Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Query Question: my first choice is hard to reach

I've been researching agents that might be a good fit for me and my ms, and found the one dream agent: Agent Dream is everything I'm looking for, the only agent I found which isn't a compromise of some kind (as a fit for me, yes? I'm sure they're all wonderful agents and even more wonderful people).

Enter difficulties. The agency's website says Dream's an assistant, but some research revealed one deal to Dream's name (for 6-figures!), and there's at least one more author Dream represents. So it means that assistant or not, Dreamis already building a list. And then some more research, and I was knocked down to the harsh reality. In the past year, Dream was open for queries for literally one day.

Now I know the first rule of querying is to follow the guidelines, and the guidelines say Dream's closed for queries. But there must be something I can do. I don't want to query other agents before I give the number one on my list a chance, but I can't wait another year for Dream to open for queries again. This is beyond frustrating. Is there any advice you can share with me? Under these circumstances, won't it be a good idea to at least try and query him even though he's closed? Please advise, I'm so lost right now.

What's the worst thing that could happen if you query Dream? Unless Dream's got access to some secret stash of Query Police (in which case I'm hiring Dream tomorrow) there's literally no down side.

So query away.

Now what?

How long do you intend to wait?

When an agent is closed for queries they are not obligated to respond at all let alone in a timely fashion.  How long are you going to stay on hold, waiting for an answer?  Make sure you set a time limit for yourself or you could be waiting that full year.

And if you query widely and get an offer, and sign with another agent, are you going to perpetually feel like you settled for second best?

Trust me, that's not the way to begin a relationship with anyone particularly your agent whom you need to trust and respect.

The problem is you've allowed yourself to create a Dream Agent from "what I'm looking for" lists.  Those lists are exactly as accurate as "what I'm looking for in a guy" are in the Personals ads on HotDate.com

Setting someone up as your Dream Agent is a recipe for disaster, and if I can persuade of that, I'll have done you a very solid good dead.

I've blogged about the problems of Dream Agents before and almost any agent you meet will tell you what I've said here.

So, query if you can't stop yourself, but have a plan for AFTER in place before you start.


ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

The first analogy that came to mind when reading this question was how after I gave birth to my third boy, people liked to ask me "gonna keep trying for a girl"?

Um, no. A) I could be "trying" forever and B) I'm actually quite happy with my 3 boys.

(BTW, I cannot believe I just compared this writing and querying thing to children because I am actually exhausted with the whole book-baby metaphor, but anyway.)

Janet's advice is sound. And sure, query, but putting all your hopes and dreams on this one agent sounds like fear to me. Or arrogance. (Could go either way.) I have worked and continue to work with a lot of awesome people who are fun and great at their job. So it is with agents, no?

Colin Smith said...

Another suggestion taken from the world of dating: do what every wannabe suitor/stalker would do and go where the agent is. Is he attending any conferences? Sign up for that conference and go armed with your novel and a quick pitch (for when he says, "So, wonderful writer, what are you working on?").

But you should also listen to what Janet says about Dream Agents. A wish-list doesn't tell you whether he would be great to work with, or how he would cope if novel #2 or #3 is something he wouldn't normally represent, or any of the other curve-balls that might come up in an author-agent relationship.

If I might name-drop the awesome Ms. Poelle again (see Janet's tag-line quote), she talked about "Dream Agents" in her WD column a few months ago. It's well worth a read (if you're interested, I can dig up the issue reference). Her story about her first crush and stumbling off the bus is worth the price of the magazine.

Another consideration: if you shop around to other agents, and you get a couple of full requests, and maybe even an offer, "Dream Agent" might be more inclined to take a look, even if he's closed to queries. I would even dare to suggest (and Janet, shoot me down if this is bad advice), you could at that point tell "Dream Agent" (in so many words) he's your number one choice, and you'd like to give him first refusal before you respond to the offer. If he declines, then go with the offer. It may seem as if the agent you accept is "second best," but in the end s/he might be the wallflower at the dance you never noticed before, but now is all kinds of amazing. :)

Brandi M. said...

It might be a good idea to do a bit more research and see if they mention what happens to those queries that come in while they're closed. Some agents auto-delete anything that comes in during down times, unread. While it might not hurt to query, you might be setting yourself up for an automatic no.

Susan Bonifant said...

I know the feeling of finding what seems like the perfect fit. Again, and again, and again and again.

It can really slow the process to think there are so few fish in the sea and over-target them. And, in our quest for fit, it's easy to forget that we are seeing but a wee bit of the whole picture in these "what I'm looking for" profiles.

For what it's worth, some of the requests for pages that I've had recently came from agents who were "not looking for me" based on those profiles, but liked the story idea anyway.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I am not going to apologize for the length of this comment because I need to say this.

This whole dream agent thing, well, I’m going to be very, (no brown-nosing), honest.
I am an essay writer and columnist. You want to hear about me, that’s my shtick. You want an opinion, you wanna’ laugh, I can do that. You wanna’ cry I can do that too. But in my mind, (a few years back), fiction was thee ‘big’ thing.
So my first novel, a brilliant example of women’s fiction, (ha), was finished, up and ready for querying, in about eight months. I had/have four dream agents. (The 4 Js). Jeff Kleinman, Jessica Faust, Jenny Bent and yes boys and girls, Janet Reid.
(Funny how my life is patterned in multiples of a single letter).
I sent my exemplary example of a query to each. All four Js REJECTED it. And why not, it was crap.
After mutable rewrites of my novel and dozens of queries later I re-queried all of them. Each replied graciously and with encouragement. No takers.

If I had it to do over again, and I did, a couple of years later with a second novel, I would NOT have queried my dream agents first. I would have test-driven my query, and my opening pages, on others.
After all this time I must say that my 4Js still remain my dream agents. From them I have learned a wealth of information on writing and what it’s like to act professionally from the other end of a computer.
But having signed with no one, it is Janet who, I feel, because I follow her each day, walks with me, not apart from me. This very special daily place for writers provides something which exists nowhere else. We get honest information within the difficult world we seek to enter. There is kindness, because though truth hurts it also heals.
And, this wonderful community of yahoo-headed writers, who struggle every day just like I do to make it, takes me outside of myself. That is a good thing because my writing focuses mainly on me. If I have a question, this is the place where I may raise my voice and ask. We are never treated as if we are bothersome.
When my memoir is published, (yes I still believe in Santa), no matter the name of my agent, my 4Js will be in the acknowledgements, with Janet’s name in BOLD.

Sometimes your dream agent doesn’t have to actually be your agent. Sometimes they can be that right-along-side companion who drifts on that dream right along with you. Thanks Janet, you are our rock star.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

How cute, how innocent. I'm waiting for my perfect dream agent. Dream on, little writer. But the harsh reality is you query any agent you can find that reps your genre and seems to be a good fit. Then when they all pass you open the search a little wider. Once you've sent about 50 queries you stop getting so picky about genre. My agent – who turned out to be a great guy, really enthusiastic and a good match – I got on my 73rd query. No lie. I suspect if he hadn't bit, by the time I got to my – oh, say – 150th query I'd have been sending to people who mostly represent diesel repair manuals and DIY books.
The dream agent is the one who is professional, successful, reps your genre, and WANTS TO REPRESENT YOU! That last goes along way to cover any gaps.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, in a life far away, I bred and trained champion working Aussies. The dogs, not the people. I bought a pair of dogs from a friend who just couldn't get along with them. The bitch was completely out of control and would even jump up on the table while they were eating and help herself to the roast. The dog was terrified of men. If you raised your voice he'd collapse into a puddle and pee all over himself. I certainly couldn't train him to work livestock or show him.

I got Tina trained to act like a civilized being, but Ranger remained afraid of men all his life, though he loved my husband and boys.

I was seven months pregnant and would go to the house we were remodeling in the middle of the night to work on it when I couldn't sleep. It was the middle of summer and hot so I had all the doors and windows open at 2:00 a.m. I brought Ranger to the house with me, but he scooted under the house where it was cooler.

I was tearing out sheetrock when a man came in the house. I asked him what he wanted. He made some stupid excuse about wanting to buy the cast iron we were tearing out. I told him to come back tomorrow and talk to my husband. He kept smiling and walking toward me. I kept backing up and hoping I could get to the crowbar before he got to me.

Then a demon exploded in the door all fangs flashing and barking. Ranger, the dog who was terrified of men, lit into him and the man fled.

We had four quad champion working dogs. Guess which one became my dream dog? He lived out his very long days with us.

I always get really nervous when people talk about their dream agent. You may not realize it, but your dream agent is the one who believes in you and your work and will do all they can to help you be successful. They are the Rangers who may not be what you thought you were looking for, but who will save your literary life.

I have noticed a trend, though. Many of my favorite agents wear blue shirts. I think it's a sign.

They say if a man finds one good horse and one good dog in their life, they should consider themselves lucky. I've had a few of both and none of them started out being the dream horse or dog. That happened with time.

Query and remember, rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice.

Anonymous said...

I loved Janet's analogy likening HotDate.com to the accuracy of building one's perfect agent.

Picking an agent like this is just another way to add to the writer's hamster wheel of worries.

Something tells me if another agent aside from Dream offered representation, you'd be like that young girl in the insurance commercial who named her car Brad. "Nothing can replace Brad." Until her insurance agent called.

Anonymous said...

I was typing my comment which took me a LONG time evidently b/c by the time I hit "Publish," Carolynn and Julie had both made their comments. So. I just wanted to say I loved their comments.

I have my own agent story, but that's for another day, maybe.

That is all. Amen to what they said.

Susan Bonifant said...

John Ol' Chumbucket Baur:

"I suspect if he hadn't bit, by the time I got to my – oh, say – 150th query I'd have been sending to people who mostly represent diesel repair manuals and DIY books."

Funny, true and perfect.

Anonymous said...

And... what John Ol'Chumbucket Baur said too.

Now I'm going on my run so I can stop filling up JR's comment area with my drivel.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur pass on that name of your diesel repair manual guy.
The DIY book agent is closed to queries because he's building a dog house. He pissed his wife off.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: I'm sure there are many of us here who will be putting Janet's name in the acknowledgements, even if she's not our agent. :)

Julie: Your Ranger story is great, and very appropriate. Thanks for sharing it. :)

MB Owen said...

My dream agent? Someone who will manager her (or his) time well so they don't implode; someone who I respect + trust; someone who believes in my work; and someone who can negotiate like a wolverine.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Despite having cats all my life, I've actually been a dog person through and through (and have a dog now), and Julie's story really spoke to me.

Janet Reid will never be my agent, but she is a dream, certainly. Smart, professional, and helpful to those of us who are currently waiting for crumbs at the kids' table.

I'm this close to being ready to query, and have my first ten agents listed (and, sigh, with tidbits of "this is why I'm querying you"). Any of those agents would be a dream. Getting an agent is a dream. In my mind, it's the way it works!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I haven't queried literary agents yet but have queried lots of art agents and galleries. I was obsessed with one in particular. My obsession was so bad it physically hurt.

Obsess over your writing and creations, then query widely.

Dena Pawling said...

I have the opposite problem. I recently completed a spreadsheet of “agents who I think would be good for me” and included all agents who met my minimum requirements [reps Women's Fiction, has a pulse, isn't blacklisted on Writer Beware and Pred-ed, won't care that my last name isn't Streep or Kardashian, has some sort of internet presence, etc]. That list contains 134 names. Then I started ranking them, keeping those who I thought would be a good fit. The new list has 58 names, and when I finished that last pass, for most of them I had the thought “wow, this person sounds awesome and would be great for me”.

So now I have to narrow down a list of 58 names to somewhere around 10 for my first round of queries. I'm following those with twitter accounts, and I've already eliminated 2 who don't sound good for me based on their twitter feeds. That leaves 56.

This is harder than I thought!

I do have a few names that are already on my A-list, so I suppose those would be my “dream agents”. But honestly, almost everyone on my list of 56 sounds like a dream agent.

I love Julie's line: “You may not realize it, but your dream agent is the one who believes in you and your work and will do all they can to help you be successful.”

That's the person I want to find.

Jenz said...

Ryan Gosling is my dream guy. I just know if I could meet him, he'd fall in love with me. We'd be the most perfect couple in the history of loving couples and have beautiful babies.

MB Owen said...

Jenz = hilarious.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julie, fantastically told.

REJourneys said...

Julie, your story brought tears to my eyes. Sobbing at your desk at work isn't the best thing though. Like so many others have said, well said and right on point.

I love dogs, my family has three. They are wonderful and teach you if you ask for something long enough, professionally, and are willing to work for it, you too can have a piece of "human food." Though, the fact they have puppy eyes helps a lot (that and I'm a sucker for them.)

Anyway, that dream agent, like so many have said, is the person who is as excited, if not more, for my story. I can't wait until I meet this person. Until then, I'll keep querying because who knows what shark infested water they might be dwelling in. :)

LynnRodz said...

I love these comments! John, thanks for showing us we should never give up. Julie, wonderful story about Ranger, thanks for sharing. Carolynn, so true what you say about life being patterned by letters, which in reality is in terms of numbers. (There's a lot more to this universe than meets the eye.)

I agree with everyone else, having one dream agent is like looking for a perfect man/woman. They don't exist. As I get closer to querying, my list of agents is growing and I've had the same mindset as Carolynn. Should I query my B-list first to see their reaction before querying my A-list?

This road we're all on is not an easy one, but like everyone else here we're all so thankful to Janet for making our way a little easier to navigate. As Colin said, "...there are many of us here who will be putting Janet's name in the acknowledgements, even if she's not our agent."

SiSi said...

Wow, today's comments are a real emotional roller coaster to read! I agree with everyone.

I'd also like to add that a dream anything, by definition, isn't "real life." Oftentimes we realize later that our dream agent/partner/job/life wasn't really what we wanted after all--we just didn't know enough in the beginning to understand. So the moral of the story is don't put all your eggs in the dream agent basket.

Elissa M said...

There's always wisdom to be found on this blog, both in the posts and the comments. Today's comments prove the point ten-fold.

I often wonder if people who long for a "dream" agent are also unrealistic in their writing expectations. Do they think that once they sign with an agent (dream or not) everything is downhill? Do they understand that most writers don't make a living just writing? Do they realize that being published once (or a dozen times) is no guarantee that anyone will want to publish their next book? Or that it will sell even if published?

I could go on, but I'm sure most readers here know what I'm saying and are not at all starry-eyed and blind to the realities of being a writer.

Dreams are not bad things. We just have to make sure we don't get lost in them.

Karen McCoy said...

It's true in dating too--we think about what we want, but do we often reflect on what we have to offer?

Some of the best advice I got was from an author who said he pitched his dream agent, and they said, "Ehrm, no thanks, do you have something else?" And he didn't. His advice was to always have something else ready--and in the end, it paid off for him. So I'm hoping the querier will be writing other things while they await replies too.

Loving the comments section today--it demonstrates how everyone's journey is different--and how wonderful each one is.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Just reread Julie, God what a story.

DLM said...

Jenz, pithily and perfectly put.

I seem to be on a 3P repeat alliteration jag today ...

Oh, and. For James Ticknor, in case you look in here today, the answer to your question on Janet's FB about the lilies is at my blog. You're ... pretty much right ... :)

Janet, I apologize for shilling my own blog on yours. My FaceBook aversion prohibits the direct approach.

As to dreams ... I've just taken what attention I *have* gotten from a few incredible agents as encouragement itself. Those who've been kind and generous did turn out to BE dream agents. Just not mine. Lucky for the queries I still have active and out, I'm still available to some other lucky representative.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Once upon a time I had a dream agent. I had her because I'd done a fair bit of research and believed she'd be a good fit.

I pitched her. Ultimately she turned down my full, but asked to see my next project.

My next project wasn't ready to go. So I got it thus. Meanwhile, I continued to research and learn more not just about the craft but the business.

I also figured out why she rejected my full, and set about fixing that issue in my skill set.

When I pitched my next, new and improved, project to her, I pitched other agents as well.

Sure enough, she turned down this full as well, but explained why. My projects would suit her list, she said, but they weren't ready yet, in her eyes.

At least I can fix those issues she says held me back. Now, I've got a few fulls out with some agents who look about as dreamy as Dream #1. If I sign with one of them, I will be happy. I will also be grateful to Dream #1 for being so kind to point out why she rejected. She has made me a better author.

Should this ms not catch, I will pitch a subsequent project that has benefitted from her sisters' mistakes. Perhaps that might be the one to catch Dream #1. If not, I don't mind if it catches Dream #10.

One thing I've learned from Her Sharkness is that while it's not okay to have one Dream Agent, it's okay to have fifty Dream Agents.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all for the nods to Ranger. He was a great and beautiful dog. When I say our dogs had nabbed four quad championships, that meant something back then. There were only seven in the nation. What value do you put on a dog that most likely saved your life, though.

Oddly enough, a few years later I had a toddler roaming around. Don called me to do something and when I got back to the garden, Brandon was gone. I panicked and ran to the barn first because Tina was in there, in a whelping box with a litter of new pups. I knew if Brandon tried to touch the babies, she'd take his face off.

Sure enough, he had headed straight for the barn and the puppies. He had crawled in the box with them and Tina was trying to nuzzle him closer so she could take care of him.

Anyway, great stories and advice. I love the repair manual. That probably me one day.

I actually did get a dream agent one time. I was writing children's books. Agent A was the top of the line. I'd been getting some flak from husband and friends about how stupid I was to think I could be published. Some of it from the friend I bought the dogs from who thought he was real funny.

A woman calls and says, "Is this Julie? This is Agent A. I'm interested in your book."

"Very funny. Go tell Tommy he isn't as funny as he thinks he is!"


ring ring ring.

"Julie! Julie! Don't hang up. This really is Agent A."


Colin Smith said...

Julie: I wonder how many agents have had that happen to them--calling a potential client only to be hung up on because the writer thought it was a prank? Perhaps that's even happened to our beloved QOTKU...?

Susan Bonifant said...

Julie, amazing stories, and perfect illustrations of the point du jour. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Lawsy at the typos. Don't type when you're tired, Julie.

Yes, ma'am.

Thank you. Tina Girl really was an amazing dog. She had beautiful China blue eyes and was such a sweeite, but a total slut.

Agent A was such a sweet person as well as being a great agent. I adored her and she laughed about me hanging up on her.

Anonymous said...

"a very solid good dead" ... you were thinking of the seal/surfer for your lunchtime snack, right?