Tag Archives: query letter

Literary Agents are People Too

No, really.

Way back before I found Agent Sara, while I was still submitting my first novel, I talked about rejection from a writer’s point of view. But there’s another side to the rejection story…

Let me introduce you to Brynn. She’ll get through a stack of submissions by lunch: rejecting one for one too many ellipses, another for having two POV in five pages. She has to. It’s not that she’s cruel or indifferent—she just needs to make a living. She’s buried in a pile of submissions and she wants to help you both—but she can only represent what she can sell.

Yes, it’s Sunday, but she spent the week mired in edits with a writer out of St. Louis—well she had such hopes. But again, it seems a case of them not getting it. Perhaps in this stack lies the next JK Rowling, the next Hemingway even.

She plucks out a query letter: “Dear Mr. Brine:”

Probably no Hemingway today.

She used to have dreams. Her own debut novel won two prestigious awards, but had the thinnest of sales. She was never able to sell the second. Hell, she’s seen the best novel of the century—represented it herself and pitched it to every publishing house she could find. It never sold. That writer works at Cyber Town, stocking shelves. He emailed last week: he hoping for full-time so he can qualify for health insurance.

And then there are the hundreds of submissions that send their perfect, polished query packages, but the stories go flat on fulls. The piles of disappointments, the volumes of misrepresentations. She’s learned to recognize the signs and each word is a clue that might veer her off the page.

It’s a high wire act, step-stop-balance. Gauge the wind. Each move requires certainty. The competition is fierce and reputations have been ruined on allegiance to the wrong manuscript. It takes experience, luck and timing.

Do people read anymore? Sometimes she wonders. Like a shape-shifting beast, the publishing industry seems to morph into something new every ninety days or so. One must be agile, quick and wise.

But even on working-Sundays, there’s hope. She pulls one from the stack. Another post-apocalyptic zombie-mermaid novel; the fifteenth today.

Aw crap.

Unparalled Feedback, Great Price

As writers, we all know how important feedback is. Maybe you belong to a critique group or have a few trusted beta readers. This sort of criticism is crucial to the process. But there’s one thing they probably can’t tell you—no matter how valuable their advice.

They can’t tell you about The Agent.

stack of papers

By Niklas Bildhauer (who also is User gerolsteiner91. (originally posted to Flickr as folder) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Agent sits at an enormous polished desk, wearing Jimmy Choos, with trendy maroon glasses perched at the end of her nose. “Trash! Trash! Trash. Ahhh…. Garbage. Tripe.” To one side there’s a wounded writer, half-buried under a mountain of charred submissions, his glassy eyes staring at the ceiling.

The Agent holds your fate.

She picks up a letter. Her eyes make tiny movements across the page and Then—something in the shape of the writer’s words connects with her. She adjusts her glasses and lets out a sigh. Leaning back in her chair, she reads the submission in its entirety, nodding to herself. “Becky,” she shouts, “Request a partial on this.”

Some lucky writer is going to send a partial, and then a full. And then, the phone call–and The Dream realized.

But what, why, how? You need to know… What happens in that hallowed place? Your friends all love your book–but how, how does one get to that fabled Land Of Representation?

If only you had insight to that mystical office: what sets the agent’s teeth on edge, what are they are sick of, what sort of magic can you weave that will leave them nodding, sighing, shouting, yes, Yes, YES–send me more pages!

Well, you can get this information.

Blatant commercial—but I came across one such person. I sent ten pages and $25. The advice and feedback I got back in return was thoughtful, comprehensive and invaluable.

Kate Brauning works the trenches for a NY Literary Agency. She screens the submissions and she can tell you if your concept is original or if she’s seen it a hundred times this week. She can point out that teeny incidental thing you did that will make an agent run for the hills. And she can tell you your greatest strengths, so you know what to capitalize on.

For $25 (hurry, cause her price may go up), she offers a 10-page critique and for $35 she’ll do 50 pages. She’s honest, fair, and offers an amazing perspective into all those things you wondered as your query letter vanished into cyberspace. She also offers editing services and I will say, I think she’s got the finest hand around.

Maybe you’ve only been tossing around an idea in your head. Your friends love it. But you want to know if the market is overrun with rabid-vampire-zombie-hedgehog stories before you invest a whole summer writing it. Kate’s your gal.

She also works with writers in reviewing and refining their submission packages. She’ll go up to three rounds of edits on your query and synopsis. Then, she throws in a round of edits of the first 7,500 words of your manuscript. All this, for a mere $40. You know I won’t pass that up.

It’s a golden opportunity.


Caution: This post contains hazardous amounts of self-absorbed whininess. Read at your own risk.

I need to tell you something.

The poop query failed. I know – it’s hard for me to believe too. So did another, more thoughtfully crafted query I imagined finely tuned to the agent’s likes and dislikes.

At least the poop query earned a personal response. The latest query – born of over twenty-four hours of research, revising and feedback – got a knee-jerk-lightning-fast-form-letter rejection. Ouch.

I spent the rest of the week contemplating a bonfire with the lot of it. Everything. I was ready to burn things that even reminded me of the book, including my crappy desk chair.

I know, for example, editors rejected Stephen King’s Carrie thirty times and I don’t possess a fraction of the talent the man has in his pinkie fingernail.  Rejection is a part of writing. I must embrace it as a vocation-affirming victory or some happy bullshit. Some writers are rejected hundreds of times and still go on to publish.

Yes, I know it’s only five measly rejections and that’s nothing – and two of them were with a crappy query letter. From a logical standpoint, I understand rejection is not personal and I need to learn and move on. Grow from the experience, right?  I’m aware of the overwhelming odds and the thin rewards of publishing.

The entire prospect of writing – of taking time away from family and friends to do something so vain and self-indulgent is hard to justify. So many times I thought (and think) of walking away.

Not that writing and pursuing publishing is inherently selfish or vain – I’m not talking about you or the other 99.9% of writers. Me, I’m a different story. I’m astonished at my hubris for contemplating the thing to begin with.

On this journey, I got positive feedback from some professionals on Panacea – that it was publishable and full of promise.  I thought … maybe I should do this. And my characters, aka my imaginary friends, nagged and cajoled.

But I don’t think I’m cut out for this … I can barely post a blog entry without feeling like a tremendous gasbag. Look at me! I’m writing! You’re reading the words of a woman incapable of updating her Facebook status.  Every aspect of this is so contrary to my fly-under-the-radar nature.  

Here I am posting on the subject. My blog-voice prattles on. I can’t stand to be in the same room as myself and the sad thing is – I can’t leave.  Gah, if you’ve read this far, my apologies. But think how awful it is for me, I listen to this crap continuously.

Three kinds of literary agents

Querytracker, for those who don’t know, is a website where writers can peruse data on query submissions. By studying the data for any given agent, you can get a sense of when and if you’ll hear back. It’s ideal for the obsessive.

I haven’t been at this long. I’ve only sent out a few queries, and given my talent for inappropriateness, that’s probably for the best. However, in that time, I’ve noticed three kinds of agents:

The Mysterious: Like cryptic deep-water creatures, they might not stir for weeks or months. No rejections, no requests for manuscripts … silent dead calm. Suddenly – they break the surface and take a full manuscript in their jaws. Turns out they were listening all along. They just didn’t like you.

The Methodical: When they are prowling their query boxes, you can tell – you tremble as if a giant roamed the streets. They’re systematic, reliable. Rejections pop up for writers who submitted the same day as you – now it’s a matter of time. Better check your inbox again.

The Madcap: Random and enigmatic – some writers get rejections within hours. Meanwhile, others sit for days … maybe forever. Did the agent get your query? Did your letter pass the assistant’s scrutiny and get lost on the agent’s desk? Did some clever hacker intercept your email due to the subversive nature of your book? You don’t know. Crickets chirping in your inbox … did their reply get lost in cyberspace? Oh, the agony.

Are there more? Feel free to share…

I Opened With Poop

I can’t believe I opened with poop. Seriously, what is wrong with me?

Okay, so when you’re an aspiring author, here’s what you do – you write a query letter and in that letter you put forth your very best face. You don’t send a manuscript – well depending on the agent maybe the first 5-10 pages, but your query letter can make or break you.

And let’s be honest, it’s not even your whole letter: You’ve got maybe ten seconds, if you’re lucky, to capture the attention of the prospective agent. Show them your mad skilz as it were. Represent.

So what do I do? Well of course, I open with poop. In my defense, the agent in question mentioned poop in a recent blog post, so I was trying to be relevant.  And since my book opens with a flabby expanse of a man’s backside, maybe it’s only appropriate.

I can hardly wait to see what I do for my next trick.