2017: A Year in Queries

I think I speak for a lot of people – or at least for everyone I’ve spoken to this year – when I say that 2017 was not a great year for productivity. My one and only blog post in 2017 was a bit of a bummer, and while I liked it and may write more like it in 2018, I want to focus on moving on, blogging more often, and not letting the bastards get me down.

My second blog post of 2017 is also my final one of the year. It’s the one writers always look forward to and dread simultaneously, My Year in Queries! Long-time readers of Glass Cases know the gist by now, but as a reminder:

  • I read and respond to every query I receive with these exceptions:
    • Pre-queries, aka emails writers send to ask if they can query. The answer is always YES if the agent is open to queries, and if they aren’t they’ll say so on their website.
    • Not addressed to me.
    • Sent as an attachment.
    • Mass queries, whether I’m BCC’d or one of many who are CC’d.
    • Non-Query. I don’t recommend querying a book you already published (that means self-pub too). It’s unlikely an agent will be able to re-sell those for you (please refer here and here for more info). But, sometimes I get queries for published books and I legitimately don’t know if it’s a query or a press release. Those are the ones I ignore.

In those 5 categories, I received 367 queries.

In 2017, I also closed to queries over the summer. It’s something I hardly ever do so I made sure to give writers a month’s notice on my agency website, Twitter, and Publisher’s Marketplace. I updated all bios to make sure it gave the dates I’d be closed to queries. While closed, I received 203 queries that were deleted unread.

Finally, in 2017, I received 286 queries in genres/markets I do not represent. I’m not very strict about this one. If something just wasn’t a preferred sub-genre or not usually my thing, I did not count it. For “does not represent,” I meant only the genres/markets specified on the agency website. For me that means:

  • Nonfiction of any kind (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • Screenplays

OK! Now let’s get to the 100% awesome, definitely-want-to-read-love-and-answer queries. (Note: Remember these are queries only – aka “the slush pile.” Requests from conferences, contests, referrals, or previous Revise & Resubmits were not counted.)

January: Total: 441; Requests: 1

February: Total: 407; Requests: 7

March: Total: 393; Requests: 5

April: Total: 336; Requests: 8

May: Total: 371; Requests: 7

June: Total: 327; Requests: 9

July & August: CLOSED (but received 203 anyway)

September: Total: 333; Requests: 10 (as of 9/15)

October: Total: 410; Requests: 5

November: Total: 426; Requests: 6

December: Total: 329; Requests: N/A (I’m only caught up through mid-November as of today… I know, I know! I’ll update this post as I read/request more.)

Total Queries in 2017: 3,976

Total Requests from Queries: 58

Total R&Rs Requested in 2017: 16

*Last year someone asked me how many requests turn into Revise & Resubmits rather than flat-out rejections, so I did my best to keep track this year. Hoping to receive those revisions in 2018!*

Most Requested: Adult upmarket/literary focusing on female characters, complexities of relationships, and/or involving psychological suspense; YA contemporary from marginalized voices that aren’t issue books, but rather familiar stories with fresh perspectives; YA sci-fi with a fun ensemble cast and is not dystopian.

What I Wish I Saw More: Once again, literary/upper MG, preferably magical in some way but contemporary/realistic would be great too! Also, more YA horror, please.

Total New Clients Signed in 2017: 2 – Laura Pohl (YA sci-fi) and Alyson Greene (YA thriller).

*Note: Signing 2 or 3 new clients in a year isn’t that rare for me, but 2017 was a semi-intentional quiet year, so I’d love to see this number double or triple in 2018!

***

OK. So what does all of this mean? Well, it means I received more queries per month than in 2016, but since I closed in the middle of the year, I received fewer overall. It also means that of the 3,976 queries I received, 856 of them did not follow the rules, which makes the more realistic number of queries of I received in 2017 3,120.

If you’re one of those 3,120 queriers you should know how much agents appreciate writers like you! Even though we can’t take on everyone, and often can’t even take on a fraction of what we end up liking, we’re still grateful for a good query and a writer who does everything right. I hope you all end up finding agents, and if you’re among those I requested or asked for an R&R, I hope to hear from you again!

As always, remember that when agents open your query, we’re looking for reasons to request your manuscript. We don’t want to reject anything. We just have to sometimes. Rejections aren’t personal and they are very, very rarely because a book is “bad.” This is a business and our responses are business decisions. We’re still rooting for your successes even if they don’t end up being with us.

And with that… Goodbye forever, 2017! Bring on 2018.

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On Feeling Helpless

In November, I wrote about why I might go quiet from time to time (here). For the most part, everything I said then is still true. I still feel lost sometimes, and I still don’t know what will happen next. I’ve read the history books and I know where this could end, but despite everything, I’m still an optimist.

 

When I signed in to write this, I was sort of stunned that my last post was my end-of-year query stats from December. I have been quieter lately, but I didn’t realize how much. I could have sworn I posted something in May or June. I’ve signed in to write drafts of new posts and then never finished. They’re still sitting there. They’re mostly about writing tips and publishing, of course, and someday I’ll post them when it feels like that’s what I should be writing about again.

 

Mostly I’ve been feeling helpless. In January and February, it felt like everyone I knew was taking a sabbatical to become full-time activists. We marched, we donated, we wrote letters, we called our representatives, we attended rallies, and then little by little we realized we couldn’t keep up that pace forever. We focused on work again and things started to feel normal. We’d still press pause and hold our breath during crucial votes in Congress, and we’d still donate and call our representatives, but we could work again. Uninterrupted. We could tweet about books and self-promote and make jokes again. And it felt nice. Like maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all as long as we all stay engaged.

 

After what happened in Charlottesville, the culmination of all the things we feared would happen after he got sworn in, I feel helpless again. I’m having earnest conversations with friends about how to stop white supremacists. I’m watching centrist and apolitical friends slowly fall for the “both sides are bad” rhetoric. I don’t know what to do.

 

Switching gears slightly.

 

Almost every writer I follow on Twitter has been tentatively peeking out to whisper “is it OK if I promote my book?” I’ve watched giveaways come and go, cover reveals get a few Likes, and thought to myself “man, I hope the intended audience sees that.”  I try to promote my own clients too, and feel that same level of guilt. Is it OK to be self-serving right now? Is it OK to enjoy something and want to share that joy? Is it OK to do these things in hopes of getting sales and pre-orders? Because that’s why we do them, right? This is our job. We shouldn’t feel guilty about taking pride in our work and expecting income from it.

 

So, I’m giving every writer permission to tweet, blog, instagram, etc. to promote your books. Post happy things. But stay engaged and learn to read the room. If every person in your feed is focused on something else, maybe schedule that self-promo tweet for a time people will see it.

 

As for me, and going back to my own helplessness, I’m trying to take my own advice. I recently tweeted that I get easily overwhelmed when I can’t fix everything (hey, anxiety, hey!), but eventually I remember I can do something and that’s OK too. So, what can I do? Focus on what I can control.

 

What I want to do: Remove all Confederate statues and replace them with memorials to victims and/or monuments to people of color who served this country.

What I can do: Represent marginalized writers and diverse stories. Their books can be those monuments. Normalize different races, religions, gender identities, & sexual orientations by giving white/straight/cis readers familiar stories with unfamiliar perspectives. Embolden marginalized readers by showing them their stories matter, and that they are more than their struggle.

 

I can’t fight individual sexists, but I can help combat the patriarchy to prevent future sexism. I can’t change the minds of every white supremacist, but I can challenge white supremacy and sacrifice my white privilege to do it.

 

Sometimes what I do is going to feel so small and pointless that I’ll feel helpless all over again. Maybe that will happen to you too. But I’m putting this in writing as a way to move on, and serve as a reminder to anyone reading that tiny things add up. It’s also OK to do your own thing. You’re not alone.

 

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(sorry, couldn’t resist)

2016: A Year in Queries

Hi everyone!

I’m getting to this post a little later than I usually do, and part of that is because I am very behind on queries. It’s sort of easy to be all “ugh, 2016” about it, but that is kind of what happened. [Update 1/17: I am caught up on all 2016 queries and stats have been adjusted accordingly!]

The number of queries I get in a year vs. how many I request vs. how many authors I actually sign are always overwhelming to writers (so I’m told). Last year I decided to keep better track of what type of queries I receive so you can see what you’re really up against. Maybe it’ll be make you feel better; maybe it won’t. But, here’s one more layer to an agent’s inbox for you to consider:

In 2016, I received 756 queries in genres I do not represent. When I say “do not represent” I’m referring to the following categories only:

  • Nonfiction of any kind (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books for readers younger than 8
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • High/epic commercial fantasy
  • Screenplays

I wasn’t super strict about it, so I kept to what I’ve specifically listed online under “do not send.” Anything else, including sub-genres of fantasy or just “not my usual thing,” were still considered as regular queries and went toward the following tally. But, more on this later. For now, let’s get to the stats!

(As always, remember these are from unsolicited queries aka “the slush pile” – only. Requests from conferences, contests, referrals, or previous R&Rs were not counted.)

January: Total: 394; Requests: 9

February: Total: 403; Requests: 4

March: Total: 336; Requests: 4

April: Total: 324; Requests: 1 (Note: Most of the requests I made in April were from the DVpit Twitter contest and not from queries.)

May: Total: 340; Requests: 6

June: Total: 335; Requests: 6

July: Total: 484; Requests: 8

August: Total: 379; Requests: 2

September: Total: 300; Requests: 6

October: Total: 460; Requests: 7

November: Total: 307; Requests: 2

December: Total: 265; Requests: 5

Total Queries in 2016: 4,327

Total Requests from Queries: 60

Most Requested Genres: Adult upmarket/literary (usually tackling women’s issues in some way); YA contemporary (most often with a focus on marginalized voices and/or fun, high-concept character-driven stories); MG magical realism (the hardest genre to get right on multiple levels, but I’m a sucker for it).

What I Wish I Saw More: Literary MG (magical or contemporary/realistic); YA or Adult Sci-fi (not space opera or post-apocalyptic); Adult upmarket (see above; I want even more!)

Total New Clients Signed in 2016: 3 – RaeChell Garrett (YA contemporary, query); Andrew Munz (YA western, conference and R&R); Katie Henry (YA contemporary, query)

***

I answer most of the queries I receive, including those 756 that were in genres I didn’t represent. What I delete without answering are the following, even though they end up in my final tally before I open them:

  • Pre-queries – 32
    • Remember the query itself is what asks an agent for representation. Asking if you can ask is redundant and considered spam.
  • Not addressed to me – 226
    • When I get another agent’s name, I assume you meant to query them instead (sorry!). When no name is written at all, I still answer, but it’s kind of a red flag. Your query is like a job application. Don’t “To Whom It May Concern” the very agent it concerns. Author/agent relationships are a partnership. If you expect an agent to work for you, you need to put in effort to work with them too.
  • Mass queries – 123
    • When I’m obviously BCC’d on an email or I can see other agents CC’d on your query, I don’t think you’re serious about working with me and I delete your query.
  • Book already published – 137
    • Some of these were books published with small presses, but the majority of these queries were for self-published books. I started typing all of the caveats about this, and was forming a whole other blog post, so I’ll just refer you here and here, for starters.

With all that in mind:

Total queries I didn’t even answer/answered begrudgingly: 518

Added to the 756 queries in genres I don’t rep: 1,274

Now, the more realistic number of queries I received and answered and considered in 2016: 3,053

I know this is still a large number, but I hope it keeps things in perspective! Some other things to keep in mind:

  • I ask for R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit) a lot. Meaning, I’m not signing folks at the fastest rate, but I am actively working with authors with the intention of representing them in the future. If they end up signing with someone else in the meantime, that’s on me. My hope is that 2016 R&Rs come back to me in 2017 and become new clients!
  • Agents can’t take on everything. Of those 3,053 queries that did everything right, I still had to be super selective. I can’t sign 3,000 new clients every year. Realistically, I can handle about 5-10 new clients per year on top of my current client list. This means I end up passing on very good projects all the time! I’ve seen them go on to sell  – and do well – and it’s always bittersweet, but that’s business.
  • Do not take rejections personally! It’s always a business decision based on our time and expertise and skill set. Very rarely, if ever, is it because your book is “bad.” Agents are rooting for you even if we’re not the ones to help you find success.

***

There it is! Another year in queries. If there are any stats I didn’t include that were query-related, and you want to see them included in 2017, please comment below!

Finally, because I can usually only send form rejections, let me just say here: THANK YOU! It would be kind of awkward if I added a “PS” to rejections just to say “but you did everything right, yay!!!” So, consider this my token of appreciation.

See you in 2017, friends!

Shark Infested Waters

Welp.

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How was your week?

I have nothing to add about the election that hasn’t already been said. I am still grieving Hillary’s loss and it’s clouding my ability to fully process his win, but I’m getting there.

The last time a president won by the skin of the electoral college, I was 16 years old. I was used to feeling helpless about the world around me. I was politically aware as a teenager and I tried to be politically active in my 20s. I marched in a few protests against the Iraq War, donated to causes I believed in, and was outspoken among friends and family. And maybe that is being politically active, but it’s the activism of a young white woman who would never be truly effected by any failed efforts.

To many, this isn’t the New World Order. It’s been reality for quite a while. This isn’t comforting, but it is sobering. To me, it’s Kafkaesque. It’s a world I knew existed, but refused to believe could gain power and become legitimized. I’m more connected to other perspectives and worldviews than I’ve been in the past. Social media is a large part of this, but it’s also my own maturity and ability to interpret what I couldn’t see before. And I still feel so naive. There is so much I still need to learn and understand. This blog post is not going to be the thing that does that. It’s my bare minimum of moving forward and becoming a member of society again. I have clients to represent and work to do, but first, a few things.

1) Hi. I’m Sarah. I’m an introvert with sporadic bouts of depression and anxiety. Everyone grieves differently, but people like me often need to grieve alone – and silently. You may notice that a lot of people you follow on Twitter or Facebook have announced they’re “taking a social media break.” I’m one of those people. I promise, it’s not to cut ourselves off from reality or ignore those effected most. The word “introvert” became kind of trendy in the last couple years, and I’ve even had people ask me if “it’s really true” that we need to “recharge.” Yes, it is. And that’s just after a night of socializing with friends. What I think is less understood is that introverts don’t only need to recharge after a night out. Coupled with depression and anxiety, my own mind is sometimes beyond the restorative power of taking a yoga class or having a glass of wine. Sometimes I need to cut myself off so that the noise in my head doesn’t multiply any more than it will on its own.

2) I am an optimist. My first instinct is to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes they don’t deserve it and I end up disappointed. But, this is who I am and I like this part of my personality. Despite where we’re heading, I’m holding onto two things:

  • She won the popular vote. Even with low voter turnout, she won the popular vote. The majority of Americans did not sign up for his ideology. There is hope in this knowledge, and I am clinging to it.
  • The calls/texts I’ve received and made in the last week have reminded me of the good around me. Whether it’s in depth conversations about what happened, or just a random heart-emoji to say “I’m thinking about you,” I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have people in my life who are smart, engaged, and care.

3) Since I always try to relate my blog posts to writing and publishing… let me say this: Before Tuesday, my biggest mental occupation was that a few writers were disappointed in a comment I made about #ownvoices. (Remember when I said I have anxiety? Sometimes things like that keep me up at night too.) On Wednesday, I thought of how I had planned to elaborate after the election, but I became too numb to think. Then I thought, MY GOD WHAT DOES IT EVEN MATTER NOW ANYWAY!? But, it does matter. Maybe not on a grand scale, but here’s what #ownvoices means to me:

  • I made a comment that some Pitch Wars entries were using a loose definition of #ownvoices. This is because my own definition of #ownvoices has always been limited to societal marginalization. i.e. Other than stigmas and internal struggles, how does society treat you? Do you get paid less? Are you subject to discrimination in a way that puts your livelihood at stake? Are you more likely to be the target of violence?  In some of the Pitch Wars entries, it wasn’t always clear the main character was marginalized at all, even if the author pointed out how they, themselves, were. That’s because we live in a society where white is the default. Straight is the default. Able-bodied is the default. Status quo is the default. If a character isn’t that, but it’s not specified on the page, that default wins.
  • I’m usually vocal about wanting to see more #ownvoices queries in my inbox. My agent bio on the Bradford Lit website explicitly states I want to see books that challenge the status quo. I mean this now more than ever. The authors and projects on my list do this – sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in very subtle ways. I am proud of the list I have so far, and am SO ready to grow it from here. We can write and create and help sway the conversation through art. As small as I can feel, I do have a voice, and I’m in a position to raise other voices. Sometimes it might feel pointless, but I am going to take advantage of what I can.

4) I’ve dealt with feelings the same way since I was 14 years old – listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco. Whether it’s my crush not liking me back, my parents not understanding me, not knowing what I want to do with my life, or feeling like the world as I know it is about to become very, very scary – music and art and words have been there for me. I can’t offer any final words of inspiration because I truly don’t know what will happen. I still haven’t fully processed everything myself. But, I’ll leave you with Ani for now and hope we can continue this conversation another time when things look a little clearer.

I’ve had a lack of information
I’ve had a little revelation
I’m climbing up on the railing
Trying not to look down
I’m going to do my best swan dive
Into shark infested waters
I’m going to pull out my tampon
And start splashing around
‘Cause I don’t care if they eat me alive
I’ve got better things to do than survive

The Trope Police

Hello, friends! How’s the writing going?

Every so often on Twitter I offer some Query Trends, which are multiple instances of oddly specific things I see in my queries. Lately I’ve been thinking of trends on a larger scale. Not just genre trends, which come and go and come back again seemingly at random, but rather writing trends that I officially see as cliche.

So, what am I seeing that I’d love to see go away (or, at the very least, become severely lessened)?

 

Teenage girls who are super into photography.

Putting aside that the majority of “photography” is being done on iPhones with Snapchat and Instagram filters, let’s talk about this very impractical and expensive hobby that every teenage girl (and some boys!), regardless of background or economic status, seem to have. And not just a vague interest in photography – a full-on I will buy this sophisticated camera with various lenses and walk around with them all the time obsession. I see this in YA most often, but I also see it in Adult fiction with teen characters and, more recently, in the TV show Casual and the movie, Boyhood.

I’ll repeat how expensive of a hobby this is. It’s really expensive. These characters aren’t settling for point-and-shoot digital cameras. They have some serious equipment and in a lot of cases, these are characters specified as decidedly not rich. How are they paying for all of this?

Expenses aside, this hobby often feels forced. Has the “wannabe writer” cliche played out so photography was next “artsy” career path in line? It feels only mildly realistic and for as many teens legitimately interested in technique, I would guess that far more take selfies with friends at parties and call it a day.

We get it; your main character sees the world through a unique lens. But unless they’re Veronica Mars, and photography also comes in handy in their secret side job, consider that you’re possibly using a cliche for no real reason.

 

Powerful women as a technicality (or gimmick).

Regardless of what happens in November, I hope Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will help make a trope I hate finally go awayand that is the Female Character Falling Ass Backwards Into Power. My literal examples are all TV-related:

  • Veep, Male president resigns, female VP rises
  • Commander In Chief, Male president dies, female VP rises
  • Battlestar Gallactica, Everyone in the line of succession dies, female Sec. of Education becomes president (and is amazing, of course, but still)

Seriously, did no one think a woman could just, ya know, get elected? All by herself. Can’t we have even a fictional world where the people chose a woman voluntarily and not because a male option was dead? (But I digress…)

In not-so-literal examples, some trends I’ve noticed in submissions are:

  • Female athlete who learned everything from her dad, who may or may not be the coach of her team too.
  • Battle of the Sexes science fairs or class president elections.
  • Propelled into the plot because of a missing father.
  • Propelled into the plot because her father is the doctor/detective/scientist directly involved in the story.

In each of these stories, the girl is in the shadow of a more powerful man, and then – and only then – can she find her inner strength. It takes an “anything you can do, I can do better” approach to feminism that feels outdated.

I’d love to see a female athlete who trains with her Olympic medal winning mother. Or a lawyer (or future lawyer) who was inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Where’s my teenage Leslie Knope? Where’s my Katniss as an adult? Give me someone who isn’t just propelled into the plot, but drives the plot.

 

The “wild” best friend.

If Writer-Sarah may admit something up front – I’ve totally written the wild best friend story. Most of us who grew up to become writers probably had the wild best friend. I actually love the wild best friend. From Rayanne Graff in My So-Called Life to Lila in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. The complexities of friendship, in general, are always interesting to me. That said…

I’ve been noticing two different types, in published books and in even more manuscripts, usually dependent on gender:

  • Girls/Women: The friend who lives without fear of consequence. She says what she’s thinking, she flirts, she’s reckless, and she’s probably a little damaged. She pushes the main character to live life to the fullest and go beyond her comfort zone.
  • Boys/Men: The horndog. The slacker. He makes sexist comments, he gets high, he thinks the main character just needs to relax. He’s the id to the main character’s ego.

Both are cautionary tales. Both serve as windows and mirrors for the main character.

So if I love these types of stories so much, why am I sick of them?

Because they’re all starting to sound the same. In YA, it’s the best friend pulling the main character into a plot, teaching them things about life. In Adult, it’s the best friend who remains so in-name-only even though it’s obvious the main character outgrew them. They become a symbol for The Road Not Taken as opposed to being actual people.

Why else am I sick of these friends?

Because I am SO ready for the “wild best friend” to be our main character! They are clearly the more interesting friend. They deserve more than teaching the main character a valuable lesson, or making the main character feel better about their “boring” life. They deserve to have their own story told.

***

I’ve said before (here) that it’s OK if you’re not completely original. Premises are always going to sound similar; it’s how you interpret them and make them your own that counts. So, sure, a few tropes might slip in and no one will care if the rest of the book is amazing and unique. Cliches aren’t the worst thing in the world, but for a debut author they can be the difference between an offer and a rejection.

 

(OK, if the only thing holding me back in a manuscript is an overused character trope, I’ll probably opt for having a conversation with the author or asking for an R&R.)

 

Keep writing, friends! When your photography-loving main character goes to search for her missing photojournalist dad and takes her wild best friend with her, remember we’re still rooting for you! But maybe just tone it down a bit. 🙂

2015: A Year in Queries

It’s that time of year again… when writers see the end-of-year stats from agents and feel overwhelmed. I’m sure this post will be no different, though I will try to reassure you up front that these numbers are not as scary as they seem!

 

As always, keep in mind the following stats are from unsolicited queries only – a.k.a. “the slush pile.” Any requests made at conferences, from contests, referrals, or previous R&Rs were not part of the tally. So, without further ado, My Year in Queries!

 

January: Total: 439; Requests: 6

February: Total: 383; Requests: 5

March: Total: 383; Requests: 5

April: Total: 349; Requests: 4

May: Total: 287; Requests: 3

June: Total: 256; Requests: 6

July: Total: 282; Requests: 3

August: Total: 300; Requests: 9 (Woo!)

September: Total: 294; Requests: 3

October: Total: 298; Requests: 6

November: Total: 396; Requests: 2

December: Total (as of 12/28): 188; Requests: 3

 

Total Queries in 2015: 3,855

Total Requests from Queries: 55

Most Requested Genre: YA contemporary (28 out of 55)

Genres I Wish I Saw More: Literary MG and Upmarket/Contemporary Adult Fiction

Total New Clients from Queries: 6

Total New Clients in 2015: 7 – Lilly Barels (YA, query); Tracey Neithercot (YA, query); Dalanie Beach (YA, conference); Jackie Jacobi (YA, query); Evan James Roskos (MG/YA, query); Jan Saenz (Adult/WF, query); Miranda Suri (Adult/UF, query)

 

I’m especially proud of how many new clients I signed this year for a couple reasons:

  1. I signed more new clients this year than I have in any other year, and nearly doubled my client list, which was one of my goals for 2015. Hooray!
  2. 2015 was a bit of a year for me, both personally and professionally. Not that it was all bad. Some of it was incredibly, unbelievably wonderful. It was just a lot. So, it makes me happy that despite capital-L Life happening all over this year, I still found some amazing new talent to work with, and I cannot wait to bring their projects into 2016!

 

Some things to keep in mind, lest that Total Queries number is ringing in your head:

  • That total includes all the queries I receive in genres I don’t represent. In 2016, I’m going to be better about including that number as part of my stats, as I imagine it will make the total appear far less threatening.
  • I ask for R&Rs a lot. (Revise & Resubmit) That means I’m not signing quite as many clients at the fastest rate, but I am actively working with authors with the intention of offering representation. If I ask for an R&R, it means I really, really want to offer representation, but I need more confidence in the writing before I commit. My goal isn’t to make writers wait around for me, and if they sign with someone else instead of revising, that sucks for me. My hope, however, is that those 2015 R&Rs will turn into revisions I *love* and those authors will become 2016 clients!
  • Every query I receive gets tallied in these stats. Including, unfortunately, the few I delete without reading. I read and respond to 99.9% of my queries, but sometimes queries are so off base that there are simply no words. These include:
    • Mass queries. If I’m obviously BCC’d, or one of 100 agents CC’d on a query, I’m not going to bother responding.
    • Pre-queries. These are the email equivalents of someone asking, “Can I ask you a question?” The query itself IS a question, so just ask!
    • Queries sent as attachment. No, complete stranger, I will not open that unsolicited attachment or click on that weird link.
    • Queries addressed to someone else. Copy & paste fails happen, but I will assume you did not mean to query me, sorry.
    • The “Is This a Query?” Query. If you’re querying a self-published novel, make sure you’re including sales figures and what you hope an agent will add to your writing career. Do not just email agents a publicity sheet about your self-published novel. If a book has a cover and blurbs, I assume it’s already published and that your “query” is marketing spam.
  • Even if I represent the genre, the query looks great, and the project has potential, I simply can’t take on everything. I keep my list small so I can devote my time equally to all of my clients who need it. This means I have to pass on very good projects and hope they land with other amazing agents instead. Do not take it personally if you get a rejection. It’s always a business decision based on our time and expertise and skill set, and is rarely because your book is “bad.” Agents want you to succeed even if we, personally, can’t be the ones to take on your projects.

 

If you received a form rejection, personalized rejection, or any sort of response from me on your query, it means you did everything right! Be proud of that, and even though agents can’t always send individual Thank You notes, consider this a huge THANK YOU for following guidelines and making the submissions process run smoothly! We appreciate you.

 

Now go enjoy your holidays, take a break from the book world for a bit, and we’ll see you in 2016!!

 happy-new-year-champagne[1]

Agents, Schmagents, and Pink Flags

Hi there.

I’m not sure if you saw the #SchmagentRedFlags hashtag on Twitter this week, but if you’re a writer who is agented or querying agents, you should check it out. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “schmagent” is short-hand for agents who are not very legit or respected in the industry. I wrote about them a while back in this post: Shady Business.

The hashtag shared some good insights and tips to new writers. But then I got involved in a conversation that made me pause. An agent – a legit, respected agent (not a schmagent) – said if an agency hasn’t done a deal with every Big 5 publisher, they aren’t legit. I agreed and disagreed with this, but it didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out why. Twitter was not going to be the right venue for me to say things without thinking first, so I left it alone.

My initial response was that some agencies are just super small and niche, but I kept circling back to new agents (which are not the same as schmagents, as you’ll see in my older post linked above!). So, I conceded her point and let it go because I did agree with her. Mostly, anyway. But I kept thinking about it after. Do agents need to have an established boilerplate with every Big 5 publisher in order to be considered legit? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed outdated to me.

It is 100% an advantage for an agent to have established relationships with as many bona fide publishers as possible, especially the Big 5 (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster). If you’re a writer who gets an offer of representation, you should ask that agent who they have established relationships with and where they’ve sold projects similar to yours. If they don’t mention the major players at all, that might be a problem.

But, not every agency is the same, nor are the needs of all writers the same. Such as:

A 10-year-old agency specializes in only children’s literature. They’re known for several award-winning books and a few bestselling authors through publishers like Scholastic, Candlewick, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and have had success with a few imprints at Big 5 publishers. But, for whatever reason, they have never sold a book to Hachette. Maybe they got close, but never got an offer from them. Maybe they went with another publisher during an auction. In any case, after 10 years, they still don’t have a boilerplate with one of the Big 5. Are they considered a schmagent? I would hope not, and I would hope that a children’s book writer getting an offer from an agent with that agency would jump on the opportunity.

A similarly hypothetical agency could be one that’s been around for about 5 years and focuses on romance, and maybe some erotica and NA too. In only a short period of time, they’ve established important relationships with places like Harlequin and Kensington and are known for a few successful series within those genres. They might also find they work with mostly digital publishers these days because that’s where the market has shifted. Therefore, they might not really have had a need to sell to all 5 major publishers. A good agent follows the market they’re trying to sell to. They keep up with industry trends. Agents need to be open and adaptable, and if certain genres aren’t as big in print anymore, we need to adjust accordingly.

One last example I was thinking about are the quiet literary novels. Not Franzen or the big splashy Great American Novelist literary novels. I mean the ones that get critical acclaim and are brilliantly written, but the average reader probably hasn’t heard of them, nor do they care. You see these novels with places like Graywolf Press, Melville House, National Book Award committee discussions, and, well, these novels, basically. There are a few dedicated and amazing imprints with Big 5 publishers who still seek quiet literary fiction. They publish it well and put marketing dollars behind them, but an agent can’t rely on a few imprints to sell a book and then call it a day if that handful of editors pass on it. Sometimes books like this are a labor of love, and writers should want an agent who knows how to effectively sell their work even if it isn’t a 6-figure deal with Penguin Random House every single time.

So, those were my larger-than-Twitter thoughts about this and I’d be curious what others think in the comments. Mostly, I just think the industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and the fact that we say The Big Five instead of the The Big Six should be evidence that agents can and should diversify their submission lists and establish new relationships in the industry.

Like I said before, a relationship with the major players is still a key component to being a good agent. But maybe it’s not everything after all. Maybe it’s not a red flag so much as a pink flag. Maybe in another five years we’ll have The Big Four, and even if we end up with The Big Three it won’t mean publishing is dying or dead or any other nonsense like that. It just means everyone involved needs to look outside the “model” and realize it might not exist anymore, so what’s next?