Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What "I can't sell this" means

Last weeks Chum Bucket query results had a category called "Can't sell this."  Several commenters  asked for clarification.

For ME (thus do not apply this to what other agents do or think) it means the book may be perfectly delightful BUT I don't know who I'd sell it to. 

This can happen a couple of different ways: I may have tried to sell books like this in the past and come up short;  I don't know any editors who are buying this kind of book; and/or  the only publishers taking on this kind of book don't pay enough for it to be profitable for us.

It's a subcategory of "Not for me" but it's not really the book, it's the market. Really good books, books that I love, can end up in this category and it gnaws me to no end when that happens.


Bonnee Crawford said...

That's a side of being an agent I haven't thought of before: what I like compared to what the market will like.

Wry Wryter said...

It’s very disappointing, the whole “I can’t sell this” thing. In my case it was an agent writing, “I love it BUT you have no idea how hard this would be to sell.” That reply to my query pretty much brought me to a proposal brick wall. I stopped working on the project.

It’s funny, you were on the query list that day but I figured why bother. Now I know I was right to not waste your time and mine.

Phil Hall said...

That's what I was told by another agent, almost verbatim. It's also what I was given as the excuse on more than one occasion when querying. Maddening to no end. Perfectly fine story...good writing...compelling characters and plot...but the market isn't available. UGH!

Colin Smith said...

I assume, though, that if you know of an agent who *could* sell it (e.g., s/he's sold books like it before), you would refer the writer to that agent friend? I get the impression agents all get along quite well. :)

Janet Reid said...

colin, SOME agents get along quite well. Some of them are dead to me.

But in either case, I don't say anything other than "query widely" if I don't think I can sell it.

If one of my pals started selling books I can't, I'd call him/her up and ask who she was selling to. (And she'd tell me)

April Brown said...

I had a response similar to this yesterday. Closer to - we have too many right now.

My thoughts: I'm on a different genre novel, so keep going.

With either piece of advice, do you recommend continuing to query, or hold that novel until the market is unsaturated and looking for it again?

Wry Wryter said...

My project was non-fiction.

Not sure why I feel I have to clarify that. Though it's a great idea, I am a minnow in a mud puddle, pretty much explains the size of my platform.

Eric Steinberg said...

You don't rep my genre (YA), so I won't be querying you. But I wish I could. Your communication, responsiveness, transparency and generosity impress the hell out of me. And I like your blogs.

Christine said...

Thanks for clarifying what "I can't sell this" means. Like others, I've been wondering.

In my mind, the longer explanations could suggest different courses of action to the writer:

1. "I've tried to sell books like this in the past and come up short." (My thought: Yikes! If Janet Reid can't sell it, who can?? Maybe I should put this one in the drawer... at least for now.)

2. "I don't know any editors who are buying this kind of book." (Daunting, but perhaps another agent knows this kind of editor... I'll keep querying.)

3. "The book's good, but publishers taking on this kind of book don't pay enough for it to be profitable for us." (Okay, so I can't buy a Caribbean island with my advance, but maybe a smaller publisher will be interested. I'll try querying these presses directly.)

I've learned a ton from your blog and really appreciate that you're helping educate us about the (often mysterious) query process!

Bill Scott said...

This blog post made me think of you and how encouraging your blogs are. Although it's not about writing, this encouraged me to keep writing, keep trying, even if it can't be sold.

If you have time, it's pretty cool.

Bill Scott

Janet Reid said...

Holy Zamboni Bill, that post IS amazing.  For everyone else, here's the embedded link to it.

Thanks Bill!