Wednesday, November 12, 2008


One of the things that lured me to become a book agent was the idea of helping to make literary dreams come true. What an awesome feeling, I thought, to be the one to tell a hard-working author that I've sold his or her book to a respected publisher!

What I didn't think about too much was the flip side of this equation--telling a hard-working author that we are "passing" on his or her project. It's no fun and, unfortunately, we do this many, many, many times every day. No to the queries; no to the partials; and sometimes even no to the manuscripts. Today I had the even more poignant chore of writing to several authors who were under contract with us. The contracts have been over for some time and we've not been able to find a publisher. We had gotten very fond of some of these authors and we feel like--uh--failures when we fail. It's awful every time we have to do it and it goes to the heart of this business.

Today I resolve to be a sterner, more calculating agent--to practice a kind of tough love. So let me bare my soul (again) and tell you how I'll do this:
  • I will NOT ask for partials if the query is flawed.
  • If the partial is weak, even if I love it, I will NOT ask for a manuscript.
  • If the manuscript doesn't knock my socks off, I will NOT ask to represent you.
  • In fact, I will not ask to represent you until I have several editors and houses in mind for the work.

I love the dream maker part of this work; I hate being a grim reaper, even with queries. So forgive me for laying this on you, but I've crushed a lot of hopes today. Yet, on a positive side, I'm just one agent in a pool of thousands! So, just because we can't sell something does not mean Ms. Snark, Mr. Post or Laura Literary can't. Don't let one agent's rejection get you down. (Even if I'm that agent.) Send your work to everyone you can think of and continue to improve it as you go. That's the way dreams are made.


ChristaCarol said...

Well it's great that you're being honest. And truthfully, anyone who knows the market right now should just expect everything they submit to be as perfect as possible. The market was tough before the economy was having problems. Now it seems even harder to get a foot in the door! But at least you've laid out some good bullet points as to why you would reject a query. :)

Kae and Jon said...

Thanks Christa. This economic "downturn" is bound to make the book biz even more challenging. It is vital that a writer does everything possible to perfect his or her writing. And, as agents, we want to foster the reputation with editors that we bring them "only the best."

ChristaCarol said...

Agreed. Another thing I was thinking about, it shouldn't take an economic downturn for a writer to expect the best from themselves. Any successful writer will hopefully know no matter the industry and it's current condition, one should *always* write their best. I'd think it common sense but it's probably lost to a few out there.

Jan said...

That's sad to hear because I was just getting ready to query you. Do you know how many "perfect" query letters are out there right now? Even mediocre writers have perfected the art of constructing a wonderful looking query letter that glosses over a poorly written manuscript. As an author myself, just starting the query process, I would be much happier receiving a rejection on a story concept, partial or full manuscript than a rejection of a query letter. I write because I want to entertain people. I can't entertain in a query, that’s not storytelling, that formatting. I know agents are in a tight spot right now but maybe if they got back to basics and started looking for that unique story instead of that great query letter, their jobs would be easier. Haven't you noticed the incline in well crafted query letters only to be disappointed when you started reading the requested partials? If I were an agent I would start paying more attention to the story and plot instead of the query standard. I'm frustrated and I haven't even sent out any query letters yet. But I did post a query letter and a short story that I'm turning into a full novel on my blog site. Like I said I want people to read my stories, that's important to me.

Kae and Jon said...

Dear Jan:

You are right. In a perfect world, we'd skip the query process and read only partials and manuscripts. Trouble is, it's not possible. We get HUNDREDS of queries each week. We read every one. There are not enough hours in the day to read that many partials and manuscripts.
The process is flawed, to be sure. But in order to lure an agent to your work, your query is the only tool you have. Make it count.