Given that Conflux is apparently this weekend (yikes, where did the month go?), it seems portentous to have stumbled across this list of Hot Tips for Writers At Conferences…
For [manuscript] submissions, I’m pretty certain that writers assume that if the writing is good, an agent is going to be interested in offering representation to the author.
No doubt–good writing is essential but as an agent, I’ve passed on any number of submissions that exhibited some stellar writing. Why? Doesn’t talent trump all? Nope.
The #1 reason I pass on manuscripts with good writing is because of a lack of pacing.
Kristin Nelson on speed.
Incidentally, “pacing” is almost always code for a story being too slow, not too fast.
So why is it important for an agent to be financially stable in both her business life and her personal life? Because you don’t want your agent making fast, split-second decisions about your career, what deals you should accept or not accept, based on the fact that she might really need her 15% commission that month to pay her bills—either for personal debt or for the agency. Same is true when the contract comes in. You don’t really want an agent who will “rush” through a deal-points negotiation or a contract just to get it signed so that she can receive her commission faster.
–Kristin Nelson on finances.
Pitch sessions, which are essentially in-person query letters, soundlike legitimately the most awful things ever. Also I have this weird thing where I don’t like talking about my novels in person–publishing business, fine, my own work, not so much–so… yeah. No thanks.
And honestly, I can’t imagine agents and editors love them, either. It’s like slush reading except with the added emotional labour of having to smile and nod the entire time, rather than just being able to hit delete when it’s obvious within the first sentence the person in front of you is someone with whom you’d never, ever want to work.1
Anywhere, the linked article is literary agent Jessica Faust talking about how to make pitch sessions slightly less horrible, which can basically be summed up as, “Use them as professional meet-and-greets, rather than an actual pitch pitch session (because you can do that later by email anyway).”
- Agents do meet/call their potential clients, FWIW, but this usually happens as the last stage of a successful query, not the first. ↩
Kristin Nelson breaks down query rejections.
For amusement, some of my own query rejections for Liesmith (agency names redacted):
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to read your submission. We appreciate you considering us for representation of your work.
Unfortunately, after careful review, we have decided that [Agency Name] might not be the right agency for this project. This industry is incredibly subjective, and there are many agencies out there with many different tastes. It is for this reason that we strongly encourage you to keep submitting elsewhere, in the hopes of finding an agent who will be an enthusiastic champion for you and your work.
We wish you all the very best of luck and success with your writing.
Not even my own name injected into that one! But at least it was a reply, I guess…
Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time. As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.
Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.
This one was more “personal”, in that it used both my name and the agent’s name, but still nothing about the work itself.
I swear I got more rejections than that–although not too many more, because a lot of agencies just sent nothing if they weren’t interested–but those are the ones I can actually find in my email. Actually, I know I got more rejections than that, because at least one of the rejections I got was from Sara Megibow. Hers was the most customized rejection of them all, in that it described specific things in the story. Mostly specific things she wanted to see changed, and an invitation to resubmit if I did. So I changed the things, she offered representation, and that’s why we are where we are today.
I get how stressful submitting is. I get that you worry that it’s not good enough and that the agent might be too big for you or have a client list that’s too big for you. But you also need to remind yourself that you are a contender too. If you want other people to treat your book like it has real potential and is worthy of publication than you need to treat it that way as well.
Stand by what you’ve written and if you can’t, maybe you need to rewrite it.
–Literary agent Jessica Faust on confidence.
This was one of the things I struggled most with when I was on submission. I’m still not great at it; it’s one of the reasons I’m really bad at self-promotion, for example. But it is something I need to learn to get over. Slowly. One day at a time.