3.20.2006

Scattershot indeed

Hi Miss Snark,

Now that I am in the active querying process, I look up agents on AgentQuery.com whenever I hear about them and they are not on my125-agent-strong spreadsheet. I've noticed something that I hope you canshed some light on: agents whose lists don't match the genres on their
lists.

Example: agent whose notation says "Commercial/Humor." Two of her listed novels fit clearly into literary historical. Now, I'm sure they must have commercial and humor merit to fit on her list. This, however, seems to indicate that careful research *doesn't* necessarily turn up the "right" agent. It would almost seem like a scattershot approach is better - meaning I'd be just as well off querying agents who look for "Literary/Commercial"
as "Crime/Mystery/Thriller."

I know you get irritated by writers who query you for genres you don't represent. But sheesh, how do we make it easier for you and ourselves? How do we find that line between "good writing trumps all" and "not for my list"? It seems awfully broad and blurry.



Ok, here's the Snarkism of the Day: It's not a mortal sin to annoy an agent. It's not the first thing you want to do, or something you want to aim for, but there's a trade off here of risk and annoyance. I vote for risk at least 80% of the time: query widely. Which means querying someone who might think you're a nitwit for querying them but so what? There isn't a " nitwit query list" that all agents look at before signing people up. If Agent Annoyed doesn't take "commercial masterpieces" then she's going to say no, annoyed or not.

There ARE some annoying things a writer can do that, no matter how good the writing, an agent is going to show you the door, but querying for a genre s/he doesn't represent isn't even on the list.

Remember too, categories are fluid. What I think of as mystery/thriller may look like a tone poem to someone else. What's the worst that can happen? "Not right for me". If you query enough agents to find the right one, you'll get so used to "not right for me" that you'll never give it another thought.

Query On!

9 comments:

Bernita said...

Miss Snark, you are, plainly and without exaggeration, wonderful.

And thank you to whoever asked this question.

SAND STORM said...

Note that some websites and info on sites like AgentQuery can be wrong or have wrong or outdated info. I've queried only to be told we don't market Thrillers (when I'm looking at their website or listing that says they do). Try to cross reference with other sites if you can.

Christa M. Miller said...

Thanks for answering, Miss Snark. For some reason I had this idea in my head that all the genres had unspoken and generally agreed-upon definitions, so it IS good to hear that it's all as subjective as "good writing." And it makes the "not right for me" rejections easier to swallow.

And Sand Storm, I do cross-reference where possible... PM sites, websites, Google searches if necessary. I also try to check AQ every few days because they do update so frequently.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, cross-reference, but what good does it do you? On the web, the most recent info isn't always the most recent, if you know what I mean.

There's a hilarious moment in Jeff Herman's book where an agent says that the best thing a writer can do is "read books like this [Herman's book] to find out exactly what books I represent"--and then fails to provide a list of what she represents.

There is also the baloney factor. Agents will claim to represent, say, “Time-travel Romances, Romantic Suspense, Cookbooks, and Literary Fiction.” (Or, “Serial Killer Novels, Soldier-of-Fortune Novels, True Crime, and Literary Fiction.”) Perhaps they’re afraid that their Sophomore Lit professor will read their webpage and be disappointed if they don’t include ‘literary fiction,’ or don’t claim to be searching for ‘original, distinctive, edgy voices.’ But check their client list, not what they say about themselves. If, of course, you can FIND their client lists...

Anonymous said...

One thing I've noticed is that an agent will advertise that they represent horror, but then when I look at their list, there's not a horror novel in sight. So I have to figure they either are new to the horror genre, or they suck at selling it.

I especially like the ones that list all types of genre fiction, but their sales are stacked with non-fiction. Sigh.

Christa M. Miller said...

My only point in asking was to find out whether research - the client lists, the track records, the employment history - really should "target" agents. I'm "hearing" that it's a good idea - protects the writer from scam artists more than anything - but isn't strictly necessary.

So, up-to-date information is useful, but so what if you don't have it? Find Agent Right is such a crapshoot anyway that pretty much anything we do incurs risk... as Miss Snark said. And that's all I needed to know. :)

NL Gassert said...

Researching agents can a time-consuming and often frustrating necessity. Oh, sure, I found countless agents whose information showed interest in my genre, but finding one with verifiable sales in my genres … now that’s a whole different ballpark. I know they are out there, because the publishing houses I have my sights set on only accept agented material (why don’t their authors have websites with contact information?).

Bill Peschel said...

If you think you have a good reason for querying an agent who's representing books outside their listed field, why not say so in the query? "I understand from reading (source) that you represent (these genres), but since you sold (title) and (title), I feel you may be interested in this as well."

Thus, even if you're wrong, you've shown that you've done some research, and that there's a reason why you're doing this. Only the most churlish (or hungover) agent would kick back at this approach.

This us just my WAG, however.

Termagant 2 said...

Quoth Anon: "So I have to figure they either are new to the horror genre, or they suck at selling it."

Or, third option: maybe this particular agency would drool to pick up and sell a really good horror MS, but simply hasn't found one yet-?

T2