- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 30 2010
Writers often bemoan the fact that agents don’t give enough specifics on their web sites when it comes to what they’re looking for. In other words, while we might say we’d like romance, you want more specifics on what kind of romance. Does the agent have a passion for Scottish historicals and shy away from anything involving werewolves, or does the agent have a particular love for any book with dogs, but despises cats?
I understand the frustration. The author worries she’s wasting the agent’s time, but more important, she worries she’s wasting her own. Even more important, she’d like it to be as easy as possible. If you know already that an agent is tired of anything with vampires, doesn’t it make it easier if you know that already and can just strike her from your list? Yes, I suppose it does. But the truth is that it’s never that simple.
The goal of the writer isn’t just to find the agent who likes what she writes. The goal is to wow an agent into discovering something she’s going to love. The reason I won’t post specifics on our web site is because that can change from day to day. If I say I’m tired of vampires I might miss out on that one query that is so brilliant it convinces me I am willing to take a leap with one more vampire book.
Thanks Jessica. It fits into the idea that there are no new ideas, just new ways of telling in a new voice.
It's actually a relief not to find specifics. Sometimes genres tend to overlap and you hear an agent likes one, but not the other. In which case you debate taking a chance on sending a query at all.
Subjectivity rears it's ugly head again. 🙂
In other words, the agent'll know it when she read it, and she can't read it if it's not sent to her.
So unless the query is about a subject that the agent has zero interest or contacts in, then query away.
What's the worse that could happen?
I read an agent's guidelines yesterday that said she only handled "quirky mysteries," and didn't handle "non-quirky mysteries." I had no idea what that meant, so I moved on to the next agent. I never thought of my mystery as quirky, so I figured it didn't qualify.
At the same time, it's nice to at least have *some* guidelines. If the agent only reads and represents romances with middle-aged protagonists, for example, it would be nice not to have to bother with my college-themed erotica, and vice versa. I wish more agents would have an "I DON'T represent" list – things like underage protagonists having sex, bloody gory murder mysteries, abuse of animals, etc. Things they're never going to change their mind on.
My desire for specifics always crops up after I query an agent on, say, a monkey book, only to read her blog the next day in which she rants about receiving a dozen monkey-query books in a row and she's absolutely sick of them. (((sigh))) And I wonder if agents really expect me to be clairvoyant. After all, I researched the market thoroughly and read and reread the agent's website, blog, Publisher's Marketplace, AgentQuery, and so on, and there was no mention of said agent being sick of monkey-books. And I'm left feeling stupid about something I couldn't have possibly known about beforehand, certain my query was automatically rejected unread because it had the word 'monkey' in the title.
I don't mind not having specifics. It's when the agent doesn't give any indication whatsoever about what they represent that I get annoyed.
I've read so many agent bios that talk about their rise up to literary agent-dom and their love of fresh-baked sourdough and weimaraners, but nowhere on their site does it mention what they're looking for.
With so few agents representing fantasy, I hate having to mark even more off my list just because I have absolutely no idea what they represent or are looking for.
I was once on a writer's board that allowed writers to chat with an agent and ask questions. This particular agent had listed one of his interests as
nonfiction/history. So I asked what type of historical books he was interested in repping. His answer–the history of sports!As a writer of historical nonfiction, I was expecting an answer such as World, European, American or even Natural history!So I think, in cases such as this one, that it would be better for an agent to clarify his preferences.
Sigh. Why must the 'tired of example' always be vampires. 🙂
Jessica, you've really inspired me. In the end–yes, I'm disregarding the business side of publishing for a moment–it's all about the writing. Tease and tantalize and draw you in. It's all about creating a yearn to know more about the story. The subject, even if it's another vampire, won't matter. Thank you.
Sometimes genres tend to overlap and you hear an agent likes one, but not the other
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What I find most helpful is when an agent lists genres they absolutely won't consider. That makes things pretty clear.