Tag Archives: querying

Why Did You Pass On My Query?

no-thank-you.jpgI finally finally made a dent in the queries that hit my inbox in January, when I was open to submissions for a short window of time. It is intense. There are a lot. I’m still getting through them, and reading some full manuscript requests as well. And I still have to get through many of the Open Call to Muslim Writers queries. I don’t have the time, sadly, to go into specifics of why I’m passing on individual manuscripts. It would take so much time to do that. My first priority is taking care of the clients I already have. After that I have room in my brain and my day for looking for new clients.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about near misses… about manuscripts that I almost want to represent. Sometimes I pass on a project that seems like it would be perfect for me. Maybe it’s poignant and odd and funny and smart. Maybe it’s super queer. Maybe it’s beautiful. Maybe it’s ridiculous in just the right way. And it must must must be well written. But then I pass anyway.

I can hear you, right now.  You’re saying, “Oh my God! Why?! Why would you do that?! Is it my manuscript you’re talking about? I want an agent!!!!” Just sit down. You’ll be ok. Listen to me. Take a breath.

Here’s how it is: I already have clients. I love my clients. I work really hard for my clients. I have a small client list because I know that’s what I can handle. My clients are at many different stages of their writing careers. Some of them have been with me for years and we haven’t sold anything yet. I say yet because I’m pretty sure we will. They are talented writers. I’ll stick by them if they stick by me.

But I do take on new clients. What makes me do it? What has me make room for them, squeeze another writer in? Well, when I read a manuscript that feels essential, like I must have this. Must! When I feel like I’d fight other agents (I hate fighting other agents). When I’ll put everything aside for it (at least for a moment). When reading it sets up a humming in my body. When I start thinking about editors I’d like to send it to. That’s when I make an offer of representation.

So to answer the question, “Why did you pass on my query?” That’s why. Because that’s what I’m looking for and it’s not easy to find. It’s why I pass on most things, and why I don’t often ask to see full manuscripts. Because if I don’t feel like there’s a magical imperative to me having it? Then I’m not the right agent for you. And I know that’s disappointing, but that’s the truth.

 

 

 

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Revise & Resubmit: What’s Up With That?

imgresSo you finally get a response for one of the gazillion queries you’ve sent to all those perfect-for-you agents that’s not a “thanks but it’s not for me” and they want you to revise and resubmit. “What?! What does that even mean?” you might ask. Or, you might huffily think, “Why would I do a revision if they’re not even offering me representation?!” Or, perhaps you’re thinking, “I’ll do anything! I’ll change the whole thing if only they’ll represent me!” Or maybe your response is more like, “WTF is that crazy person thinking? They totally didn’t get what I was going for in this manuscript.” Or something else. What I’d like to do here is explain why an agent might ask you to revise and resubmit (or at least why I do).

I get so many queries every single day that my inbox is basically always overflowing. I have my intern (Hi Kimberly!) go through the queries to kindly decline the things that she knows I don’t want (like adult fiction, memoirs, romance, etc…). When we find something that I would be interested in, she’ll read the first 20 pages of a manuscript to gauge whether the writing is up to the standards of what I’m looking for. Then I will. If I’m still interested, we’ll request the full manuscript. Then I have her read it and write a reader report. Then I decide whether I’m going to take my time to read the full manuscript, too. When I do read a full manuscript, I always go in with my fingers crossed that it’s fabulous, with my eyes and ears open for things that aren’t working. And then one of three things happens…

I decline. “Thank you for your submission. It’s really just not for me” because on further reading I realize it’s really just not for me. Or “Thank you for your submission. I’m afraid the writing isn’t where I’d need it to be to make an offer of representation,” because it’s not, and for whatever reason (and there are many) I don’t feel like I’m right for the project.

I gather more information. Because sometimes I’m interested in the manuscript but I just want more information about you as an author before making a decision about offering representation. I usually want to know things like if you have other manuscripts already written (especially with picture books);  if you’ve been agented before; if you’ve submitted your manuscripts to publishers yourself; if you’ve ever self published anything. Things like that. After gathering more information, I might then ask for a phone call if I’m still interested.

I ask for a revise/resubmit. This might happen because…

  • love your story but I think it still needs more work.
  • I want to see if you know how to revise before committing to representing you.
  • There are some major plot problems but your writing is so terrific that I don’t want to just pass.

Now, when I request a revise/resubmit I’ll usually explain what I think needs work. If it’s just a general “the writing isn’t good enough yet” that means that I really dig your plot but you need to up the ante on the writing. Easier said than done, I know.

So what should you do? Well… it kind of depends upon what your situation is. Of course first you should thank the agent and let them know that if you decide to revise you’d be happy to resubmit to them.

  • If your manuscript is out on submission to other places you might not be inclined to do a big revision until you’ve heard back from the other places. I mean, what if one of the other agents makes you an offer?
  • That being said, if what the revise/resubmit is asking for isn’t a big revision, then what do you have to lose?
  • What if the agent didn’t get what you were going for and is asking you to revise it to make it something you’re not interested in writing? I say don’t do it. (But that’s just my opinion.) I personally don’t think writers should write to get published. I think writers should write what they want and if it gets published? Bonus! I don’t think gutting something just so you can sell it is a good career move.
  • But if you’re kind of hearing the same thing from all the places you’ve submitted? I say do it! Why not? Even if it’s a major revision, if you can get what the agent is suggesting and you think it makes sense and will make your manuscript stronger, I say go for it.

Let me tell you a story… When I worked for another agent, reading queries, we received a query from a middle grade author who I’d chatted with on Twitter. She was smart and was very funny and I could see the glimmer of something really special  in her writing. I gave her a lot of feedback on her manuscript but passed for the agent I was reading for. Two years later, when I just started being a baby agent myself, she queried me with the same manuscript. She’d totally re-written it, based on the feedback I’d given her. Although I felt it still needed work, I took her on as a client. You see, what I had found out about her from the revise/resubmit was that a. she really was a great writer, b. she could revise the shit out of her work, c. she was easy to work with and took direction well.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to post questions about revising and resubmitting in the comments below.

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Three Reasons I Reject Queries

detective21. Submissions for genres I don’t represent

I know you think I’m cool (I’m really not). Or you read something about me that makes you think I’d be the perfect person to have as an agent. But the truth is that if I don’t read and represent the kind of book that you wrote, I’m just going to reject your query. I’m not really sorry about that either. You see, when you have an agent you want them to totally love your work, to get it, to be able to make editorial suggestions to you because you’re on the same page and to go to the ends of the earth to sell it. When someone sends me a thriller, a horror story, paranormal romance, a mystery, I just want to get on a bus, go to their house and shake them! Look on my agency website or this blog to see what I’m looking for! Why can’t you do that? Ok, so I said I might like a cozy mystery, if it was really quirky. Glomming onto the word mystery and sending me your mystery manuscript, when it’s neither quirky nor cozy is just being a dumb-ass.

2. Not knowing who I am

I know I’m not famous. I know I’m new to this agent game. I know it’s scary to send your work out into the world to be read by someone you don’t know. But you need to at least know my friggin’ name. If you send me a query letter that starts out, “Dear Agent,” “To whom it may concern,” or even worse, just begins by blabbering at me with no salutation at all, I just don’t start out inclined to read whatever’s coming next. Of course the worst thing you can do is open your query letter with, “Dear Michelle.” Or anyone else’s name that isn’t mine. Seriously, people.

3. Being too weird or too familiar

A query letter is a business letter. I’m kind of weird myself, so I have a little bit of room for weirdness. You can be creative in a business letter. But when I get weird queries or ones that I have to take a deep breath and focus focus focus on to understand what they are even saying, I invariably just reject them. I don’t have time for this! I have a gazillion other queries to read! And you know what? I’m not your friend. You don’t know me, no matter what you might have read about me. We might get to be friendly, if I represent you. But for now, just write your query like you’re writing to an insurance company trying to get them to cover something they don’t usually cover. You wouldn’t be cutesy. You wouldn’t start rambling about unrelated things. If you were smart, you wouldn’t try to bully them or threaten them either, because that never works. (You’d be surprised at some of the nasty follow-up e-mails I’ve gotten after I’ve politely rejected someone’s manuscript. And then the writer still thinks I might represent them!)

I’m in this business because I love books and reading, writing and working with writers… I’m not your friend or the enemy and I’m also not a plumber you’re trying to hire. Writers, please do your homework before sending out queries and then be professional and polite.

(This blog post was originally posted here in 2011, but is still absolutely relevant and true.)

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