Friday, April 4, 2008


I've blogged on the romance/agenting business before--it still works. Agenting involves unrequited (and requited) love, passion, rejection, abandonment and loss--and bliss. Bliss comes in many forms. When we started our literary agency, we thought we were pretty smart. After all, between us, we have over 30 years in various aspects of the publishing business. We are avid readers. We know the difference between good books and bad. How hard could it be to read queries, chapters, and manuscripts; find the "flowers"; pitch them to editors; sell them?

We were blissfully ignorant of just how hard it really is. We were in love with the work--success would follow!

We blissfully read the incoming material, falling in love too fast. Saying, "Yes! Send us the partial.....Sure, send us the manuscript!" Sometimes we even said, "Let's do it! Let's work together." We fell in love, in some cases too easily.

The reality of this romance is that it's a tough business, a business about SELLING. We may love a book, but if we can't find the right editor, we're all dead in the water.

But, we're learning. We know that the editors have to be totally convinced that our book can make a good showing or they won't take it on. Each house has its own formula for determining that, and it's up to us to learn those formulas and to learn what each editor wants. The result is that, like a disappointed lover, we aren't nearly as much fun as we used to be. Like you, we get rejected frequently by editors and it's awful. To prevent that, our goal is to become much more picky about what we take on and much more educated about who takes what at the publishing houses.

We are saying "yes," to authors very infrequently. And we're taking on new clients very slowly. Our mantra is, "It's better to reject a query than to reject a partial. It's better to reject a partial than to reject a manuscript. And, if we're rejecting manuscripts, we need to rethink our strategy."

So, what's the upshot of this romance? You need to work harder to write books that editors will want. We need to stop wasting your time and to bring on only those books we KNOW we can sell. After that? BLISS.


Writer, Rejected said...

Hey, thought you might could comment about formula and romance novels at We're featuring a book called "Sexy Librarian." The author said she had trouble breaking through because (among other things) her protagonist had an STD's and that publishers told her STDs were off limits in a romance book. Is it true?

Kae and Jon said...

The cardinal rule seems to be that protagonists in romance novels be "likable." I have not encountered the bias against STDs, but would not be surprised if it exists, especially with the very formulaic romances. More sophisticated "women's fiction" would certainly have room for the STD-ridden protagonist.

Jesse McLaughlin said...

As an author, I would rather be said no to at a fairly early stage. It allows me to either make the changes that would make the work better, or it allows me to move onto a new project.

It's almost like dating. If you (and by extension the editor/publisher) are not that interested, then tell me no instead of leading me on.

You need to work harder to write books that editors will want. A pretty broad statement that begs a broad question. What are the books that editors want?

Kae and Jon said...


To quote a fellow agent, "Writing trumps all."

Write about what excites you--express yourself through your characters. But WRITE WELL. Rewrite, reread and write again. I know it's been said before, but it's the basis of the work you've chosen. Become a fine writer. Then start looking at what publishers are publishing. Check out the bestseller lists. Read and inform yourself.Find the publishers that are publishing the kind of books you're writing.

Hey, if this was easy, everyone would do it. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Are you active? Have you sold literary works, or just shopping for the next blockbuster? Will you read my work?

Kae and Jon said...

Dear Anonymous:

Read our blog. Yes, we're active. We've sold books and we'd love to sell a literary work. Feel free to send a query to us.