't.

Anonymous said...

"And, it’s because of us that the publishing industry is being run into the ground (which I didn’t know was happening)."

I don't know who is at fault, but just look at the numbers. Steve Jobs just said that people aren't reading; he's not alone with this opinion. Books sales are down, way down.

The publishing industry in general, and this isn't just about agents, doesn't seem to be able to keep up with what the mainstream might want to read. And even though they try hard, they just don't get it. Why? There are many reasons that could be aruged, but one is evident. Editors and agents (and I know quite a few, but all you really have to do is take a good look at the lot of them at a conference) are typically from well educated backgrounds, which is a compliment. But that doesn't always mean they have very good taste, and publishing IS subjective, and it is about taste. The agents and edtiros I know don't dress well, they don't decorate very well and some don't even own a television (One blogging agent admitted this recently in a post, about not owning a TV; how on earth can anyone take this person seriously as an agent who wants to sell commercial fiction? Commercial is the key words here, and this one doesn't own a TV?). They are quirky, and I'm not saying that's bad...it's good when it comes to negotiating; I'm just saying the low sales in publishing these days might reflect a lack of taste, in respect to what might draw a crowd in a book store.

Millions of people are watching American Idol...the same people are buying and reading Nicholas Sparks. And I actually know agents who knock Mr. Sparks, as if he, his agent and his editor are doing something wrong. They are selling books, and they are getting people to read; there's nothing wrong with that.

I don't know you, Jessica, and I'm not writing this to pin point anything you do or represent. But I am saying that publishing in general needs a small revolution because things are not working the way they are right now. And, they haven't been for quite some time.

Josephine Damian said...

Diana: You did the right thing walking away from that love-less agent.

Re: Querries. Writers need to realize there a time to create and a time to promote, and the promoting first begins when they write that query.

Yes, there's a different skill set involved - business communication - but it's one they need to master in order to survive in this business and promote their own book. There are a lot of talented, creative people out there who don't have a clue that the publishing business is a business and that they have to wear two hats - creative and professional if they're going to survive.

A query letter is as much an advertisement for your professionalism as it it for your writing skills: how you present yourself, do you know how to put together a tight sentence, a well constructed paragraph, clearly lay out your thought process? Because if you can't do it in a letter, then chances are you can't do it in a novel, and you'll be a failure a promoting your own book.

Selling a book is a long-term committment for an agent and it takes a great deal of love and belief in the merits of a story to sustain them through the process.

Vinnie Sorce said...

Some people can sell anything but I think that saying only applies to "things" like cars, real estate, appliances, etc. Selling art which is what agents do is very different. It's like being an agent for a big band leader and a rapper. The markets, contacts and knowledge are worlds apart.

Faye Hughes said...

Great topic, Jessica, and lots of lively commentary this morning.

Speaking as a published author, I think that having an agent who is passionate about my work is critical. This business is hard enough without having an agent who shares my vision and believes in my work as much as I do.

Faye

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 9:23 a.m.--

Thank you for your reply, Kim. I do get that there are many agents out there.

nnaigle --

Re: my Anon 9:23 post, you said... "Unfortunately people like Anon are the ones that speak the loudest --and ultimeately even if Anon has a great book, the skepticism and sarcasm will probably keep him from becomming successful..."

Actually, I am successful, if you call being published by a big house successful.

But I believe that both you and Kim have misunderstood my post. It wasn't meant as sarcasm. At all. And frankly, I love writing and books and reading, and can fully appreciate that everyone in this business absolutely works hard.

Here was the point of my post: Why can't editors make decisons based more on if a book will sell within the market rather than whether or not THEY LOVE it.

People say this is a business. Yes, passion should count for a lot. But, heck, shouldn't saleablitiy count for SOMETHING!

I cannot be the only one that thinks this. :)

Katie said...

I have to chime in again, RE: anon 9:23am.

No, it's not a double standard at all. When agents/editors/etc. tell authors to step back from their work and look at it from a non-emotional viewpoint... to rip and tear if you need to... that's making the project that the author loves better. We are still being told to write in the genre we love, and with characters we love. In fact, we're warned NOT to do anything else! Could we possibly write a story if we couldn't write what we love?

A double standard would be if authors were being told to exclusively write fantasy, regardless of whether we like it or not. Or if we were told never to write about brunettes because feisty red-heads are all the rage.

No matter what business or hobby you do, if you want to get better, you have to be able to look at your performance objectively. That's all that we authors are being asked to do. And I'm sure agents have to do the same thing with THEIR jobs. They can't insist on 4AM breakfasts with editors if the editors want the book, just because they love 4am breakfasts. If the methods that sell books now quit working in 2 years, then they'll have to look at their performance objectively and discover what needs to change.

Katie said...

Anon - I see you replied while I was replying.

Congrats on your success, BTW!

Anyway... I think maybe the agents are focusing on the "We have to love it" thing to explain only why they pass on some well-written, sell-able books.

To me, it goes without saying that before they even get to that point, they have to weed out lots that they know aren't sell-able. If they didn't learn to do that, they'd end up spending all of their time and resources unsuccessfully trying to sell books, and that's the reputation they'd get.

Now, why some books have sold, when they seem to poorly-written is a whole 'nuther topic... but apparantly there are both agents and editors with lower (or at least different) standards than mine. (Which I suppose goes back to the "loving it" point, since they won't love it if their standards are different! LOL!)

spyscribbler said...

Oh, gosh no. I get the same thing with piano teaching. People want me to teach their kids pop music or jazz, and I tell them I don't know how to teach that type of music; I only know how to teach classical.

Still, they get all huffy and act like I'm personally denying their child the joy of music.

It's a weird affair. I can only take so many students, so I have to be selective. Why not choose the ones that will get the best out of me? Why would I choose the ones that will not get what they want from me?

Cindy said...

This is an interesting discussion and I thought I'd put in my two cents. I agree that query writing and synopsis writing are vastly different than novel writing. But they're still necessary. They do give a sense of your voice if done right. I also write scripts. And in Hollywood your logline is your pitch. If you can't boil your two hour movie down to a short logline that grabs the attention of a producer you have no shot. Often times the logline is how movies get optioned or bought. If the producer can't see the whole movie when you tell him your logline he goes to the next idea. I know authors who have sold books on a logline and a blurb. Wouldn't you want to hone that skill just in case? I know I would.

I, as a reader, decide whether I'm going to buy a book or not based on the back cover copy. Granted, the authors don't usually get to write those. But as authors we should be able to write them so we can hook an agent or editor. If I base my purchases on those blurbs it makes sense that an agent would decide if she (or he) wanted to read my book based on a blurb. So I better make it the best darn blurb I can. And I would definitely want an agent who knows my genre.

My strength is dialogue. But if I can't excite an editor or agent with my idea I feel I'm not doing my job as a writer. The more excited the agent is about the idea the easier it will be for them to sell it.

I usually get a good response from queries. Yet I still have this one story that I love that I can't get a yes on when I send out queries. So I will keep tweaking the query until an agent wants to see it.

Totally agree with the writing the ms is the easy part.

J. Turner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Sorry, But I can't agree. Many evocative stories open slowly instead of with a bang. A log line tells you nothing about the development of character, sense of place, and other nuances of a story.

Case in point: Huck FInn- A coming of age story in which a white teenager and a black slave ride a raft down the Mississippi.
To Kill A Mockingbird- A young southern girl's father defends an unjustly accused black man.

Agents love to say how important the writing is, then we watch crap like The DaVinci Code and Lovely Bones top the bestseller list. I don't think so.

I've come to the conclusion that if you can come up with a catchy concept and write a first chapter that grabs people, nothing else matters. More and more books seem to start off well then slowly sink into nothingness. A good book gets better and better with each chapter.

Unfortunately our TV generation doesn't have the attention span to find out.

J. Turner said...

I may be wrong, but I think what's being overlooked by some, is that before you win an agent - you have to win a fan.

And you do that the same way you gain any reader...you make them love your world, your characters and your voice. You make them feel just as excited as you do the day before the newest novel from your favorite author hits the shelves.

Faye Hughes said...

Anon 9:23/10:50,

I think I get what you're asking here and, absolutely, saleability matters. If an editor believes a manuscript is marketable - and highly marketable at that - they'll buy it, even if they don't personally love the story. It happens all the time when there is a hot, new trend in publishing.

Now, that said, a lot of agents and editors will insert something like, "While I think this manuscript will likely sell, I didn't personally fall in love with it" into a rejection. That kind of thing happens so frequently it's become a cliche. What they usually mean when they say it is . . . "I'm overinventoried right now, I don't have a compelling need to buy anything and this manuscript just didn't grab me."

In short, your voice isn't a good match for that agent/editor. But if you go down the street and try somebody else, who knows? Your voice might be a perfect match.

Faye

BookEnds, LLC said...

Anon 9:23/10:49:

Thanks for the clarification. I think that editors and agents deal with books they think are marketable but don't necessarily love a lot more than you think they do. In fact, I think there are entire sub-genres out there handled by editors who have fallen into it because it's an easy way to make a name for themselves, even if it's not necessarily representing their favorite or most loved books.

Maybe more of us should focus our rejection letters on saying that we don't find something marketable rather than we don't love it. I suspect that's one place where the confusion really comes in.

In the end though I think you would be hard pressed to find an agent or editor who would honestly say they work with, represent, or edit authors they don't love, but simply bought for the marketability of it. Let's face it, do any authors want to hear their editor or agent say, "yes I represent a number of great authors who are marketable, I don't love their writing or the book?"

I know that for me, when I say I love something, I often love the marketibility or the hook or concept of it as much as I love the writing. Not loving something doesn't always have to do with the writing.

I also know that when I feel passionate about it passionate often goes hand in hand with my ability to sell something. I certainly feel more passionate about things that I feel have strong marketing potential.

This is a great discussion. I'm loving what all of you are saying.

--jhf

C.R. Evers said...

I think the idea of an agent accepting any well written book comes mostly from a novice or self-centered mindset.

It was revolutionary when I started learning that agents/editors represented books that they like, rather than any that is well written and that the greatest books of all times have been rejected. Now that I've had time to think about it, it makes perfect sense. When an agent or editor is going to put so much time and effort into a book, they should enjoy it. What good will you be to your occupation, your company, or the represtented author if you aren't excited to work with it and get it in the hands of other people.

A writer wouldn't be expected to write stories that they aren't pattionate about, why would an agent or editor be expected otherwise?

As a writer, I would much prefer representation from someone who is excited about my work and loves my stories, and "gets" my stories, rather than a luke warm advocate.

Not to mention, you're in your job not only for your technical skills, but also for your intuitions and your ability to know the market wants and needs.

keep up the good work!

That's my two wooden nickels worth. :0)

Christy

Vivi Anna said...

It's better to have an agent that loves your work than someone that is ambilivant about it and just wants to sell it. A salesman can sell your book granted, but someone that is passionate about it can get you so much more than just a sale. A good passionate agent can get you more money, can get you a better option clause, maybe even get you some promotion from the publisher. And that passionate agent also becomes your cheerleader, and they will blog about your book and talk to others in the industry about it. A salesman won't.

Cindy said...

I totally agree that some books start slower and end up being really great books. But the logline or blurb or query should still have the 'good parts' to hook you. The examples (and bad reader that I am I haven't read these):

Case in point: Huck Finn- A coming of age story (**coming of age plots are popular – hook) in which a white teenager and a black slave (**conflict – opposites) ride a raft down the Mississippi (**potential for more conflict, sense of place).

I see lots of stuff in this simple logline. Just because I can't envision the EXACT story that the author comes up with I can still envision a story.

To Kill A Mockingbird- A young southern girl's father defends an unjustly accused black man.

Again, there's conflict. There's a sense of place. I can see that there was a crime, I see the struggle to defend a black man in the South. I see there will be some sort of character struggle. It's not the best logline and could be punchier but it still has workable elements. I can still SEE a story. Again, maybe not the same story the author came up with but I can still see one.

Josephine Damian said...

For anyone who struggles with synopsis and query writing, this online workshop was a huge help to me and many others I know:

"Tips From Madison Avenue: The Selling Synopsis by Laurie Schnebly Campbell"

It'll be offereed again this summer, and there were a lot of romance writers in the workshop I took last year, so I know that it's effective for their specific needs as well.

Here's the link:
http://www.writeruniv.com/august_08.htm

Josephine Damian said...

Off topic question for BookEnds: Is the next first page contest going to be women's fiction?

Chantal said...

Anon 11:05 is right on. We the reading public are missing out on so many lovely, evocative stories because all the emphasis is on a whooshBANG opening that may be something the author can't build tension from (the tension is bound to drop when you start with the worst thing ever that could possibly happen and blood all over the walls). Books abound that have a "good" first few chapters, but then fall off in quality and don't deliver a satisfying and meaningful ending that "proves the premise" set out in the opening chapters. Novels written by those with absolutely no ear for cadenced prose are more popular than ever, judging from the best-seller list, as long as they "have a fast-paced story." But these stories are quickly forgotten, and then something else has to come along to dazzle again. Nothing's got any lasting power. Books that MIGHT have lasting power are often overlooked in favor of the ones that "will sell best" to people who read perhaps two books a year. And that's a loss to the reading public.

But this is capitalism at work. It used to be that editors such as Maxwell Perkins would stick with an author and help him (usually a him, so I won't type "him or her") develop his potential, and those books have proven to have staying power. This is not the case now. Books are seen as widgets and marketed that way. It doesn't make sense, but then much of what businesses do doesn't make sense.

What's ironic is that very often, a book will become "the next big thing," and that book is a breakout novel . . . but it was one that wasn't expected to do anything and wasn't really expected to sell. They're always frantic to find a best-seller, but usually one comes out of nowhere and is a surprise (and even starts a new genre sometimes.) If they could afford to take more chances, they'd have more happy surprises--but they have numbers to make, so they don't take the chances. Still, they don't know what will sell until they try to sell it. Nobody knows anything.

Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Paine said...

I have only recently begun to explore options for agency representation, but I have focused my research on agents who specialize in my genre for the reason expressed in the original post "...in order to successfully sell books I need to have a solid understanding of the market and of what makes a good book..." It seems logical that an agent can best sell in a genre with which he or she is familiar and has solid contacts.

In my experience, the most successful business partnerships involve individuals with similar interests, work habits and goals. A preference for genre and shared favorite authors is one good indicator of comparable interests.

With respect to query letters, an individual's tone in professional correspondence is representative of their working method and overall communication style. Thus,
I have focused on agents who prefer to be queried with a standard business letter format, as this reflects my own work methods and manner of communication. These components are as important as a shared conviction regarding the quality of the manuscript.

For these reasons, I agree with the views expressed in Ms. Faust's original post regarding the importance of being selective in forming an agent/author partnership.

Aimless Writer said...

I'm confused by Anonymous statement. The first thing I learned about agents is to find one that represents your kind of book. Different agents work in different genres. Thats just the way it is and it makes sense. Do I want someone to take on my thriller when they don't know anything about what makes a good thriller?
A little common sense here, please!
I didn't go to my GP for the shoulder surgery-I went to the expert Orthopedist. There's a reason doctors specialize and because the publishing biz is so vast agents have to specialize too. I don't want to be just another writer in your stable. I want to be a writer you can sell.
As for the dreaded Query letter? I think we sometimes drop the ball there. After working so hard on the book when it comes to write the query we slack off. (Yes, I know I've been guilty of that in the past-but think I've learned a few things here.)I think this blog has helped me realize the query is just as important and we should put the same about of work into it. (the best thing that ever happened to prepub writers was when agents started to blog)

Anonymous said...

"The ability to write a query has no bearing on the ability to write a novel."...meaning that lit agents, who primarily select works for representation based on a 1-page query letter, must be missing out on many great (presumably 'salable') works.

I agree w/ Anon 2:59!!! Keeping in mind my former agent even said that writing a query letter is a learned art, I know mediocre writers to craft mediocre query letters and still get requests.

I'd even go so far to say about 80-90% of the time I got requests from my query letters and write pretty good queries...which makes my agent and editor real happy.

My agent used part of my query letter for her pitch to editors and I've also written most of the blurbs for sales (for my editor) BEFORE the books were written. That's right BEFORE not after (and usually without a synopsis to work from).

I won't read a book I hate. And after three agents, I don't expect agents to rep a book they're not 150% enthusiastic about--trust me on this one. That's just damned silly -- not short-sighted. This is a business and it's NOT a business for sissies so don't act like one.

Kim Lionetti said...

Anon 9:23 and 10:49 --

I'm so glad you responded and clarified. I think I understand where you're coming from a bit better now.

I think Jessica and some of the other commenters are right. Perhaps it's more a problem with the way we communicate than the way we work. "I didn't love it" is a favorite expression of ours when something just still feels like it's missing for us and there's no other easy response.

I got a leg up in my editing career by taking over Berkley's western program. Had I ever read a western before in my life? No. So there's no real way I can say that I got into westerns because I loved them. I recognized it as a way to advance. However, I did love the authors and the books I worked on in that program. I bought them because I responded to their voice and loved the stories they had to tell, which weren't so different than the stories I had grown up reading, after all. This happens all the time in the publishing world. I don't think agents and editors pigeonhole themselves into the areas of the market that they grew up loving and reading for pleasure. But they do gravitate toward an idea, a voice or a plot that they love.

I should also say that there are plenty of times when agents and editors love an author's writing. Love their voice. And yet as much as we feel an emotional connection to the writing, we recognize that the specific manuscript is missing a certain marketability factor. Hopefully we'll hear from that author again with another project, but unfortunately it doesn't always work that way.

Wilfred the Author said...

I know a number of real estate brokers and they will take on a home that is marketable even if they don't particularly like it.

Of course I'd like my agent to LOVE my work, but I'd also sign an agent who see the marketability and will actively push it on its merits and marketability even if they don't personally like it.

A good saleman does not necessarily have to love the product to sucessfully market and sell it.

a published author said...

This whole conversation (original complaint and all the whiners that have come since) just reeks of frustration and entitlement.

"They can't judge my book based on three chapters/one chapter/five pages/query letter..."

You'd be surprised. When you're dealing with tens of thousands of queries a year, you learn pretty quickly how to judge based on that. You don't have to drink a whole gallon of milk to know it's gone bad. Sometimes you can just see the chunks in the glass.

And sometimes you can see beyond the chunks.

I've seen my agent pick up on queries that I thought sounded awful, because she saw that spark in the book -- maybe the writer wasn't a perfect query writer, but something was there that convinced her the book was worth looking at.

Of course some agents and editors love books that other people don't. And yes, love is a completely adequate term to usem, and it does NOT denote a double standard. The fact that you see so many whiners here proves that. People think their book getting rejected is their baby. Agents and editors are just advocates. they may be disappointed when a book doesn't find the deal they want or the audience they want, but it's the author that has to FIGHT emotional involvement in favor of business. It's the editor/agent who have to GAIN it in order to do business.

I liked the parachute packing example. If you want to do something, you learn to do all of it. It may be the weak part of your game, but you become competent in it or you go home.

The argument that people are reading less because agents are these cruel gatekeepers keeping the good books out is so silly it's hardly even worth responding to. More books are published now than at any other time in history. Fewer people are reading now, however, because there's this big blaring box in every person's house that you can sit passively in front of while it shows you movies and television shows at your command, 300 stations, 24 hours a day. You all are, right this minute, sitting in front of computer screens in which more blogs are posted about your specific industries than you can POSSIBLY read in a day. How long did you just spend reading this comment thread? How many chapters is that worth? It has nothing to do with what books are being published. That's total crap.

I make my living as a writer, publishing novels in three genres for three publishers. I won't tell you how many queries I went through, how many I still go through, to make that happen. Pack your parachutes people. Stop whining or get off the plane.

Amie Stuart said...

So, what are a writer's options when the "query only" agents shoot down your query and you can't re-submit a polished query? I think the rule of not re-querying agents who only accept queries is very frustrating and that's another way a good ms can slip through the cracks. Does anyone else have this problem?

Anon 8:20 AM....FWIW you might start at the bottom of your list of desired agents, and send out three or even five queries at a time.

See what kind of feedback you get so you can adjust your letter accordingly (or not *g*)

Good luck!!!

Another Published Writer said...

Stop whining or get off the plane.

A-to the-men

Kate said...

I certainly agree that you have to represent what you love and know. But as for query letters--I've been trying for three years and I've never yet been able to write one that I feel really conveys the voice or the uniqueness of my novel. Queries and novels are two completely different things. Especially if one has a rather mellow, literary voice, it's very difficult to get that across in a few sentences that have to convey the essence of an entire novel.

The other thing that really frustrates me about the agent search process is that for most agents--those who don't blog--it's practically impossible to get a good sense of what that agent likes, beyond the bare list of genres. I can't read every book that every agent represents to get a feel for what they like. I have tried querying agents of books I particularly liked, but just because I like a book doesn't mean it's similar enough to my own work to make an agent interested.

I don't have a solution for this. Since you blog so generously, it's easy to know what you like; I just wish more agents would make it easier on us writers in that way.

Wilfred the Author said...

Sorry for posting back to back, but after reading some more of the posts, I've come to a more decisive conclusion.

I'd take an agent who can sell my work based on it's marketability over an agent who takes on my work just because he/she loves it. Here's why:

I'm in this thing for the long run. It's likely that somewhere along the way I'm going to write something that is marketable, but my agent doesn't love. That agent needs to put on their game face and get behind that work. If they aren't enough of a business pperson to do that, if they only can sell what they love, then I, the author, will be short-changed somewhere along the business relationship.

HollyD said...

I am an unpublished writer. I would prefer to have an agent represent me that actually enjoys and believes in my work. Otherwise the relationship would be strained and I don't believe the agent would put 100% into selling your book.

Thanks as always for the insight.

D. Renee Bagby said...

The other thing that really frustrates me about the agent search process is that for most agents--those who don't blog--it's practically impossible to get a good sense of what that agent likes, beyond the bare list of genres.

Woohoo! I'm with you, Kate. I actually saw one agent site that said she reads romance. Okay, I eat food. Is that vague enough for you?

While I'd like to believe said agent represents all aspects of romance, I'm not going to be that naive. Or I could just be totally wrong and she really does represent all aspects of romance and lord she has to be a busy woman.

However, on the other end of the spectrum (I just gotta, it's the imp in me), I barely have time to blog so I wouldn't expect every agent to sit down and write about every book they happened to like over the course of their career. Checking out the authors they represent is the best way to go in that case.

bookfraud said...

well, it looks like you've stirred things up here.

my agent "believed" in my novel, but wasn't able to sell it. he worked hard, said all the right things. the rejection letters, none excepted, complimented on how well-written the book was, how much they loved the characters, etc. but "it just wasn't for them."

the point isn't to say how great my unpublished (but represented) novel is; it's that agents, no matter how enthusiastic, can only do so much. and if they're not enthusiastic about the book -- if they don't believe it's a good book, and don't believe it can be sold -- there's no point in having that agent.

they're besieged with queries and bad chapter samples, so there's plenty of crap for them to represent, if they chose to do so.

Josephine Damian said...

d. renee: one thing I've been doing is look at authors whose books are like mine, and who have the kind of career I'd like to have, and then utilize the feature on Publisher's Marketplace to find out who their agent is.

Cindy Procter-King said...

Actually, you'd do writers a disservice if you took them on as clients b/c the writing is solid but YOU don't love it or strongly believe it's marketable. When the time comes to pitch to publishers, which books are you most likely to rave about? The ones you love. Where would that leave the "solid writing, but doesn't catch my interest" client then?

I wouldn't want an agent who didn't love and support my work.

mardott said...

I'm swamped today and don't have time to read all the comments, but I'll toss out my bit.

For a brief time - when I first started thinking seriously about writing and the business that surrounds it - I thought like anomynous. Mostly out of ignorance of the field.

But I joined the Online Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction & Fantasy and started doing critiques for other writers. What an eye-opener.

Because as it turns out, I don't do well critiquing stories I'm not interested in. I won't touch horror (I'm a wimp), stories with lots of battles (sword or lasers, doesn't matter) bore me, and I'm not real crazy about short stories.

So I can only imagine how an agent would feel about having to hawk something they didn't care to read. Why in the world would anyone want to try that? Even if the writing is excellent.

Sure, it narrows my options when looking for an agent. But in the end, I want an agent who LOVES my story. It's that simple.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I always thought when an agent says "I'm not in love with it," that's just a polite way of saying no - kind of like when someone says, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." Meaningless. There's nothing in the tea leaves to read. It just means "no." Move on.

Re: "Well written" - can also be safe, too careful, cautious, unimaginative, emotionally constrained, cliched plot arc (although no cliches are used in the actual writing), showy, overwritten, underwritten, sparse, stingy, slow, mean-spirited, too nice, etc.
__________________

Josephine Damien said: "Off topic question for BookEnds: Is the next first page contest going to be women's fiction?"

I am entering 3 100-word pieces...just as a way of motivating myself to be thinking about the "next book" and the one after that. It is a lot of fun (of course it would be, since it's only 100 words, when is 100 words not fun?) (oh yeah, when it's the first paragraph of a query...)

The tea'n'chocolate hour of the day is upon us...time to get started working....

Chessie said...

"2) If you walked into a car lot and asked the salesperson to show you a mini van, because you want to buy a mini van, because you like them, and the salesperson said, "No thanks. I only sell sports cars. That's all I like. All I 'believe' in." You would think they were an idiot and start looking for a good salesman. You might even head for the next sales lot. You would most definately NOT expect them to have a nice penthouse overlooking the Hudson River. Why? Because they suck as a salesperson. I don't like mini vans or SUV's and I wouldn't buy one but lots of people in the world do. Whether or not you like horror or mystery or whatever genre should have no bearing on whether or not you represent the author. The quality of the writing should be the determining factor."

This was the bit of the argument that threw me, with all due respect. If you are looking to buy a minivan, you go to the dealership that has rows and rows and rows of minivans. You don't go to the Porche showroom and demand to be shown a minivan. The salespeople there expect you to walk across the street to the Honda dealership where someone can show you a nice Odyssey. *wink* And I bet the Porche guys do have a nice apartment, because they know their clientèle, and you are not it. You are the Honda guy's client.

Along the same lines, if I write romance, I'm not going to approach an agent that represents literary fiction and non-fiction books on gardening. I'm going to find an agent that represents romance.

Obviously, an agent that chooses to represent romance must like it, or they wouldn't want to read millions of pages of it. Just like the Porche guys must really like those cars. Now whether or not they like your romance is a different story.

But I can't lament that every agent doesn't rep romance just because it is profitable. I'm sure some of their brains would leak out of their ears. They simply work for a different dealership.

The key is to walk into the right dealership. And like buying a car, you have to do your research first, then it is a matter of catching the right salesman at the right time, when they have the inclination to bargain, and the color you want in stock.

There are a lot of factors, but as authors, we aren't completely helpless. There are lots of agents, and thankfully as Kim said, they like lots of different things.

Katherine E. Hazen said...

I can't imagine the submission process for agents being any other way and working.

The truth is, even if my book were the best written thing an agent had seen in years, I wouldn't want them to represent me unless they loved it. Loved the story, loved the voice, loved the genre as a whole. Why would you want an agent who either doesn't have the contacts to give your book the best chance at success or doesn't love the book enough to put in every long, tedious hour of finding it the perfect home?

For that matter, why would you want an agent who spent all of his or her time reading submission packets significantly longer than a query just to be more "fair" in judging potential clients' work? Reading anything longer than queries and agents wouldn't have time to do their jobs: representing their current clients.

Learn to write a good query and keep at it until you find the agent who is right for you. When you start writing good queries your work will be judged on the book itself anyway since you'll be getting requests for partials/fulls.

jjdebenedictis said...

It is one of the truisms of sales that you can't effectively sell a product you don't believe in.

Sales is about convincing your customer of the product's merits. You can't do that if you don't believe the product has any merits, and you can't do it effectively even if you're willing to lie--the customer will spot your insincerity and distrust your claims.

Mark Terry said...

One thing I think, for what it's worth, about the original poster was the frustration with how the industry seems to work.

But here's the thing:

If you want to become a doctor, you get a degree, get good grades, high test scores and a little luck, go to med school, jump through hoops for years, and then you're a doctor.

If you want to become a lawyer, you do the same thing.

If you want to be a professional writer, you don't need the degree or the good grades or the high test scores...

EXCEPT,
There's a system in place that weeds out writers. Just like there's a system in place that weeds out would-be doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc. Part of the training process for would-be novelists is figuring out what that process actually is.

Part of it is writing a good manuscript, no typos, in the proper format, a great story, a hook, etc.

Part of it is figuring out how to research the agents or the publishers.

Part of it is figuring out how to write a synopsis.

Part of it is figuring out how to write a query letter.

There's no real school for it and each writer's journey is relatively unique (now there's an interesting expression), but the fact is, the most typical route to publication is:

Write a dazzlingly good novel manuscript in generally accepted format.

Research appropriate agent for the material.

Write a careful synopsis.

Write a clear, concise, vivid, effective query letter.

Repeat as necessary.

There are people who circumvent this, which is why we're not doctors or lawyers or dentists, et al, but the majority of novelists have, if not mastered this process, at least learned to be competent at it.

Nadine said...

I want an agent that is passionate about my work. I relate it to restaurants. If I go to a restaurant and it is good, I might mention it to others, but maybe not. But if I go to one that is amazing and I love it, then I will tell everyone I know that they have to go there. I would be passionate about the reccomnedation and that is how I want my agent to be.

Daryl said...

Kim wrote: "Hopefully we'll hear from that author again with another project, but unfortunately it doesn't always work that way." I do believe you'll hear from a writer again when you've written that you like her writing and would read something else. If the rejection letter simply says "I didn't love this enough," or the famous (infamous) "not for me", then the writer might figure you're just not (ugh) that into them. A few positive words in the rejection letter (when heartfelt) really do go a long way to encouraging a writer to persevere and resubmit. [Your agency has done this, so kudos.]

Nicole said...

I apologize for adding my comment before reading what is now at 77 comments because I'm sure it will be repetitive of someone's thoughts.

I believe an agent should know what they like and can give their passion to for representation--just like the writer must know and understand who his audience most likely will be. However, the thing that irritates me most is the claim about "great writing" being a qualifier because, subjectively speaking, of course, there are just too many books that don't exhibit it.

I think, too, one of the reasons for frustrations from unpublished authors is that there are those novels which have become so rule/trend oriented as to demonstrate formulaic writing.

I read around four or more books per month, some within and some outside the genre I write. Very few are my "ideal" because I prefer long contemporary novels--which don't fit publishing's current trends. It's difficult for me to want to fit into the trend because of what I desire to read, write, and see in print.

brenda said...

An agent may love a book or not but for it to be a good representation, I think that agent has to believe in the merits of their author. It isn't just about the saleability of a single book, but about that author's ability to go the distance. There might be books in that representation that the agent doesnt take fire over, but if it's a good relationship, that shouldn't matter.

Becky Levine said...

Okay, yes, I'll admit it. When I get a rejection, I do hear myself saying, "Oh, come on! Do you really have to fall in love with the book to sell it?" But I also know that's the little kid still inside me, saying, "I can TOO eat that whole piece of chocolate cake. And it will NOT spoil my appetite!" Because, of course, I want someone who is going to be able to put all their heart and energy into presenting my book to a publisher.

And the query letter. Well, you guys can't read every manuscript that every writer would like to send you. You have to have some means of quickly picking and choosing. I've written a middle-grade mystery,and, yes, of course I wish you guys represented kids' books. But if you got a query letter from me, why should you have to look at the first 50 pages to know it's something you won't take. You only have so many hours in the day!

My two cents. :)

Jess said...

I completely agree with "a published author." It's not as though years and years ago more people were reading - few were literate enough to do so. It's just that now the percentage of people who can is higher, but the percentage of people who do is not.

And not all we unpubbeds are whiny and feel entitled. I still stand by my comment that good writing will show through in a query - as pointed out, agents have refined their senses to find the sparkle in the midst of the rubble; even a bad query letter for a good book will give some sense of the book being good. KWIM?

What would be better, just everyone sending the first page of their work? They'd be rejected just as quickly.

And re: "I'd take an agent who can sell my work based on it's [sic] marketability over an agent who takes on my work just because he/she loves it."

I fail to see a difference. An agent isn't going to love a book they find completely unmarketable. I've seen agents pass on books they loved but didn't think were marketable enough. I don't see why everyone is making these things mutually exclusive.

La Gringa said...

As a new agent, I have to agree with you 100%. I specialize in certain kinds of genre fiction (SF/F, urban fantasy, YA fantasy, graphic novels and pop culture). This is my background in publishing, this is what my expertise is is. I know looking at a manuscript whether it will be a commercially viable one in the areas of my expertise. But if I read a query, say, of a true crime book - and love it - I still don't have the background to be able to effectively represent that book in the true crime market.

Yes, I read widely outside of genre. But my professional expertise is in genre, so that's where I can do the most effective job for my client.

My two cents.

Great blog, by the way!

Colleen

Jackie Barbosa said...

d. renee bagby said:
Many, many authors dread writing blurbs and synopses (even tag/loglines) because they now have to condense a 60+K story into two pages/paragraphs or less while keeping the essence of the story intact to hook the reader.

I used to be one of those authors who dreaded writing the two-paragraph hook because there was no way I could boil the essence of my completed story down to so few words. My solution to this problem? I started writing the two-paragraph hook before writing the book. The results are, in my opinion, dramatically better. Writing the short description before you've filled up your head with all of the details you include in the story makes it much, much easier to see the "essence" of the story.

Incidentally, it also makes it a lot easier to write the book because you know exactly what it's about before you start.

Win-win!

Christine said...

I don't want someone selling my book unless s/he is as enthused about it as I am. If you love it, here you go, if you don't that's ok - I'll find someone who will.

As far as the queries go, I look at it like this - in a bookstore, I don't buy every single book, regardless of story or how amazingly well it's written. I don't have the time (or the money) to invest in absolutely everything that's in front of me, no matter how awesome it looks, so I pick and choose. Why would I expect an agent to do any differently?

Anonymous said...

I'm published, and have had my agent for more than 5 years, and you don't want an agent that *isn't* totally in love with your work - for a whole host of reasons. So, Anon 11:59's comments in that regard are unfounded.

Also, whoever the Anon 11:59 poster is, they are either unpublished author wannabe, or total outsider who doesn't get it.

Being an agent cannot ever be compared to a mere salesperson. Primarily because there's a hell of a lot more to it than just initially selling the book - that is *if* your agent is any good at what they do. My agent does so much more than just sell my books that it would take me all afternoon to sit here and write about what she does for me.

If anon 11:59 is a published author wannabe (and not just some outsider chiming in), then my best advice to him/her is to get over the fact that you're getting rejected by agents or anybody else in publishing. It happens to all of us more times than we'd care to experience it, and it's all part of the "game".

If you want to make it in this business it takes tough skin and a hell of a lot of perseverence. Sour grapes will never get you where you want to be, and sour grapes is exactly what your post sounded like to this author. If you have any smarts, you'll use the internet to listen to sharp folks like Jessica and other terrific agents on the web, and *learn something*. Then, take what you learn, ditch the bitterness, and go be a success.

Kristin said...

Jackie,

I usually write the blurb for my query during the process of writing the novel! I will write a basic one at the beginning, and then tweak it or write one good sentence that flashes into my head. So that by the end of writing the book (usually 6-9 months), I have the query hook thingie all ready to go.

And, yes I used to be an author who HATED writing these things. But you learn how to do it, just like any other kind of writing, and you start to kind of have fun with them. As in, how can I make my book sound super fantastic!?

It becomes a good challenge.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I'm a lawyer, and the cases I am passionate about certainly get more attention than the ones I'm less enthusiastic about. So, as a writer, I want an agent who is passionate about my writer, and me as a person. That's why it's important to click with the agent.

Anonymous said...

I am in sales, and used to be an agent. I went back to sales because I didn't like agenting...hard to imagine, huh? I did learn a few things though, one that I don't have the patience for being an agent! The business moves at a snail's pace.

I did learn quite a bit about the business though, especially about querying and why agents choose to work with books they love. It's not just books. The biggest key to sales is genuine enthusiasm. When it's real, it's often contagious. You can't fake it. Would you rather be represented by someone who raves about your work, say's it's the best thing ever and makes that editor eager to read it because they know that when that agent gets that excited, there's a good reason? Or do you not care? If you don't care, then keep in mind that you'll be competing with writers whose agents do love their books....and editors will read those books first and will be expecting to like it...maybe even love it, that's the hope anyway.

Meanwhile your book will languish in a pile along with books from other agents that are known for throwing stuff against the wall to see if it'll stick. The agent didn't rave about the book, so the editor is in no hurry to read it, and the last few submissions from that agent haven't been anything to get excited about.

Do you see a pattern here?

Really, what kind of agent would you rather have representing you?

And regarding query letters, one thing I've seen over and over again is that writers stress so much about getting the query letter formula down, that they strip all the life out of their query in their attempt to boil it down to a mere sentence or two. Don't be afraid to get your voice in there. The ideal query letter will give the agent a sense of what the writing in your book will be. Really take your time with that and let your writing shine, focus on telling them what the story is about, the way you'd tell a friend about a book they just have to read.

Often times it isn't the writing in the query, it's just that the idea of your story doesn't excite them. Maybe they don't like kids, so your story about a secret baby makes them shudder or maybe they love knitting, so your women's fiction about knitting is an automatic yes.

Don't take it personally, it's the most subjective business ever...but that also reflects the buying tastes of the reading public. Some people want Joyce Carol Oates, others prefer James Patterson...something for everyone.

:) Pam

lauralou said...

I'm unpubbed but I'm certain I want an agent who loves my work and knows where to sell it.

That said, I agree with anon that we miss out on a lot of great books because of query letters. I know that there must be a system to weed out the submissions but writing a query is much different than writing a romance. The agent/editor misses a lot of what makes that manuscript special.

For example, there is a woman in my writing group that has written a wonderfully quirky, romantic suspense. All of us who have read it, love it. But for some reason she can't seem to convey her voice in the query. It's a shame.

And as another poster questioned (that wasn't answered) - what do you do when you are able to improve your query? Have you really burned all your bridges if you already sent out the bad one? What do you do with that wonderful 90K manuscript that took you a year to write? Bury it under the bed when there hasn't been an agent or editor that has even read a single word of it? That seems unbearably harsh.

Anonymous said...

I just read the 'anonymous' you have referred to.

I think this person makes very good points, and I happen to agree with most of them.

But what I am most struck by in your latest blog entry is yet another example of your defensiveness.

Not all the folk who read or comment on your blogs are sycophants.

Some of us read your blog for insight into an industry that we are interested in or trying to break into.

I can't imagine how much of your very valuable time you waste smarting over real or perceived slights.

Faye Hughes said...

Lauralou,

I'll give you my opinion on the question of what you should do if you send out a not-so-good query letter and get rejected by everyone:

*If* an agent or editor rejected on the basis of a query letter, and you feel it was because your query was poorly written, I'd change the name of the manuscript and resubmit the new query letter. I'd also suggest you submit queries in batches of two and three at a time. That way, if you're striking out, you can revise the query letter in-between submissions.

Good luck!

Faye

Jess said...

Re: anon 5:46.

I for one am offended at your use of the word 'sycophant' to describe someone like myself who happens to agree with the OP. I'm just as interested in learning about the business. She posted about the topic because she thought it warranted discussion, not for platitudes and assurance. If that were the case, why bother making the post at all and bringing the negative comment to the fore?

I fail to see why someone who has been blamed for the downfall of the entire industry on her own website *wouldn't* be defensive, and further, when someone accuses you of something, you present a *defense*.

Christie Craig said...

Lots of interesting opinions, here. And I'll add mine to the mix. Basically, writing is an art and all art is subjective. Maybe I'm wrong, but I would think the bad salesperson would be the one trying to sell something they didn't believe in.

I want an agent to love my work, because I know they will do a better job representing me and selling my work to editors.

An agent should have just as much right to choose the type of books she represents as an author does to choose the type of books she wants to write.

When an agent or editor comes back and makes suggestions, a writer has the right to say..."I can't do that."

I can honestly say that I think a good agent or editor places value in what the writer thinks and feels. This isn't to say that a writer is always right. A good agent/editor can help a writer improve their work.

So far, all the suggestions that have come from my agent and editor have all been something that I felt made the book stronger.

My two cents.

Christie Craig

Suzan Harden said...

I'm coming out of lurkdom due to the interesting debate.

Anon 4:47 (aka Pam) makes a good point about throwing things at the wall to see what will stick. Writers are also guilty of sending out mass queries to many inappropriate editors/agents.

How do writers hope to sell their absolutely fabulous novel to Jane Public if they can't sell them to an agent? That's the whole point of a query. Part of learning the commercial publishing ropes means learning how to write those blurbs. No matter how much you hate them.

And I know it's hard to accept that our "babies" may be, well, pretty darn ugly. We may love them dearly, but the lady behind us in the checkout line is thinking, "Holy ****!" And this is the person we want to buy our "baby."

Now, you may be in total denial that your baby (i.e. novel) has a bad case of cradle cap, but the truth shows in your query (i.e. the baby picture). How do you expect the agent to hire your baby for the Gerber commercial until you get the rash cleared up?

A friend of mine is represented by Kim Lionetti and is pleased with Kim's representation. Would I submit to Kim? No, because I don't write the style of book she represents. Why waste both of our time by doing so? It has nothing to do with Kim personally; I've met her and she's a very sweet lady. And if such a statement makes me a sychophant, so be it.

Have I offended Kim by saying I'm not sending a query to her? Probably not. Actually, she's probably wiping her brow and whispering prayers of thanks.

Will I ever send a query to a different agent at Bookends? Maybe, but first I have to get that cradle cap cleared up on the baby's head.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great post and lots to think about. There are probably some agents who don't represent the genres they love, simply because they are starting out and working for the "boss." But primarily, I'd want an agent who thinks she can sell my work--because she knows the genre and has the right contacts. Also, I want my work to be accepted based on the writing and marketability combined. An added bonus would be if the agent personally loved it to death.

I agree that queries are really tough to write. I'm sure most writers would love it if agents would look beyond the query and read the first few pages of the manuscript before making a clear-cut decision.

The synopsis seems to dissect the story in the worst possible light. I don't write them until my publisher forces me.

Michele Lee said...

I agree with those who said that we work so hard writing the darn things that we want to rush out and get it looked at right away. One of my goals right now is to stop that, to take time, because there is no rush, and pushing it has only resulted in missing typos and making silly little mistakes.

Plus with my most recent work writing a rough query helped me focus on the important things in the last draft.

Anonymous said...

Is this a crazy idea?

I am a designer, and I have to tell you that I just love to design letterheads and other bits of stationery. But when it comes to designing my own, I am like most designers, and find it incredibly, incredibly difficult. Why? Because we are creatives, and selling ourselves is tortuous. Selling others is a piece of cake.

Now,writing a query letter is essentially a sell. And a person's ability as a novelist may bear no relationship to how they can sell themselves in a query letter.

We have all just seen some terrific 'first 100 word' pieces. Wonder what their pitch would have been like. I strongly suspect the pitch would not have been nearly as good. Ad copy writers rarely make good novelists (I know there are exceptions here, but I believe they just prove the rule), and I suspect the reverse holds true.

My crazy idea is this. Would Bookends be willing to consider the idea of reading the first 100 words of a novel TOGETHER with the query pitch, irrespective of how bad the pitch is?

It's not much more to read, and it would be really interesting to see what happened. And hey, you may be absolutely right about there being a direct correlation between the voice etc and the query pitch, and you could quieten us all down on this matter once and for all.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jessica & Kim,

Without a shadow of doubt, I stand by what you say.

Getting a book on the shelf is part of the dream; of course it is. I would be a fool to claim otherwise. But to have someone slither up to me and say, “Ahma playin roooooulette! Who’s with me now, hoot hoot!”

Uh. Hell no. Next!

I’d rather die than succumb to such defeat.

A thought: Vanity publishing. If you are unwilling to wait for the right agent, self-publish and get it over with. In fact, that might even be safer than being represented by the wrong agent.

This is a relationship; hence, the wise writer/agent chooses in much the same way one might choose a significant other. If I were to get up on a dance floor—let’s say for a two-step—I damn sure want it to be with someone who knows how to dance, who doesn’t creep me out while in my space, and who has the graceful ability to lead the way (or at the very least not stomp my toes or fling me jive-style into hardwood traffic).

I believe in myself and in my dream. Part of that rests within the faith that someone else will believe in me, and will know why they believe in me. Seriously. I’m not even close to being done learning, why would I choose to learn from someone who isn’t qualified to teach me? You don’t send your college kid to kindergarten, right?

I want an agent who can see me as both person and writer, hear clarity in my voice and who, most importantly, can echo that voice out to the rest of the world. If that isn’t possible, I will be the first to accept it, wring the tears out of my shirtsleeve, and keep going.

Dean Koontz struggled (I know, hard to believe, but he did). His wife believed in him, and kept him believing in himself. Had Koontz married his cousin’s-best friend’s-sister’s-next-door neighbor’s Auntie Elma because her cookies sold at the farmer’s market last week…?

We would have lost 30+ years of damn good story telling.

Anonymous said...

One more thing to add to my (Anon 11:31) comment:

Bookends is one of the few agencies out there who dedicate time to teaching aspiring writers how to write good query letters/pitches.... even if she rejects a writer, simultaneously, she opens the door wide. To stronger writing. To greater hope. And to eventual success.

To literally a world of potential writers, these ladies have already done their part--and then some.

It's up to the writer to cross the threshold.

Livia said...

I know writers today that have up to three agents to represent their different books. I assume that's okay. I have my hands full with one. The reason I have my hands full is because I listened to my agent. The agents at BookEnds know what they're doing. Do not mess with success.

Vicki said...

My first thought is Anon 11:59’s work has been rejected and he/she is not happy about it. I have to give major props to my local chapter and RWA for teaching us that ‘rejection happens’, get over it and go on. Okay, that might sound a little blunt, but it’s the truth.

I look at the Q-letter, much like a resume. If I’m applying for a job, I have write the resume, giving the best highlights of who I am in a very short amount of space. And in today’s work force, they really don’t want more than two pages on said resume, one is better. How much can I really tell them in one or two pages? What makes me the best candidate for the position, and my accomplishments, nothing more. I have to sell me to them, not the other way around. Everything else, all the extra things I want to tell them about me happens in the interview, IF, they like what they’ve read on the resume.

So, give the agent what makes my book great and a little about what makes me great, all in a limited amount of space. Does it take work to accomplish this? Yes. Does it take writing the thing more than once before you send it out? Yes. Is it worth the time and effort. Absolutely. I didn’t write any of my books in one day. The query is no different.

I also know that it’s my job to find the agent who represents the type of books I write, not the other way around. Yes, the query is hard to write and the synopsis (I have a writer friend who calls it the sucknopsis), is harder still. But it is part of the job. It’s the resume that will sell my book.

Anon 11:59 said, I don't like mini vans or SUV's and I wouldn't buy one but lots of people in the world do. But what if it’s the best mini van or SUV? You still wouldn’t buy it, why, because it’s not something you love. Agents are the same and I wouldn’t want one who didn’t love my book.

Julie Weathers said...

Jessica;

When I first started selling real estate I entered at a time when interest rates were starting to make massive jumps. Every experienced Realtor in town was crying we would never sell another house. I worked for a developer so I didn't need a license or experience. I just loved the houses.

Because I loved them and that enthusiasm showed, I was selling 10-20-30 houses a month when we might get one contract from an outside real estate agent.

Later when I got licensed and built my own company, I noticed the properties we sold first were quite often the ones the agents loved. So much so I told the agents to find a specialty and stick with it.

A person is a better representative of something they are familiar with and love. My little school teacher hated country property and always called me in to handle it. She was sweet and a very good salesman, but she just hated the nasty, dirty country stuff and if she stepped in a cow pie, while she was out there we heard about it for days. She didn't want to understand country property, she didn't want to look at it and she didn't want to show it. She also didn't sell much of it.

I think that is one reason these blogs are so much of an improvement over the old Literary Agents Guide. I have that book sitting on my table and will use it extensively, but when I get down to submitting, I am also going to start checking for agent blogs and get to know them better. If they are not pretty enthusiastic about what I write I am going elsewhere.

I've spent years writing. I want them to love what I do as much as I do. I want them to know what sells and what doesn't and what I need to do to make my work as presentable as possible. If it isn't something they enjoy, they will miss the subtle changes I need to make.

It's like making a shopping list for a companion, I suppose. You can go down the list and fill in the blanks--nice teeth, sense of humor, tall, Wrangler butt, pretty eyes--but chances are you aren't going to feel that spark if they aren't also enthused about what you love.

JoElle said...

In the past I've started reading a few "well written" novels ... and didn't finish them. I did not like them.

Everyone has different tastes.

Selling is a difficult enough job without trying to sell something for which one has no enthusiasm. Yes, it must ALSO be marketable.

Isn't this a large reason why most agents specify which genre they represent? By keeping with the genres they like, this helps agents narrow down, from the overwhelming submissions they receive, the handful of novels they know they can represent.

I believe most writers who argue how publishers and agents do their business ... do so out of rejection frustration.

As emotionally connected as we feel to our novels, writers must understand publishing IS a business.

If we want to break into the business, then we need to learn how the market works.

It takes more than writing a good novel.

It involves learning how to write a strong synopsis, a catchy query letter, and proper formatting. It means researching for reputable publishers and agents. Knowing who accepts submissions for your kind of writing. It means accepting rejections without giving up and being a professional about accepting criticism and suggestions. Perhaps even learning a thing or two from them.

Even after all that. There are no guarantees. As writers, all we can do is work hard to improve our odds.

We can not blame an agent if, even after all that, our story just doesn't do it for them.

And guess what? Even an acceptance and getting published does NOT mean automatic fame and fortune. Promotion is a whole other ballgame.

Anonymous said...

It's supply and demand. In a market where there are more than enough publishable manuscripts, agents can afford to be choosy. The market allows.

What I don't necessarily agree with is the advice to write what you love. Is writing a business or not?

I write for a living. Marketing and sales copy for a large technology firm. If I had the option of making a good living writing what I loved, I would be writing for small non-profit animal rescue groups. But that's not an option if I want to pay the mortgage. Do I feel my writing suffers because I don't love writing about data centers and networks and storage arrays? No. I'm a professional. I know my craft and I know how to write persuasive sales copy for any situation. It's business. I can fake it.

If you approach fiction writing as a hobby, then, yeah, write only what you love. If you approach it as a business and depend on an income that you can retire on, then you'd best be looking at a career path that will get you there. And sometimes that means writing the types of stories that fit on the shelves, not in your souls.

It's great when what you love happens to be what's most marketable. But that's not a luxury you can count on. You may love selling pink widgets, but if no one wants to buy them no matter how persuasive your spiel, you can either starve or start selling the green ones that everyone wants. And when the market is glutted in green, be adaptable enough to start selling the next hot craze in blue. Doesn't mean you have to give up on selling the pink ones completely, but selling them becomes your hobby, not your primary business.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Binary Brain Strikes Again

Binary: "A numbering system with only two values: 0 (zero) and 1 (one)" colloq - either/or black/white thinking.

Re: "If you approach fiction writing as a hobby, then, yeah, write only what you love. If you approach it as a business and depend on an income that you can retire on, then you'd best be looking at a career path that will get you there. And sometimes that means writing the types of stories that fit on the shelves, not in your souls."
____________________

Well, I have so many responses to this, but I guess I will stick to hobby/business "binary" - oh, if only it were that simple! I picture those back-of-magazine ads for bottle cutters, or candle making kits, or metal detectors..."turn your hobby into a lucrative business!" As if writing fiction were as easy as making candles, or turning bottles into vases, or digging rusty wristwatches out of the sand. Or even - writing "Marketing and sales copy for a large technology firm."

Oh, I just laugh, ex-perpetual temp moi, imagining those tasteful slate gray or slate blue or slate something cubicles that you traverse with your sales copy, paying your mortgage, and disdaining that nervous temp with her vintage jewelry, excess of green clothing and half-hour lunch spent jotting in a too-expensive-for-a-temp hardbound journal, who-knows-what pitiful and/or self-pitying crap. Lines of poetry, even, the futility of it! Pathetic! But that chick in marketing, did you see her, she is H-O-T!

I could never write sales copy for a tech company and get paid for it. A) They would never hire me in the first place, and even if they did, B) I would quit after a few weeks, f*** it, I'm not writing this s***!

But, on the other hand - this isn't the way I feel about sci-fi, or "women's fiction" (still trying to figure out what that is, truthfully), detective novels - not too crazy about fantasy genre - books set in ancient Egypt are pretty interesting - Jodi Picoult is interesting - enjoyed Harry Potter series (would have liked a female Henrietta Potter main protag, though) - and I can imagine there are books I could write in these genres that would fit BOTH the "shelves" and "my soul."

Shelves/soul, profession/hobby, career path/garden path, mortgage/on the street, bestseller/great literature, yada yada yada...I want to say: I've known so many men like you - but maybe you're a woman...that painful, excruciating "binary brain" - it's either 0 or 1! When will you get this through your thick head, you weird, broke temp female! 0 or 1! 0 or 1! No one will want to marry you (and share a mortgage) if you can't choose between 0 and 1! Pick!

I remember those posters and so forth of Einstein, and hanging in the background would be the equation "e=mc2," and maybe an artist's rendering of an atom (They usually leave the mushroom cloud out, hmm, wonder why) - maybe 50 years from now we'll have posters of Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, with suitably visionary expressions on their faces, with the phrase "It's either 0 or 1" hanging in the background.

On behalf of female what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here? temps and ex-temps everywhere,

Wanda B.

Anonymous said...

"As if writing fiction were as easy as making candles, or turning bottles into vases, or digging rusty wristwatches out of the sand."

Have you ever tried metal detecting? It's not as easy as it looks. And you can find better stuff than rusty wristwatches.

Anonymous said...

Wanda:

Wow. No offence, but…What on earth are you talking about????

I’d have to be on a variety pack of hallucinogenic meds for that abstract tangent to fit anywhere into the topic at hand. Never in my life have I seen it take so many words to say so little. I read the entire piece thinking I would find gold at the end.

Nothing. Nada.

Even the snow-shoveling-menstrual-yoga thing made more sense.

Truly. Stabbing my eyelids with pins would have been less painful.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Dear Anon:

Thanks for the bouquet (well it was rather small, so I'll call it a posey)-

You wrote:

"I read the entire piece"
_____________

Hmm, on second thought I just looked up the definition of "posey," it means "chamber pot," so I guess I meant posy instead...nosegay, boutteniere...

Wanda B.

Anonymous said...

Wanda: I'm Anon 10:10, not the other two anons who've already responded. I'm not really sure how gender fits in, but I'm female, single and a couple of years shy of 50. And I work from home, which is a 20-acre farm complete with chickens and goats. I work to support my current menagerie and to put aside enough money to be able to take in and care for a few more abused animals once I retire. Being broke is not an option for me or my charges.

During lunch, you can catch me working on my hobby -- writing something I love: a novel or another fantasy or SF short story (I've sold several). I have worked with, lunched with, and shared many a giggle with a number of temps over the years, many of whom were as clothes-horse clueless as me. But I am a realist. And if that makes me some binary-thinking bitch from hell, I'm not at all concerned. In fact, I'm quite happy with my life.

I truly, truly wish you could be as happy with yours.

Anonymous said...

Write what you know; write what you love; write what you have to write in order to survive. Agent what you know; agent what you love; agent what you have to agent in order to survive.

Kate Douglas said...

As an author, I want to know that my agent is passionate about my work. Otherwise, she's not going to be able to put that passion into her sales pitch to the editor. If you don't believe in something, how can you possibly make someone else believe? I think a good editor should be able to tell if the pitch is made out of love for a project, or merely to make a sale. I would feel cheated as a client if my agent felt otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Huckleberry Finn doesn't "start slowly" at all.

In fact, the first sentence is "You don't know about me without you have read a book called Tom Sawyer by Mr. Mark Twain" (I'm doing this from memory, so excuse me if it's slightly off).

Given that Tom Sawyer was a best-seller, I think that's pretty much a slam! bang! beginning.

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