This is a quiet time in the publishing world. In fact, if you are querying agents, you shouldn’t be. Worse, you shouldn’t have been querying since, at the latest, the first week in November. So when is it okay to start again?
We used to say right around January second, but given the enormous quantities of slush that make their way to the desks of agents these days, it’s probably better to wait until the middle of the month. So you’re not written off as one of those who dug an old novel out of the trunk and made your New Year resolution to find a publisher for it.
There’s worse to come.
Don’t vomit when you read this, but it really isn’t uncommon for an agent to come into the office sometime during the height of the December holiday madness, look at the mountain of mss and queries, decide that on the basis of past experience it’s likely to all be unpublishable crap, and sweep the lot into a very large box marked trash. She’ll even rejoice when she comes in next day and sees it’s all gone.
Meanwhile, you are still waiting for that phonecall or e-mail that says, “I’d like to read more of the book. Please send me …”
And waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
We know of writers who after a year continued to believe they might hear from the agent. They will not. And this applies to requested ms pages as well as original queries.
Give it up. Go on to the next agent. But not until the new year is well and truly underway, and the holiday scramble is forgotten. And most important, at the same time, go on to the next book. If you are not getting enthusiasm for what you’re sending out now, you probably haven’t made the cut. At least not this time.
That’s true despite what I said above about piles of slush being tossed into the circular file. Here’s why: Your original query is very likely to have been read. Every envelope is opened by 99% of agents with a lifting heart full of hope. As in, “Please God, let this be something I can sell. Maybe something marvelous…” If she knows right away that it is not (as in she wasn’t grabbed by the first few paragraphs of your letter, and her run-the-eye-down-the-page look at the rest of the stuff you sent) you will get one of those immediate pre-printed not for me things. Not taking on new clients. No unsolicited mss. Not correct for this agency. Yada, yada, yada. And lie, lie, lie.
If, on the other hand, she has a glimmer of an idea that maybe you have something, she’ll put the letter and the one page synopsis, and those first few pages of the book (you do know that’s what you should send…) to one side promising herself she’ll take another look as soon as she can. That’s the slush pile I’m referring to above. The one that’s tossed as soon as she finds it’s simply taking up too much room and she needs a place to put the rocking horse she’s bought for her nephew.
But there’s a new day coming. For you as you hunt for an agent, and for her as she hunts for the next number one best seller that stays on the lists for 40 weeks and gets a movie deal, and, and, and…
May you find each other in 2007.
Here’s a cautionary tale with a surprise happy ending that I heard about not half an hour ago.
Some six plus years ago a client came to us for a Customized Fingerprint and as soon as I looked at the answers to her questionnaire I knew she had a terrific book idea and it looked as if she could write. The book was psychologcial suspense with a legal twist, but also some pretty graphic violence. But even in the one page synopsis she did for us, it looked as if she could pull it off because she wrote so well. So I did the report and a short time later she was kind enough to let us know that she’d been taken on by the agent she’d liked best among those we suggested. So she was happy and so were we.
A few years went by and we heard nothing more, but that’s not unusual. (Frequently we don’t even know that the writer has connected with an agent until we see the report of a book sale where the author’s name and maybe that of the book rings a bell.) Only this one stayed in my mind because it had looked like such a good book and she seemed to be such a terrific writer. Then came the day when the client e-mailed me with the long sad story that the big time agent who had taken her on with so much enthusiasm had talked her into so many and such drastic revisions that she no longer recognized her own book, and then the agent went to all the best publishers and couldn’t sell it. Wearing my mentoring hat, would I read both versions of the material? I would and I did, and to make a very long story a bit shorter, the revisions were a disaster and after we back-and-forthed a bit this very talented client went back to the drawing board and rewrote the book so she at last realized her original concept. Then rewrote it again to correct some pacing errors. And finally it seemed to be a go.
But high as I was on the project - and high as she was on the project - and as hard as she had slaved over every word - we couldn’t get an agent/author combo to work. The book was difficult in and of itself (brilliantly written but it crossed genre lines) and in the bastardized version it had been the rounds with nearly every top editor in the city… The genre issue plus the weight of the baggage was pulling the whole project down.
So this very gutsy writer started another book, utilizing what she’d learned from the problems with the first. (She slotted the genre more tightly, made sure she had a great heroine with whom readers could really identify, etc.) And we pulled all the agent strings yet again. And she just called to tell me that the agent I really, really wanted her to have called her on this Sunday afternoon to say she loves what she’s seen of the new book and please, can she represent it. And they’ll sell the first one later.
So while I can’t say they’re married (for me that happens when the agent sells the damn thing - whatever damn thing it happens to be), they are definitely engaged. And I’m so proud of this writer’s guts and gumption.
The talent is, I’m convinced, a gift. The intestinal fortitude to sit down and look at a blank screen and make the words happen, even after a series of bitter disappointments, that’s the part you have to grind out.