Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office
Weather: 67º and cloudy
First, let’s talk about yesterday’s worst case scenario– when your queries go out to a dozen agents and . . . nothing. I appreciated the responses. Excellent.
Here’s what I offered as options:
A. You wait patiently to hear from the seven potentially open queries. Several of you said this would be your first instinct but then most of you decided to move on to a more proactive approach. Good for you. While one or more of these of these may eventually come through to request the proposal your time is as valuable as the agent’s. And when an agent is too swamped to read a query it’s probably inevitable that they are too swamped to take on new clients at that moment. When you don’t hear or you get a non-descriptive “no” it means nothing. Let me repeat that. When you don’t hear or you get a “no” it means nothing. Don’t extrapolate any meaning from that. It doesn’t necessarily mean the query is bad, the book is not viable, the writing is lacking or the author is uninteresting. You can’t read meaning into it– there’s not enough information. It could mean the agent has no time, it could mean he’s full, it could mean he has a client with a similar project, it could mean he doesn’t have the kind of contacts to sell that particular book. I know there’s nothing more frustrating to a writer than no feedback but unfortunately that’s what happens. (As to the why, we could do a whole blog post on why editors and agents don’t give feedback when we pass– suffice to say experience has taught us that feedback begets arguments or dialogue or offers to rework, etc. When we pass we don’t have the time to invest on correspondence. Sad but true.)
B. You decide the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You recontact everyone, giving more information and even a little nudge or two along the way. A couple of you chose this course of action. As Jen said, things do get lost. Bill and Kathleen suggested that it was the proactive course. While this would not be my top choice, it is business-like and there is nothing wrong with it. I’m not sure how effective it is because most agents respond to queries pretty quickly if they are interested, but it is appropriate and should not be considered out of line. Of course, you may not hear back even after the nudging.
C. You reconsider the query itself, the chosen recipients and the method of querying. More than half of you chose this option. And it would be the one I’d recommend. Take a good hard look at the query. Is it the best it can be, describing the book and introducing the author? If so, okay. If not, time for a tweak or two. When you start to get feedback in the way of a personalized response or requests to send the proposal and/or partial, you’ll know you’ve found your effective query style.
Then look at the agents you first targeted. Did you read the websites and query them according to their guidelines? Our guidelines state that we only take e-queries, giving a specific email address for queries and yet every day I get dozens of queries sent to my working email address along with a handful of snail-mailed queries. Those I throw in a basket to answer if I ever get a chance. So far, not many have been redirected to the correct query protocol since it falls outside of my routine. So, pick the target agents carefully and send them exactly what they need.
And then consider changing up your method of querying. Sarah suggested conferences– meeting the agent in person. Excellent. I would guess that a good percentage of my clients I met or observed at conferences long before I signed them. You notice I said observed as well as met. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get to formally meet an agent at a conference. We are there with your eyes open and very often we are impressed with a writer long before that writer is ever introduced.
D. You give up. You gave it your best shot and failed miserably. A number of you said that this is your default but that you pick yourselves up and eventually choose another option. Good. Somehow you have to separate emotions and this career or you’ll get beaten to a pulp. Silence upon submission is not a commentary on you or your writing. It can mean any number of things, most often that the open slots are few and there’s precious little time agents can spend responding to writers they can’t fit in. It’s an unsatisfactory state of affairs but it’s reality.
So. . . that brings us to tomorrow’s worst case scenario. Here it is:
You have an amazing book burning a hole in your life. You have the material, you have the expertise but you have no platform– no built-in audience– where you can help market the book. What do you do?
A. Throw in the towel. It’s hard to sell a book these days even when the author has a well-established platform.
B. You find an expert or a celebrity who has a huge platform to co-write with you.
C. You self-publish.
D. You begin to build a platform.
Which of these would you do? Please feel free to comment, choose your strategy and tell us why. Again, if you have real world experience with this, please share.