Today y’all will be blessed with my mindless ramblings! You can thank me later! Hahah!
Writing a novel and then sending part or all of that novel off into the unknown universe that consists of literary agents and publishing houses is terrifying! I’ve sent my first child off to college, and it wasn’t nearly as frightening.
First you go through the process of reading your own manuscript so many times that you’re sick of your own writing. But you read and re-read again because you want to be sure there are no typos or other glaring errors. Sadly, though, I find that I’ve always left an error here or there. It feels like that time I was in high school and went to school with all of my makeup on except for mascara. Yeep! Not a good feeling!
Then you write what’s called a “query letter” which is a very short (250-odd words) letter telling the agent or publisher why your manuscript needs their attention above the other 159+ in their slush pile. Many agents received in excess of 200 manuscripts every week, but you have about 250 words to tell them what makes yours unique. Sometimes the letter is the only shot you get, but other times the agent or publishing house will ask for sample pages. These range from three to fifty pages, depending upon the agent. The three-page request is the hardest for me. As my dear friend and fabulous author Cathy Lamb pounded into me, “Make something happen!” That’s a lot harder than it sounds!
Sometimes the agent or publishing house will ask for a “full synopsis” in 1-2 pages. Yikes! You think 250 words and three pages is hard? Try hitting all of the high points of your 90,000 word novel in just a couple of pages. Every time I think I’m done, I go back and think, “Oh! I forgot…” or “Dangit…that’s more than they care to know.” It’s like getting your baby dressed up for Toddlers and Tiaras, and trying to decide which outfit shows off her personality best to the judges. Each outfit has it’s own merits, and dangit! — they all look adorable!
And don’t get me started on how each agent has different requirements for submitting. One agent requires only the query letter; while another agent wants the query letter, 50 pages, a full synopsis, and the right to take your firstborn child if you don’t send it exactly as requested. Okay — I’m kidding. I’ve not run across any agent that’s been that picky!
Which leads me to my next point: Agents. And this is really what today’s post is all about.
As one who feels the need to research every single aspect of this process, I’ve become a member of a lot of online groups of “querying authors.” While I love seeing how others are doing, and getting advice on the best ways to approach various situations, lately I’ve been getting a little frustrated by some of the comments. Maybe it’s because sending your manuscript out into the world is akin to putting your child on a stage and asking people to tell you what’s “wrong” with him/her, but authors tend to get very touchy about their interactions with agents.
Lately I’ve seen comments that criticize the agents on their turnaround time, or the their form letter rejections. Sometimes it’s that an agent has taken so long to reply to a query or to a submission. Even worse are those who get angry at the rejection. To the latter, I do have one piece of advice: It’s not personal! I have no clue what these people are looking for in term of a manuscript, but I’m certain that the rejections aren’t personal. I’d any day rather have an agent or publisher who LOVES my manuscript and believes in what I’ve written, than one who looks at it strictly in terms of dollar signs (or lack thereof). Give me an agent or a publishing house who reads my manuscript and says “YES! I love this! I want this! I want the whole world to read it!” I really feel like I have that with Penner Publishing and my novel, The Edge of Nowhere. I’m still searching for the same for my current manuscript, In My Shoes. And, as much as I’d like to have the latter on the shelves tomorrow, I also want a quality publishing job so I’m willing to wait however long it takes — or however painful that wait is!
So today, I want to share my experiences with agents and publishing houses because, quite frankly, I don’t have a negative thought or comment to say about any of them, and I think it’s time that people appreciate the agents for what they do.
Agent A is one of my favorite agents ever. I love her, but she will likely never be my agent. I’ve queried her twice on the same project, and both times she’s requested further pages. But my project (or the writing) hasn’t been quite right for her, and that’s okay. I still literally adore her. She’s funny, kind, and gracious. She returns e-mails quickly, and she just makes you feel valuable.
Agent B is another of my favorite agents. Like Agent A, I simply adore her. She responds to questions in a timely manner, makes you feel like she really cares about what she does and the “trust” that has been placed in her hands by sending her the manuscript. Whether my manuscript finds its home with her or not — and I won’t lie, my fingers are crossed tightly — she’s still someone I’d like to know in real life. I value people who value others, and she clearly values others.
Agent C is yet another of my favorite agents, but not one I will likely ever submit to again though I’d love to. I just don’t think our tastes are similar enough, and I think a query from me would be a waste of his time. But I adore this man and follow him on twitter. He’s kind, funny, and was gracious in his rejection of my manuscript. It’s not that he gave me anything to work with to improve it, but that he took the time to respond in a personal way.
Agent D is one that rejected my manuscript, but gave me valuable advice for revisions. She didn’t say “change it because it sucks.” She said, “These are my opinions and, if any of it resonates with you and makes sense, I’d love to take another look.” Thank you!
Agents E, F and G are the agents who have in their submission guidelines a timeline for when they will respond. They say a “no response means no,” but they also give you a timeline by which you should hear. After that timeline passes, you know it’s not a good fit for their agency. Phew – I can quit worrying about that one!
Agents H through Z are all agents whom I respect, but can’t tell you lot about. I respect them because they took the time to respond — some with just four quick worlds that said, “Not for me. Thanks.” Some people would be offended by such a “curt” response, but I embrace it for the simple reason that I can close out that query and move forward.
And then there’s the Acquisitions Editors for smaller publishing houses…
Editor A responded that my manuscript didn’t fit their current needs, but took the time to send me comprehensive notes and suggestions to improve my manuscript. I almost cried. Really. Not out of frustration or anger at not having “the perfect manuscript,” but out of complete appreciation and respect. Her notes were spot-on and not at all something that I could see myself. To take that kind of time with someone just for the sake of kindness leaves me without words.
Sure there are agents out there who aren’t particularly kind, but there are also writers who contact agents and expect they’re owed something. If you don’t believe me, Check out Sara Megibow’s Query Tips on Twitter. Some of them will make you laugh, but others will cause your jaw to drop!
So today, I really just want to thank all of the wonderful agents and acquisition editors out there. Their jobs aren’t easy, but most of them do it with grace and with no small amount of care for the trust that has been placed in their hands.
I feel like I’ve sent out enough queries to know that my experience is not the exception, but the norm. I am thankful for each of these people and wish them the very best with all of their clients and publishing endeavors!