Sunday, March 3, 2013

E-Queries to Literary Agents


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.  

18 comments:

  1. It takes great intestinal fortitude to go through this...

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    1. Dear Fishducky, either fortitude or stupidity!!!!! I'm not sure which! Peace.

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  2. I agree with fishducky in that it really takes great determination to continue on with this process, even though you have such great pieces to offer. I'm proud of you, my friend, and I fully believe you will hit upon the right agent and then editor who will see these novels all the way through.

    This is a real education to me in how this whole process works, too. Thank you!

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    1. Dear Shelly, I do so hope that an agent will finally want to represent my work--or at least "The Reluctant Spy." I've been trying to get an agent for 20 years and just had no luck. Or perhaps just had the square peg when a round one was needed!

      I'm glad that you are enjoying these postings. I'm enjoying sharing the "angst" with all of you. Peace.

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  3. You go, girl. I think it's nice that you've received some responses even if they are form letters. I rarely receive a response when I apply for a job, but I realize that thousands of people are applying for the same jobs.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, I need to remember that agents also get all kinds of e-queries every day. I'll put what I know about that in a post soon. Peace.

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  4. The fact that they responded means they saw something. Don't give up.

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    1. Dear Arleen, thank you for reminding me of this. It's true but I forget. Peace.

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  5. I so hope that soon an agent falls in love with your work - as we have, and takes it up with all of his/her energy.

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    1. Dear EC, oh, I'm hoping right along with you. It's a long shot in today's market to get an agent to represent my work/writing, but as Mom used to say to me, "Nothing ventured; nothing gained." That's a real motto for my writing life! Peace.

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  6. I am really looking forward to sharing this process with you. I really wish you success with The Reluctant Spy -- I already want to read it.

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    1. Dear Broad, thank you for being interested in this process. There's so much to share about it. The thing is, I've never been successful in finding an agent, even though I've tried for twenty years. I don't know whether the problem is my query letter or my subject matter or what. Maybe I'll never know but I simply have to keep trying! That's part of being who I am. As I replied to EC's comment, "Nothing ventured; nothing gained!" Peace.

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  7. Dee,
    I hoping for the very best :)

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    1. Dear Elisa, thank you so much. Your support means a great deal to me. Peace.

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  8. I would make sure to include Australia, Canada and UK in your search because interest is varied in those places. her's hoping you get your chance to fulfil that dream of another opus published.

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    1. Dear Heidrun, thanks so much for this suggestion. I'll do some research to see how I might do this. Peace.

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  9. Hi Dee, I like the way you keep a positive attitude about getting rejection letters. Never give up ~:)

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    1. Dear Pam, I can mostly stay positive because I've come to understand that getting an agent is such a long-shot---sort of like playing the Powerball lottery! Peace.

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