Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Not for Me

If you were to put a percentage on the reasons you most often reject queries, what would they be? (ie: the writing, the premise, the wrong genre, etc.). Knowing that feedback from agents regarding rejections is next to impossible, considering their excessive workload, I'm just trying to get a feel for the most common problems.

Without keeping a tally while I’m reading queries, I don’t know if I could give a percentage of the reasons. I can give you some overall thoughts though.

While there are definitely times when I get an influx of inappropriate queries—wrong genre, wrong agent, unprofessional—for the most part I think the queries I receive are serious and well thought out. There’s no doubt that agent blogs, writer forums and the Internet in general has given writers an edge. While it’s probably making you all more anxious, it’s also giving you the knowledge you need to succeed.

I think the biggest reason I reject something is that it just doesn’t excite me. The idea might be okay, the writing good, the query fine, but the idea just feels done, like I’ve seen it a million times. In all the research you do on querying and all the work you do on writing the query, there’s one thing that writers will never be able to fully grasp unless you sit on my side of the desk and read the queries, and that’s what everyone else is doing. If I get 50 queries a day and 35 of them are vampire romances you’re going to have to work really hard to convince me that your vampire romance is going to excite me. After a while they all start to sound the same. I’ve talked before on the blog about insurance adjustor mysteries. How, to the best of my knowledge, there’s never been one published and yet regularly I receive a query for a mystery featuring an insurance adjustor as the sleuth. This just does not excite me.

That does not mean it’s all about the idea because certainly in reading the queries there can always be that one author who, with her voice, writing, and the presentation of her idea, can convince me that everyone wants to read about a vampire insurance adjustor.

So I think the most common problem is that the query just doesn’t resonate with the agent for some reason and often that reason is nothing more than “while I found it intriguing I don’t think it’s for me.” The truth more times than I can count.



GhostFolk.com said...

Yes, thank you!

It would be so nice if we could choose our agent -- the best one out there in the whole wide world for us -- send her the query and get a quick yes from her.

The truth is a writer has to let the agent want/find her.

I was recently smiled on by wonderful luck and had a first YA novel sell rather quickly. But..

I sent out 15 e-queries simultaneously to appropriate agents.

5 said no (one of these was rather slow - two months or so).

5 never responded (the Big Slow No).

5 asked for samples or more. (Two asked for completes).

I think was incredibly fortunate (and I believe I had created a darn good product for the market).

The agent I am signed with read the complete Ms by the end of the night of the day she received it. She called the next day. The book sold a few weeks later.

This is almost too much success for me to handle. The (goddess)agent asked for no rewrites or adjustments. I am SO LUCKY...

And yet, 10 agents said no, it wasn't for them. I don't think this means they missed the boat or anything. It means I didn't "fit in" in their boat.

Still, if I had queried agents one by one and hit the ten No-thank-you's on the first ten queries, I might have thrown the Ms away.

I can't guess what makes a workable novel appeal to one agent and not another. So, really, you sort of have to let your agent find you. The one that loves you is the one you want. And you don't often get to choose who is going to love you.

There should be an eHarmony for agents and authors.

Hillsy said...

I remember Janet Reid cataloging hers a while back, she wasn't quite so polite...hehe

Amazing the disparity in agents thoughts when all you get for a reply is "NO"

1) "Er, No." - unprofessional
2) "God, No!" - can't write for toffee
3) "Nope." - Fatal error right at the start.
4) "Still No." - Hackneyed idea
5) "Hmmmmmmmmm......Not really" - Good query, not for agent.
6) "Ooooooo....oh....no then" - Good start, needs more plot

And the one that would kill you if you knew about it.

7) "Yes. Yes. Hmmmm. uh-huh. No. Maybe. Yes. Oh God this is tough......Oh I'll pass" - Dammit!!


Personally I'd have a mailmerge document set up with a preset list of form rejections so when we get a 'NO' we know which kind of 'NO' it is....also it wouldn't take any extra time on the Agents part. All you'd have to do is select why you rejected (you already know why because you thought it) and the mailmerge does the rest.

I'd gladly build one to help out....=0)

Hillsy said...

Or, or, or....

.....you could simply send back a number that correlates to a reason and they can look it up on your website.

"....I'm going to pass on your query. Please see reason 7"

ooo yes then it could start an industry standand....so if your query is getting mainly 8's it could just need a litle tweaking...3's and it needs a rewrites.

HAHA!!....come on lets start a revolution!!...=0)

Might take a bit of heat off of agents too....impersonal but informative feedback in a single digit...Form Rejection 2.0.....=0)

Elizabeth Lynd said...

I'm curious: this makes it sound like many or most of the queries you receive are decently written and pitch decent ideas, rather than the not-ready-for-primetime category my research has led me to believe many queries fall under. Seems to me I hear agents say that maybe 75% of the queries n their inbox are just not good. (That's a very unscientific estimate, but you get the point.) Are you saying that most queries are, in fact, pretty good, or that, of the minority pretty good ones, you mostly reject because they just don't pique your interest? Thanks for any clarification!

Rick Daley said...

Does FIGHT CLUB count as an insurance adjuster mystery?

Anonymous said...

I think one of the biggest reasons well-written queries get rejected is the author does not know how to hone in on the conflict in their novel. Conflict, or the set-up, is the trigger that makes me pull out the credit card to buy a new novel - I'm sure it's the same for agents. Especially when they read hundreds of queries every week. I can imagine they all bleed together into one big blur after a while.

Kimber Li said...

And after it gets through the agents, editors, and marketing, it ends up with me, a blogging book reviewer, who's seen way too many of the same thing too.

Tough business.

By the time it gets to me, I have to wonder how the heck any author strikes the balance between something familiar enough to engage the reader and original enough not to bore them.

Lea Ann McCombs said...

I love the eHarmony for agents idea! Somebody could make a fortune setting that up.

Stephanie Damore said...

Congrats to you GhostFolk - way too awesome. And I too love the eHarmony idea -- that would be wonderful!

Hillsy said...

"Agent query connect" is similar to an eharmony for agents.

Though there'll always be 4000 writers to an agent, so I can see why there aren't many agents on there

Lesley Speller said...

Vampire insurance adjuster just makes me giggle my head off. :-D

Travener said...

Insurance adjustor mystery: SLIPKNOT by Linda Greenlaw. "A Jane Bunker Mystery." (Greenlaw is best known as the swordfish boat captain featured in A PERFECT STORM.)

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...one more reminder just how serendipitous this business is. I'm firmly convinced that I'm published now as much due to stubbornness, luck, timing and, did I say luck? as anything. It was my stubborn nature that kept me trying, but it was luck and timing that found me my agent, luck and timing that had my manuscript in front of the right editor at the right time, luck and timing that had my first erotic romance hit a market searching for that kind of book.

Yes, I'm a good writer and I work hard at my craft, but so are a lot of others who've never made it. My advice? Believe in yourself, hang in there, don't quit, keep learning and keep submitting. At some point, the odds are that luck and timing will come together for you just as you hope.

Catherine Bybee said...

Oh geeze... e-harmony! A dating service for agents and authors. I suppose that would be the P&E site. I do love the explination of "Not for me." Thanks.

nauthor said...

An eHarmony for writers and agents? Well, it would have a hidden right-wing fundamentalist agenda, it would tell ten percent of agents and writers that they shouldn't even think of agenting or writing because they weren't suited, and it wouldn't let gay or lesbian agents or writers play.

Then it would be just like eHarmony.

Perhaps better would be a match.com for writers and agents.

Anonymous said...

As a writer trying to break into the business, I can only hope that there are many varied tastes out there amongst agents.

I would hate to think that most agents are looking for the same thing, and that my story "is not quite for {agents]," despite the fact that it might be just the thing for a good many readers.

Agent "tastes" serve as quite the subjective arbiter of what gets published these days.

Would that publishers accepted direct submissions.

It seems the last people to get any consideration are the very people who create the business in the first place--the writers.

I know there's plenty of garbage being submitted, but this "taste" roadblock is disturbing.

JEM said...

Thanks for the info! From a hopeful author's perspective, can you tell us what you're up to your ears in right now?

Congrats to GhostFolk!

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:50:

"Would that publishers accepted direct submissions."

Small pubs do accept directly.If you cannot get an agent after a year of trying, but are still convinced that readers are dying to get ahold of your stuff, then why not try the small presses? Some of them even offer traditional B&M distribution in addition to getting it on Amazon and B&N online. Then if it sells well, you should move up from there, right? In fact, the agents would probably come to you in that case.

In the meantime, wie you wait to hear back from agents or small pubs, write another book!

Lisa Desrochers said...

"The idea might be okay, the writing good, the query fine, but the idea just feels done, like I’ve seen it a million times."

This is about the scariest thing an aspiring writer can read when they've put blood, sweat and months of their lives into something. The reality is that everything has been done. The whole time I was writing the book that got me my agent, I was terrified that everyone I queried would feel that way about my novel.

In the end, I ended up with four offers, and when I talked to each of them about this exact subject they agreed that everything has been done. They say the difference is in how you do it.

Anonymous said...

I see a definite pattern here:
Why are these YA writers the only ones with agents? Seems most agents would rather jump on the YA bandwagon as they search for a Twilight knock-off instead of looking for an original voice and interesting ms. So agents are just like stockbrokers, not idea brokers, trying to follow the trends. Very frustrating!

Anonymous said...

I think for the vampire chick lit YA crowd, everything has been done, and they are all just reworking the same stories in different ways for the same reader base.

But outside of that mega-genre, you do see truly new story ideas pop up from time to time. Now, if you zoom out to a general enough level, all stories can either be classified as a Quest or a...whatever. But even plotwise, mysteries, thrillers, suspense, non-fiction, even literary have been coming upwith some original ideas of late.

Anonymous said...

I agree. That one where the murderer is dead, killing people from beyond the grave with computerized boobytraps he set up before he died--that's pretty darned original--the dead murderer--really dead, with no paranormal elements.

Here is my original pseudo-historical idea, and you all can tell me if it has been done before if you think it has:

A civil war buff with a penchant for using live ammunition in civil war reenactments becomes the most hunted serial killer in the South.


Enraged father of vistim #1: "One of his guns was recovered. Why hasn't the weapon been traced yet?"

FBI agent: "That weapon is an 1860's era musket. Firearms this old do not have to be registered. From what we can tell from the ballistics evidence--and we had to call in a historian to get that--the killer uses several such muskets, all of them which will be legally unregistered. It's the one advantage of using a waepon that gives you only onle shot before having to reload. it's untraceable."

I consider that plot to be an original idea, although in a broad sense, the serial killer story is of course not original.

Anonymous said...

Dude, why are you posting your original story idea on a publishing blog?

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know that some of the details we obsess over in rejection letters aren't necessarily what they seem to be. "It's not for me" is not necessarily "this is crap."

Anonymous said...

I write and read mysteries/suspense, not YA or fantasy or paranormal. What are all these teens and pre-teens going to read when they grow up?
What about appealing to the baby-boomer crowd, the fastest-growing market? They read too!

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:43:

What makes you think I'm a dude?! and I gotta a zillion of 'em. I"m a high-concept factory. It's unlikely that that particular story will make it through my rigorous selection process to be something I actually write, but it illustrates the inherent originality of the high concept compared to the usual genre fare. (It's still genre fare, but not usual genre fare).

Anonymous said...

"Though there'll always be 4000 writers to an agent, so I can see why there aren't many agents on there"

Actually, who sez? I mean, yes, there are legions of weak writers, wannabe writers, people who dream they are writers trying to get agents much too early in the process. But the number of excellent writers who have done their homework, studied, written a manuscript, put it in the drawer, then written at least one other one, one that is great and original, one that makes their writing group all agree, this is the one -- those writers are rare. Because it takes time. Years.

There are record number of literary agents today. And most of them are open to new clients. So don't think of it as a large, insurmountable ratio. Just focus on the one agent that is best for you, once you are ready for an agent.

Anonymous said...

Agree with anon 2:06.

The majority of agent subs are written by people who haven't yet put in the time to create a competitive manuscript.

So when you hear the agents talking about the sheer # of subs, don't let it get you down. Most of them really are sub-par.

Also agree that there are new and original story ideas coming out, not of the paranormal / YA variety.

Hillsy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillsy said...

Anon 2:06

I was actually stating that AQ connect already has an eharmony page, but I can see why a lot of agents aren't signed up to it.

The problem is: Regardless of what fraction (possibly large or small) of the large number of wannabe writers per agent are competent, all are going to use up an agents time.

So while the ACTUAL competition for a good writer to get published may be quite small, the competition for time has no such qualitive value.

And if anything the competent writer will understand that it's his writing that matters and so clamour less for the agents time. In contrast writer who hasn't learned the etiquette will badger and hassle. Why would agents volunteer to join a networking site like AQconnect when they'll be badgered by a thousand people about stuff they should already know?

I wouldn't

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anons--but if all that is true, why do they ignore even pro writers, sitting on our mss. for months? There's only a handful of NYT bestsellers, but bookstores are filled with all types of books. Agents should show a little courtesy or else be closed for submissions. You'd think no one knew how to read anymore but teens!

Anonymous said...

The active blogging agents tend toward YA / paranormal / romance. If you write thrillers, mysteries, westerns, scifi (although fantasy is well repped, too) or literary, you'll feel a bit left out.

Anonymous said...

I do declare, there is an opening in the publishing blogoshpere for a thriller/suspense agent to claim that niche!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, if only there were blogging agents who repped mysteries and thrillers [like Janet Reid] or scifi (like Jennifer Jackson). That'd be swell.

Anonymous said...

Yes Anon, but they are so overwhelmed with submissions that it seems pointless to try. JJ boasts about how many REJECTIONS she doles out each week, but people keep coming back for more.
Janet Reid (and CL) can seem rather heartless on her blog so forget trying her. Face it, agents like Nathan and Jessica blogs are way too BUSY! Why bother?

Anonymous said...

Why bother? Why wouldn't you bother? If you're in the querying stage, it's going to take you all of ten minutes to check the blogging agent's sub requirements and zip off an e-query. The blogging agents are only slightly busier than non-blogging agents, all things considered, and the bloggers obviously care about connecting with the writer community - a big plus is my books. What do you have to lose by querying an agent who blogs?

Anonymous said...

What I meant was, it would be nice for an agent blog to come along that really specialized in thriller / suspense. I know some of the blogging agents do rep those, but it is not the focus of their blogs. Such a glut of YA/paranormal/romance info.

Anonymous said...

I agree with ANON 2:35: I second that motion--we need more mystery/suspense info! SO sick of YA--what will these teens read when they grow up? There's more to life than romantic vampire & werewolf stories...get real!

Anonymous said...

"I’ve talked before on the blog about insurance adjustor mysteries. How, to the best of my knowledge, there’s never been one published ..."

Doesn't "Double Indemnity" count?

Steve said...

Not sure why so many equate YA with paranormal/vampire romances. Sure, these are very big in YA right now because of Twilight, and the inevitable rush of Twilight knock-offs. But on the shelf at B & N, there are huge numbers of non paranormal YA novels covering everything from death, insanity and cutting to rock music and fashion design.

I am one of those adults that loves to read YA, but I don't read YA paranormal for the same reason I don't read adult fantasy. I can't "suspend disbelief" enough to enjoy the plot.

I'm working on a YA novel myself - 14 year old girl starts a band with her friends, has adventures, learns about life, grows up, etc. Not a vampire in the bunch. (Although I'm very tempted to introduce a table full of totally lame Twilight geeks that sit together in the lunchroom - just out of pure meanness :)

(Oops, almost forgot. The events occur in 2007. Have to make it a table full of Harry Potter fans.)

As to insurance adjuster mysteries, my intro to this genre was the 70's TV series Banacek, which appeared on the NBC Mystery Movie series, starring George Peppard.

Peppard seems to have been regarded as somewhat of a hottie by female viewers. Maybe a lot of them grew up to be aspiring mystery writers?