Reading vs. Representing

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 13 2010

As you know by now, I’ve been inundated with queries and recently spent a long morning going through and reading as many as I could get to. That being said, my goal lately is to keep the query inbox below 300 as much as possible. This is a lot harder than you would think.

In one of the responses I received the author thought it was ridiculous that I wasn’t “sufficiently enthusiastic” (apparently those words are causing a lot of angst lately) since six other agencies and three publishers were already reviewing the material. The author wanted to know how, if these others expressed interest, I could possibly reject the book if I hadn’t even read a page; what was it exactly that I would be enthusiastic about?

What I couldn’t figure out is why the author would care. Six agencies reviewing a full is huge. Huge! At that point, wouldn’t it be nice to narrow the list, to assume you already have six enthusiastic agents reviewing the material, so why would you care about this one? Unless you’re lying, of course, but I don’t think I need to go there.

In a moment of weakness I replied to the author suggesting that a review of my website might give a better indication of what I was enthusiastic about. The author replied, of course, to suggest that maybe I should consider expanding my horizons. The author said he had never read paranormal romance, which is what I said I liked, but would not refuse to read it.

And there’s the rub. You are not asking me to “read” your book, you are asking me to consider “representing” your book. Those are two very, very different things. You might consider reading a paranormal romance if I suggested you read it, but if you are a mystery writer, would you want to write a paranormal romance just because I thought you should expand your horizons?


26 responses to “Reading vs. Representing”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I have had agent representation. When agents say they don't love your writing as much as they would need to, then you do NOT want that agent. If that agent doesn't really love, really believe, really persevere after a few rejections, then your manuscript will flounder. It will not get sold. It will end up like mine, partially shopped and deader than if it had never been represented. If you are offered representation do not accept unless you are convinced that agent will go to all lengths to sell your baby.

  2. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    I don't think most authors have any idea how hard it sucks to polish and promote a manuscript that you just don't like. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, either. You could write the most brilliant, witty and insightful novel about professional football ever, and I'd still rather stick an icepick through my ear than read it even once.
    Do you really want me to rep your pro football novel?

  3. I'm still amazed the author wrote back to you to argue. I received one of those rejections earlier this week and it never occurred to me to write back and say, "but wait a minute…" Hell, I was just happy to get a response (that whole "no response means no" bugs me, though I do understand why they do it. But I'd rather know my query got there–but I digress).

    Every agent blog I read, and many of the websites say the literary world is subjective. Expand your horizons in reading? Sure. But that doesn't mean you're going to like it after you read, either.

    Erm…now I'm rambling. Sorry about that. Have a good day!

  4. Avatar MadDabbler says:

    I had a recent rejection on a full that was basically a form reject, and it stung. Then I really thought about it: did I want that agent promoting my work if she wasn't excited about it? No way. She loved the voice and plot, but something just didn't grab her. Is that what she'd convey to publishers? I shudder to think so.

    So she enjoyed the book (great!), but not enough to rep it (ok). There's the difference between reading and repping for me. And when I do get the RIGHT agent, I know she'll champion my work effectively. That's more important to me than anything else.

  5. Avatar wry wryter says:

    You either like peas or you don’t. Even if someone tells you how healthy they are, how tasty and cute little green balls can be, if they are not your favorite veggie then why would you mix them with your sweet little carrot disks.
    Expand what?
    Mix peas with Alfredo sauce, now that will expand more than your horizons.

  6. Avatar Kimber An says:

    "if you are a mystery writer, would you want to write a paranormal romance just because I thought you should expand your horizons?"

    Actually, I'm the kind of girl who would love that, BUT I wouldn't have the *time.*

    And I imagine you don't either.

  7. Avatar Mike Mullin says:

    A small portion of what you find in any miscellaneous hardware drawer will always be wingnuts. This writer is clearly one.

  8. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    This sort of thing (including talking back to someone who said "no", but that's a different story) really shouldn't be that complicated. All a writer really needs to do is think about the last 50 books they've read and ask themselves, "Did you love it or like it?" If you just liked it, did you like it enough to want to live with it and the author for a year or more? And in the case of the author, for years and years?

    I recently read an espionage novel by a very well known writer, the book was made into a film starring major stars, and I could barely finish the damned book. Yeah, it was probably a best seller, etc., but if I had been an agent and it had come across my desk, I just can't imagine wanting to rep him or that book, unless it was all about the money, which I suppose sometimes it is. Still…

    Word verification: hypyr

  9. Very true. But this has me wondering- have you ever accepted to represent something that wasn't your usual genre?

  10. Avatar Tracy says:

    I call BS on the author claiming six other agencies were reviewing his work. I can't see any reason why he would care to dicker with you unless you were his dream agent. Given that he doesn't understand what you represent, I find that hard to believe as well.

    I was actually thankful when you rejected my partial several months back. (Okay, maybe thankful is the wrong word.) It made me realize that the idea was there, but I still needed to strengthen my voice quite a bit. Too bad some writers can't accept that not everyone loves everything.

  11. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Mike M…in our house we call it a junk drawer. Lots of loose screws in mine.

  12. Avatar Florence says:

    I am not amazed that the person wrote back to argue with you.

    I am amazed that you had the exchange at all. That is to say, with over 300 queries, the blog, the clients e-mails, personal reading if you ever get time for it, reading you clients, selling your clients and …

    you took the time to have an exchange of e-mails with this person.

    This tells me something about you beyond who you are as an agent 🙂 There is the person who had to take those precious minutes to answer. How amazing is that?

  13. Sounds like your rejection rattled a fragile ego. "It's not great unless everyone loved it!" If that's the case, I can understand the sentiment, but it's unfair and rather silly to project those issues on to you.

  14. Avatar ryan field says:

    Like Judge Judy says, paraphrased…If it doesn't all make sense, it's probably not all true.

    Six agencies?

  15. Avatar Joy says:

    Wow, this is one author who has too much time on his hands. I'm lucky if I even make time to WRITE let alone badger agents about why they didn't think my work was fantastic.

  16. Avatar M.A.Leslie says:

    If someone is being considered by that many agencies how do they find the time cast such judgment on how you run your operation. It would seem to me that they might have better things to do, but what do I know I am not working with anyone yet.

  17. Avatar Amy Tripp says:

    Wow. I'm kind of taken aback by that author's attitude. It sounds like you handled it well, though.

  18. It's like any relationship, really. Do you want to be friends with someone who really cares for your company? Do you want to date/marry/be seriously involved with someone who doesn't really love you? OK, you might want those people, but in your heart of hearts you should know the relationship would be unbalanced and unhealthy, because the affection is one-way. It would accomplish nothing and likely end with stress and tears. Though an agent-writer relationship is a professional one, the same principle transfers. You should want to work with someone who loves what you offer.

  19. Avatar LaylaF says:

    I think the author is not telling the truth. If someone had six agents interested in their work, they wouldn't take the time or have the interest in having this unpleasant (somewhat spiteful) exchange…not to mention burning their bridges with you.

    And if by some slight chance there really was six other agents considering his/her work, I bet those agents would love a "heads-up" on what a difficult client this author would be to work with…

    Jessica, you are a gem.

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Agree with last poster.

    There are no six agents.

    Don't waste your time with people like this.

  21. Avatar Ajay Pandey says:

    The missing point, not being appreciated is the placment of genre before an agent. Apart from a very nice writing with brilliant structue and flow, without any syntax error, what matter is how comfortable an agent is with a particular genre. If he or she loves thriller, we cannot place romance and force her to read and then represent. Secondly, why should anyone challenge the professional prerogative of an agent. An agent, after all, has to live in this big, bald and bad world. No one does charity and why should anyone. Is any author willing to do charity? If not, why expect an agent, who makes a decent living through a sheer hardwork and dedication to the literary world? The author should ask this question before challenging an agent's wisdom, before anything else..

  22. *sniffsniffsniff*

    Smells like entitlement. You didn't say yes, therefore the author thinks you owe him an explanation. Once he gets one, he further thinks you owe him a policy change coupled with a change of mind. What arrogance; all you owed him was the initial reply.

    Also, if I had six fulls out with agents, I'd be twelve shades of incoherent speaking to any of them, never mind having a peeved conversation with the agent who said no.

  23. Avatar Micah Maddox says:

    Unfortunately, writing is a community of people, but not necessarily professionals. I personally think "not sufficiently enthusiastic" beats the hell out of "Garbage" or "Wow, this is really terrible." 🙂

  24. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It works both ways. I've been turned off by authors who claim they rep mystery/suspense but all I see are romance titles. Do I really want a "romance" agent trying to push my thriller? Heck, no.

    Agents have brands and specialize, just like authors–and are known by editors in those certain circles–so I'd think more than twice about approaching just any agent about promoting your baby. In romance terms: Do you really want to be seen with a goth geek if you're the homecoming queen at the prom?

  25. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Sorry–I meant AGENTS (it's late)

  26. Avatar Susan Spann says:

    The analogy I like to make is this: would you really want to marry (heck, even date) someone who looked at you and said "well, yeah, you don't totally suck to be around."

    Of course not.

    You're not marrying your agent, but the same idea applies. That agent has to convince an editor/publisher that your book is worth buying over all the other choices – that requires more than "yeah, well, this didn't suck."

    I want an agent to love my book as much as I do. More importantly, I need that if I'm going to succeed.

    If my book takes an agent outside his or her "happy place" – it's not a good match and I'd rather (s)he pass.