Yesterday afternoon I sent off a query for a picture book feeling pretty good about the whole thing. The agent was specifically looking for children's books and after reviewing the agency website, I liked what I read. Within 12 hours I received the following response.This is BANANAS!
"Thanks for your query with REDACTED. Unfortunately, publishers want authors with large online presences, been published on high traffic sites, have blogs with a large amount of followers, and have speaking engagements to sell books. Because of these things, I'm going to have to pass on this project. I would suggest increasing social media numbers, and self-publishing your work. If you can sell a lot of copies ( a few thousand) then you'll be ready for an agent. I wish you all the best in your future writing endeavors."
I was gobsmacked. As someone who has attended multiple writing conferences, taken several writing classes, participated in countless webinars, holds memberships in several writing organizations (including SCBWI), and had a (bad) agent once, I almost can't believe this was the response for a PICTURE BOOK. Then I thought, you know who would probably have something interesting to say about this? Janet Reid. Your thoughts? Please.
Clearly it's a form letter and a terrible one - filled with mis-information - at that.
Picture books are review, not platform, driven sales.
It's almost impossible to get reviews for self-published books. Thus, expecting to self publish and sell a few thousand picture books is akin to telling me if I want to get to Boston I should jump over the moon. Not only can I NOT do it, UP does not mean north.
And let's not even get into the fact that many picture book writers are NOT illustrators (or shouldn't be!)
So, given this agent has demonstrated herself to be an idiot (and you can quote me),
how do you avoid querying someone like that?
First, look for sales.
NOT clients listed on the website. Actual sales on Publishers Marketplace, OR the authors' titles available for sale (Amazon is a good reference for that.)
Second, look at the agent's bio.
This is key. Anyone can call themself an agent, and lots of agencies will let them affiliate (this is strange to me, but it's true.) If the agent has NO publishing experience other than being an author, that's a red flag.
Every young agent who started their career five feet from my desk started as an assistant. They learned how the industry worked but, more important, they had someone monitoring their work for awhile.
In other words, someone who would have looked at that form rejection and said 'nope, start over.'
Membership in AAR is a useful benchmark.
Not all good and reputable agents belong to AAR but someone who's never made a sale CANNOT.
But mostly, continue learning about the industry so that when some Idiot Agent spouts this crap, you know to laugh merrily and thank all deities large and small, that you dear woodland creature DODGED A BULLET.