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Querying 80 Agents?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Philip Overby, Jan 31, 2014.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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  2. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    That's a lot of freaking agents. Are there that many worth having as agents who handle sf/f? I really don't think so. This strikes me as similar to the way people submit poetry: 30-40 places at a time, sending out new poems to a journal as soon as the old ones are rejected. It's a shotgun approach to something that I think is more effective when more carefully aimed.

    Plus what's missing is how you choose the agents you submit to:

    1. Find the books by ten authors yours is most like stylistically, subject matter-wise, etc., that is, the ones mostly likely to have the same audience as yours. (Folks writing about assassins, you have a target-rich environment. Folks writing Regency romances with dragons, you have Jo Farthing.) To check on books that have been acquired, but not yet published, get a subscription to Publishers Marketplace so you can search their deals page which has decent descriptions of books (it's $25/month, but you could cut and paste into a Word file every deal sorted by every genre you write in within an hour or two). Now cross off all the bestelling names, such as GRR Martin and Rothfuss, and replace them with lesser lights, preferably up and coming ones.

    1a. Save these authors' names. You'll be hitting them up for blurbs later.

    2. Research who their agents are by checking the acknowledgments of their books or the authors' sites (likely included with their own contact info). Deal Lunch will include the agents' names.

    2a. If one agent represents several of your authors, all the better, you're on the right track. Hopefully, of course, that agent isn't sick of books like yours, having done so many. Now find more authors with different agents to round out your list of ten.

    3. Research what each agent also represents. Maybe this novel was a one-off for them, perhaps a favor to a friend. Put these in your B-pile. Return to 2a to get that A-pile up to 10.

    4. Write individual letters to each noting how your book would fit well on their lists. Don't overdo the praise. You want to give them a context in which to consider your work. You might also research how they came to represent the clients you're referring to. Their might be exploitable info there.

    5. If these 10 reject you, build up your B-pile to 10 by casting your book net a bit wider.

    6. If these 10 reject you, build up the C-pile you surely generated.

    7. Rinse. Repeat. While waiting for the mail continue to write. Never stop writing.

    The rest of the advice the article gives is good. Consider any comments you get back seriously, although you'll soon be able to figure out the rejection macros, the things agents say because they don't have anything more precise to say, they just didn't like your book.
     
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  3. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Hmm... by step 6 you've already hit 30 agents. Rinse and repeat that and you're at 80 in no time. ;) Isn't publishing math fun?

    I read the article earlier this afternoon. I think that what the writer is getting at can be best summed up into a single word:

    Persistence
     
  4. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    OMG - at what point do you sit there and say enough is enough? Eighty rejections? Eighty's just a number. So why eighty and why not twenty? Why not five hundred?

    And no, do not consult a developmental editor if the only feedback you're getting is form letters. You don't know why they're rejecting your work so any thoughts about changing it in a particular direction are complete guesswork.

    Then there's that lovely line somewhere in there - if you persist you will be successful. Sorry no. That's a complete porky. If you persist you have a better chance of being successful, but there is no guarantee. You could be eight thousand queries in and dying of old age and no have found an agent let alone a publisher.

    I have said this elsewhere, but I will repeat it here. At some point consider self publishing. Do not swallow this line that if you keep bashing your head against a brick wall it will some day not hurt. That you will end up in the sun shine. If you want to be a published author, set yourself a target, whatever it is. Fifty rejections. Three years. Whatever works for you. And then say screw them. Take the plunge.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Again, I noted this when I posted this link:

    I want to post things that apply for those that aren't always interested in the self-publishing route. Yes, it's a viable option and one I want to consider as well, but this link was for those who are looking for agents. I don't take it as bashing my head against a wall. That's like saying I want to work for a famous video game company and people keep telling me: "No! You can be an indie game developer! Don't waste your time with trying to get a job with them!" Or I want to work in Hollywood and people say "Don't be a Hollywood actor! It's very feasible to be an indie actor and do just as well." All this may be true, but yeah, some people still want agents and want to be published traditionally. I don't find anything wrong with pursuing something you want until you get it. And yes, it may be true that you don't find success this way, but then it's up to each writer to decide when enough is enough. 80 is an arbitrary number. It just means to not give up querying so quickly is all.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2014
  6. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    I was responding more to the article. It just struck me as well - offensive.

    I don't doubt that many authors want agents and to go the trade publishing route, and I wish them luck in their journey. And I agree that persistence will be necessary for them. But the article reads as if - Yes if you do this you will succeed. And that's just cr*p. Most people won't succeed that way.

    Look life is unfair and this is a brutal industry. We all know that. But to my mind there is little in this world that is more cruel than holding out the torch of hope to people when there is little or no hope. And this article does just that. It exhorts people to be persistant beyond reason.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    That's fine if that's your view. I think self-publishing does the same kind of thing for some people. They think if they bypass traditional publishing and do everything by themselves, they will become successful as well. That's not necessarily true either. Yes, maybe it gives you more control, but you still have to have the right tools to reach your goals. All forms of publishing give false hope, but you just have to work past that and do your best.
     
  8. stephenspower

    stephenspower Inkling

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    You are absolutely right re the math. I dropped my whole point. I should have added: When you run out of agents who don't cover even loosely what you're doing, and you will, either consider self-publishing (which I think is a very viable route, but with demands some authors might not want to make) or start a new novel.

    At the very least by that point you'll have a good idea what agents are looking for, so think, What'll they be looking for next year? Where's the marketing going? What topics are overdone and which are not done enough, but are gaining adherents? (And what novels or comics will be adapted and cause a surge in work on that topic, the way Walking Dead exploded the zombie genre, because without copycat publishing there would be no publishing at all?) And write to that if you can.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I get what you're saying here, but I think another viewpoint is worthy of consideration:

    I've read a lot of posts and interviews lately about successful authors who suffered rejection after rejection for years. Instead of trying to shortcut the process, they took the rejections to mean, "My stuff just isn't good enough."

    Their form of persistence wasn't, "Keep submitting until someone accepts it." It was, "Keep getting better until I produce something that an agent/publisher will accept."

    Not saying this is what everyone should do, but I think that, at some point after getting 80 rejections, the author needs to consider if they're just not good enough yet.
     
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  10. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I also think patience really is a large part of this discussion. I read another article just the day before this one came out (I won't link it here because we're still discussing the 80 Agents article) where one quote has stuck in my mind.

    It resonates with me because I hear so often from folks who seem to push the hardest for self-publishing the advice to not wait, to put your work out there. It all feels so rushed. So much a product of the culture of instant gratification, of one-button publication.

    Too easy.

    I was raised by a writer, in a family with a long history of producing writers, and I was taught from an early age that rejection letters make great wallpaper. I've watched our work move from the form letter to the hand-written notes in the margins, to the personalized letters of rejection that make you dance in the living room. So that's what I understand. Patience. Persistence. Growth. Gatekeepers. An industry that is both brutal and brutally slow. But it works for many writers. It's going to work for us because we've put in the time and the effort to make it work.

    It does make me wonder how much better could all those writers who chose to not wait, who just dove in and let the readers, the paying readers, be their gatekeepers - how much better would their works be if they had more patience?
     
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  11. Answer: probably no better. Often, much worse.

    Wait, let me explain. :) You get better at writing fiction by writing fiction. Not by writing queries to agents, but by writing new stories.

    So, assuming the indie writer was SMART and did their job correctly (in other words, got the same quality editing, cover, and blurb that their book would have gotten if published elsewhere, like almost all successful indie writers have done), they actually had MORE time available to spend working on fiction, and less spent worrying about assorted crap like submitting a manuscript to 80 agents.

    Which means...in general, the indie writer is probably going to improve their writing skills faster than the trad pub writer, because they are spending less time on publishing related junk, and more time writing. I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive... We think that the indie MUST spend more time on the publishing end.

    Having done both, let me assure you: you spend a LOT more time on publishing stuff for a trad pub book than you do for an indie book.

    There's something to be said for patience. An indie writer must have the patience to take the time to do the job (writing and publishing components) right. But "doing it right" takes enormously less time for an indie than it does for a multi billion dollar conglomerate. ;)
     
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  12. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    I started querying agents back in the mid 90's. First time was all form letters. Second and third times I got feedback but no bites. Fourth time I got an agent, but he couldn't sell the book -- in retrospect, I see that he should have made me do a really brutal round of revisions before he sent it out. Fifth time, I landed with a good agency and got a good deal. I made significant revisions to the last third of the book once and revisions to the last couple of chapters 3 times before it went out on the market.

    (Admittedly, if I had received all form letters on the second and third and fourth rounds, I might have given up -- I was getting positive feedback that my goal was attainable sometime, if not then, so I kept at it. But it goes to the point that I worked on new projects, not trying one person after another on something dead.)

    Here's something that appeared in PW this week that goes to the issues of patience (or lack thereof) and people rushing to self-pub:In Praise of Editors, Agents, and Every Other Gatekeeper in Publishing.

    I think the take-away is not that finding an agent and publisher is the only way to success, but that it is an extremely rare individual who can produce their best stuff without someone competent pushing along. If that competent person is your spouse or a teacher, fine. But without someone else to read critically and supportively, it's really easy to ignore those nagging thoughts that X scene doesn't fit or Y plot point is too much of a digression. I knew a lot of what was wrong with my draft, I just didn't have the guts or wherewithal or strength or whatever to tackle it until someone made me. And that's really valuable.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2014
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  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I feel kinda stupid now, because I have an agent I really want to work with. My plan, when I finish my WIP, was to email query to this one agent, and if it was rejected, self-publish. One.. not eighty. I might have to rethink my strategy. I guess my reasoning was that I really like their style, feel I need a mentor, but I want to keep my vision. I felt somehow connected to this particular agent after they sent me a partial request for a query eighteen months ago... and I know now how to deliver a product they can sell (vs. my last query, which was poorly edited).
     
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    As stephenspowers said in this thread earlier:

    I think having one agent that is your favorite to query is good, but I'd recommend trying to find some other ones lined up. The authors I'd consider to be on my "check list" would be:

    1. Joe Abercrombie
    2. Richard K. Morgan
    3. R. Scott Bakker
    4. China Mieville
    5. Mark Lawrence
    6. Chuck Wendig
    7. Steven Erikson
    8. Brian Stavely
    9. Kelly McCullough
    10. Jay Kristoff

    Those are just for starters though. There are several bigger names on my list, so I'd be interested to see what their agents (if they even have them, not sure if some of them do) would say to my work.
     
  15. AnneL

    AnneL Closed Account

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    I would say not to look at the authors you are most like, but at the authors you like most. These are not always the same. You should also use twitter if you don't and follow the authors and bloggers and agents and pub cos. that are out there, and you can see the conversations about trends and books and publishing as they are happening.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  16. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

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    As much work as I put into finding an appropriate agent, I never found 80 that I wanted to submit my work to. Maybe my criteria is too strict, dunno. Maybe too ambitious, dunno.
    There's no way I would submit to 80 different agents just to get to 80. My luck, I would end up with that tool I dreaded when her name showed up on the caller ID.

    Perseverance? Heck yes. But, there comes a point when you have to re-evaluate the manuscript and determine your next course of action, whether that course is to stuff it in the drawer, or to publish it on your own.
     
  17. I am sure it goes without saying, but Publishers' Weekly - the mouthpiece of big publishing - is probably NOT where i would go to find accurate information about indie publishing. They publish articles by people who are good at what they do - traditional publishing. But the linked essay is an opinion piece that's VERY clearly written by someone who has never indie published, doesn't know anything about indie publishing, and is spouting a combination of the "party line" from the major publishing conglomerates and a bunch of random supposition. None of which is really based in reality.

    I agree with your takeaway. How you check and improve your work is irrelevant, so long as your method produces good fiction. :)
     
  18. Caged, as a general rule, an agent is not going to be a mentor. They are someone you are going into business with. That relationship will remain strong for as long as it's mutually beneficial.

    I would approach hiring a literary agent the same way I would any other business partnership, or the hiring of any other sort of agent. Painstaking checking of their references, including lots of chats with other clients. Split payments - all publishers are OK with this, and the only reason an agent will refuse split payments is if they are planning to misuse your royalties. No agency contract, or if there is one, have your own lawyer go over it with a fine tooth comb. Lots of major agencies are putting in clauses giving them an "interest" in works they have not actually sold to anyone - this means they can get a slice of the profits even if you go to anoer agency later, or self publish, or go to a publisher without an agent.

    Honestly, one of the biggest advantages in the fantasy genre is that most publishers don't care if a writer has an agent or not. That's not true in some genres, but it's very true in ours.

    What's also true is that the agent you can get, as a novice writer, is almost never worth getting. And the agents worth getting are almost never interested in novice writers. A lot of fantasy writers are doing just fine hiring an IP attorney to vet the contract, and skipping the agent entirely.
     
  19. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    While I absolutely agree with the first part I have bolded - when we as writers enter into a relationship with an agent, it is a business relationship first and foremost and any personal aspects to that relationship are very much secondary - I must in good conscience raise objections to the rest.

    I'm not sure where you are getting your information, but the statements I have highlighted in bold are not only inflammatory, they are sweeping generalities with no substantiating support. "Lots of major agencies" and "planning to misuse your royalties" makes it seem like corruption is industry-wide - which it is not. If it was, the industry would not be able to function under the weight of litigation and scandal. An agent's job is to sell their client's - the writer's - work, and for that they earn a cut of the earnings only after the sale. That is how it works. Are there some bad apples in the barrel? Yes. There are also unscrupulous doctors and dishonest lawyers, but that doesn't stop you from getting that lump looked at or having "your own lawyer go over [your agent contract] with a fine tooth comb." (And, just by the way, a large part of the agent's job is helping the writer to navigate and negotiate 35 page publishing contracts - that's what your 15% also pays for.)

    So, before we frighten the "novice writers" away from querying any agents at all because the ones who would accept them are "almost never worth getting" and will try to rip them off and make off with everything they've every written (and these are still "lots of major agencies," remember), but the ones "worth getting" are too far out of their grubby reach, please, let us know why they should be afraid. What reliable, reputable sources are you drawing on?
     
  20. Hmm. Honestly, most of what I said is common knowledge. Little surprised that there's anyone pushing back.

    "Misuse royalties": Keeping royalties after receiving them with intent to use those royalties to collectively gain interest is misuse. But that is PRECISELY what many (most?) large literary agencies do, and precisely why they strongly discourage writers from setting up split royalties. The agency wants the money to flow to the writer through them, because then they can delay payment to the writer for some period of time, every day of which nets them more income. Every day the agency has the money until the pay the writer earns the agency money and costs the writer money.

    Litigation against agents and agencies is beyond common. Every writer I know with more than ten years in the business has at least one story of an agent doing something which required, at a minimum, severing the relationship. Most writers I know with two decades in have sued at least one agent. Most agencies settle out of court, with the stipulation the writer not talk about the event - which is why you rarely see internet articles about this subject. But chat up some older writers next major convention you go to.

    "Interest" clauses in agency contracts are, by reports I am reading, becoming more common. Check in with the Passive Voice blog - written by an IP attorney with access to scores of agency contracts and hundreds of publishing contracts, thanks to writers who've sent him copies to compile. I haven't had an agent in going on two decades now, and I think it is VERY unlikely I will ever choose to use one again, so this isn't my speciality - but PV has a couple of excellent articles on the subject.

    On agents in general, check out deadwesleysmith.com - he has multiple agent articles. Be sure to read the comments, where a good number of other 10-25 year career writers expound upon their own experiences. Bottom line? Agents today have a few editors they work with at major publishers. Perhaps as many as 6-12. They have thousands of writers sending them manuscripts. In ANY situation where the writer's best interest and publisher's best interest conflict, the agency is better off financially to side wit the publisher, and to convince the writer to agree with the publisher, too. Agencies can afford to piss off a few writers a lot more than they can afford to annoy one of the few major publishing houses.

    Agents effectively work for the publisher, NOT the writer. They're filling the role that was once managed by assistant editors (reading slush) - publishers simply outsourced the job and got writers to pay for it (15% agency fee). Any time the writer and publisher have interests at odds, the agent cannot be trusted to advise the writer. Lawyers hired by the agency are likewise useless, as they have a duty to advise the *agency* well, but no obligation to tell the truth to the *writer* at all. Can't count the number of writers who've been asked by agencies to sign addendums to contracts that were damaging to the writer over the last half decade. Lots and lots and lots.

    You might need to use an agent. You should probably always get things independently verified, if you do. Remember: agents have no licensing, no formal training, no legislation governing their practice, no degree requirements, no test to take... You compared them to doctors, above, but I wouldn't trust doctors with the above qualifications to diagnose a headcold. ;)
     
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