I didn't really have a post planned for today. I'm balls deep in a new Secret Project (so secret that my CPs don't even know what it's about yet) while working on my Not-So-Secret Projects, and (this is the first time I've made public mention of it) I'm also querying agents for a YA novel.
This is all in addition to preparing for an ebook release in November. My posting schedule for Fridays sometimes falls by the wayside. This is my Free For All day. I have guest posts planned on Fridays in the coming weeks, but not for every Friday. So on a day like today, when I have no guest, whether or not I publish a post is entirely dependent on how I happen to feel that day.
Today I feel like talking about agents and queries. So here it is.
This is my fourth serious ride on the Query-Go-Round inside of two years. Not all rides are created equal. My experiences with querying are going to be similar-yet-different than anyone else's. And each time I query, my own experience changes.
Part of the reason for this is because I've learned from each "failure" and each "success" and applied those things to improve my next ride. For example, quite a few of the agents I queried on my first ride have since been removed from my to-query list, and some of the agents I've recently queried were not on my to-query list a couple years ago.
Why? Because I've had time to watch and learn.
Publishing has gone through some wild transitions. In fact, we're still in transition. But I can say with confidence that epublishing is a much stronger market now than it was a few years ago. Epublishing is no longer just for self-publishers, and that has made it a bigger contender, a more viable option than it previously was for authors who don't want to self-publish.
(Aside: I have nothing against self-publishing, it just isn't for me. This is not a self-publishing vs non-self-publishing debate, and please don't make it one.)
So over the course of the last four years (from the time I started writing for publication, not from the time I first queried - don't wait until you're ready to query to start researching agents) I've been watching people in the industry. Some might call this cyber-stalking, but I call it career research.
Here are just a few examples of what I see.
When an agent bounces around from agency to agency, this makes me worry. They usually don't state specific reasons for doing so unless they are entirely positive.
Switching agencies is not always a bad thing, so you have to take each case by its own merit and objectively weigh all the factors involved.
That being said, if there aren't a lot of details made with the announcement, or the "details" are vague, such as "it was an amicable decision between all parties", or there is no official announcement made, and/or this is the second or third agency move I've seen this same agent make inside of a couple years... maybe I'm wrong, but that is a HUGE red flag to me.
Again, maybe I'm wrong, but this makes me think the agent is hard to work with, is hard to please, is not happy with their job and they're trying to fix it by switching employers, etc, etc. This is exacerbated by the fact that sometimes the agent's clients do not follow them to the new agency. I've seen clients that do follow their agents wherever they go. The ones that don't... again, maybe I'm wrong, but I'm seeing more red flags.
That is just one example of how watching someone over a period time can change your opinion of them. You won't see that kind of thing when you take 10 minutes to read a few blog interviews of an agent you've never heard of and then query them spit-spot.
Another important thing for me is watching an agent's record of sales. This one can be tricky. An agent's sales history has so many different things that factor into it that you can't go solely on this as a way of deciding whether or not a certain agent is best for you.
On the other hand, if you're watching over a period of time, there are some things that will jump out at you as either a red flag or a green light.
Some things to watch for regarding sales:
How often does this agent make a sale? Are those sales in the genre/type of novel you write?
Remember that Publisher's Marketplace is not always an accurate representation of sales. Look on the agent's website, the agency's website, follow them on Twitter (most agents tweet their new sales because it's exciting for them and the author), follow their clients on Twitter or blogs, etc. Newer agents will have a higher number of clients than sales when they're just getting started. This is okay. But not forever.
Watching the type of books sold is crucial, in my opinion. For example, an agent may state in their guidelines that they rep YA contemp... but that alone includes SO many different things. There are issue books, there is YA romance - ranging from sweet to sensual, there are mystery/thrillers, etc.
If an agent has a wishlist on their site, that's a good start but not necessarily the bottom line. I like to know their reading interests - but are they able to sell it? That's the tougher question. A good agent will answer it honestly.
Are those sales for debut authors, established clients, or both?
I look for a nice mix of both. As someone who is querying, I want to know that this agent has a good eye for what type of books have what it takes to breakout in publishing. I also want to know that they'll be with me for the long haul, that they can keep making sales for me book after book after book. I want a career partner.
That's just me, though. Not everyone feels the same way on that point. Some authors only have one book in them, and they know this, and they're okay with this, and this affects how they choose an agent that's best for them.
What publishers does the agent sell to?
Eh. This is a touchy one. Not sure if I want to expound on it with regards to me personally, so I'll just say that you, as an author, need to know which publishing houses you think your book might be a good fit for so you can discuss this intelligently with your agent before you go on sub. Or, more accurately, you should know which ones you definitely do NOT want to sub to, and have solid reasons for that viewpoint. If you don't, you could end up very disappointed in the long run, even if your agent brokers a deal for you.
Especially with how many small press publishers have cropped up lately, most of which accept agented and unagented submissions... do your research. Not all small press pubs are bad, or even close to bad. They are also not all good.
If you're unsure about someone or something, the Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum on Absolute Write is a gold mine for researching things that aren't frequently talked about in the blogosphere.
How many foreign rights deals have been made for their clients? In what countries?
I see this talked about so infrequently when people talk about queries and agents that I think it's quite possibly the most overlooked aspect of agenting. Foreign rights deals are important. Keep an eye on them as closely as you do domestic sales.
In fact, foreign rights deals are more important to me than film options. But that's just me.
Okay, I think I've pounded on that subject enough. There is more to sales than that, of course, but let's move on.
The final point I want to make is about feeling out an agent's personality. The best way to do this? In my experience, Twitter. Agents who tweet (and editors, too, for that matter) have a way of either winning me over completely, head over heels in love, or... turning me off to querying them for *anything*, even if they were the last agent on earth still open to queries for my particular project.
Not even close to kidding with that statement. And unfortunately, the latter happens more often than the former. Agents who snark it up on Twitter, to the point of going overboard (in my opinion), are not anyone I want to work with. Period.
Agents who seem to tweet all day long, yet have an 8 week response time for queries also make me wary. Why are they focusing more on Twitter than their own slushpile? It gives me the impression that, even as one of their clients, I won't be more important to them than tweeting about their family vacations. Maybe that isn't really the case, but that's the impression it gives.
And again, this is not something you can make a judgment on in just a few minutes, or even a full day of Twitter-stalking. Follow them for a period of months, at the very least. You will see patterns emerge, for better or worse.
And one final thing that is somewhat related,
Just because an agent has rejected you before doesn't mean they won't fall in love with something you send them later. And vice versa. Just because an agent has requested your manuscript in the past doesn't mean they will request the next thing you send them. I have experienced both scenarios. The first one, obviously, is sweeter.
No matter what stage of this process you're in, no matter how many times you've ridden the Query-Go-Round, a rejection of your manuscript or query letter is not necessarily a rejection of you. Keep writing. Keep being you. That is the only way to achieve your dreams.