A few #askagent questions

08May10

I did a quick round of #askagent on Twitter recently (if you search for #askagent on Twitter, you will find a veritable treasure trove of info from a ton of different agents) and I had a couple that came in after I’d left. Thought I’d go ahead and answer them here:

Q. If an agent asks an author to tell her about herself without requesting pages, should author send pages anyway?

A. My guess would be that this would happen for nonfiction, where platform is key. If you have a good idea, but don’t have the credentials and/or visibility & access to your target audience (what we call platform), unfortunately it’s challenging to find a publisher. So I can imagine, if you were pitching a nonfiction book and the query focused on a really terrific idea but lacked info about who you are and why you are the perfect authority to write this book, asking to know more about you.

If it happened with a novel, then….your guess is as good as mine! When it comes to novelists, if you are brilliant and your book makes me cry, or laugh, or just feel a lot, I don’t necessarily need to know more.

Q. How do you transition from “Hi, my name is…” to your pitch when meeting an agent IRL (at a conference, for example)?

A. Depends on the setting. If you’re in a pitch appointment, where everyone involved has a limited window of time and the point is pitching, it’s perfectly fine to say, “Hi, I’m X. My current project is…” and just launch right in. I’m also fine with a little small talk before, I really try to follow the writer’s lead. It’s an unnatural situation, I know it feels very pressured, and I just want the person across the table to feel as comfortable as possible.

If it’s not a pitch session, if you are just kicking around the hotel bar and encounter an agent in the wild, as it were, then it’s like any other social setting–follow the lead of those around you. Sometimes by the end of the day we’re so fried that being “on” and putting back on the pitch-catcher’s mask feels like climbing a mountain. Other times I know I’ve started a convo with “what do you write” to get it out there so everyone can relax and not worry about if they should pitch. If it doesn’t come up, and you’re planning to query the person, definitely mention that you chatted at XYZ event. I had a writer execute this perfectly after last year’s RWA national conference. She ended up hanging out with a group I was in one evening and she was delightful–kept it casual, interacted as though we were just two new acquaintances (which we were, after all!). Eventually I asked what she wrote, and she told me. Her project wasn’t ready then, but a couple months later she queried me, and mentioned the event and a unique accessory I’d complimented. I instantly knew who she was and remembered her positively; though I didn’t end up taking the project on, you never know and perhaps the next thing will be perfect. Either way, it was a great example of how to navigate that slightly tricky “pitch or no pitch?” pass.

Q. About how many queries/rejections do you think you should have before shelving a project, even if it’s had full requests?

A. It depends. Are you getting strong feedback that indicates you’re very close but there’s one issue at work? If three people said that they fell out of the book after X plot point, for instance, there’s a good place to start. If you’re getting full requests, your query and probably your first chapters are working for people. Is there a tonal shift at work? I sometimes see very breezy engaging queries for books that are tough and intense–tough to adjust my expectations in that situation, for example. But if you’re just getting “not right for me” or “too similar to something else on my list” or those kinds of responses, then it’s also possible you simply haven’t found the right fit yet. Consider getting a new beta reader (one who is fresh to the material and can give you a clean read) and see if something bubbles up. This is a very tricky piece of the puzzle, I know–but you must be doing something right to be nabbing those full requests. Best case scenario–your perfect agent is the next one on your list.

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6 Responses to “A few #askagent questions”

  1. Wonderful suggestions, Holly! Your response to my question was very helpful.

  2. 2 Bethany

    I love seeing new posts from Holly on my blog surfer! Try as I might, I can’t seem to get my questions to post through Tweetchat for any of the cool convos that take place so I must resign to simply read until I figure out my major malfunction.

    I have a question based on the last segment here. For you in particular, is a tough/intense read interesting at all?

  3. Thank you so much for answering my question. My work is fiction, and I was in a real conundrum. I decided to send a little personal essay, then waited. After a week I figured, “This lady thinks I’m nuts.”

    So I sent another email asking if she wanted to see an actual sample of my work. She told me to go ahead and send the full.

    Well, at least she has a little background on little old me!

  4. Thanks so much for answering these questions on your blog! Twitter is great for asking quick things, but these more involved answers are so helpful!

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions here! These in-depth answers (to my question and the other two) are so helpful – I actually feel lucky that I got a non-Twitter answer.

  6. I’ve had requests for full ms but no takers and no agent/editor has come back with specific reasons other to say, “It’s not for me.” I’m lost as to whether I should shelf the book or query other agents/editors after I’m completed with another full edit. Any suggestions?


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