Thursday, August 23, 2012

Agents Are Subjective...But So Am I

Quick announcement before I dive into the post--after much debate, I decided to postone the contest until December. I feel horrible about promising this and not doing it right away. I've been trying to work on that. But while writing up the post and getting all the details together, I realized that logistically, it was wiser to wait. So while that stinks, it gets to be SO MUCH COOLER if I do it in December. So bear with me. It will be worth it, I promise.


Here’s something I’ve been hearing agents say a lot lately: “I need to fall in love.” This is one of the hardest things about querying. You can write an outstanding query, and have some incredible opening pages, and you can know in your gut it’s good—but you can’t guarantee an agent will love it. 

And that’s rough. While researching potential agents for MIRRORPASS submissions, I heard the “fall in love” phrase over and over again. Agents said they wanted voices that would hook them and plots that would make them miss a subway stop. They said the market is so tough, and their inboxes are so full of queries, that they can’t take on a project unless it’s absolutely perfect for them. 

Some factors of “perfection” garnered from interviews and profiles :

·         It has to fit them and their tastes.
·         It can’t be too much like another client’s book.
·         They need to know right off which editors they could pitch this to.
·         And they have to love it.

Which is pretty subjective. It’s more timing, circumstance, and personal taste than the quality of the manuscript. I get this. I do. But before doing all this research, it was a bit intellectual for me. I still approached submissions with a mindset hinting of, “if my book is good enough, then they’ll love it.”

Because that’s the writer’s job, right? We do our best to have a strong hook, unique voice, compelling premise, breakout stakes, and flawed characters, not to mention developing a professional writing style devoid of too many filter words, “ly” adverbs, stilted dialogue, and flat descriptions. There’s this sensation that if you do all that, eventually you’ll write The One, the special book that will make agents and editors swoon. 

It’s like a subconscious formula of success. If I do these things, my books will be good. Agents love good books. Therefore, agents will love my book if it’s good.  

There’s merit to the idea—good writing increases your chances of someone liking your book—but it’s also flawed.  

Agents receive a lot of strong submissions. Research agents for five seconds, and this becomes obvious. But agents don’t talk about their client’s projects like they’re just good books. When an agent talks about an upcoming client project, you can almost feel the sparkle in their eyes. They gush. They enthuse. They’re passionate. There was clearly a difference between projects they thought were good or interesting or unique, or even ones that had huge potential, and the actual projects that sparked some deeper fervor inside them. 

And still, I didn’t get it, until I found myself doing the exact same thing during my agent hunt. 

I found myself wanting to fall in love.

This wasn’t about agents being good or not. There are so many incredible YA agents out there, it was even a bit overwhelming. Agencies like Andrea Brown, Writer’s House, and Nancy Coffey were exceptional. Many of them were called “super agents” by their clients and interviewers. They had a great client list, lots of big deals, good connections, a fantastic agency—everything an author could want.

Now, some of them I liked. Some of them I didn’t. Some of them were right for me, technically, but I couldn’t shake the odd sensation that they weren’t right for me...that something didn’t mesh. I could name plenty of superficial reasons why—“she sells too many vamp books, I don’t do vamps, and what’s with the cutsy contemp?”—but when it came down to it, I wasn’t sure what my problem was. Anyone else would be happy to have to have this person as their agent. Why not me?

And then I stumbled upon a few agents I loved. 

I knew the difference right away. I sat up straighter. My heart started pounding. I found myself reading their interviews voraciously, soaking in every word and pasting quotes in my agent file. I found myself daydreaming about how The Call would go (though I hadn’t even queried them yet) and how cool it would be to become their client. I’d stare at their agent file, and just grin.

But I can’t tell you why those people stood out to me. They just did. It wasn’t intellectual or technical or a result of their accomplishments. There was just something about them that made me know, in my gut, they were the kind of person I wanted to work with. They had somehow surpassed like and gone straight to love.

Which, I realized, is how agents react to manuscripts. They don’t have the time and skill to take on projects unless they love them. In return, I was crossing superstar agents off my list because I just didn’t connect with them. And if I did love an agent, I wanted them to love my work back. What was the point of becoming their client otherwise?

Personally, I believe in my book. I’ve worked hard on it. I’m passionate about it. I want an agent to feel that same passion. If they thought my novel was excellent, that it had potential, but they felt no person connection—well, I’d rather they reject me. 


Even though I felt that way, even though I didn’t love every agent on my list, there’s a reason they got on my list to begin with. They had success stories and great clients. They worked with a reputable agency. They stood out. I knew that if I clicked with these people, they would make me a great agent. 

And it’s the same with good writing. No, good writing isn’t guaranteed to make those superstar agents swoon. But it’s enough to get you on the list, so to speak. It makes you stand out long enough for them to finish the query, or your sample pages, or ask for a partial or a full. In the end, they may not have loved it—they might not sign you. But it was good enough for them to give it a shot, to consider it, to take a look.

And if you keep writing solid stories with strong hooks, unique voices, and breakout stakes, eventually you’re bound to write the novel that someone will love. 

That’s what I tell myself, anyway ;)

Truly and always,
-Creative A

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