Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Prioritizing queries by the quality of an agent's list

In deciding which agents to query and whether to sign with one, how much weight should the qualities of an agent’s past sales be given?

Not just the level of success the sold works obtained, but also the character of the sold works.

For example, if I take a peek on Amazon at the works an agent has sold in my genre, and the writing style is very different from my own (perhaps to the point that it annoys me) should I put that agent towards the end of my who-to-query list? Or if the reviews on Amazon claim the work has characteristics I wouldn’t associate or want associated with my works (even if they’re not bad characteristics, e.g., “cozy” or “relevant to today’s XXX”), should that be another strike against the agent?

Will this help minimize the number of dreaded “nice but I didn’t love it” rejection letters, and the odds of getting an agent but not finding a publisher through them?

You can prioritize any way you want to.
Some things that are important to you aren't important to someone else.

Thus: how to prioritize your list, what weight to give any one factor, isn't a question that can be answered generally, or by someone other than you.

However.

I think you've forgotten that agents rep a LOT of different kinds of writing. And authors. You don't know if that book on Amazon is the author's best effort, or a book that they bled onto the page under deadline. Or if the agent in the acknowledgements is even the one who sold the book. More than one author has thanked me for a book I didn't sell (which is lovely, and leads to some very interesting queries!)

If you write crime novels, and you "peek on Amazon" at the books I've sold, you'll find traditionals like Faithful Unto Death by Stephanie Jaye Evans; you'll find Blood Standard by Laird Barron; you'll find Crashers by Dana Haynes. I think all are well-written, but you can disagree with me. (You'd be wrong of course, but that's your right.)

I challenge you to describe what I like to read after looking at that list.

If any of those books are ones you'd be be reluctant to be associated with, do me a favor and leave me OFF your list.


And:
Your goal is not to minimize rejection. Your goal is to find an agent. Those are not the same things.

Query widely, sign smartly.

Any questions?

14 comments:

Mister Furkles said...

Silly me. But I think quality of the scotch consumed is the best method for rating agents.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am working on that same list myself but with no hope of avoiding rejection. Her Majesty is top of my list and she does not really represent my genre. Still, she is clearly an extraordinary agent. I have to try.

However, the rest of the list is genre, experience, agency reputation (for the less experienced on list) and what materials they require. I am looking at pushing agents that want a synopsis into the second or third round. The intention is to query the first ten. When I get a response, negative or positive, I will send to next agent on the list. If no response after a month, I will treat that as a rejection (for queries), and again, next on the list.

At least that is the plan. I am not much worried about what books agents have sold, just that they have sold books and what publishers they have sold to. I would also, for the more experienced agents, prefer to see that they are managing author careers (multiple books and projects) and not one and done sort of deals.

I can't imagine how this will go, but hope springs eternal.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Raises hand. I have a question. Hey, hey, over here, I have my hand in the air and I am NOT hailing a cab. I have a question.

"Your goal is not to minimize rejection. Your goal is to find an agent."

So...
Your goal (Janet) is to not find a book you absolutely love. Your goal is to find a book that will sell.

In other words, have you taken on a book you disliked but took on because you knew it would sell, sell, sell?

Timothy Lowe said...

The most important quality in an agent is their enthusiasm about your work.

You won't know how enthusiastic they are until you query them.

Janet is right: roll the dice and take your chances -- when somebody goes stark raving mad for your stuff, sign with them.

And keep writing -- a lot.


Amy Johnson said...

Best wishes for successful querying, OP.

I'm catching up on posts and comments after a trip to a spot in the mountains with poor reception. I thought of you, Reef Fam, when we visited a delightful bookstore in a nearby town, complete with stacks of old books and an owner who wrote down each of our purchases, by hand, in her book. And a cat--of course. I'm sure many of you would love the place.

PAH said...

I don't comment often, but that last line/thought is just too good.

Colin Smith said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with considering an agents client list and the kind of books she tends to represent. However, as others have said, it matters more that the agent is passionate about your work. Without that passion, it's hard for an agent to sell your novel to a publisher or anyone else.

2Ns: The bathroom's down the hall on the right. Oh, you had a question! I think I know the answer... but I'll bite my tongue lest Her Sharkiness wants to answer. :)

Craig F said...

Little fish, big pond, big fish, little pond?

I have always been a big fish, little pond kind of guy. I think I'll keep rowing that boat.

Is a big agent going to be able to give you the attention you need? Do they have an assistant that you could set up to ride over the top and therefore be forever grateful? If you write a small agent's first NYT bestest, will you have a special place in their heart and soul?

Those are the kind of questions I am going to shoot for. It might be a shot in the dark, a shot in the foot, or something else. I don't know yet, maybe I'll let you know someday.

My Queen, why don't you ever mention DePoy? I like his stuff.

Sam Mills said...

I just received my first "I like it, but it's niche...and I already rep someone in that niche" so don't think finding someone with books TOO similar to yours is good either. XD

What I'm saying is, if they're from a reputable agency and they rep your genre and haven't said "oh I hate X" with you writing X...roll the dice, why not, it isn't like you're only sending one query at a time.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

What Sam said. They may only want one in that niche.

A reputable agent is going to know what publishers are looking for, even if it's not what you're looking for. But those are going to be clients you AREN'T in 'competition' with to get that publishing slot.

Elissa M said...

Well, I can't wallpaper my office with rejections if I try to avoid getting them, so I personally think the "query widely" advice is perfect for me.

E.M. Goldsmith's method is pretty much exactly what I plan to do. Especially the part about leaving the agents who want a synopsis farther down the list.

I was going to start querying this month, but all the discussion about word count has convinced me that my scrubbed and polished and utterly perfect finished novel hasn't a snowball's chance of getting published as my debut. So I'm diligently working on #2, pretending it's contracted and I have 6 months to finish, and making sure it comes in at exactly 100k. (It's epic fantasy, so it can't be any shorter than that.)

Writer Geek Esq said...

I think the Shark is wrong about one thing: the goal is not "to find an agent."

The goal is to find an agent that will get me a good deal for my book. Anything less is a colossal waste of time and opportunity. To me, an agent that's never sold a book in my genre written in my style doesn't seem as good a bet to do that as an agent that has.

BrendaLynn said...

I think you can tell a lot about someone from the style of their correspondence. When an agent (who has never made a sale) starts out wanting to know what your business plan is...?
The more I query, the fussier I am. I don’t know if I will ever have an agent or a book deal, but I can confidently say that I’d rather have no agent than one I have little confidence in.

John Davis Frain said...

So, so true: "Your goal is not to minimize rejection. Your goal is to find an agent. Those are not the same things."

To put things in the parlance of baseball, it doesn't matter what your batting average is; it only matters that you score one run. So, querying is all about plate appearances. The more you step up to bat, the more chances of hitting that home run.

Batter up!