Thursday, January 25, 2018

But, maybe not.

On last week's blog post "but she liked me" one commenter said

I have had several full requests from agents. They all connected strongly with my premise. They all complimented my voice and writing. They all passed.

At this point, I have to conclude (because agents are not much for specifics) that there's something off with my execution. Therefore, I'm back to reworking.

I know the queries and concepts were good because I had so many requests. I know I can write because I've had books published before.

Execution.
Maybe not. When you query me for a novel and mention you've been previously published the very first thing I do is look up the publisher, publication year, and sales stats.
No matter how well you write, it's tough to revitalize a career after a long fallow period, or if you've got books that haven't sold well.

Yes, it can be done. Yes, I've done it.
BUT it's difficult and time consuming, and most important: a whole lot harder than selling a debut writer.

It helps if you've got a new book that is flat out amazing.
It helps if you're writing in a new category.
It will probably help if you're willing to write under a new name.

But, when I'm reading your query and looking up your sales, most often my thought is "am I up for this?" and a lot of times the answer is "no, I'm not."

Thankfully, there are other agents out there to query, some of whom might be younger and hungrier than I am. Or who have a brilliant idea about how to resuscitate your career. Or who love your work so much they just HAVE to sign you up.

This is yet another reason you query widely, that you don't have a dream agent such that anyone else feels like settling, and you understand that if you've got a track record,  it isn't always about the writing.

29 comments:

french sojourn said...


Interesting, and I'm still wrapping my head around..."It helps if you're writing in a new category."

cheers?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Several fulls.
Strongly connected with premise.
Complimented voice.
Complimented writing.
Has previously published books.
They passed.

Oh my.
And I get excited if, after my query and a few sample pages, I actually get a form-answer, "Not for me. Good luck elsewhere."

Timothy Lowe said...

Ah, the cold light of truth first thing in the morning!

All of this makes the daunting prospect of querying a lit agent look more like an essential part of the process. You want to do everything in your power to make sure your stuff isn't just published, but sells.

Good luck everyone!

Kitty said...

it's tough to revitalize a career after a long fallow period… It’s a whole lot harder than selling a debut writer.

How long is a “long fallow period”? More importantly, why is it tough to kick-start a writer’s career? This is very curious to me since I know nothing of the book business. As a reader, if I liked her first books, I’d be thrilled to learn she has a new one; her long fallow period between books wouldn’t matter to me. And if I had never heard of her or her first books, then it would be like discovering a new writer.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, as daunting as the whole get an agent process is, the staying published looks like the tougher hurdle. Keep writing.

Cheyenne said...

Man, this is tough.

My question is, how are they passing? It might not be relevant, but from what OP is saying, I'm picturing emails that read, "I connected strongly with the premise and love your voice and writing, but XYZ..." Are they saying simply "it's not for me but another agent may think differently," or some other typical form rejection language? Are we sure these aren't form rejections altogether?

I've not had any books published, but I have had about 10 full requests on my current MS, and all of them bar one have been forms (the one that was not said that she repped an author whose work was too similar to mine, which was odd because a) I could find no similarities that were not extremely vague, and b) why wasn't this discovered when she had the first 3 chapters and the synopsis and query... but that's another story ;). I'm pretty sure the language being used in these is all quite form-y. Even situations where they say, "I connected with the premise but just didn't fall in love with it the way I wanted to."

I'm trying to get to the stage where I don't read into any response unless it has actual, applicable, critical feedback or suggestions. But I suppose if the agents OP is querying are put off by OP's publishing past, they're not likely to ever come out and say that, are they? I suppose there's not a very easy-to-swallow way to remark on that in a query rejection. :-/

Mary said...

I have questions too. What is the breaking point between a book selling well and not? I suspect my first book probably did not "sell well". Many reasons, including publication by a very small press, no funds for publicity. I busted my butt and spent a lot of my own money and time but with a full time job there was only so much I could do. I still feel like the book had so much more potential that was never reached. But an agent might reject me for that? Nooooo. This makes me discouraged!

Amy Johnson said...

I'm wondering if it would be best when querying to leave out information about published books when such information would end up revealing sales that weren't good and/or a long fallow period. Would it be sensible and appropriate to save such information for "the call" stage of the process, or would it be sneaky and dishonest not to provide that information at the query stage? (Not that I'm in such a position--I'm stiiiill working on the debut.)

Kathy Joyce said...

A lesson I'm taking from this is keep writing, especially while querying and while your agent is selling your manuscript. Be ready with the next one. The work of our own Donnaeve is an example of this.

Kathy Joyce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K White said...

E.M. Goldsmith's comment is an astute one. As difficult as it is to break into traditional publishing it appears to be even more difficult to stay published. Over the last ten years, I've known so many writers across a variety of genres who sold a book or two, but then were dropped by their publishers for lackluster sales numbers.

As Mary asks, what is the breaking point?

Sherry Howard said...

Wow! Always great to get another little insight into how the decision to pass or play is made.

OT: There’s a new little e-zine for writers: BACKLOG. When I fell in love with the look and contents, I submitted a short fiction in response to a prompt, and had the story published in Issue 2. I can’t share a link because you actually have to buy the magazine to see it, but the issue I’m in is about submissions and has a nice interview with an agent. You writer people might be interested in this new magazine—you can even purchase a single issue for a few dollars to see if you like it, which is what I did at first.

The Noise In Space said...

In that case, would it actually be better to query under a pseudonym?

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I feel like there must be more to the story. If several agents said, "I love your voice, but I'm going to pass" without more details, I'd go absolutely bonkers. I feel for you, OP (OC? Original commenter--there's a blogging etiquette question there, somewhere).

Steve Stubbs said...

I feel for you, OP. If you want an opinion regarding execution, send it to me. Execution problems are extremely easy for an objective observer to spot, albeit invisible to the author.

If you spend the first three pages telling us it was raining last night, that may be a problem, and then it may not if nobody could hear a murder victim scream through all the thunder and lightning.

If your first sentence is a page and a half long, that may not be a problem if your name is William Faulkner. If you are not Faulkner you may have to break that whopper down.

Yes, I have seen stuff like that in unpublish-ed/able MSS. Authors can't see these things.

Easy to spot. Easy to fix. No cost. Offer is good. Send it on.

And good luck.

Kathy Joyce said...

Steve, if one wanted to take up this offer, how would one do that? You're a forthright guy, gotta believe you'd give an honest opinion. That's gold in the writing biz.

Craig F said...

I think it is obvious that something is off. I am not sure what it is but I think a change of some sort is in order.

It might be worthwhile to state that you have been published in your biography and say you are now capable of making it a career. That way it won't surprise the agent when they do the background search on you.

Joseph Snoe said...

I'm with Kitty on this. If I liked an author, I'd be excited about a new book after a long layoff. (i also like one book a year authors and ones with a list of books already).

To me, querying is the worst part of the business.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Hello, I have followed your blog for a while but never commented since I had sworn to myself not to do so. (I am not a native English speaker and always scared of giving this away by any mistake I might make and then spoil my chances of getting an agent. But now that I have received your rejection, I dare to risk the risk, ha ha...)

I've seen before that you ask for writers to write something fresh and new... I am not sure how fresh and new this would have to be? Do we have to reinvent love if we wrote romance? (I don't but it springs to mind)

Don't we all watch some movies that we can tell the end already? Some of them at least? And we still enjoy them because it's all about being entertained!?

I accept that I was certainly crazy when I watch TITANIC eleven times in the cinema and that this is not standard but I'd believe that we still like to watch movies and read books that are similar to those we have already seen/read.
Why mention comps otherwise? Isn't it contradicting to ask for comps but demand something fresh and new?

It's a real headache for me.

Today you advise that it helps to write in a new category.
Well, I have permanently struggled to get mine right because I am not sure what my stuff is.
I'd love to use, in future, 'fictionalized biography' because that's exactly what it is, I believe (with some suspense-y stuff). My question is can I use that term??

And is that a new (enough) category?

So hard to be a writer when you're nobody... sigh, and I'd appreciate your advice!!
Thank you!

One Of Us Has To Go
(I'm not sure how to get my name at the top of this.)

Lennon Faris said...

One Of Us Has To Go - hi! your question about what does 'fresh and new' mean? made me think of this thing that happened to me:

I wrote a YA fantasy story. I actually did query it (got lots of rejections, only a few requests). Then I found a twitter account that makes fun of some of the common YA tropes (Brooding YA Hero).

I laughed till my stomach hurt. Then I realized the big Problem. I had not read enough in my category to know that my story was not as imaginative as I'd thought.

I think Janet is not saying you have to reinvent love, but if your romance story is practically the same as so many others already on the shelf, why would an agent (or a reader) pick yours? Something has to be unique (and interesting) enough to catch their eye.

Anyway. Glad to have you here!


Kathy Joyce said...

There are so many dimensions to any story. We don't have to reinvent the whole concept; we only have to change one aspect in a clever way, or imagine it from a different angle. If I kept the Romeo and Juliet story wholly intact, but set it on the savannah and used lions and gazelles as main characters, I'd have a different book. If I wrote it in second-grade prose with potty jokes, I'd have a best seller. The story didn't change, but it's a fresh take. One of my favorite books is Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen. It's Romeo and Juliet, told from the nurse's POV, (with a delicious twist).

Colin Smith said...

Hey there, One Of Us Has To Go! Welcome out of lurkdom!! Lovely to see you. :D

I do believe (and Janet can use my name in a crazy MadLibs game if I'm wrong... uhh... scratch that...) that "fresh and new" doesn't necessarily mean you have to reinvent the love story, or the thriller, or whatever. It's not always the story you tell, but the way you tell it. A fresh voice can be as refreshing as a fresh take on an old trope. Indeed, that fresh voice might be enough to rejuvenate an old theme.

Just a thought! :)

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Oh hello Lennon Farid and Colin Smith, how kind of you to reply 'to me'. And Kathy Joyce. I am touched, I didn't expect this.

Thank you so much!

I admit I struggle a little with the lurkdom word? Not sure if my translation tool knows this either, ha ha. But I guess I understand 'lurk' (okay, I'm coming out, I am German but live in North America and LOVE the English language. My book is in English and, oh yes, it's flawless, I hope... had it proofread.)

Thank you for telling me your opinions. So kind!
And giving me your examples.
Well, I have been living with OCD for 31 years (yeah, holy cow I am old, I am 41! Am I the oldest here...?) and written about it as a novel in which I use another character to represent my mental illness, telling how and why 'she' turned up in my life and that she now has to go because she sucks.

It's not new because there is FIGHT CLUB (which I haven't read and not known about until recently, doh..) but mine is Own Voice. FIGHT CLUB is not.

I try to murder her and fail until... well I can't say what the end is.

There is no other comp in the exact same genre, but then I am not convinced that I got it right.

I still hope that this has not been exhausted and is fresh and shocking and interesting enough, particularly because I have not been working enough in my life due to the OCD. It's been very very strong but now it's all so much better and I'd need some way to get back into life/work and also help others.

Anyway, thank you so much for your help here. People are so friendly, it's almost weird.

I really wish you all all the best with your own writing!

Kathy Joyce said...

One of Us, You're not even close to being the oldest one here! And, I don't know how old anyone else is. Doesn't matter.

(FYI, since you're new. We talk more generally about writing, not about our specific work. Janet wants this to be a safe and inviting place. That can break down if we get into specific descriptions and critiques. Several folks here are connected to critique opportunities, if you're looking for that too. But, don't leave here! Do both.) Welcome!

MA Hudson said...

"am I up for this?"

That's the clincher. That's the line that pings in my head and really makes me see the querying process from the agent's point of view.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thank you for advising me, Kathy Joyce (I don't know yet how to make names bold in here).
If it's allowed here, please let me know how to get to a critique opportunity. I'd love to investigate.

Also, shall I rather delete my last post then? Please advise if yes.

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, One of Us (may I call you 'One of Us'?) It's nice to meet you. And you're not old. You're younger than many of us, myself included.

I don't worry about comps - not at the query stage. So much can go wrong there. But it comes down to, there is really nothing new under the sun. It's how you approach it, how it comes across. Whether it *is* new, it has to *feel* new to the reader. Twilight was an age-old story, but it was told in a way that made people see it fresh and new. Anything that's been popular is based on basic stories as old as time, but it's the treatment that makes them popular today.

Karen McCoy said...

Late to the party...but what if execution is the problem? Possible recourse might be...?

Gigi said...

Hmm, does this apply for someone published in non-fiction and moving to fiction? I don't mention my self-published non-fiction in my query (it doesn't feel relevant), but will agents Googling me feel hesitation because of that history?

(If it's helpful, for additional context: the non-fiction is almost entirely travel guides - some self-published, some I've co-authored for major guide companies; for self-published books, they've done quite well, often out-ranking big names on Amazon charts for the first couple years after publication, but I'm sure they are not even close to the numbers you'd hope for from a traditionally published novel.)

And if agents are going to feel hesitation in my case, is there anything I can do to mitigate that up front?