3.19.2007

Confused? Dazed? Miss Snark blows smoke...err...CLEARS smoke that is

Miss Snark, you often say 'Follow the Directions' regarding agent queries, but what if those directions make no sense? I was going through "The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market" the other day, and found multiple entries (more for publishers than agents, but some for each) which say they "Accept Science Fiction" but later declare they want "No Genre Fiction."

I thought Science Fiction WAS a genre, so just what does that mean?

I don't know the answer to that specific question, but the underlying question is "should I query" and I do know the answer to that.

First, some background.

The reference tome you're looking at is a compendium of listings of publishers and agents. The info in those books is obtained by asking the publisher/agent a list of questions. We check little boxes for yes/no, and boxes indicating what kind of work we consider. The list of questions can run six pages. It's NOT an interactive form, so if I fail to tick "yes" on science fiction the form doesn't beep and say "wait, Snarkbreath, you forgot to tick the box and you should cause you say you take genre work".

(Also, I'm filling this out while I'm on the phone listening to on-hold music from Roc, emailing the low slung gin fizz about her ostrich egg breakfast AND telling KY that it's impossible the Hindenburg is landing on the balcony, it's just a stray balloon from the St. Patricks Day parade-in other words, not giving it my complete and undivided attention)

It's efficient, and given they list hundreds of publishers and agents, it's really the only way to manage information.

However. That box-checking system doesn't lend itself to nuance, and it doesn't lend itself to explanation.

Therefore: look FIRST at the publisher's actual website. Almost every publisher has one now. Do they publish science fiction? If they do, go to step B If they don't, don't.

Step B: make sure they are publishing science fiction NOW (versus they published it seven years ago, stopped, and now only sell backlist titles). You can tell by looking at the books they call front list AND by checking the pub dates. If you can't figure out how to check pub dates on the site, look up the titles on Amazon.

Step B for agents: look at the agent's site, and see if they sell science fiction. If yes, query. If no, don't. Not all agents have websites, not all of them list all the books they've sold, but you should make the effort to find out.

Reference tomes are good for finding names of publishers and agents, and getting familiar with industry terms and protocol. For actual lists of what someone publishes or sells, you can't rely on those books completely.

The default choice is to query. From your perspective it's better to take a chance on querying than not. From an agent's perspective, only people who write work I really want to take on should query me, but that's impossible to achieve, so we have resigned ourselves to reading 1001x more material than we will ever take on.

3 comments:

Ryan Field said...

I used to use these things for reference a long time ago back when Alyson Books was still on Plympton Street in Boston and my fingertips were black.
These books were good tools, but you never could reply on them completely, especially when it came to addresses. Always check the web site. If they don't have one try to google and see what you can find out about them. Sometimes there are connections to Amazon or Barnes & Noble where titles are listed and you can figure it out from what they represent or publish. But sometimes you just have to query like the old days and take your chances. There was actually a time when this sort of abiguity was common and no one thought twice about it.

Dave said...

The advice "The default choice is to query." is so true. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you do query, the answer just might be yes.

Sam said...

A one-page query letter with an SASE if the status is unclear is fine. No one will bite your head off. They'll send you a form letter, but so what?
I agree with the the poster. Ask.