Answering Some Questions
I have an agent and a novel currently out on submission. The agent asked if I had anything for her to look at. I sent her another manuscript. She sent a two word rejection: “Not unique.” This tells me she didn’t read it because it has a number of unique plot twists. My question is, as a client aren’t I entitled to a full read, not just a quick flip through the first few pages? Also, shouldn’t she have read enough to offer suggestions?
1. All agents are different, so maybe she’s not the type who gives editorial input.
2. An agent generally only needs a few minutes to determine if they like a project. For a current client, yes, they probably should spend a little more time. If they like it, they’ll continue reading. I wouldn’t say you’re “entitled to a full read” unless your project is good enough that a full read is merited.
3. If she said it’s not unique, maybe she’s right. The bigger question is whether you trust her judgment.
4. Just because your book has “a number of unique plot twists” doesn’t mean the book itself is unique. If you didn’t grab the reader in the first few pages, you have a problem.
5. Your agent may be short on the interpersonal skills, based on the two word rejection. But she may just be too busy selling books to spend extra time on books that she can’t sell. Bottom line, you will have to decide if she’s the agent for you. You may not click with her style-wise, but try to determine if she sells books and if she knows what she’s doing.
6. Personally, I don’t work in the same way your agent does. If someone is my client, I want to help them develop their writing career, so I’m not going to simply send a 2-word rejection, and it doesn’t seem like the way to treat a client. BUT, that’s just my style. An agent’s style doesn’t say anything about the relative success or effectiveness of their author representation.
I noticed that you, like a lot of agents, do not represent Christian fantasy or sci-fi. Why? I read it and so do all of my friends. Also, it seems to me that when a sci-fi/fantasy book makes it to market, it does well. So, I am confused.
1. I don’t represent it because I don’t usually enjoy reading it. Like I’ve explained before, it’s crucial for me that I genuinely stand behind the books I represent. I can’t fake it. I’ve gotta like what I represent. Fantasy is just not my thing.
2. If you and all your friends love fantasy/sci-fi, maybe some of you should consider becoming literary agents!
3. Christian publishers backed away from fantasy/sci-fi because it wasn’t selling as well as their core genres such as historicals and romance. But they are looking at it again, in a limited way.
4. I actually do have one fantasy author on my client list; and as time goes by, I may change my stance and include more. But for now, please don’t send me those queries!
Do you ever pass on something you like (not love) just because you have so much in your inbox? If you had less coming in, would you be more likely to work with a “like”? Do you have a slow time when you receive fewer queries?
Of course, it’s a numbers game sometimes. The more submissions I get, the more choosy I can afford to be. In last month’s 600 submissions, I probably liked at least a quarter of them. But I really can’t sell “like” these days. Publishers are getting so many submissions that they, too, are looking for projects they can “love.” If I had fewer projects coming in (I mean A LOT fewer) then it’s possible the bar might drop, but just a little. As far as whether there is a “slow” time… I haven’t been doing this long enough to know. My experience has been a steady rise in the number of monthly queries.
When you’ve exhausted every avenue in CBA, do you ever go over to the general market?
Whether we approach the general market is not usually determined by whether we’ve “exhausted” CBA. I normally make a plan from the beginning, deciding whether to target CBA, ABA, or both. The only time we go to ABA after “exhausting” CBA is if my responses from CBA publishers indicate a clear reason it’s not right for CBA, and if the project truly does lend itself to ABA. Selling in the general market is not a last resort, it’s part of a strategy.
I would love wisdom on children’s books. It seems most agents don’t represent children’s books at all. Thoughts and advice, please!
Many agents don’t represent children’s because it’s a specialized market. Each of us has our areas of expertise, and some agents specialize in children’s books while others don’t. Over time we may develop more and more knowledge in certain areas and be able to expand our repertoire of genres we represent. (I am working on expanding my knowledge of fantasy/sci fi as well as children’s.)
Children’s books are notoriously difficult to sell because (1) too many people are writing them, and (2) many writers think they’re easy to write, which isn’t true. It’s difficult to write a good one; so most submissions aren’t really very good. That’s another reason many agents don’t represent children’s.
Andrea Brown is one of the most successful and well-known literary agents in the country, and her agency represents children’s books exclusively. Here is an excerpt from an interview with her:
Most new writers think it’s easy to write for children, but it’s not. You have to get in a beginning, middle and end, tell a great story, write well, not be condescending—all in a few pages. Also, the best children’s book writers are not people who have kids, but people who write from the child within themselves. Most new writers are writing material that would have sold for kids of the 80’s, but not for kids of the 21st century. The voice sounds dated or too adult. You have to write challenging material for the kids of the next century. They are smart and savvy. They won’t bother with books that don’t excite them. I hate to sound negative, but most people are wasting their time and postage trying to get published. They world doesn’t need another rhyming tooth fairy story or alphabet book.
I wonder how many times JK Rowlings was rejected? You never know…..
Last year my daughter did a report on JK Rowlings. According to her research, Ms. Rowlings never got rejected because she sent out ONE manuscript to ONE carefully selected agent. That was all it took. Great writing + page turning story + doing your homework = history.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.