Monday, September 29, 2014

Question: Women are my audience, should I query only the lady agents?

Because agents must ‘fall in love’ with a book, in order to represent it to the fullest, this raises a question. How much does personal taste, (influenced by life experience), as opposed to commercial viability, (influenced by market), help an agent make a choice?

Because my memoir appeals more to women I am hesitant to query male agents. Certainly male bias on my part but I just don’t think men will get it. Which leaves me thinking, if men are not my readers, why waste my time querying male agents.

As readers we don’t have to actually experience an author’s travails in order to feel his/her pain and be moved by their strength and ordeal. Just because my mom never ate out of a dumpster does not mean I am not moved by Jeanette Walls. But repping and reading are two different things.

Authors and readers cross gender lines all the time, (your post 9/22), but would/could a male best rep a female nuanced memoir even though his life-experiences negate the emotional and physiological connection?

This does bring to mind male gynecologists and obstetricians. Even though they don’t have the equipment they certainly can do the job.

The only way you can find out if someone responds to your work is to query them.  If you're asking if you should only query women agents, you're asking the wrong question.

The right question is: if you have to choose between agents at an agency should you choose a female agent over a male agent.

Now, if you were in my sophomore year econ class you'd hear the dreaded phrase "all things being equal" which means the two agents in question have no variable OTHER than gender.

And I can assure you that is never ever ever the case. Agents vary by taste, success at picking commercial projects, success at picking award-winning projects, and number of writers consumed for breakfast annually.

So, what to do:
The first thing you do is make a list of ALL the agents who say they're looking for memoir.  You don't leave any of them off the list.

Then you pare down first by "what have they sold" and you remove the agents who are clearly not selling anything, or not selling memoir.

Then you have a list.

IF you have more than one agent at an agency, you check the guidelines to see if you can query all of them (but obviously not at the same time.)  If you can, then you just prioritize the list for who gets first crack at you. You can pick the women over the men here cause there's zero cost. If they say no, you can query down the list.

If it's one and done though (query one agent at the agency and that's it) then you must decide which agent is best suited for your work. The LAST thing you look at here is gender, in my opinion.  I can absolutely garuntee you that in a contest between who would do a better job with memoir the best indicator is what an agent has sold, not their gender.

Lots of gents have sold lots of books that appeal to mostly female readers. Don't limit your chances by assuming men won't get you.  Some of these guys are pretty smart. One of them used to work for me in fact until he wandered off and got Bent.


Elizabeth Lynd said...

LOL at Bent. You clever shark.

Anonymous said...

This post is so true. Before I signed on with my agent, my ms was first placed with women agents. Then, a man. And guess who offered representation? Yep, the man. I was flabbergasted b/c much like this person who asked the question, I never thought a man would "get" my coming of age story told in the voice of an eleven year old female protagonist. Only he did get it, and to this day, I'm thrilled to work with him.

I've since learned about what you're discussing here - that all agents have personal tastes, yes, but they also recognize a great story, understand what demographic it would appeal to, and which editors would like the material.

Sort of like the fact that I don't read Sci-Fi or fantasy stories, but I do recognize good plot, beautiful settings, and likeability of the characters, etc.

Unknown said...

I say go for it. I had the same fear as I am currently querying a YA novel that is about mean girls. I thought there is no way a guy is going to be interested in representing a book about catty girls. But I sent my query to some male agents anyway, and one of them requested the full. So you never really know who will like you book unless you give them the chance. As long as they rep and sell memoir like Janet said.

Tamara Marnell said...

Good gravy, anonymous questioner. Imagine, for one moment, that you have a male friend who wrote an autobiography. You say, "Awesome! Can I read it?" And he looks at you with contempt and says, "You're a woman, so you wouldn't get it."

The "emotional and physiological connection" argument is nonsense. Imagine saying, "I won't query any black agents because I'm white and I just don't think blacks will get it." Or, "It's a waste of time to query short agents because I'm 5'8" and I just don't think petite people will get it."

Judging people entirely by their biological sex is as small-minded as judging them entirely by their skin color, height, country or state of origin, religion, annual income, etc. Nobody has the exact same life experience as anyone else. But that doesn't mean we can't empathize with one another.

Ashes said...

If I write a memoir about my years as a lion tamer/astronaut, can I only query agents who are lion tamers and astronauts?

Sub-question: Can all agents be considered lion tamers?