Thursday, April 09, 2009

My Take On Agents

On Sunday, I did a post on query faux pas, mistakes writers make when submitting a query letter. I included the statement:
. . . it's not a great idea to offer your own review of your unsold manuscript. Don't make grandiose promises that "every reader will love this novel" or "my manuscript is a guaranteed best-seller."
On Thursday, Nathan Bransford directed readers of his blog to a post by Rachelle Gardner here, "Your Queries Say a Lot About You."

Among the things Rachelle says is:
Once they've [the writer] over-sold themselves in the query, I'm less likely to want to work with them. Why?

When a writer oversells themselves in the letter, it gives me an idea of their expectations . . . If their expectations aren't met, it's somehow going to be my fault. If they're thinking "blockbuster bestseller" and their book does anything less than #1 on the NYT list, they're going to be unhappy.
In reading Rachelle's post, I was reminded yet again of the very tough job that agents have.

Don't believe me? Think about taking a job where:
  • You don't eat until you make a sale. Oh, yeah, I can already hear the salespeople in the audience saying, "Hey, I live on commissions, too." But . . . do you have to first identify the product that you will be selling, and then do you have to bear all the up-front costs of selling that product without knowing whether it will ever bring in a dime?
  • Let's remember that agent Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants reported in 2008 she read on average 673 queries a week, looking for the 21 books she actually sold that year (remembering that some of those books probably included second or third books from clients) . Think of the enormous amount of time spent in reading 96 queries each and every day . . . before you can even go out and try to sell it.
  • Rachelle's post reminds us that agents have to be amateur psychologists, able to assess the potential client. Is this going to be a demanding prima donna, or an obsessive "I won't change a word of my magnum opus" type?
  • Writers sometimes forget that agents face rejection, too. An agent falls in love with a manuscript, takes on the writer as a client and then begins querying publishers. While beginning writers are devastated by rejection, that rejection does not usually mean they might not be able to pay the light bill for the month. This is because most writers have another career that they are working at while they wait to sell their books. Agents--on the other hand--have only their career as agents. For them, rejection means no dollars coming in. And at the same time, they have to move on to the next publisher and try to sell that same manuscript that was just rejected. They cannot allow themselves to wallow in self-pity.

Frankly, I did not buy into the whole angst thing over #queryfail recently. When I was looking for an agent, I was lucky enough to find Miss Snark's blog. Every time she reported on what was wrong with a query, I learned something. She was tough, but fair. She taught me to "man up" and "quityerbellyachin."

Publishing is not a business for wimps--either agents or writers. If you can't stand the heat, go into a less tough business. Maybe competitive race car driving or wrestling.


Maria G. Swan said...

Maya, this is great advice. Maria G.

Ben said...

I blogged on the same thing. The query letter entry really made me evaluate what I wanted from an agent. Fortunately, my needs were pretty simple: "Get it published."

It astounds me that so many authors fail to get that this is the FIRST piece of their writing an agent sees: it's your application, resume and interview all wrapped up in one page. Why do people not put their very best stuff on that one page?