Friday, July 11, 2014

more on querying widely

So, yesterday's blog post created some confusion, so I'll shout louder add to it.   Here's the response from an agent who didn't understand the point. Let's use her for the example:

So, as I read this I keep thinking I may be reading it wrong. Are you actually saying, "who cares if an agent says they do not represent X, query them anyway?"

As an agent I specialize in MG, YA, and Romance. That's it. no PB, and no other adult genres.

Let's pretend Joe is writing an international thriller. It would be an incredible waste of time-- both for me AND the writer-- to bother sending me a query. But let's say the crazy happens and for some reason I read it and request it anyway because it sounds THAT amazing, and I read the full, and I think it's the best thing since sliced bread-- why the heck would this writer WANT me to take them on? I don't know a damned thing about adult international thrillers. I could never guide this writer on how to revise cliched plot lines or overdone tropes. Sure, I could dig up some random editors I don't know and send it on over to them, but why would these editors prioritize my submission?

I really do not understand this advice, or I am just completely misinterpreting you. One of the two.

-Mandy Hubbard 

Let's look at this from a writer's point of view.  Mandy has stated her guidelines pretty clearly right?

Let's answer these questions from those guidelines:

1. Does she represent New Adult?
2. Does she represent Women's Fiction?
3. Does she represent non-fiction for kids?
4. Does she represent chapter books?

Even when an agent thinks her guidelines are clear, authors who are just learning terminology, and aren't sure of what categories mean, and do not mean, can be confused. Hell, I'm STILL unsure of what New Adult means, and I've been swimming in the Sea of Publishing for some time now.

Thus my point is this: an author should err on the side of sending a query.  If an agent goes on twitter and says "oh why did someone query me for the Wrath of Zeus when I clearly don't represent Wrath books" that's the agent's problem not the writer's.***

Writers like to gnaw themselves into frenzies over small details.  Everyone with experience in this industry knows this.

I believe it is incumbent upon those of us who deal with the newest and least skilled and most meticulous (not overlapping groups by the way) to understand that "simple instructions" and "simple guidelines" aren't always simple to the people on the other side of the email inbox.

The answer is to just say no to the queries you don't want, and try not to make writers feel stupid.

***another commenter on yesterday's post gave that example:

There are agents on Twitter who do #tenqueries pretty frequently, and many of those batches are variants on "____, I don't represent _____. Rejection" (paraphrased). I do like reading #tenqueries, I think it gives me a false sense of educating myself? Or maybe a non false sense. Though any education would pertain to that agent and that agent only, I feel.

I think we're so indoctrinated into being terrified of making a misstep and being blackballed for life, and I think social media both helps and hurts. 


Jacob Burnett said...

"The answer is to just say no to the queries you don't want, and try not to make writers feel stupid."

Can we get that embroidered on silk or burned into driftwood or at the least have it pop up before any social media post goes out along with "are you SURE you want to say this?"

You don't rep the kinds of things I've written, so you likely won't hear from me in your query inbox but you have almost single-handedly shaped the checklist against which I evaluate prospective agent partners...

Thanks much.

Wendy Qualls said...

There are some agents out there who just say they represent "upmarket fiction" or even just "fiction." And then I look up some blog interviews and find out what they really mean is "women's fiction and book club reads and The Next Great American Novel" and they don't rep romance or mystery or science fiction at all. I think a lot of this could be avoided if agents were more specific - "I represent [these broad genres] and I specifically love [these subgenres]." Authors will know how to tailor their query and agents won't get quite so many completely inappropriate offers.

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

"The answer is to just say no to the queries you don't want, and try not to make writers feel stupid."

Thank you for this.

Gina said...

Yes! One agent who does #tenqueries a lot tells us "I don't rep this. PASS." But her website, PM, and every interview I've ever seen from her just says she reps fiction. Of course she gets queries for everything.

Daisy said...

I like to look at it like applying for jobs. You don't want to waste your time or theirs by sending in your resume for something you're entirely unqualified for, but there's also no point of pre-rejecting yourself just because something isn't a perfect fit. If you think there's some chance it might work, send in the damn resume. (This is how I got my current job.) It also lines up with what you said before about research, which is that you want to make sure the place you're applying to is somewhere you would actually be okay with working.

Nadre said...

Very valid points. I'd like to think I know what I'm doing now, but when I first queried my first novel, I had NO IDEA what I was doing. I cringe with embarrassment at the query letters I sent out then. I mean that too- I actually cringe. Not only did I not fully understand the genres, but the query process itself was all foreign to me. This was before I even knew blogs like this existed. (Hooray for your site!) You started quite the debate on Twitter!

Jane Lebak said...

To address Ms. Hubbard's comment about why would an author want her to take on the manuscript when it's not a familiar genre -- because from the writer's point of view, if she loved it enough to step out of her comfort zone and begin making new contacts and doing all that ground work of networking, then she's going to be an incredible advocate for the work.

Brittany Constable said...

"When in doubt, query," is great advice. Although I think sometimes that there's no doubt. When an agent's submission page says explicitly "I don't represent fantasy," querying them anyway thinking, "Oh, that's just because you haven't read MINE" would be slightly delusional.

Elissa M said...

Ditto Brittany's comment.

If the guidelines aren't clear, might as well query. But it's more than "slightly" delusional to think your book is going to make an agent suddenly fall in love with a genre she doesn't rep (possibly doesn't read, and probably also hates).

Joelle Charbonneau said...

My agent has just left her editorial job and was starting out on her agenting adventure when I queried her. Her submission guidelines said she was looking for noir, hard boiled mysteries, thrillers, dark humor and unexpected violence. Well, I wrote funny mysteries…but more on the goofy side. Since she was just starting out as an agent, I didn't have a lot of sales or client history to look at. I decided there was nothing lost by querying someone who said they were also looking for strong voices and who had such a great reputation as an editor. I signed with her 5 years ago. Trust me when I say that was the best query decision I ever made. She doesn't always rep the genres I write in, but she loves my writing voice and is willing to follow me wherever I go. If there is any question as to whether the agent's guidelines are subject to interpretation, I say err on the side of querying. It might not pan out, but if you don't you might miss out. Where's the harm in finding out?

Lance said...

Thank you for this great information. Wrath books are going to be the new zombie craze. Is there going to be a Wrath of Fred contest?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this! When I'm querying, I often spend so much time dissecting agents' query instructions that I can only query 3-4 agents an HOUR. When you're trying to query every possible agent who might want to represent your book, that can take a whole lotta hours. I want to make my query as perfectly tailored to the agent as I possibly can, but yes, it is super stressful. If I got a response from an agent implying I was an idiot for even querying her, that would really hurt.

Just send a form rejection.

The Sleepy One said...

Given Mandy's list of what she reps it would definitely waste both of our time if I queried her for my non-fiction project or hard-boiled crime novel. But if I had an novel that could be shelved in romance or general fiction I'd be on the fence when querying. Seems to me that's the time to take the leap and query anyway.

I can see how the Shark's original blog post could be misunderstood but I think it's great advice.

Don Weston said...

I really appreciated your advice on querying the other day. I've heard persistence is needed and of course I've heard the stories about someone getting an agent and book deal on the 100th query. It's a nice reminder as I get ready to start querying for my newest effort. I would add fuel to the fire and suggest that although many agents claim to represent my genre (mystery), according to Publisher's Marketplace a lot of them have not sold a book in my genre in the last 7 years and a couple of them only sold children's picture books, but claimed to rep mystery. I figure they don't want to miss the next Grisham, maybe, but I would rather pitch to agents who are really looking for what I am selling and there are plenty such agents. After I exhaust that list, I might target the rest.
My worst experience was when I had an agent tell me she only accepted Young Adult when her webpage clearly stated she accepted my genre.