Posts Tagged ‘literary agents’

I’m hunting and gathering for round two.  I have to get the right envelopes and target different agents than in the first round, now that I’ve settled into a genre (I even learned that my manuscript, as a sub-genre, is science fantasy.  Who knew?).  I have also noticed something interesting.  A large proportion of agents who are seeking science fiction do not take e-mail queries.




Maybe they have learned a little from what the genre has to offer on the future, and maybe they know something about e-mail the rest of us don’t.  Honestly, when you read an article about humanizing artificial intelligence, or creating fish that glow in the dark, don’t you wonder if those scientists ever actually finish reading the books?


We all know that it doesn’t turn out well, usually.  Perhaps those agents, more than anyone else, have taken that to heart.


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I can see it glittering in the very near distance, my finished query.  It is now worlds different from the previous one, much more voice than before (of course anything over zero is an improvement), and I’m pretty sure it shows, not tells.  My protagonist was definitely hovering around during the creation of it, unlike the first version, when she was off doing whatever she’s off doing while I’m not writing about her (come on, you know that characters have lives during the down time.  And if you don’t, you should read The Eyre Affair and its progeny).


Every source I’ve read about writing a query talks about how hard it is.  They were not kidding.  For me, writing the novel was a fun adventure, intense, yes, but because I didn’t know what was going to happen while I was writing it, it was somewhat like reading a book for the first time.  I loved the surprise of thinking that it was going to go one way, and the characters and the story telling me that it wasn’t.  I enjoyed that moment when I’d put something in, puzzle at it for a second while feeling compelled to leave it, only to discover why it was there pages and pages later.   Or in some cases, after the first revision, when I could see the pieces all together but they didn’t exactly fit. 


Queries have none of that.   Worse, they have almost no space in which to convey the whole sense of the book, as well as a lack of access to the tools (point of view, misdirection, foreshadowing) which really add depth to the story.  Basically, you get a template and are told to make it unique.  That you need to write a “business letter” with voice. 


No wonder writers hate them. 


You’ve just had the wonderful expansiveness of hundreds of pages to tell a story, and now you get to retell it in half of one percent of the words.  Sounds a little like something I once heard in a song somewhere about a camel and an eye of a needle.


I’m closing in, though.  Phew.

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Ok, so I haven’t touched my query yet.  Well, that’s not entirely true, I attempted a new first paragraph.  It’s awful.


Instead I tried to find an agent interested in lighthearted books, because my work of genius is lighthearted.  It looks like they are all interested in literary broccoli.  It’s good for you, but who enjoys it?  Yes, that’s a bad example, I happen to love broccoli, but you know what I mean, and my mother loathes it, so she especially knows what I mean.


No one dies on the first page of my manuscript.  No one is mangled, emotionally or physically.  It’s just a light escape, something fun to take a person away from his/her job, life, problems for a little bit.  Who wouldn’t want that?


Literary agents, apparently.  Though I am certain that you are out there somewhere, O Agent my Agent, a person who likes to get away, if only through the pages of someone else’s adventure.

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It goes without saying that my manuscript is brilliant.  Fresh, fun, funny.  Brilliant.  Like I said, it goes without saying.  So after rave reviews from all I press-ganged into reading it, I set about researching agents and writing my query.  And writing.  And writing.  I honed it until it was sleek as a seal, certain it would glitter alluringly among the far-less fresh, fun and funny masses.  I formatted my manuscript to have it at the ready when the calls came pouring in.  I scoured every online reference to the selected, preliminary agents, reading the “don’ts” as though they lead to the key to the divine hereafter.  For all I know they will.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009.


With a pounding heart, I paste my three carefully crafted and personalized queries into three separate e-mails (NEVER send a mass-distributed e-mail), taking care to include a specific reason I chose that agent (ALWAYS tell them why you are querying them).  I use the title Mr./Ms. AgentLastName (NEVER address the agent by their first name, or much worse, Dear Agent), and first send them to myself to make sure that they don’t look strange.  Finally, I let them go into the cyberverse and nearly suffer cardiac arrest every time the phone rings the rest of the day.  Which it does.  A lot.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009.


I have a continuation of the conversation I had with my father the night before.  “You don’t want quick replies,” he says, “quick replies are bad.”


“You’re probably right,” I say, as he’s almost nearly always right.


Wednesday, February 25, 9:39 a.m.


There it is, in my mailbox.  RE: Query.  I don’t even take the time to take a breath, I just open it.  It’s two lines, which can’t be good.


“Dear MyFirstName,” it says.  “I’m Agent1’s assistant,” and the gist is an exceedingly polite but firm no thanks.  The use of my first name is a bit bold, I think, considering I have never met either Agent1 or Agent1’s Assistant and I used the formal to address Agent1, but I cut the assistant some slack, perhaps s/he couldn’t judge my gender from my name.  At least that part was personalized, even if the form rejection was likely pasted in.


Obviously there is something wrong with Agent1.  Anyone with sense would want to read the manuscript after that seal-y sleek query.


Wednesday, February 25, 2:40 p.m.


I get my second RE: Query e-mail.  Uh-oh.  My Dad was so right.


“Dear Author,” it begins, and I long for the days (or hours, really) when I was “Dear MyFirstName.”  Another polite, if even less personal, no.


Obviously, there is something wrong with my query.  Sorry query.  Tomorrow I will dismantle you and see if there are any salvageable parts.

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