Monday, May 01, 2017

Have I run out of agents?

I've been querying a particular novel for some time now. At the beginning of the query track, I made a list of "dream agents". Blew through those. Revised the query letter, sent out the next batch, expanded my list.... all those things you do in an attempt to improve one's chances of getting a full request, and possibly an offer. But I think I've come to the end of my agent list.

My issue is that I tend to write in two specific genres, with projects often crossing over. (I am pleased at how many authors are writing crossover novels between my two genres, so I know this isn't an outlier idea, and I'm never at a loss for comp titles.)

My list was comprised of agents who said they repped these two genres. While most agents have been form rejects or NORMANs**, those few who have offered personal replies, either on my initial query, or on a full request, have had good things to say about my novel... just not that it's suitable to their list at this time. Alas.

Looking for agents who rep both my genres has limited the field somewhat, enough that I've now reached the end of agents who are open to queries and who rep my two genres.

My question is, should I risk querying agents who only rep one of my genres (and say they don't rep the other), knowing that they might not be interested in projects that skew towards another genre?

Or am I better off putting this novel aside and waiting six months until my next novel is ready for querying (again, another cross-genre project), and start from the top of my list once more? I'm not looking for an agent to rep a single project. I'm looking for a long-term relationship with an agent who wants to stick with me for my career (or significant part thereof).
You don't mention which genres you're working in, but it's not the genre that might be tripping you up; it might be category.

Some categories just don't lend themselves to blending: Amish romance and serial killers; zombies and police procedurals; dystopian chick lit.

My hunch is you're probably not testing those boundaries since you got some requests, but sometimes agents look at something and think "nawww" without even reading to see if you pulled off Bakers in Space: The Final Fondue Tier

That said, I'm firmly in the camp of query every agent you're willing to work with regardless of what they say about genre or category. Sometimes we don't know we're looking for you till we hear from you.

As an example,  I have a science fiction project on my list right now. If you were to ask me if I rep sf I'd say no, but this novel blew my sox off, and I will sell this thing if it requires I read the entire SF canon to be able to talk about it knowledgeably.

Thus: query everyone.

And, you might enter some of those Twitter manuscript cattle calls too. Those things are stalked by younger, less well known agents who are building their lists; agents you might not have heard of but work for agencies you have.

Junior agent stalking manuscript

**NO Response MeAns No agents 
(NORMAN is a coinage of this blog; don't feel foolish you didn't know what it meant.)


Kitty said...

I'm not being facetious when I say that I consider "The Handmaid's Tale" dystopian chick lit. Back when I was following Aidan Quinn's career, I heard he was doing the (1990) movie of Atwood's book, so I read the book first. I added the word dystopian to my vocabulary. For the record, I didn't like the book, and I only saw the movie because of Aidan Quinn. He played the good guy, the only one as I recall.

MA Hudson said...

OP - congrats on getting positive comments from agents. Sounds like you 'just' need to be in the right place at the right time, so keep right on querying.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I queried God.
I told her my category, memoir/essay/WTF.

I explained it as a real page turner if you are a woman, a man, a writer, not a writer, a parent, not a parent, are just starting out or you have been around a while. She said she loved it but had to turn it down because I wasn't done yet.

"Done with what," I asked, "the book or done with life."
"Ah ha," God said, "that is the question every writer asks. Figure it out."

God really has a sense of humor. Why else would she create, the platypus, diet soda or republicans.

Theresa said...

Good luck, OP! It's good to hear that you've had some interest in your manuscript and that you're not at the end of your querying journey. And maybe this is a good time to take another look at the query letter.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My Queen does not represent my genre, but I will query her if only to get a stern but fair rejection. I have put my agent list aside for now, but when time comes I will simply try to land in the ballpark.

I do write fantasy. At least that is how I think of it (magic and hints of dragons), but my new book has become a sciFi/ fantasy fusion. It has strong elements of both, and there is a bit of zombie police procedural (not even kidding) so..

Yeah, OP, query agents that live in the neighborhood. As Janet points out, sometimes agents don't even know what they are looking for until they find it.

AJ Blythe said...

"Bakers in Space: The Final Fondue Tier" would be cozy cross sci-fi. That could work.

Colin Smith said...

Opie: Yes, query widely. I love that Janet is so open to taking things that are outside her wheelhouse. My guess is many other agents are the same, or at least would be if the right project came along, they're just not as up-front about it.

Zombie police procedural...? There was a TV show in the UK back in the 50s/60s called "Z Cars" (that's "Zed Cars") based around a police station. What if the "Z" stood for "Zombie"? Now that would be an interesting take...

"Alright, Sarg?"
"Ah, Mortimer! Been a good night?"
"I'll say... nicked a gang of armed robbers."
"Where are they now?"
"Locked up downstairs."
"I take it you disarmed them?"
"Oh yes." Smiles. "I put those in the kitchen."


Unknown said...

Colin! Ewww ;)

Amy Johnson said...

Yeah, Colin. What Kathy just said.

Congrats on the interest so far, Opie. :)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Colin HA! And ewww.

Yes, querying is difficult enough. When you're pitching a crossover, it can be even tougher. I'm certain I made some epic query blunders with a ms I completed last year. The story is mostly paranormal, but it revolves around a mystery with a bit of romance in the mix.

My query focused on the romance. I contacted agents who rep women's fiction. Wrong. The paranormal element turned them off. It finally dawned on me to highlight the paranormal and query agents who rep... wait for it... paranormal. I did get a request for a full (which didn't result in a contract). After racking up about 30 rejections, I decided to cyber-shelve that ms and concentrate on a new writing project.

OP...! All the very best.

And John, I like you, too.

Mister Furkles said...

Janet, this is the second time in a few days that you have mentioned the "CANNON OF GENRES". Are there websites that list the cannon of particular genres? If it requires research, how do we begin that process?

Elissa M said...

@Mister Furkles,

I'd have to say this might be where a good library (and librarian to go with it) would be invaluable. You can certainly get a nice start by finding where the genre you wish to research is shelved and then reading every book there. But a conversation with a knowledgeable librarian might help you narrow the focus.

Also, a good indie bookstore (with knowledgeable booksellers) will help you stay abreast of current releases in your genre.

Cheryl said...

Mister Furkles: You probably won't find genre canon listed as such, but if you Google something like "ten [genre] books everyone should read" you'll get multiple lists of the classics.

Jen said...


I'm going to give another take on this: maybe your crossover genre is saturating the market and agents can't sell your novel? Ex: that romance-cozy mystery type of novel that was big in the 90's/ 2000s but now has bottomed out (think the Stephanie Plum novels). If you've gotten full requests, I'm guessing it's probably not your query. If you've gotten good feedback on your fulls, it's probably not your writing or the crossover. Then again, what do I know?

While I think you should query widely, I wonder if you might want to check Publishers Marketplace for what deals are happening. See if you can see a trend since you began querying. For $25 a month, I've found it's worth it. You can also check with those agents who only rep one of your crossovers and see what they're selling as well.

HTH! :)

Claire Bobrow said...

OP, I'm glad you asked the question. I can envision this very thing happening to a lot of us. You query all your "dream" agents. Then you query some other wonderful agents, and so on and so on, until pffft. End of list of all agents in the known universe whom you think might be interested. Then what?

I liked Janet's answer to test the boundaries. Go for it and good luck!

And if all junior agents are as cute as that photo, I know who'll be on my query list!

Susan said...

Carolynn: "Done with what," I asked, "the book or done with life."
"Ah ha," God said, "that is the question every writer asks. Figure it out."

I just love this so much. So, so much.

Nothing substantial to add today. Good luck, OP, and have a great day, reefers!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Susan,thank you.
I mean really, thanks.

Gigi said...

That baby lion stalker is the best thing ever.

BJ Muntain said...

OP: My advice, for what it's worth:

1. Query any agent who will even give a passing glance to something that may be in one of your genres.

Genres are not - and never have been - set in stone. One person's science fiction is another's fantasy. If someone likes mysteries, they could very well like mysteries set in another world. The worst that could happen is you get rejected and they say something on a Twitter #10queries like 'I don't rep this.' Oh well. Keep going. No harm done.

2. Keep writing the second novel, then query it, starting from the top. Query both novels (in separate query letters, of course. And to different agents - don't send two queries to the same agent at the same time.)

I've been told - and I place faith in this - that getting published is about getting the right manuscript across the right desk at the right time. With two manuscripts being queried, you double your chances.

And many times, the second novel written is the one that captures an agent's attention. It may not be the first one that gets published first, or even the second. Or perhaps the agent offers on the second, but manages to sell the first.

Publishing is a subjective business. Agents can guess at what will do well and what won't, they'll guess at what they can sell and what they can't (and yes, these are very educated, experienced guesses, but just like investing, it's still trying to predict the future) - but they aren't always right. Because that business about getting the ms across the right desk at the right time? Applies to them pitching to editors, as well.

Gigi said...

Also, @Mister Furkles, try the English major nearest you. If he or she has taken a course on that genre, he or she probably has a good idea of the canon.

Karen McCoy said...

2Ns, you are my hero.

Good luck, Opie--you write what I want to read.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, I've wondered a similar thing. I wrote two YA manuscripts, the first paranormal/ fantasy, and the second a contemporary with just the tiniest tweak of fantasy. I've shelved my first one for now but I still love the characters and premise and have a dream of going back to it some day. So, for my 2nd, I'll query agents who rep both genres... or at least don't actively hate paranormal.

2Ns, I love your comment as well. As always, so random and funny... but thought-provoking.

Steve Stubbs said...

I am wondering if it is a matter of how the project is presented. To give one of Ms. Reid's examples, you could pitch a story about a serial killer who happens to be Amish and falls in love with a Hindu fakir. They try to move in together into a cave in the Himalayas and contemplate each other's navels when Inspector Clouseau tracks the Amish fellow down, not for being a serial killer but for fiddling with his taxes. This could be presented as a twist on a stale category, not as a cross-genre novel. I don't know if you could do that with your book, but creative presentation might do the trick. This is supposed to be a creative biz, after all.

I never read TWILIGHT, but I think it is a romance about a vampire. I am sure the book is great, but on the surface that seems pretty weird. Yet someone bought it. Stephenie Meyer made millions for a little spare time typing, so cross genre can certainly work.

Also can anyone share any thoughts about what a "dream agent" is? Since an agent is a salesperson, it seems to this observer an agent who can and will sell your book and snag an eight figure advance would be doing about all anyone could reasonably ask. You might have your heart set on nine figures. But eight figures would be pretty dreamy to me.

Unknown said...

8 figures?! Counting the cents and dividing by 10, right?

Casey Karp said...

OK, fine! I've sent you my query. Happy n--What? You mean everything I read online isn't about me? Well, crud. Sorry about that.


Steve, are you counting the commas and decimal point as figures? Seriously, I'm betting that the definitions of "dream agent" are as varied as those lists of canonical books we saw a few days ago. Yeah, that 37-digit advance is probably a common element, sort of like ol' J.R.R. T. on the fantasy lists, but beyond that, we're gonna be all over the map.

That said, to the extent that I have a dream agent, it's someone who's demonstrated the ability and willingness to jump in on the publicity side after the book is sold to a publisher. You've seen how Janet sneaks in subtle reminders to check out her clients' books. Not every agent does that--and not all of those who do manage such a level of elan and grace)--but I'd sure love to get nabbed by one of the ones what does.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Well I know I'm wild to read the SF novel that blew the Shark's socks off! And perhaps she was being a teensy bit sneaky last week, asking us if we've read what we considered canon in our genres? ;) Honestly, with everything you give us here and at Query Shark, Janet, I absolutely don't mind holding up my end of the quid pro quo.

In my werewolf news, for those following, I finished the first draft of book 2! I made some important setting decisions therein, and so Book 1 is cruising for a large and careful rewrite. Then I need to find out what the final book is about....Strangely, I know how it ends.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Opie: I feel your pain, I feel your pain. Good luck. Just keep moving forward, even if some days it's an inch instead of a mile. It's the right direction. A little can mean a lot.

Kitty: Did you catch "Handmaid's Tale" last night? So good!

Carolyn: Re platypus - Coincidentally, the platypus and the rabbit that were getting it on at my place finally had to be pried apart . . . I had to vacuum.

Unknown said...

*Tosses aside YA thriller WIP to blaze a new trail as writer of sic-fi cookbooks*

Kitty said...

Ginger Mollymarilyn, no, I didn't. I didn't like the book or the 1990 movie. I'm not a fan.

John Davis Frain said...

Hey OP,

First, congrats. Sounds like you're doing well on your journey, although you might need to take a step back to get that same perspective.

Second, how does one run out of agents to contact? Isn't that like finishing the Internet? Assuming you're planning to follow the "query widely" advice, I might also suggest you make sure you've located all the agents who rep in either/both of your genres. There are new agents coming into the business constantly, and I don't think there is one particular place that warehouses all the agents you could contact.

I could be wrong, but based on a couple meetings I had this morning, I've already fulfilled my wrongs to cover me through next Wednesday, so I should be pretty good on this one.

At any rate, keep writing. Keep querying. And enjoy the process.

Brigid said...

Jenny C, I am eager to read your sci-fi cookbooks. Post-modernist recipes, utilizing technology that doesn't exist yet!

Steve Stubbs, it seems odd for a writer to call the process of writing a series "a little spare time typing". I'm not a fan of Twilight (that's an understatement), but as a fellow writer, I expect you understand the work of writing.

Panda in Chief said...

I think I am safe in assuming my agent had no idea he was looking for a MG panda satire/cozy mystery crossover. Query widely and wildly.

And who wouldn't want to work with that junior agent you have pictured here? You had me at "meow".

BJ Muntain said...

A dream agent is the agent that is perfect for you. It's as simple as that.

Joseph S. said...

I don't have a dream agent in mind, but as I read more and more books and notice their presentations, I'm developing a dream publisher list.

Joseph S. said...

Big Brother time: In yesterday's blog I mentioned a book title "Nancy Drew Anthology." Just now I opened up my favorite Astros fan blog site, and in a big rectangle at the top was an advertisement for "Nancy Drew Mysteries." Spooky.

Unknown said...

OP, I echo Janet's advice -- and others here on the reef -- to query widely and don't restrict yourself too much by genre. I would add if you find representation for one book and the agent says I can't help you with the second one, that agent might be able to set you up with someone else at his/her agency who can. It's an advantage to pick an agency, at least, that reps a wide variety of books.

My own story supports all this. I have two manuscripts I've been shopping around -- one YA, and one upmarket for adults. I started out querying agents who represented both but decided that might be too restrictive. So I started querying kid-only agents, too, figuring the worst thing that could happen is I'd find an agent who only wanted the one genre, and I'd look for a second agent from a position of strength. As Janet has taught us, you just have to be upfront with an offering agent that you also write in other genres.

Anyway, my story has a happy ending. I got an offer of rep for the YA book -- someone whom I thought only represented kids work. But guess what? She's young and would love to rep adult books some day. So she's eventually going to read my adult book, too. If she doesn't want to take it on, she says she'll ask others at the agency. And I kept my adult book off the agency contract so I have the option to look for another agent if necessary.

So as Janet says, don't restrict yourself! And best of luck moving forward. I really hope you find a great agent or agents -- it sounds like you're close!!

BJ Muntain said...

Yup. Big Brother - a.k.a. Amazon. If you viewed the anthology on Amazon (which I believe you said you did), then Amazon's ad will be showing you that anthology for some time to come. (Probably until you view another book.) That's the way Amazon's ads (and cookies) work.

Now I want cookies.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Susan, Lennon, Karen, you guys made day.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...



Congrats on the offer of rep. Such a lovely situation you have going on with your new agent.

MA Hudson said...

Claire - that's brilliant news. Big congrats! And thanks for the 'insiders' view on querying. It must be funny to have crossed the magic line of representation. Does it feel different, or are you just immediately confronted with the next mountain to climb?

Susan said...

Claire: Congrats are in order! I hope you'll have good news to share with us soon for both books.

Carolynn: I've been thinking about your story all day. Sometimes the words we read shoot an arrow straight into the heart. That's what your writing did to me. <3

Unknown said...

Thanks so much Cecilia, MA and Susan! I've been at this querying thing on and off for seven years, so I'm also a good spokesperson for never giving up!

As for your question, MA, it felt different for a few days, but here's the crazy part -- I've been here before and that was part of my querying tale of woe. I had an agent, did a lot of revisions, and then the agent and I parted ways before going out on submission. So I'm hoping it'll work out better this time. I'm cautiously optimistic:-)

And Carolynn, as others have said your comment was simply awe-inspiring. First I said wow, and then I laughed. Thank you for that big gift today!

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

Claire, congrats! Sounds like your journey is the HEA of today's topic. That's heartening.

Steve, my quals for a "dream agent" are:

* They tend to specialise in my genres. This is dreamy for me because that means this agent will be totally au fait with what editors are publishing what. Alas, if I limited my agent search to this list, I'd have, maybe, twenty agents that fit this.
* Their professional modus operandi is one that that gels well with mine. Now, this is an independent variable to the genre thing, and any agent could possibly fill this one.
* I'd also like one that is not afraid of long-term plans. My writing career is currently functioning under a fifty-year plan. I'd like an agent who can understand the scope of such.
* Being a rabid weasel is a bonus.

In the end, it's not so much genre that wins a sale but voice. I guess another way of finding an agent that would gel would be to (naturally) read widely, find novels that fit the voice, uncover the agent, and pitch them. This is my guess of how Her Sharkness is gushing over an SF MS.

Claire Bobrow said...

Congrats Claire AB!! I'm excited for you and hope the agent situation and submission process goes smoothly this time. Thanks also for giving us another important reminder that patience and persistence pay off. Keep us posted!

Steve Stubbs said...

Hi Casey and Brigid,

I'll let you decide whether I was joking or taking the advance in Rhodesian dollars. What other kind could you have thought?

Jenny C,

Surely I jest. I have worked my patooti off on this thing I am working on, so, yes, I know what is involved. Not taking it or myself too seriously is necessary if I want to keep from going sane. Being insane is much more fun. TWILIGHT seems to be an interesting challenge to sell and to write inasmuch as a vampire love story is a weird idea. I am sure the execcution is great.

If you don't take it overly seriously, writing is done in one's spare time (I have chores calling right now) and it is typing. A critic once described Harold Robbins as "the well known typist."

AJ Blythe said...

Catching up on comments. Was doing well until I got to BJ. Now I want cookies. Thanks :-p

Unknown said...

Many thanks, Her Grace and Claire! Hoping for more good news. I'll keep you posted!

Anonymous said...

OP, I don't have anything helpful or experienced to add, never having queried. But I'm grateful you asked the question since Janet's answer makes me feel a bit more hopeful about having written something . . . rather odd. So, thank you. Best of luck in finding an agent who's the right fit for you.

Claire AB! Congrats again on getting an agent (and also on finally telling everyone about it!). :)

John Davis Frain said...

Claire AB, Yowza! And to think I was looking for a reason to make a toast. Thank you for your magnificent timing.

I'm giving you a virtual high-five for your perseverance, strategy and, of course, your writing -- which I'm sure is brilliant. Good luck with that adult title too. But in the meantime, keep us posted so your name enters the Treasure Chest.

Joseph S. said...

BJ Muntain

I think you hit it right on the nose. I did go to first. That's when they latched onto me. Doesn't take much does it?