Saturday, May 19, 2007

Inside the Mind of a Literary Agent

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Yesterday I wrote about how I dealt with a literary agency's rejection over my book proposal for That's Right, Stephen! At the end of that story, I promised to cut and paste an article ("Why Does an Agent Pass?") written by a Rachel Vater from the Lowensten-Yost Literary Agency.
It's about what goes on inside the mind of literary agents like herself who are faced with piles of query letters and book proposals from prospective authors seeking representation every week. It's quite interesting. The source was taken right from her blog. Take a look:
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Every now and then I drop by writer message boards to see what's on writers' minds. A few seem very befuddled that they aren't getting any requests for their book and feel somehow... slighted... by agents. They feel frustrated and even a little indignant. Who are we to reject their masterpiece?? Well... who are we to request everything?

Here's another way to look at it: You have one trip to make to the bookstore. You get to spend a whole day there reading. You can choose a few books to read. Go ahead, pick your very favorites.

What??

You didn't pick a novel by Ann Patchett? Why not?? Hey! You dare to snub Don DeLillo? Why on earth? Don't you think he's a good writer? How could you turn down books by those writers??

The answer is--you had limited time and limited amounts of books you were able to select. You've got nothing against most of those other published authors who have books on the shelves, you just can't read them all. Not all at once. Maybe later a book by those authors will catch your eye, maybe not.

I get hundreds of query letters a week. (Stop here and picture hundreds of books sitting in front of you and you are allowed to pick just a few.) So I read through the queries to see which ones sound like my favorites out of all the rest. No, it's not a contest. I'm not saying those that I choose are definitively better than the others, they're just subject matter that most appeals to me right then that week. Maybe I'm looking for something really funny, maybe I'm looking for something dark and moody. Maybe I'm looking to build my YA list right then or maybe I want more urban fantasy. Sometimes it depends on which editors tell me what they're especially looking for right now.

So is it all just a crap shoot? one writer asked. No, because I still sort my queries down to a very small pile to choose from. That means I turn down a lot simply because they're not ready for representation even if I like the idea, or even if I think the writing is pretty good but the idea's weak. Then I weed out those that just aren't my thing. Out of that much smaller pile I have to select just a handful. And let me tell you, sometimes it's HARD.

But if you are sending out multiple queries and your writing IS ready... you're going to make the short list for a lot of different agents. You might get form rejections from a few. (Don't try to ponder why, just cross their names off the list.) You might get a few little personal notes, but rejections all the same. But you just might get a few requests too.

Don't spend too much time pondering why some agents passed. Imagine your query letter in a stack of many others and someone browsing through them the same way you browse through a bookstore. Realize for every rejection you receive it just wasn't a click that day for that agent. But as you send out your queries, imagine if even just one of them really connects and an agent suddenly sits up straighter and thinks, "Oh! I've GOTTA request this one!" Some readers will never read your favorite author either. But many will.

It's the same for an agent as we submit to editors. How do I deal with rejection? Well, I can guarantee that if I send a book out widely, not every single one of the editors is going to fall in love with it. But I can increase my chances by only representing great books and by spending extra time with the author to polish it. Then I can narrow the submission list down to the most likely editors.

After that... well, here's a likely scenario: Some editors will be so busy they won't read it right away--for some reason they're swamped with edits or other work and just can't get to it as fast as they/I'd like. A few will read it right away, and a couple of them will love it. One or two might reject it after reading one chapter. Another might reject it after reading the whole thing and just not falling in love. And that's okay. I don't need all of them to love it -- at the end of the day, only one editor's offer can be accepted anyway. Same with you as you search for an agent. You only need one yes.

So don't let any rejection daunt you. Query widely and keep writing and polishing.
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Food for thought: Well, what do you think of that? She's right - don't let any rejection daunt you - just keep writing, polishing and looking for a way to get your book published.
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