Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Query Question: How the hell can you know this?

What is this magic future-seer gizmo agents have and where can I get one?
I have the test results and they say "yes".

I have attended a few writing conferences this year and another one is coming up rather quickly in a few weeks 'round my parts of the sea. I always shell out the extra money to have a pitch session/practice with the agents brave enough to sit all day with eager writers. I've swam through the chum, followed The Shark (tm) query letter guidelines for over a year now and practiced, practiced, practiced my pitch along the way. Feeling confident-enough, I sent my letter out to agents. The responses are all over.

I have some replies that tell me "... I'm not sure how these types of books are doing with all the success of the xxx and xxx series out now. It sounds super interesting and I hope you hit on an agent that knows this market well," or , "The concept grabbed me, and you deserve an enthusiastic agent who can champion your work..."

I am not writing anything YA, distopian, Twilight-y at all. I am writing for another, younger, age group that I have at least 3 years of weekly hands-on experience with that equates market research for my book. I have adults in my critique group that try to pry the next scene from my carpel tunnel hands before the next group meeting because they cannot wait.

I'm sorry, but most of these agents I meet in person or have queried cannot possibly have had any interaction with a group of children like this since they were children themselves. Most are fresh off the college circuit (which is completely fine), travel frequently, etc. How do they know what my age group wants if they have no/ limited experience with the end user? Are agents just following trends? I know a variety of books are selling, but many would be selling anyway because that is all that is out there. How is a writer to know which seashell is a good sell down by the seashore?

Snarly Seahorse

Dear SnarlyOne,

You can't conflate the agents who attend writing conferences with the agents who are reading your queries/manuscripts. A lot of us aren't on the conference circuit. And guess who REALLY isn't on the conference circuit: agents with kids.

The other thing you're missing is that agents don't work in a bubble.  We hear from readers via our authors, and we see the feedback from school visits, and we watch what librarians are interested in like hawks. Librarians and teachers make the buying decisions for a lot of middle grade books (which is what I assume you're writing)

In other words, its our job to pay attention to what sells, and we do.

Also you don't have test results.  You have friends and people you know telling you they like the book.  A book they didn't have to pay to read I might add.  There's a world of difference between "did you like my book" and "hey, will you pay me $15 to read this?"

I've recommended the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators before.  You should join and hear from the people who are in the field you're writing in.


Anonymous said...

'A book they didn't have to pay to read I might add. There's a world of difference between 'did you like my book" and "hey, will you pay me $15 to read this?"'

You might gnash your teeth at questions spawned off of your daily posts, but I can't help but say that I'm curious if the statement above also applies to sites like Authonomy (HarperCollins UK), Wattpad, or other new sites popping up where writers upload their mss and based on positive feedback from the masses, sometimes get picked up by pub'ing houses?

I've been reading/hearing about editors looking in places like this for the "next best thing," based on opinions of Joe/Jane Readers.

And just recently..., I've let my latest WIP be "tested" by a Reader Focus Group. It seems to be a great way to get unbiased feedback, a way to see how the book might do in the market.

Anonymous said...

On having contact with children as a qualification for writing a children's book, former kidlit blogger Editorial Anonymous said something like this. (I'm not able to find the exact quote.)

"I don't care how much contact you've had with children: I don't care if you're a piece of playground equipment. What might qualify you is how much contact you've had with children's *books*."

Elissa M said...

If the writer has done her homework and written a book that appeals to her target market, she just needs to persevere. Maybe after 100 rejections, she can be snarly.

But most definitely join SCBWI (assuming the writer isn't already a member).

Anastasia Stratu said...

Snarly, it looks like you have a businesslike approach to your literary projects. If you, like me two years ago, let reader rhapsodies determine your pathblazing, well... I hope you know what you are doing.

Ravenclaw, I would also add: "contact with research and academic opinions on children psychology and behaviorism".

Elissa, you are right. One cannot swim with the sharkstars without having developed a thick hide first. This last characteristic cannot be developed by roses and champagne from enthralled beta readers, but rather by s**t and heartache from haters and naysayers.

Still... let us never fail to celebrate friendship.

Spending the Night Talking with My Friend (dedication to Du Fu)

We have forgotten all about our sorrows
A hundred cups will barely quench our thirst

The night is kind to friendly conversation
The moon's so bright - we do not care for sleep

Until we are so tired that we feel
Our bed is earth, our blanket is the sky.

Li Bai, Tang Dynasty.

P.S. The translation is mine.

James Ticknor said...

"Guess who REALLY isn't on the conference circuit? Agents with kids."

Pure. Fucking. Gold.