Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Literary Agents and the Query System
I rarely ever comment on things like this. But I get a lot of e-mails from new authors who are always asking questions about querying and I often refer them to literary agent blogs where there's tons of info.
First, I think there are two good aspects regarding the query system. One, learning to write a good query is great practice...it's a skill that can prepare authors for many things. After this blog post, I'm writing a new blurb for my next book in the Virgin Billionaire series, and querying taught me how to do this. Two, queries are a connection between the author and the so-called gatekeepers and they give new authors hope. We've all heard the stories about how an author queried an agent and found representation. It happens; it's not urban legend.
I'm not going to get into how to write a query in this post. The best thing authors can do is check out agent guidelines and follow these guidelines to the last letter.
However, I think it's important to mention the query system never worked for me. At first, I thought it was because I was doing something wrong. I practiced; I sent query after query. But all were either rejected or weren't acknowledged at all. (Frankly, I prefer not hearing a negative response. I know writers disagree. But I always figured if you're not interested in what I'm selling, I don't need details...no response is fine with me; no offense taken.)
So I decided to write a mainstream novel, which is something I don't normally do...ever. And, low and behold, when I finished and started querying this novel, I actually received a positive response from almost every agent I queried. Most even asked for pages.
The only problem, which I already suspected anyway, was the novel sucked. Pure cheese!! This novel is still in my files, sitting and waiting for me to spruce it up and make it something I think my established readers will enjoy. The novel was neat, clean, well-edited, and I thought the writing was okay. But the story lacked something I couldn't pin point. I'm still not even sure, which is why it's sitting in my files.
And the agents I queried agreed. After reading the pages, they all passed on the full manuscript.
But, and this is important, what I learned through this experience was that I wasn't querying the wrong way at all. My queries worked. It's just that the agents I was querying, with my steamy erotic m/m romances with happy endings, were agents geared toward mainstream publishing. I could have queried them with Anaïs Nin and they still would have rejected me. They wanted "awesome" and "yummy," two words that aren't part of my vocabulary, and I was sending them "hot" and "sexy."
By this time, I already new I was doing something right because I'd been selling short stories to all the lgbt presses for many years. I'd already established relationships with many editors and I rarely had a rejection with any short story submission to a publisher. But the literary agents I queried simply were not interested in anything I sent (other than the awful mainstream novel I wrote,) not even the literary agents who repped so-called "gay/lesbian." The gay/lesbian fiction they wanted was the same old brand...the violin and sad sack story about how awful it is to be gay, blah, blah, blah...and that's not what I was trying to sell. It's not what I wanted to write. I wanted to write about what I always wanted to read growing up. I didn't have an unhappy childhood, thankfully, and I wanted to write happy endings.
I don't want to turn this into my own personal story. I just want to let other authors know the query system isn't always for everyone, especially when it comes to m/m erotic romance. I honestly believe an author could query every single literary agent in the world, with the best m/m erotic romance ever written, and they'd still get rejected.
And, it would be nothing personal. Authors can't blame literary agents. Sometimes they like an author and the author's work, only they just don't know what to do with the author. But authors can take advantage of all the new opportunities that are out there now. In other words, if you're writing erotic romance of any kind, spend more time querying e-publishers than literary agents. One, you'll make more money because the contracts are standard and extremely uncomplicated. Two, you'll be able to build a lot of publishing credits and a nice fan base.
Here's another tip. Don't knock digital self-publishing and 99 cent e-books. I have had new authors send me their manuscripts, I've read these manuscripts, and the books are excellent. I've been more than happy to help promote them. One self-pubbed author I know is constantly on all the best selling romance lists. Another is building a solid career in, of all things, YA fiction after he received nothing but rejections from agents. And his book is an amazon bestseller now.
Take advantage of the changes that are happening right now. You can still query agents, but don't spend all you're time doing this. It's bad for the mind and the creative process, and it will burn you out.