Hello All. I seem to be moving back and forth between The Reluctant Spy and Three Roads Diverged. Two weeks ago I posted the pitch of the former; last week I wrote about research and background for the latter.
So this week it’s time to return to that reluctant first-century spy and talk about the process of introducing him to literary agents in the hope of capturing the interest of at least one of them.
Much goes into any agent’s decision to represent someone’s writing. Here are four questions, among many, that she might ask herself when reading a query letter and sample pages of a manuscript:
1. Does this author’s voice and writing style capture a reader’s attention?
2. Can the characters and the plotting hold onto that attention for the length of a novel?
3. Is the market place interested in this particular genre?
4. Among all the novels for this genre, how does this manuscript differ? That is, does it have anything new to offer?
A table laden with novels in a German bookstore. (Wikipedia)
Finally, the agent has to rack her brain to determine if she knows an editor or several editors who are looking for a new approach to the genre, an outstanding protagonist who differs from others in that genre, or a theme that is relevant to today’s readers.
Back in November I sent e-query letters for The Reluctant Spy to twenty-four agents. In today’s world, most agents simply ignore a query that holds no interest for them. However, a few, even though they don’t want to represent the work, will reply. Because of that, authors treasure those rejection letters. Early last December, four agents responded to my e-query.
One said, “The story line isn’t fully resonating with me.”
Another, to whom I’d sent ten pages as well as the query, was more expansive: “Though I did enjoy reading the first bit of your novel, unfortunately I was not in love with it. Because I won’t be able to give your novel the support and enthusiasm it deserves, I don’t feel that I am the best agent to represent you at this time.”
The third agent sent what I think was a form letter: “We have evaluated your materials and regrettably, your project is not a right fit for our agency. We currently have a very full clientele and must be highly selective about the new projects we pursue.”
The final e-response was also a form letter—one that tried not to douse the hopes of a writer: “Thanks for your query. Unfortunately, I do not feel that I could be the best advocate for your work. Please keep in mind that mine is a subjective business, and an idea or story to which one agent does not respond may well be met with great enthusiasm by another, and I encourage you to continue writing to agents. Hopefully you will find someone who will get behind you and your work with the conviction necessary in the current market.”
A three-story bookstore in Los Angeles, California. (Wikipedia)
Three months have passed since I received those responses. In the interim, I’ve polished the manuscript, deleting 9,000 words. With your help, I’ve developed a pitch to use in the first three or four paragraphs of the e-query. Now I must begin the task of finding agents who represent historical novels.
In my next posting, I hope to share with you how I’m going about that. I will also post the generic query I’ve devised from your comments on my posting of February 17. Of course, I’ll tailor the generic information to fit each agent I query. I hope to explain “tailoring” also. Peace.