April 11th, 2008


from the mixed up files of Agent Manners - stubbornly continuing to query

Dear Agent Manners,

Having sent my novel out to about eight carefully chosen agents, and having had them all decline to represent me (though a couple asked for partials), I am at a loss as to what to do next. Each response was gracious and encouraging, but none of them asked me to query again were I to revise it. What should I do? Shelve it and begin working on a new novel? Search for more agents to send it to? Find a way to rewrite my current one so substantially as to warrant a new round of querying? And if I were to submit a new novel down the road to the agents who requested partials, is it worth politely reminding them of our previous exchange?

Yours truly,

Disheartened in New York

Dear Disheartened:

Take heart.

Agent Manners is sure that many who follow this column would be dismayed that you are considering moving on after only 8 negative responses. Many of those who are agented can no doubt report a far larger number before finding a match.

Evenso, your questions are not without merit.

Query widely is the standard advice. There's no reason not to be particular in your choices of agents, of course. In fact, it's encouraged. However, consider that Stephen King's Carrie was rejected over 30 times before finding a home. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle scored 26 rejections before it got an offer.

Agent Manners advises that you do, indeed, consider querying more agents, and while you're at it, keep working on a new novel to submit should this one not find a home. Just yesterday, one of my newer clients - Mary Robinette Kowal - described why it was her fourth novel that came to my desk, rather than an earlier one. Agent Manners suspects the number of authors who initially sell their first novel is probably a low percentage. So, by all means, keep writing!

Of course, if there are reasons in the responses to consider revision, do not lightly cast them aside if the resonate with you and fit your vision of the story. By all means revise and then query again to see if there is interest in seeing said revision. But do remember that even though agents and editors read widely and near-constantly, their feedback still only represents one opinion, however informed it might be.

Do not despair. This is only one step on the road to publication. One has to experience the journey before one enjoys the reward.

letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week : 105
# of partials requested : 2
genres of partials requested : romance (2)

I didn't get any people who queried me because of my physical appearance (see Nathan's stats. But I did have someone mention that they admired my musical taste, apparently the day I listed a Sarah Slean song from my playlist as "current music."


Dear Authors that I am Seeking to Represent:

Around the internets, I've seen comments mentioning that agents discussing the number of queries they receive is somehow unprofessional, particularly when said agent seems to be in a somewhat disheartened mood concerning same. After all, don't agents request to be approached via queries? Well, yes. But, it can be a bit daunting at times. It's no reflection on the individual writers. But, now that many of them come by email, it can seem an overwhelming task as you read 10 but in the course of queuing up replies several more arrive. I don't even put it on my task list anymore because I know I will never cross it off. Does that mean I don't want queries? Heck, no. I'm actively seeking new projects. But can it mean that once in a while I wish my desk was clear for just a few minutes? Well, yeah. Have to admit it.

The other thing that can get you down is the percentage of queries that are from people who have clearly made no effort to ascertain whether the agent is appropriate for their work. Are they just lazy? Perhaps. I find this particularly perplexing when the person is emailing me at maassagency.com but obviously hasn't bothered to go to the website they are using right in the email address. I'd rather get queries that are tailored to me and my interests and I think I do my best to make those available. I have an entry on agentquery.com. My bio is on our agency website. I have maintained this blog for years and talk about what I represent. And, yet, there are a large number of queries per week that are for types of books I clearly do not handle (non-fiction of the self-help variety, children's picture book, poetry -- among others, just this week). So, that can get you a little down, no matter how excited you know you will be when you find the next book for you.

Still, even if our current system may be an imperfect one, it evolved to attempt to save everyone time, money, and effort in making a match, so authors must continue to query, and agents must continue to read queries. In a world where everyone got what they wanted, each query an agent received would be exactly what they were looking for and all queries sent out would result in multiple offers of representation for authors. And if wishes were horses....

An Agent In Search of their Next Client
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