Who Chooses Whom, and How Many Do You Ask to the Dance?

Dear Miss Snark:

While reading your blog, I came across one of your responses that I would, respectfully, ask you to elaborate on:
"After the basic stuff, query widely. You don't want to query "a" literary agent. You want to query MANY. It's more who wants to take you on, if you have good rapport with that person, if their working style matches yours, etc."

I've not done that. Instead, I researched many different agents, reading as much as possible about them from what was available online. I found a couple of agents that I felt would be appropriate for my writing style/genre/personality. I then took the time to narrow them down to one agent. (Who happens to be someone you hold in high regard.)

Now my question is this: I did my homework on the agent first, before querying - (and got a solicitation reply from the query for the first 30 or so pages of my manuscript. I am assuming... and I hope rightfully so... that this is a good step in the right direction) - and I chose the agent specifically because I felt that "this agent" would work well with me personally - which is very important, in my opinion.

It seems that the industry of agents and literary representatives is more geared to the agents choosing who to represent amongst a flurry of queries, instead of the other way around. But shouldn't the burden lie on the author to seek out the appropriate agent? Shouldn't it be the author's responsibility to narrow down and select a specific agent for their project?

Perhaps I am too new to the field and/or too inexperienced to know what I am doing - but is it possible with a single query to find excellent representation by an agent of your choosing? Has it ever happened before?
I feel that each agent should be given a chance to be "singularly" approached and given the option to accept or deny a project before the author rushes off to another prospective agent.

I firmly believe in loyalty and honor and believe that it is my responsibility as an author to make the agent's life easier, instead of stressful - which in turn, will allow the agent to be more fruitful for me in the long run.
Is this too idiotic of a belief? Could you please explain why it is important to shop "MANY" agents in your opinion?

Well, it's not idiotic at all, but what happens when everyone on your short list says no? Cause they might. And it might not have a darn thing to do with your work. They could be busy; the list could be really full; they could be in a bad mood the day they read your query; they could be getting ready to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the local God Shop.

My idea was not that you need to blanket the universe and query all agents known to breathe and several recently passed over, but rather query more than one, and in fact plan to query a hundred.

If someone you thinks is a good fit turns out to be so, well, groovy. But what we sound like on paper may be a far far cry from what we're like to work with. You don't have to scan too far down the blog to see people having horrible realizations that their "reputable, first choice agent" is a candidate for the next Hail! Bop comment.

The other thing is agents are horrifying slow about reading things. Takes me 90 days to read a novel, and that's AFTER I dinked around for a month with a partial and two weeks with a query, not counting transit time. So, if you query one at a time, you can query 24 at most and 3 at the fewest in a year. I don't know about you, but that seems um...slowwwwwwwwwwww.

As for who chooses whom, those of us who've pursued the estimable Mr Clooney know it's not simply a matter of knowing the perfect choice, it's also a matter of him knowing I am HIS perfect choice. Sadly, those two things are NOT synonymous. Mr. Clooney probably gets as many hotel keys a week as I do query letters. He gets to choose which one, even though it's clear he's the perfect choice for all of us messengering them over.


Anonymous said...

"Takes me 90 days to read a novel"
This concerns me (90 days)why? I usually have 2-3 books on the go at any one time. Max would be maybe ten days (that's spare time in the evenings)to read. Why does it take so long? I have had agents take 60 days to read the first 50 and others take 5. Can you elaborate on the process?

Dave Kuzminski said...

If you have to ask, then you might not be putting everything into your work that you believe is there. An agent looks for entertainment, marketability, style, grammar, and much more beyond those. Readers don't care about marketability, they've already picked up your book (you hope). Same with style, grammar, and other factors. Readers noticed those in the first page when they considered picking up your book to read. You only have to win them over by the time they finish your book by entertaining them for if you don't, they probably won't give you another chance. Agents have to make sure those factors are within the entire book.

Anonymous said...

In a seven year period, I queried more than 200 agents and a few editors who considered unsolicited materials. I always had at least a dozen query leters out at any given time. Unless it was specified from the agent, I never treated partials as exclusive reads--I kept sending out more letters. The only exclusive reads were given to those who had requested the full MS. At that point no more letters went out. Life's too short. I wanted to get published in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

The difference in expected review time is driving me crazy--I've one agent who says she'll get back to me in four months, another who saves five days (they're new, and I expect they're eager to get started. Either that, or I'm their first requested full)

Anonymous said...

Try not to think in terms of response time--it will indeed make ya crazy! The process must be life's lesson in patience, at least it was for me. Write to take your mind off it. And just keep the queries and manuscripts circulating!