Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Conflicting Opinions

So I've been querying for awhile now, doing all the research, etc. My query letter's solid, and I have a high concept upmarket thriller. I don't have writing credits to speak of. However, a few months ago, I corresponded with a prominent and best-selling novelist (PEN Faulkner finalist, lots of awards, movie rights, etc.). He read and loved my book. Besides the high concept, I figured adding that to my query would entice agents to ask for a partial. But everyone has rejected me or not responded. I've always been over confident in my work, but when an established voice in contemporary fiction says "yes," why are agents saying "no" without taking a look? I mean, obviously a nod from anyone doesn't guarantee representation or publication, but no one wants to take a look? It's not that my ego's shattered, and I understand differing tastes, but I guess I just don't see the business sense there.

A bestselling novelist, no matter how impressive, is not an agent or editor. Writing books is one thing, selling and marketing them is another. There seems to be this assumption among unpublished authors that the minute you become published you have this insight into the market that you didn’t have the week before. That’s untrue. A quote from a bestselling author is great and definitely something that publishers would eventually want to use on the cover of your book, if, of course, the audience for that author’s work is also the audience for your work. In other words, a Nora Roberts quote, while fabulous, probably won’t sell many books to an audience that sees itself as literary fiction readers only. However, agents are still going to look at your query letter and, despite the quote, make a decision like they would with any other query. Does your book sound like something they would want to read? Or better yet, does you book sound like something they can sell?

I’m not sure why you think agents are making poor business decisions because they’re not wowed by a quote from another author. How is that author going to help you sell the book exactly? Has she agreed to coauthor with you? A quote is just that, a quote. It means one person liked the book. It doesn’t mean agents, editors or readers will buy the book.

There’s no secret way into this business and there are few, if any, people who can just magically open the door for you. My guess is that either your query is faulty, it’s missing that element that really grabs an agent’s attention, or your book doesn’t sound different enough and your voice (from your query) isn’t striking a chord with agents.

We’ve had numerous conversations on this blog about the effectiveness of quotes, with many saying they look at author quotes on books and only listen with half an ear, so to speak. Why do you think agents would be any different? In many ways we’re even more jaded than authors, and certainly more jaded than readers.