Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thursday morning special at the Question Emporium

Knowing how hard it is to craft an effective query, is it advisable to slant or bias a query based on the gender of an agent? Ultimately, it is the story that sells, but when I read in an agent's preference list, "Give me a strong female protagonist." I think my male oriented query might as well pound salt. It seems to me that some agent/gatekeepers have shut the door and encrypted the lock.

I asked my staff, all two of them and both women, what they look for in a book. They said, hot guy(s), plenty of steam and a choice by the female protagonist between two or more male, love interests. Of course, none of which fits my story. Keeping their advice in mind, I wrote a separate query using Meri, a character with a large POV footprint, and a love interest that can be construed as a triangle--without being dishonest. But it is disingenuous, because I don't see Meri as the protagonist. So, other than outright lying, is everything fair in love and querying to get an agent to read pages?

Your staff are describing books that would be shelved in the romance or womens' fiction category. Your novel isn't either of those (I know this cause I'm reading about it over at QueryShark.) They're the wrong focus group for you to consult.

There's nothing wrong with tailoring a query to an agent's interest. Tailoring it to the agent's gender is a recipe for disaster.  For starters, us girls have widely varying tastes.  For example, I've heard that LaSlitherina prefers her protagonists drink vodka. And Polish vodka at that. Or was it potato vodka?  I, on the other hand, prefer they drink the blood of ....well, never mind about that now. 

Then of course the troublesome case of Brooks Sherman.  My trusty cohort in crime has been addressed on more than one occasion as Ms. We think it's hysterical. He. Does. Not.  Unless you know the gender of the agent, some of those names can confuse you: Flip. Binky. Cameron.

What you're doing is the new wrinkle on the old art of Kremlinology: trying to intuit reasons for things based on what you can observe.  You must remember that much of what goes on here in the Query Corral is not visible. (Nor should it be--see cliche about making sausage)

I look for good stories that I want to read. There are many good stories I don't want to read. And sometimes, I want to read things that I thought were good and turn out to be ...well.. not.

Keep writing. Keep revising. Quit fulminating about gatekeepers. We're not. We're your first step on the road to success, and we're looking for you every single day.


JeffO said...

It seems to me you would do more harm than good by misleading an agent during the query process. Also, "I'm interested in a strong female protagonist" is not the same as "Don't give me a male protagonist. Ever."

Anonymous said...

"We're looking for you every day."

Now moving to write that on the white board above my desk.

Michael Seese said...

"There are many good stories I don't want to read."

I wish you guys would quit talking about me and my book!

Ellen Saunders said...

Well and also, trying to carve a 2x4 so it looks more attractive to someone who's doing masonry does neither the wood nor the bricklayer any good. Find a woodworker.

In other words, start with agents who're asking for what you're writing rather than trying to entice agents whose interests lie elsewhere.

Er. Hopefully that won't earn me the wrath of shark teeth...

MAGolla said...

And don't forget the kicker--saleable.

Since agents live off commission, this is a biggie. No matter how much an agent loves your story, if they can't find a market to sell it to, the odds are against you.

BUT if said agent loves your writing, the agent might ask if you have something else he/she might read.

This happened to a friend of mine with an editor. She wrote a RS, but editor didn't think it would sell, and asked her if she wrote cozies. My friend researched cozies and wrote one--BAM!--three book contract.

Q said...

Wishlists aren't all-inclusive. An agent might just want a 'strong female protagonist' as opposed to a helpless damsel in distress. That doesn't mean they don't want, or even love, stories from a male p.o.v.

Tailoring to an agent is great, but don't shoot yourself in the foot. What an agent looks for in a romance novel could be completely different than what they want in the genre you've written. You could have everything they're looking for, and turn them off by trying to sound too much like another genre.

Tailor by focusing on the wants you DO match. If they love character driven stories with a slightly literary voice and that's you, then say that. You don't have to match every single thing on their wishlist. Just be true to your book. You'll be okay. ^_^

jurassicpork said...

Quit fulminating about gatekeepers. We're not. We're your first step on the road to success, and we're looking for you every single day.

Oh, man where does one start? And it's not even my birthday. And I know this stands a Chinaman's chance in hell of getting by the censor but here goes...

Literary agents aren't gatekeepers?! Are you kidding me, Reid? That's precisely what you guys are. Or have you forgotten about the scummy, collusive deal that publishers began striking with your colleagues about 30 years ago when they decided they didn't feel like doing their jobs, anymore, and hired you agents out as their unpaid slush pile weeder-outers? The whole idea was to stop getting so much dreck from authors and wouldbes and to foist off the job to agents without adding anything to their overhead expenses. In return, they promised them guaranteed income of 15% or whatever percentage they mutually decided to siphon from authors by telling them, "Ain't no one not repped by one of you guys is getting through this front door." But something strange happened on "on the road to success" which neatly dovetails into your insistence on trying to get us to believe that you're looking for us "every single day" (except for weekends, holidays, vacations, August, when you're jetting off to the Frankfurt Book Fair or any number of conventions and fairs):

The younger agents coming up forgot about that "gentleman's agreement" that was collusively signed between their predecessors and publishers (while forgetting to send authors the memo). Some of the veterans of that bygone day and age when authors actually interacted with their publishers (such as the aforementioned Binky Urban of ICM) have also forgotten about said collusive deal. Many agencies, both big and small, have long since closed their doors to tiresome little doorknockers like us. Now they work by "referral or invitation only", meaning their new business model of skeeving perfectly good and publishable authors depends entirely on serendipity (and where does say just because an author is referred by another or is invited to submit by an agent actually has a higher chance of success for both agent and author than cold-querying?).

If you're a genre author like me, that leaves, after weeding out the fee-charging agents, those that don't rep fiction or your particular genre, the scam artists and the ones that have slammed the door shut to brilliant unpublished authors like me, perhaps a few dozen agencies to which one can make a calculated pitch.

And Janet Reid, far from being the agent she presents herself as here, has imperiously ignored or form rejected through flunkies I'd never addressed several of my novels.

Literary agencies are set up to make you fail whether you deserve to or not. Agents look for reasons to reject you, not to sign you. They're solipsistic, greedy, stupid and arrogant. It's rapidly getting to the point where the only people who can get inked to a deal are those who've either made it or those who are connected. It's turning into an old boy's network.

Folks, you don't need a literary agent and stop listening to people like Janet Reid who try to fool you into thinking otherwise. I've reached acquisitions editors, senior editors and even a publishing executive or two by going over the transom and just writing out the middle man entirely. And if I can learn how to get their interest and if I can learn how to negotiate a contract and what to watch out for, so can you.

I repeat: You don't need a literary agent. They're fast becoming as relevant as buggy whips in the age of POD publishing.

Janet Reid said...

"And Janet Reid, far from being the agent she presents herself as here, has imperiously ignored or form rejected through flunkies I'd never addressed several of my novels. "

I do all my own rejecting thank you.