The Why Not Theory

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 25 2008

I’m a big believer in “why not” take the chance, because what do you have to lose? I hear from authors all the time who say that they were thinking of submitting to BookEnds but figured it might not be quite right for us. Well, why not? Obviously there are areas I’d advise you never to submit to us—poetry, children’s books, or screenplays—because frankly we know nothing about those genres. But if you think your book even remotely fits into a genre we represent and you want to submit, then do it. Throw out all of those other rules and blog posts and just do it. What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen? We send you a rejection that says we don’t do that and maybe suggest you do some research. What’s the best thing that can happen? You’ve hit an agent at a time when her interests are changing or broadening, or she has a secret love for just what you are writing. Or maybe you’ll just grab her with something new and different, but something she can’t put down.

A Why Not is how I came into fantasy. It was never a genre I saw myself representing or reading, but after offering representation to an author for a book that crossed the line between fantasy and romance, I discovered it was a genre I really wanted to be involved in, and now regularly seek and read.

And for those of you who are published, the same holds true of your editors. If you’re unsure, just say “why not?” It’s the why nots of the world that become what everyone else wants to be.


29 responses to “The Why Not Theory”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m about to go on submission and,
    WHY NOT?

    Thanks, Jessica!

  2. Jessica, I’ve been lurking on your blog a lot. I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the information you share with your readers. Thank you for the terrific posts.


  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    One word of caution to an excellent post… the risk of “Why not” is far greater for the writer than it is for the agent.

    Some cyber-space writer friends of mine have been burned by signing with agents that didn’t “really” know much about the YA market, but thought “Why not?” and offered to represent a few titles. They signed those YA writers, thinking the market was hot (it is) only to have their books not sell, not be pitched to even the correct type of publisher (Edgy vs. Literary) or even a second round of submissions being sent out.

    “Why not,” may work very well for the agent (looking to branch out) but they still have all their bread and butter clients if it doesn’t work out. Writer’s end up with no agent and a book that while not shopped WELL, has still been “shopped.”

  4. Avatar Kimber An says:

    I have to agree with anon 9:48.

    Besides, this is another example of conflicting advice confusing the heck outta me. Half the time I don’t know if I’m coming or going in Queryland, trying my best to accomadate the myriad of preferences of agents and editors. And just when I think I know what’s going on, an agent or editor will advise the exact opposite. At times, I just want to throw up my hands and say, “This is nuts,” and go self-publish instead.

  5. Avatar Candi says:

    LOL, Way to break the rules!
    Writers love to here stuff like this.

    In an industry that has so many rules – of which many of us bend in the name of creative license – one of the one biggest rules is, don’t query the wrong agent.
    Do your research, learn what they like.

    Mt guess is that most agents just love good writing, obviously within the areas they agent, but still good writing is the key.

    I like knowing agents haven’t become robotic. I want to know my agent doesn’t pass my book through a formula checker to see if it fits. I want to know that they read it as a reader first, then take on the challenge of refining.
    And are actively looking for someone who wants to do something ‘new’.

  6. kimber an–
    I believe that if you are yourself, you follow what YOU think works, then you’ll find the right representation. I don’t mean run roughshod all over submission guidelines, but you won’t want to work with someone you don’t agree with anyway. Send the best you’ve got to every agent with an inkling of interest in your genre. And good luck!!

  7. Avatar Heidi says:

    I’ve been muttering this to myself all week as I debate between agents I think I might have a shot with and agents I really love, who probably get hundreds of queries a week.

    A very timely post!

  8. I also agree with Anon 9:48, but my first thought after reading your post is that a lot of writers won’t take a “why not” chance because they’re afraid that, despite putting hours of research into the agents they’re querying, they’ll inadvertently break some rule/guideline and shoot themselves in the foot forever. Glad to see someone encouraging us to take that chance though!

  9. Avatar green_knight says:

    I can tell you ‘why not.’ I most write fantasy, and currently have an adult fantasy novel to sell. So why not indeed. The thing I am working on, however, is YA fantasy, and I do have a science fiction idea in the queue (admittedly, somewhere way later).

    Would it be a good idea to submit to an agent who does not represent half the things I write/want to write?

    In the end, I think it comes down to trust – it’s great for an agent to be enthusiastic about a new genre and willing to learn about it – but do they understand the ideosynchrasies of that particularly genre? Are they widely read? Do they know the editors who are buying and do they know what those editors are looking for? Just because an agent has a good track record in one genre does not mean they’re automatically a good agent for a different genre, and especially as a fan of speculative fiction I have come across a number of people whose understanding of fantasy is limited to the urban fantasy/paranormal romance spectrum; querying such an agent seems like a waste of their time and mine.

    And while I am overjoyed that you are now accepting fantasy, could you please update your submissions page to reflect that?

  10. As the old ladies in the casino are fond of saying, “Ya can’t win if ya don’t play.” Liking this blog.

  11. This is fabulous advice. Thank you, Jessica.

  12. Avatar Jessica says:

    Breaking rules is great! Sometimes.
    I like everyone else’s comments and don’t have too much to add.
    Interesting post 🙂
    Oh, but even if a book was shopped to “wrong” editors, couldn’t it still be shopped to the right editors?
    Just wondering.

  13. Avatar Liza Knight says:

    I loved this post. People should always take a chance if they truly believe in their work.

    Thank you for another positive uplifting post.

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Not sure I agree with your definition of the worst thing that could happen. For me the worst thing is sending something and not getting any response at all. Does that mean i’m not even worth of a ‘no’? (Includes your agency by the way)

  15. Avatar sboman says:

    I can hear hundreds of agents cringing at the thought of this. Onslaughts of queries because the sender thought, “why not?” will be pouring in in no time.

    I have had terse replies from agents I “why not”-ed. I don’t think this is good across the board advice.

    Research the agent – read their blogs if they have them, then you can see who might be a little more open to your sci-fi-cooking-cozy-romance novel. You can learn a lot about an agent’s personality and out-of-the-box thinking potential by reading any interview, blog, article, forum that they’ve put their thoughts on.

  16. Thanks, Jessica. Now I know who to query first when my fantasy is ready.

    And thank you for all your previous sage advice.

  17. Avatar Madison says:

    Needed to read this. Thanks!

  18. Avatar AstonWest says:

    Would have given this a “bah!” and moved along, but had a recent experience which lends more credence to the notion. Accidentally submitted (a short story) to a place that doesn’t accept my sub-genre, but came to find out that rather than rejecting it outright, one of the editorial team liked it a lot.

    Go figure…

    Don’t think I’m up to going against submission guidelines on purpose though…even if it could be a “why not” moment.

  19. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Jessica @2:30 —

    Re: “Couldn’t it be shopped to the right editors after it was shopped to the wrong ones?”

    See, here’s where it all gets sticky and why I think “Why not” isn’t good advice. When the “Why not” agent has exhausted the five or six editors they have relationships with that might buy that “Why not” novel, they lose steam for the project all together.

    They don’t know the market well enough to name editors off their head who might love it. They start shooting it off to editors at random — sending to houses only to find that YA editor left for a different company three months prior, sending to editors that do contemporary, not fantasy, ect… And having no pull, no reputation in that arena they’re trying to sell in makes for a tough sale for even the best of books.

    These clients also often get dumped after no sale comes through, as well. And no “other” agent wants an already “shopped” book. It simply doens’t happen.

  20. Avatar beckylevine says:

    I think the qualifier here may be do as much research into an agent as you can and THEN say “why not?” We can’t (I wish!) step inside an agent’s mind before querying them, so there’s always a risk. But I know, if I don’t take those risks, I can be SURE nobody will represent my book. If I do take the risk, at least I’m giving myself that chance.

  21. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    I take the post to mean if you have something that is straddling the fence of what the agency normally likes, there is no harm in still querying.
    It’s obvious if they state no YA that you wouldn’t submit a query about a YA novel.
    Your story, or your voice, may be the one to change their mind if the manuscript is fairly close to what they like. And you’ve got nothing to lose. So, take the risk. It’s just a query, and by email. You don’t even have to lick a stamp.

  22. Avatar Janet says:

    How about Christian fantasy? I’ve got just the manuscript to make you love it. ;o)

  23. Avatar Santa says:

    As the old adage goes: We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

    ‘Why not’ makes this first step a little less daunting.

    Thanks Jessica.

  24. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    I can relate to what Aston West said. I know we’re talking about “why nots” with agents on this blog, but it’s also true with editors at magazine and book publishers.

    I was recently in a critique workshop with a St. Martin’s editor who’s not one bit interested in fantasy, but I chose her group because I wanted professional feedback on an unfinished project. She really liked my steampunk urban fantasy sample enough to request the full manuscript. So you just never know what will hook an editor, or an agent, who normally doesn’t care for the genre you write. There could be “something” there that trips a trigger.

    At the same time, as far as agents go, I completely get the concern many have expressed. That’s really true. It’s risky. So it’s up to you whether or not to take that risk. Wow, tarot cards anyone? Rune stones? How about tea leaves? You just need to decide how much of a risk you’re willing to take.

  25. Avatar ChristaCarol says:

    My line of thinking, Jessica! What’s the worst that can happen, a rejection? We’re all expecting some of those anyway. 😀

  26. Avatar Melisa Blue says:

    I’m also taking this advice as not going hog wild with submissions, but to take a risk. Jessica isn’t the only one who has said this. I was on Nathan’s blog earlier and he said *paraphrased* “A good book is a good book.”

    People are more willing to put their necks out on a good book that’s different, than the same ol’ variety that’s bad.

    Your mileage may vary.

  27. “Would it be a good idea to submit to an agent who does not represent half the things I write/want to write?”

    In my previous life as a writer I had one agency for my suspense and another for my children’s books.

    Ideally, a person can find someone who reps everything they write, but sometimes that just isn’t going to happen. Your agent might even recommend someone.

    In this life I am writing fantasy, but I do want to write some historicals someday. Ideally, my agent will be able to rep both or at least recommend someone who likes historicals.

    Yes, I know it’s not good to genre hop, but my ladies will haunt me in the afterlife if I don’t do their stories. I just want to rest when I cross the river, not run from irate spirits.

  28. I’ll probably stick to the ones who either rep what I am writing or I have a feeling they might like my style at least.

  29. Avatar Matthew says:

    I think I need to start using this theory more often for writing and submitting my work in any situation. Maybe it’ll make a good excuse to get off my lazy butt and finish what I’ve started. Thanks.