Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Query Question: agencies not agents

 I've been researching agents until my file is bulging and arranged by best fit to long shot, but there is still something eluding my research, and that is the Agency itself.

A good many are venerable and thus, able to be researched.  Should the happy day arrive when I find representation, I would feel relatively certain the Agency or its agents won't be imploding the day after the ink dries.  This is not the case with new(er) agencies, agencies that post elevator music with their opening page (please don't) or where little or no information is available.  There's a surprisingly large amount of that.

As a venerable agent with a well-established Agency, you see from the inside of your industry.  Can you offer a bit of guidance where Agencies themselves remain a mystery. 

Since anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent (or agency) you're wise to understand that some vetting is very much in order.

BUT, I caution you about assuming all venerable agencies have a spiffy electronic footprint. That is not always the case. Some very good agencies have a very modest presence on the web and you'd be foolish to disdain them for that reason.

Look at who they represent. Google the authors and books. Look at who publishes those books.

The best way to distinguish between an established agent /agency who has a terrible electronic presence and a new agent/agency who has such limited experience you might think twice about querying them: how they talk about queries.

If an agency has almost no information about sales, and no address posted, and isn't trying to entice  you to query with statements about how they love authors, you've probably run in to an agent that simply isn't looking for new clients.  (Phoebe Larmore comes to mind here)

If an agency has no information about sales, no address listed and is chockablock FULL of ways to query, instructions on querying, and essays on how much they love authors, you've run in to an agency that probably doesn't have a lot of sales.

In general you want an agency that's been around for a while. My preference is for agencies that are not sole proprietors but many very good agents have solo practices. 

Remember,  agenting is not an entry level job.

If you're evaluating an agency, look at where the agents started their publishing career. Look at how long they have been in publishing. 

If that kind of information is not on their otherwise chatty website, it's fair to assume they don't want you to know cause it's not reassuring info. In other words, they didn't have a previous job, or they've been in publishing for five minutes.

There's almost no way to fireproof yourself from an agent or agency imploding but you can certainly ask some questions that might give you a heads up.


french sojourn said...

There are so many forums reviewing agencies, Writer Beware springs to mind. Also threads on a lot of writing forums. I know this is the premier writers site, but you have listed a few agents through the years. It's like Query Shark, read the archives and don't stop there.

AJ Blythe said...

Agent backstory! Never thought about checking that out. More pearls of wisdom from her Sharkness.

I too am collating a (long) list of agents who will be lucky enough (or not) to be on the receiving end of my sub. I've read about the agency, checked their authors/deals etc, but never thought of looking for more. I guess I now have one more thing to add to my 'before I sub' to-do list.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Huh. I'll one of the first to comment.

I confess annoyance when I find a rather stark and uninformative agency Web site--and by that I mean little more than an agency name and contact address. At the very least I'd like an agent bio with some professionally useful info (ie "I have 20 years experience, rep romance, don't rep biographies.") and a client list of some sort.

I don't demand lots and lots of info, but the minimalist approach doesn't instill me with confidence or prejudice me in favour of a mutually beneficial professional relationship.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am in middle of my agent hunt so this is great information. I started with sending to 20 agents which seems like a lot to me. Seven of the agents I came across at writer's conference. One is a sole-proprietor agency, but I met the agent and like her very much. Still, her client list is stark but her background is super impressive. The rest I went through all sorts of writer sites, and did as Janet advises pretty much. However, I do worry I am querying too much at once. I have been told I will need to query hundreds of agents to get just one. I can't find that many agents. I have a list of about 60. I thought I would go through 10-20 at a time. Due to conferences, out of my first 20 - several have already asked for partials or fulls. Should I wait for responses (or the long drawn out cone of silence) before I query the next 10 or so on my list? I feel like I am burning through the best agents first too. This is hard and stressful. It's setting yourself up for rejection, and without feedback, it's hard to tell if agent is rejecting because my work sucks or for the usual reasons- agent gets hundreds of queries and has limited room on client list. So tough!

Donnaeve said...

Generally speaking, having a useful footprint on the internet is very helpful in my opinion, simply because I'm the type who feels better knowing as much as I can about how a person works and their experience level.

When I received word that the agent I eventually signed with was interested in my ms, I must have spent a good hour on his website reading and then re-reading everything posted about their agency. I was especially interested in where he'd worked before, (rose to Sr. Editor at Putnam Berkley, now part of Penguin Random)how long the agency had been in place, etc. Then I took more time to click on his client list, then I went out to Amazon to read snippets of their books.

It's natural to want to know all that's possible before making such important decisions. It takes time to do the sleuthing, so to speak, but it's worth it in the end.

DLM said...

"Agenting is not an entry level job."

Janet, you are all that and a hoop skirt.

The chockablock, clumsy-seduction come ons always turned me off, but I honestly never thought about why. It was just too much of a muchness, and I'd keep looking. It's nice to think my instincts were good there, though, so thank you yet again.

One of the things that always drives me nuts is agencies putting UP "about our agents" blurbs, but each agent using the opportunity to share a bio rather than saying what they are looking for. I do understand that what they are looking for will change; I had that happen with no less than Russ Galen. But some IDEA of their interests (other than French cooking and fishing with their children) is very much what we are seeking when we go looking for the About the Agents pages/blurbs. And agents know that. It just seems needlessly cruel to withhold it.

Often times, tone turned me off. Agent/agency sites focusing too much on the preciousness of their alma mater, or appearing to showcase sophistication uber-alles (as opposed to admitting to being in business), or appearing to showcase business uber-alles (as opposed to literature, or the cultivation of authorial careers) can easily strike me wrong. Sometimes, it comes off snobby, and I feel like they'll judge all too many comers as not good enough for them. Sometimes, it just comes off as a crass bludgeon in service of the almighty dollar.

For me, agent/agency research always felt to me like MY slushpile. Granted, nobody had reached out to me, but the process was one of elimination, and I often felt like I must be doing the same thing agents do every day - some days, looking for reasons TO query - some days, looking for reasons NOT to. I got to a point where I was consistent in the criteria I'd use to add to the list or eliminate, but that weathervane of "am I feeling inclusive or exclusive" was always there. It's like when your budget is up, or when your budget is down, you shop differently. I shopped differently when I had very low toleration for tone.

THIS is why it's good to go beyond the sites. Interviews are fantastic, and *recent* interviews are like finding gold nuggets in this particular prospecting. Articles, same thing.

I had an agent turn me down for an interview because "everyone always asks the same thing" - the result being, that agent's last online record of what they are looking for dates to 2013. If they've evolved, they haven't told anyone what's new in an easily accessible way. I've also seen bios older than that replicated for some agents, so their desires circa maybe 2008 are ALL over Teh Intarwebs, but who knows what they want now. I get that; I'm a secretary, and updating every last loose end is more agita than it's worth. But combat the old blurbs with new interviews, articles, responses, and a presence that appears to be alive.

Oh great Zot, I've gone and ranted. Hmm - to post, or not to post.

Joyce Tremel said...

I'd also advise to follow agents on Twitter. You'll really get a feel for what they're like, and learn quickly who you do or don't want to work with. They also often post what they're looking for.

E.M. Goldsmith--I'd advise querying ten agents at a time, then wait for responses in case you need to revise your query before the next batch. And don't query all your "A list" agents first. Chances are you WILL need to revise the query and you won't get another chance with those agents.

Unknown said...

Blah. Blah, blah, blahblahblahblah.

There. How's that for a tag line?

As soon as I read the word 'query', white noise starts to hum in my brain. Then, 'a list of 100 agents'? Loud buzzing.

I will do it, I know I have to do it. Just not sure I'll survive it.

Theresa said...

Great advice, as usual. Research, research, research. I especially make sure to know the agent's professional background and his/her client list. I concur with Joyce about following agents on Twitter.

Susan Bonifant said...

E.M. Goldsmith, exactly. I've been in that spot too, of feeling every single agent would be a fit except for this: maybe none of them will be a fit. You can get on your own nerves pretty quickly trying to make a workable search out of so many variables.

To the face value of an agent's profile detail:
When I was a wee writer (really wee), I wondered if an agent based out of NYC could really have footing in the gritty city, but just look at that Kristin Nelson out there in the mountains, kicking you know what.

I think it helps to be armed with a basic clearance test that agrees with your instincts (Janet's suggestions of measures here) but the rest - New to the business? Super fast-rising? Boutique? - might be an answer that lies somewhere between the up and downside of each profile.

DLM said...

Following an agent on Twitter has its uses, but for me it isn't a part of research, because researching agents is a bulk job and not one I care to spread over long periods. It would take me time on Twitter to learn the exact particulars I'm looking to find in researching for queries.

Indeed, most of the agents I follow are NOT ones I'd expect to query or even necessarily would consider good matches for my work. Maybe there are just too few who are looking for muscular Late Antiquity histfic from the "Barbarian" POV. Or maybe I'm contrarian against my own interests, even though I do see Twitter as a means of networking.

I'm not active now, so maybe there'll come a time I do query agents I follow, but based on my last stint querying, Twitter just wasn't a tool I looked to.

Unknown said...

"For me, agent/agency research always felt to me like MY slushpile."

DLM, I'd never thought about it quite that way, but you've hit the nail on the head. We're all required to wade through a lot of useless information at some point in the publishing process to find gold. For writers it just comes at a different point in the pipeline.

Susan Bonifant said...

E.M., me again. I second Joyce's advice: send small bundles of queries, wait, dwell, tweak, assemble new bundle, send and repeat.

And you're not necessarily burning through the best agents first. A friend of mine tells a story I love of that last, "why not?" query that followed maybe a hundred or so rejections. It hit. In a day or so came the full request, then the call, then the contract and submissions, and finally, the auction.

I love that story, oh so much.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Susan, Joyce - thanks for advice. This whole process makes me so paranoid. I worry if agent is not in New York, they are at a disadvantage, but on the other hand, I am a country girl so will big city agent be all wrong for me? And is anyone here proficient at the dread synopsis? Almost everything I have out now included a synopsis. Is anyone else more intimidated by the synopsis than the query? I found that to be the most difficult part of this process. Everyone who requested a partial asked for a synopsis as well, and lots of agents want a synopsis along with the query right out the door.

Jenz said...

E.M., I'll chime in on small batches of queries. You can also find a writing group (IRL or online) to run your query or pages past to get an idea of how strong they are. There's forums in the same places that list agents (Query Tracker and Agent Query) and lots of others.

Craig F said...

Obviously writing predates the intraweb by a long time. Many of the best agents had grounded good business practices before the web was a glimmer in Al Gore's imagination. Those agencies are very happy with how they work.

I agree that you should watch out for the agencies that seem to still be making the rules they wish to live by. Some are too worried about those things and their twitter feed to pay much attention to those who query them.

There will always be some who find the light in any circumstance. I would like to end up being the person who makes an agency float to the top bur we all have dreams.

Perhaps it is best to just jump in with both feet. Don't worry about your first agent or first book. If it makes a splash the inaccessible agents and agencies might become more hospitable to your later offerings. You and I both know your writing will get better with almost every new offering.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Jenz, thank you. I use Query Tracker, but hadn't thought to workshop my query the way I do my book. What a wonderful resource. I suppose the same could be done with the synopsis? That would be a huge help. Thank you.

Panda in Chief said...

This post comes at just the right time. ( well, has there been a post here that hasn't?)
Lots of good advice here: look for interviews and other articles about agents you are thinking of querying as well as the agency website.

I am in the midst of querying a book (well, actually, I am in the secondary role as illustrator) for a NF picture book. The author just had a very enthusiastic response to the query. The agency has a Christian lit preference, which is definitely not the slant of this book, nor other things that the author is writing. On further research, the agency website only seems to have one client listed, and the agent appears to be a newbie baby agent.

We decided it was worth a phone conversation with the agent, at least for practice, but this is not an agency that either one of us can grow with. Research is pretty easy on the interweb, so it is a wise thing to do. Any agent that is interested in our work is going to research us a bit, so why wouldn't we do the same.

Great post, great comments! Thanks.

Adib Khorram said...

E.M. Goldsmith: As regards agents outside of New York, I can think of several agencies that have offices in LA, including two that represents some pretty freaking huge (like, Hollywood Blockbuster Adaptation huge) names. And another agency that's based out of San Diego (though admittedly some of their agents live and work in New York). Ultimately, if they can place their stuff, they must have the contacts, right? And just because they live in the Big City doesn't mean they're FROM the Big City. I met an agent at a conference that was born and raised in Iowa, and we had a great chat over lunch about growing up in the Midwest, barbecue, and the music of Pink Floyd.

DLM: "too much of a muchness" is my new favorite phrase! I am officially appropriating it for my own future use.

And, as regards agent-following on Twitter: aside from research, many of them are entertaining to follow in their own right. Plus, I've been introduced to authors and books I would otherwise never have known about. So it's been a win-win all around.

Karen McCoy said...

E.M. Goldsmith:
Nelson Literary Agency
is located in Denver, and their client list is great. Their website also posts a lot of useful info. And, it looks pretty (though as Janet says, bad looks aren't necessarily a deal-breaker).

Janice Grinyer said...

Just chiming in with a brief comment - I have learned so much about the ins and outs of Agents, Agencies and Queries here on this blog...Thank you Janet Reid for supplying us with what we need as writers to succeed!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I tend to find agency websites exceedingly informative, with regards to past deals, current wish lists, etc. Of course, I've also found Absolute Write to be a great resource with regards to this as well, linking back to agencies, blogs, interviews, etc. in addition to recounting personal "real time" experience.

I recently had a "new and building his list" agent recommended to me (by a friend who's agented, editored, and has her book coming out...egads, next month?), and while I find him on Twitter, and he was a "query me" website....he isn't listed on his purported agency's site. Nor have I been able to find him via usual "this is how I Google an agent" means. Now, new is new, but a lot of agencies announce their new folks post-haste, add them to the website, have them blurb on the blog, etc. So I've been hesitant to query this guy...but don't know if I'm simply being paranoid. Because that's how paranoia is, y'all.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Makes sad face. Yes, I have already been rejected by Nelson agency. Thanks, Karen. I was only wondering if the New York location was an advantage as those agents can do lunch with most of the bigwig publishers, but I have not closed my list based on location. I really am looking for best fit as far as agency experience as well as individual agent compatibility with me as a writer. And I fear that will be tough. I am really weird and too old to fix that. Although, how they could ever tell that from my query letter, I just don't know. Does it smell of kale?

BJ Muntain said...

Before accepting an agent's offer of representation (better before even querying), always check the agent through Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware.

One thing I noticed on P&E are that some of the agents/agencies that are highly recommended have very little or no web presence. P&E does not recommend lightly, and if an agent/agency is 'highly recommended', they're a darn good agency. As Janet said, if such an agency doesn't have a spiffy site, it means they're well-established enough they don't need a web presence, and they may not need to sign anymore authors at the time, either.

Generally, if an agency isn't listed on P&E, it's probably a new one. Unless it's an old one that has recently changed its name, it hasn't crossed P&E's radar yet. If an agent isn't listed on P&E, that doesn't mean anything, unless they are a sole proprieter. You'll find P&E doesn't list a lot of agents. If an agent isn't listed, I check the agency. Because if it's a good agency, then you can bet the agent has someone there to help them should anything go wrong.

I also followed Janet's link to the post on burnout. Man, do I understand burnout. That's another good reason to find an agent in a good agency - if they burn out, they've got some support.

As for the agencies that are all about enticing authors: There is a certain publisher on Twitter who is present during all the Twitter pitches and is always posting manuscript wish lists on Twitter and on their site. Genre-wise, they look like a good fit for my story. But while they have a wonderful website, the whole thing is about enticing authors. There is much more about enticing authors on their site than actually selling books. And since this is a publisher, that really seems a bit off to me. And so I'm going to hold off on subbing to them until it seems they've got their priorities in order.

BJ Muntain said...

EM: When you get a rejection, it's usually best to assume it's just because the agent didn't fall in love with your story, at least not enough to go to the mat fighting for it. If you're not sure if it's because of the writing... do you belong to a critique group or have a critique partner? It can be so useful to have other eyes on your work, to tell you if it needs work or if it's just fine. Without some sort of input, we're just feeling around in the dark.

There was a time when an agent who was not in NYC was at a disadvantage. Not anymore. Not with the internet. I'd be willing to bet that more agent/editor work gets done via e-mail than via phone or in-person meetings now.

As for the synopsis: Many people hate synopses. Just remember a few things:
1) the reason for the synopsis is to see if you can tell a story with a good beginning, an active middle, and a satisfying end. It's also good to see if there are character arcs or plot arcs that are important to the story, and to see how the author deals with that. Concentrate on these things when writing the synopsis.
2) a synopsis does not have to be your best writing. It should never be flowery; it should be straight-forward. It's a tool, not a writing sample. I've heard that agents won't say 'no' because the synopsis isn't written well, but they might if they don't think there's a good ending or plot arc (for example, near the end, when everything seems terrible and hopeless, and the main character can't do anything anymore... then a wizard suddenly steps forward, waves his wand, and everything is hunky dory. Also known as 'deus ex machina'.)

Diane: The bios are important, too. That's where you find the information that Janet mentions: "If you're evaluating an agency, look at where the agents started their publishing career. Look at how long they have been in publishing." That's just as - if not more than - important as what they're looking for. Also, if a site doesn't give what a certain agent is looking for - or a link to a website where the agent gives that information - I just assume that the agent isn't looking for new authors.

Amanda: You will survive.

As for burning through all the best agents first: Go for it. Why would you query a lesser agent before a better agent? If it's more comfortable, then query 10 at a time.

There will always be new agents, and many of those new agents will become 'best' agents. Query your best agents first. By the time you get through those, there could very well be more 'best' agents coming to the fore.

Regarding Twitter: I love following agents on Twitter. As Adib says, they can be entertaining. They also often share good resources, like articles and websites on writing and the publishing industry. I met one agent on Twitter who would never rep anything I write, but who I was able to meet at the Surrey conference last year. Lovely woman.

I've also found some agents that I probably will never query, even if they did rep my stuff. That's more because I don't think we'd get along than because they're not good agents. (Note: I'm not difficult to get along with, but no one's perfect).

BJ Muntain said...

Jennifer: If you have the person's e-mail address, is it something like (meaning, does it have the '' suffix)?

If it does have that suffix, then you can be pretty sure that your query is going to the right agency, anyway.

If not, do you feel comfortable e-mailing someone else in the agency to see if that person actually works there?

If you're not comfortable e-mailing, you might try Twitter. You don't have to have a Twitter account to do a search to see if you can find that agent's account.

If you really can't find anything on him, maybe it would be best to wait until he's listed on the website. The upside on that is security. The downside of that is that you'll then have a lot more competition.

Another possible solution: Query him anyway. Perhaps, by the time you get a response, he will be on the agency website, or you'll be able to find more information. If not, and if he offers representation, you could then ask all the questions you have, and even e-mail his supervisor before accepting his offer.

Dena Pawling said...

I googled Phoebe Laramore. Google says did I mean Phoebe Larmore. I found her name on Preditors and Editors. It says "believed to be a literary agent. No further info."

Query widely. Research widely. I like the comment that our agent list is our slush pile.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of going over the agent list again. I've added some agents who have almost no web presence, but are well-established with a respectable client list.

Some agents just prefer a light footprint.

When it comes to publishing, you have to become like Poirot and use ALL the little gray cells. Also, Hungarian Mustache Pomade seems to be the best. The scent probably stimulates the little gray cells.

John Frain said...

If you took all the writers who hate synopses and lined them up head to toe, they'd travel from New York around the world and back to New York. Many of them would drown, so the feat will never take place because drowning, in a close vote, was deemed worse than writing a synopsis.

Jane Friedman says, "It’s probably the single most despised document you might be asked to prepare: the synopsis."

Did someone say agents don't like to torment writers? Thought I heard that wrong.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

John- yes, I vote for drowning. I will even have kale with my dinner if I could escape that damn synopsis.

Colin Smith said...

Yes--what Diane said about interviews. If I'm interested in an agent, I'll search for interviews s/he's done. Most good interviewers will ask about the agent's career so far. You also get a sense of the agent's temperament--if they have a sense of humor, if they're all business and just-the-facts, etc.

I think this goes back to the conversation the other day about the agent-client relationship. While it is essentially a business relationship, it's more than that. A client's agent is also his cheering team, her shoulder to cry on, his help when a dry spell hits, her wise counsel through the world of publishing--at least that's the way Janet appears to treat her clients, so I assume all agents do the same. :) It seems to me, then, having an agent you get along with is important. Sure, you don't necessarily have to enjoy the same music and movies, but if you appreciate her sense of humor, and enjoy her company, then that's a good sign, isn't it?

DLM said...

Kelsey and Dena, remembering that *I* am doing some selecting in this process too helps keep me sane when querying - it is empowering to remember.

Adib, it is all yours, and it was not mine; just a colloquialism or idiom that seems perfect when it seems perfect. Roger Ebert (one of my favorite writers, may he RIP) used it from time to time to excellent effect.

BJ, I didn't mean to say the bios are not important, but that the withholding of what we need in researching agents (this is something I did in batches, and I spent little more than minutes on each one, until hitting on someone worth looking at more deeply) is unnecessarily sadistic. For me, what they're looking for comes FIRST - because why would I query an agent who sounds wonderful, but is interested in YA dystopian and thrillers primarily, when I write histfic? The rest is good, but they know what we need to know, and withholding that seems arbitrary at best. I want to know those other things once I know I'm in the right ballpark. I don't want to know those things and find out I'm not even IN a ballpark, but somewhere in a mall in entirely the wrong suburb.

Here again is where I like interviews and articles by or including Agent Whomever. Pieces like this, especially when you can see there is a fairly regular participation in such things, are more dynamic than static blurbs written who-knows when. One of the things about non-agency items from/by/including certain agents and/or agencies is that they often include the info that so-and-so likes French cooking and fishing with their kids, because they went to France and enjoyed an unforgettable meal with Mitterand, or fishing reminds them of the time their mom and dad took them camping and they read a book on that trip that inspired them and led to their current career. The 'bio' information is so much more dynamic in a deeper context like this, than it often tends to be in blurb form.

Agent bios/blurbs are, for ME as I research them in "my slush" the pernicious synopses all of US have to deal with for them. They're hard as hell to do well, and tell me something of the *agent's* voice and perspective. If it feels to me like they don't know what this "synopsis" is for (authors who want to find out whether to query them or not), I get frustrated and might well skip a perfectly good agent because they didn't communicate anything to me I could use.

Janet Reid said...

Dena, Phoebe Larmore is Margaret Atwood's agent. And Tom Robbins. Yea, she's an agent.

Panda in Chief said...

I particularly appreciate BJ's comment about the publisher that is more about enticing authors than talking about what and how many books they've sold. Sounds more like selling (the publisher and their services) than buying (manuscripts.)

I do love following agents and editors on twitter. Definitely gives me a sense of who they are, their interests, and sense of humor. I little (a little?) weird and my eventual agent should be able to cope with that.

Dena Pawling said...

I believe you, even with creative spelling, and even tho pred-ed wasn't sure =)

Unknown said...

Oh, Margaret Atwood! "A word after a word after a word is power." That was my screen saver message for ages.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I know about burn out. It's great advice to remember when looking for that business partner. I doubt it would be a good question to add to the list. How burned out are you? Cinnamon roll charred or throw out the pan. That explains lots about the communication breaks. Is this the new no response means no? I can see that. Form rejections could be a gif meme of burnt cupcakes. But that might be too offensive. I'd rather look at burnt cupcakes than no response.

Susan said...

This post and the comments seem appropriate today, as I'm also in the query trenches. I received two rejections just this morning--on my birthday, no less. At least I have cake to soften the blow. :)

Truth be told, most of the rejections don't phase me as much as I thought they would. I get that it's part of the process, and most of the time it's easy to accept that my book wasn't to someone's taste and move on. The difficult ones are those which I queried agents specifically because they mentioned they were looking for something similar to my book via their MSWL or because they represent authors I admire and I'm looking for a similar career (as far as what I write/want to write). A lot of time is spent digging through websites, interviews, wishlists, etc, and it gets your hopes up when you find those you think you want to work with only to realize the other end of the equation doesn't feel the same. Querying is worse than dating, in some ways--at least in dating you're offered the promise of a bad first date and a good story.

That's when the doubt creeps in and the Ferris wheel of questions starts: Is it the query? I'm in the middle of revising the query for the third time. (Gotta disagree with you here, E.M: Synopsis, easy. Writing the query: Dante forgot that level of hell). Is it the writing sample? Beta readers have said it's strong and the voice is good, so I'm not sure. Is it just a matter of agents not being into it, with no discernible explanation? The thing is, I don't know what to trust, and so, because I internalize everything, it usually snowballs into this downward spiral of doubting my abilities as a writer, concluding in a mild internal wail of "it's never gonna happen!"

*stomps feet, eats cake*

Five minutes of pity. That's all I allow myself before going back to the drawing board and revising or searching for a new batch of agents (QueryTracker is phenomenal for this) because I take the advice of Janet and the people on this blog to heart--this is a hard business; perseverance is an understatement. DLM put it wonderfully by saying that finding an agent is our slushpile. Just like they're looking for our book, we're looking for the agent who will represent our book/career, someone who believes wholeheartedly in the story, and nothing less. That search takes work, too.

Besides it only takes one yes. If I trust anything, I have to trust that.

Donnaeve said...

OFF TOPIC - has this happened to anyone? You're reading along in the comments, and you think, "Oh! I need to comment on that." You keep reading and by the time you get to the bottom..."what was I going to say?"

Anywho - ON TOPIC - sort of.

Guess what happened to moi? I WROTE A SYNOPSIS and I liked it.

As in I liked writing it. Of course it could be lined up with the crap-o-matic WIP it's written for, but I wrote one and didn't die.

John Frain said...


Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, writer Susan
Happy Birthday to you!

Remember, the secret to staying young is lying about your age.

Now, the important part. Anyone who can write this:
"Querying is worse than dating, in some ways--at least in dating you're offered the promise of a bad first date and a good story."

surely has a great story on the other side of that query. Keep persevering! Query away. You'll make it.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donnaeve- you want to take a stab at my synopsis- revising it at least? I wrote it but it made me feel like I was going to die. Or remain a totally irrelavent author forever. I am most impressed that you were able to do this without pain and anxiety.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Susan - Happy Birthday - I have reverse anxiety from you as I have received both partial and full request on my query but both wanted that synopsis. I have received 3 rejections on cold queries as well which did not require synopsis. Most of my partial requests and the other full request came about from writer's conference. It's easier just to talk to an agent but I can seldom afford to attend conferences so I must continue to query. And given the industry standard I may have been rejected lots more but nobody is telling me about it. Ugh! I want some cake too.

Adele said...

So I Googled Phoebe Larmore and the first result was Margaret Atwood's contact page, ( and boy, that was a revelation. Atwood has 3 agents - PL for film & TV, another agent for English language rights outside of the US and Canada, and yet another for translation rights. Then, down at the bottom of the page, was a lovely set of notes politely saying things like no, she won't read your unpublished MS for you, please don't send it and sorry, she won't write the introduction for your book, etc etc.

What I took away was that finally, here's somebody who just put everything online and didn't make you dig for it, and also that some writers - those who pester her to write their intros or read their MSS - have an amazing amount of nerve.

Colin Smith said...

"I wrote a synopsis and I liked it"--wasn't that a Katy Perry song?

Adib Khorram said...

Colin: If I had a vote, I'd vote for that as the new blog subheader.

Susan said...

John: Love it, thanks! :) Pep talks like that are good for the writer's soul ;)

Donna: Hooray! Go you!

E.M.: Thanks! As for querying: I've never been to a conference, so I can't add anything to that, although it sounds like it's worked for you, which is great. I'm sure it's useful being able to talk to agents and really get to know what they're looking for, but I hear you on being able to afford it!

None of my queries (about two dozen now) have had any requests for partials/fulls yet--part of me thinks I'd feel better if I were rejected after the partials/fulls because it's almost like someone is taking a chance on you--they see enough of something in your writing to request--but ultimately just didn't connect like they wanted to. The other part of me says that's ridiculous and a rejection is a rejection is a rejection, and it's going to be a whole different level of anxiety once they have the partial/full, which I'm sure you can validate. Either way, it's a painful process, but I'm so glad I found this blog to keep me rational and remind me it's not personal. I'd give everyone here cake if I could :)

Karen McCoy said...

EM: Yikes! So sorry. Way to put my foot in it. :(

And no, I think you're doing all the right things. Unless your writing smells of kale, you should be fine.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Susan, I like your attitude. I am so anxious about my partials and fulls. If they are rejected, I pray I at least get some good feedback. But I hear that the cone of silence is sometimes even applied to partials these days. I hope not. And the conference has me on a steady diet of pancakes and Raman noodles for the foreseeable future. It was worth it though. It's where I discovered Janet.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Karen, no worries. I actually was admiring you. I had such a hard time writing my synopsis. I felt so stupid because I know what happens in my book. I just found it hard to sum up in 2-3 pages. But that is a great hurdle to get past. My 1st queries were abysmal, but Janet fixed that. Mostly. Another few rejections and I will have to reevaluate once more. This is just a tough process.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what the answer is. I got decent results with current query, but also a substantial number of rejections. I'm thinking about changing it to a query QOTKU liked, but it makes it sound like a murder mystery and it really isn't. The MC and her senile sorcerer buddy screw up more than they solve.

I have the synopsis in small, medium, and large.

I don't know whether I'm going to Surrey or not, so I'm working on a new pitch. Pitches are hard. Agents keep saying, look at the backs of books and do what they did.

"A vast, rich sage, with splendid character and an intricate plot flawlessly articulated against a backdrop of real depth and texture."--Kirkus Reviews

"Martin makes a triumphant return to high fantasy...[his] trophy case is already stuffed with major prizes, including Hugos, Nebulas, Locus Awards and a Bram Stoker. He's probably going to have to add another shelf at least."--Publishers Weekly

I don't know. I could try that, in my query, but I just have an idea it might not go as well as expected.

Actually, the blurb on the Game of Thrones is so generic if I had read that and based my buying decision on it, it would have stayed on the shelf. Fortunately, a friend twisted my arm.

The fact remains, many popular books get blurbs replaced with "high praise" yada yada stuff no one reads. I suppose it works or publishers wouldn't do it, but it's not as enticing as they think it is. I'd rather know what the story is about than what some a paid reviewer's one liner says about it who is just trying to top the next paid reviewer in cleverness.

Back to the shark archives.

Donnaeve said...

Happy B'day Susan! Celebrate!!!

E.M. I happy to help if you're serious about me reading it. Here's a hint of how I "think" I was able to write mine - I did it BEFORE the book was finished. If I wait? I'll be stuck just like ya'll. I did it as an outline - for the WIP, a sort of...what's going to happen in this story? This, this and this.

And yes, Colin - that is the tune that was in my head - the Katy Perry song!

Donnaeve said...

I happy. You happy. We all happy.

Ugh. Such an ugly typo...and no way to fiss it. (yes, fiss IS intentional)

I meant...I'm happy - of course!

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Susan!

BJ Muntain said...

Diane: As I said - if the agent doesn't list what they're looking for or give links to such things, then I just assume they're not looking for new authors and cross them off my list. I've seen enough agency websites where *some* of the agents had 'looking for' in the bios, but not others. Hence my assumption.

Re: Preditors & Editors - for the most part, they only know what people send them. Often what people send them are the problems and iffy ethical practices. If an agent isn't really worried about attracting new authors, and if their authors are happy and successful, then there's no reason for P&E to know much about that agent. That's why, when they simply say 'a literary agent', it's still good. Because no one's reported anything bad about them.

Happy birthday Susan!

Donna - regarding forgetting what I'm going to say: I type my answer up in notepad as I read the comments so all I have to do is go back through, read it to be sure it's still relevant, then copy/paste it into the comment form. That's why my responses may get a wee bit long at times (but only a wee bit)

And Yay for writing a synopsis (and liking it)!

Sam Hawke said...

I think most of this has already been covered. But there are definitely agents with a light online footprint who are amazing - Chris Lotts, for example, was top of my list when querying and he doesn't even have a website. But he reps such minor genre authors as GRRM, Robin Hobb, Stephen King...

My system for querying was to start with 10 and then every time I got a response - rejection, request, whatever - send out a fresh one. That way I always had at least 10 live queries going, and it kept me productive and focussed on the future.

As for the order you query in - I don't know, this one's tricky. I worked on my damn query for almost as long as I worked on the novel so in the end I thought I would just back myself and shot for the top ones first. I'm glad I did, because I got I think 4/10 requests from that first bunch, which really buoyed my confidence and got me through the couple of months in between where it felt like it was nothing but rejections. If I'd not started with that 10 I'd probably have thought my query was crap and rewritten it. I guess my feeling is, work on your query til you're confident it does the best possible job enticing the best possible agents to read your book. Then shoot for what you want.

DLM said...

Susan, happy late birthday.

Colin, you're a firework.

I'm glad I'm researching and writing, not querying.

That is all.

Panda in Chief said...

Happy birthday Susan, even if I am a day late and many dollars short.

I agree with Donnaeve! By the time I get to the comment form, I have totally forgotten what I want to comment on. There was something about cake, which I approve of, and something about kale, which I do not.

Sam's comment about making notes sounds very organized, maybe too organized for me. but I might try it, although it might make me tarry here too long and not get any actual work done.

oh, and I made a pie.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I've been attempting to woo Kristin Nelson for a few years now for multiple reasons--many of her clients write the same kinds of novels I write, and I like how she works.

Sara Megibow recently grew up and moved out of home, so I'm wondering if Kristin will rent her bedroom out to another up-and-coming agent. While many people may be leery of new (young) agents, if said young agent is under the mentorship of someone as experienced and successful as Kristin, I'd certainly pitch her with confidence.

To follow up what Sam said a few posts above me, a client list can go a long way to demonstrating what an agent can do. Part of my agent research involves loving a book I read, then looking up who the author's agent is.