Monday, January 26, 2009

Personal Tastes

While doing the pitch critiques over the holidays I was asked if I thought agents had their own preferences for pitches or if the differences really came down to genre, and I’ll tell you right now that agents definitely have their own preferences. What might come across to me as a very exciting pitch might be a complete snooze to another agent. For example, I know there’ve been plenty of times when I’ve received a query I was so excited about that I shared it with my colleagues and neither of them got what I saw. In fact, just recently I received a query that I thought sounded so cute and great that I shared it with Kim and Jacky. Kim immediately responded to say she didn’t get it, in fact had no interest in the idea at all.

Reactions to pitches, like anything else, are subjective. By doing the pitch critiques I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a request from every agent you query. I can however give my opinion on what might make a stronger pitch and show you how agents look at pitches. We don’t just look to see what the story is about, but we do look at pitches to get a sense as to whether or not the story might work.

Also keep in mind that agents, like readers, can grab on to a pitch simply because of a personal preference. There are agents, for example, who just have a passion for vampires and might gravitate toward almost anything with vampires in it, while others have absolutely no interest in vampires and see that as an automatic rejection. If you haven’t already read through the pitches posted in my call for pitches on December 19 I would encourage you to do so. Reading through them will give you insight into what an agent sees in her in-box on a daily basis and might also make you see why we implore you to work so hard to write a strong pitch.



jimnduncan said...

This just points once again to how important it is for 'voice' to shine through in the query. It also indicates, to me at least, that there really is no ideal way to write a query letter. Yes, you want to have certain elements in it, like what it's about and who the main characters are, but beyond that, you're trying to hit that special note that will ring true to the agent and get them to accept the material. You can find all kinds of information around the blogosphere on writing queries, and some of it comes directly from agents (this site being particularly useful in that regard), but what you will find is that they are all slightly different. You cannot write a query that is going to appeal to everyone or even a majority of them. You'll be lucky to find a few out of many. An agent has to love what they see, be inspired in some way to think, "This is something I might like to represent." So, really all you can do is try to write a query that is inspiring to yourself, that makes you think your story is something you would want to read, because what you are trying to do is make that elusive connection with someone whose tastes and inspiration coincides in some way with your own that made you write the story in the first place.

All my lowly opinion of course, such that it is. Good luck to all who are involved in this process, because it is an elusive and fickle creature to tame.

J. Duncan

PurpleClover said...

Okay... now see (in my silly sarcastic mood), we read numerous site submission guidelines that say not to query more than one agent at the same agency because you discuss queries between yourselves. Here is an example of where if the query was on Kim's desk, it would never make it to "the weekly meeting" or another agent's desk.

I'm not condoning simultaneous submissions within the same agency (who rep the same genre) because I totally understand the annoyance of that. But can you see the frustration of hearing that news? Sigh.

Thanks for the insight though! Glad to hear that simultaneous submissions in general are helpful! Now I'm just wondering if I'm querying all the "Kim's" of the agenting world. ;)

Anonymous said...

When I queried, if there was a separate email submission for agents within the same agency, I would send to all the agents that I thought were good matches--once one had declined I moved on. I got several requests this way. In fact, I got turned down by Jessica but Jacky requested the partial. As Janet Reid says, there are no rules.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thanks for posting on this. It just confirms to me that what you're hoping for in your query above all else is to find the perfect set of eyeballs, and the more you submit, the better your chances.

Anonymous said...

Along with Jimn and Purple's comments, let me add, it kills me to see authors changing their story to accomadate one agent or their critique group's preference, like I see happening with these little contests they have going on. You are jepordizing your whole book based on a few lines submitted to be critiqued. It is fine to listen to the technical advice they give you, but don't rewrite your entire story because a certain subject is not their thing or they have seen something over and over. Has the something they have seen over and over been published over and over? Don't rip out words because one person doesn't like them, if you get the same opinion from several sources then you may want to reconsider what and how you have written your MSS. As Jessica said everyone has their own opinion.

DebraLSchubert said...

Personally, I like when an agent is specific. I think it's helpful on both sides. It enables me to refine my pitch and query, and it helps the agent get what they're looking for. This is not to say I rewrite my book (unless I get great advice that makes sense!) or represent my writing as something other than it is. It's more a matter of good communication.

It's also important to research your most desired agents and then, as Angie said, you have to find the right set of eyeballs!

Nixy Valentine said...

Since I just discovered your blog, I'd not seen the pitch submissions, and it opened my eyes. A few were wonderful... enough that I found the author's websites and left them a note. Others made me shudder. What I found amazing was that you received them all in about a 4 day span. I'm not sure how you wade through it all on a daily basis.

Thanks for sharing!

Windsong said...

Thanks for the insights. :) It helps to remember that nothing will ever appeal to everyone every time.

Anita said...

On the flip side to what some of you are saying, I'm making a TON of revisions to my manuscript based on the advice of an experienced agent who took the time (along with her assistant) to give me helpful feedback. Are the revisions painful? YES. But are they making the book better? YES.

Even if this agent doesn't offer representation, I'll still have a better book to shop around. And if other agents contradict the advice given to me by the agent for whom I'm making the revisions (highly unlikely), I still have my original manuscript.

Anonymous said...

What really irks me is when your query/pitch hits the mark enough for an agent to ask for a partial or full, and then the ms. sits languishing on an agent's or editor's desk for months without a response. Then what?

Why are agents in such a rush to ask for a ms., then take their time reading it, esp when they know the ms. is being circulated to other agents?

Devon Ellington said...

I think that's one of the wonderful, exciting things about researching and querying agents -- the fact that it IS subjective, and the excitement of finding the right person to represent your work -- or, in your case, the right writers to represent.

I always think of the query/submission process as similar to looking for a soul mate for the work -- you're got to date around before you find The One.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Perhaps a author can tailor the tone of the pitch or query to suit the preferences of different agents. One might get it, another might respond to a different approach.

Getting to know agents and their level of seriousness or humour can go a long way.

I wouldn't dramatically change the manuscript until an agent expresses interest.

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Serenissima said...

I've seen how a story can be loved by some readers, hated by others. Sometimes the stronger the voice, the more vehement the feelings in either direction.

When you love something that your fellow Bookenders don't like, do you go with your gut and pursue it?

Anonymous said...

"Sounded so cute..."
With respect, is "cute" what you're looking for?
Where does the simple straightforward description stand if "Cute" wins the day?