Tweet-Qs, Tricky Edition


For this edition, I’m tackling some toughies, along with some from the last round’s comments. Let’s get to it. Again, feel free to offer up your questions, too.

Q: I’m less than a month away from starting to pitch novel # 2 … which has good prospects, I think.  Novel #1 was tantalizingly close. One agent basically said, “do this revision and I’ll have another look.”  My (somewhat convoluted question): is it worth looking for an agent for # 2 with the thought that you want them not to run screaming when I bring up the subject of revising and trying to sell #1?

A:  So long as there is no submission (to publishers) history with #1, there’s no reason an agent would see its existence as a negative. Doesn’t mean the agent will agree it’s sellable. I repeat: It doesn’t mean the agent will agree it’s sellable. Sometimes first books never go, and for a reason. But strictly logistically speaking (holy adverbs Batman), it’s not a dealbreaker. If it’s a dealbreaker for you (i.e. you only want an agent who is equally enthusiastic about Books 1 and 2), that will be a more complicated agent search. I would still advise you to query with your strongest work, and mention other projects when you talk with an agent who is already receptive to your work.

Now, if it had been previously represented and sent to 25 houses, that’d be a very different story. I have taken on and sold books with a prior submission history. But I had to love them a LOT, and also feel confident, after seeing the submission list, that I could blaze new ground there. If I see the sub list, and it’s virtually identical to what I would’ve done, or has really hit every viable house for a book, then I’m probably not going to have a different enough take to make a difference.

Q: Partial & full requests, rejections w/ positive comments, 2 yrs, still no agent. When does tenacity become foolishness? And seriously, your honest, gut answer. Not the “keep querying” and “write something new”. Been doing that. But so frustrated.

A: Oh, I hear you. First and foremost–I hear you. This is a tough and subjective industry, and it can seem like you’re just beating down the same (locked) door. There are a couple possibilities that come to mind here:

  1. it’s execution; your concept and pitch hook readers, but the pacing/characters/storytelling are letting them go–check for fizzle (where your opening is incredible but the rest is less polished);
  2. it’s concept; your writing is good, and from the pitch it seems like there could be something there, but you haven’t hit on the Big Breakout Concept that feels like magic and will nab an agent/editor;
  3. it’s timing: ahead, behind, whatever, you’ve just not hit the right intersection of Your Idea and What People Are Buying. This one really stinks, because you can’t control it. But that’s the unfortunate thing about this industry (and for that matter–life): you sometimes have the illusion of control, but there are so many moving parts that try as you might, you never really do.

Q: Going back the YA saturation–are you seeing anything in particular that there aren’t enough of? I’m sure that everyone is on the sparkly vampire bandwagon now–but what young readers are getting missed by the YA wave? Serious and dramatic? Contemporary? Fantasy? (please don’t say more Gossip Girls)

A: Fear not, the answer is not “more gossip girls.” It’s tough to say, though–I think everyone is looking for something slightly different. Editor A will tell you middle grade is underpublished; Editor B is looking for dark & scary; Editor C says urban fantasy is still strong while Editor D is totally over it. Same applies to agents; what we want to add to our lists changes depending on what our current clients have cooked up, our moods, and what we’re hearing, so I’m reluctant to issue an edict that any one thing is It.

Q: When an agent says they didn’t connect with the manuscript enough to offer representation what does that mean? I’ve had three agents pass on my full manuscript. They all said that the writing was strong but they didn’t connect with the manuscript enough to offer representation. Two asked to see future work. I sent my second novel to one of those agents, again he complimented my writing but said he didn’t connect enough with it to offer representation. I sent 30 pages of my second novel to the other agent who requested future work and he said I was a talented writer and was sure I’d find a home for my work but that this story was right for him. Should I keep sending queries out for my two novels or should I pull back and revise? I’m still getting a steady stream of requests but I don’t want to burn bridges with writing that isn’t ready.

A: Well, first off, if only three people have passed on your book and you’re still getting requests, it’s way too early for despair. Honestly, “just didn’t connect” means a trillion different things, almost all of which have to do with me, not you. If I thought your story was slow, or your characters unlikeable, I would say so. But think about your own reading. You don’t love every book you read, and that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the book. So if there’s something I think needs fixing, I say it. But personal taste is a huge part of this job and so there really is no code or secret here–“I just didn’t connect” means exactly that. Keep querying. But it’s a decent bet that if someone has seen and not loved two of your books, they may not be your ideal reader, unless they’ve specifically asked to keep seeing your work. Expand your search, and focus on querying your strongest book (Others’ mileage may vary, but I have a really tough time with it when I have a novel, and an author tells me they’ve been offered representation–on another novel. What am I doing with the other one then if that’s the one you want sold? Plus, now  if I want to be in the game, I have to read an additional full manuscript–oh, and under a time crunch. Nine times out of ten, I will step aside instead. Frustrating and avoidable. Focus, focus).

Q: What about YA geared at boys? Is there a market for it?

A: Yes. Everyone wants the next King Dork or Percy Jackson. And there’s a perception that a boy main character will be read by girls, but not vice versa. (Make of that what you will.) Honestly I think the problem is twofold: 1, a lot of people have no idea how to write a teen boy that feels sharp and realistic, and 2, there isn’t as much out there, so teen guys tend to have migrated to other sections of the bookstore, as opposed to teen girls, who have plenty to keep them coming to the YA shelves.

Q: How many clients do you take on a year?

A: It’s different every year. The plan for 2009 is approximately as many as I: 1) absolutely must represent or I will never be able to walk into a Borders without feeling abject regret and 2) can represent well while still maintaining a high level of service to both existing and new clients. #1 is of course your goal and #2 is impossible to know from the outside, so you should always at least give me a try with that query (big smile). In practice this means that if three current clients have YAs, or historical romances, or personal finance books in the works, it’s going to take more to get me to add a new one. I never want to cannibalize and you shouldn’t want me to either, as it wouldn’t be best for your work. This necessarily means I will pass on solid, salable projects, especially for fiction. But I also tend to think that these kinds of things intersect where & how they do for a reason, at the risk of sounding too woo-woo.


11 Responses to “Tweet-Qs, Tricky Edition”

  1. 1 Ames

    Thanks for answering my Q, oh wonderful one 😀

    My youngest (13) reads manga AND YA fiction. I have a good friend whose son (about the same age) reads Orson Scott Card. Last time we were at BN, there were def more girls than boys in the YA section–the boys seemed to be clustered in the Manga section!

  2. Thank you so much for this, Holly. Your heart to teach and encourage aspiring authors does not go unnoticed by the masses. 😉

  3. *holy adverbs, Batman!* — One of the many reasons I totally love you! =)

  4. It’s funny that you mention that girls will read guy protags and guys will not. I wonder if that’s because for a very long time, in some genres (i’m looking at you, SFF) the male protag was the standard. If you wanted to read it, you kinda had to get used to the male protag.

    I’ve also noticed on PM (not that I obsessively lurk there or anything) the upswing of extremely romantic YA sales. I wonder if YA romance is a subgenre of the future or if this is just a current trend?

    Anyhoo, loved your answers. Woo woo!

  5. Fantastic questions and fantastic answers. This helps alot!

  6. I have a question similar to what you’re discussing, what if one novel is written by a single author and a second one is co-written by 2 authos. Both have just started being queried, with partial requests and rejections with personal notes thus far. Will a single agent be most likely, or in this case would it be common to have seperate agents for the cowritten and single written piece?


    • Hey Kristen, thanks for the comment. I can’t think of why one author would need two agents just because of this; more likely, you’d have an agent, your writing partner would have an agent, they would coagent the cowritten book. Or if you land an agent with your solo work and your cowriter is unagented, your agent could handle for both parties, at least for this project. For what it’s worth, I would recommend you each query your solo projects, and bring up the issue of this cowritten book with agents who have expressed interest in your writing already, as that is a less complicated prospect than evaluating a dual-author project, and the less the prospect of working on something makes me go “huh?” the better.

  7. Wonderful answers. Thanks so much for sharing your insight with such an honest, open response.

  8. Thanks for the answer hollyroot!


  9. I’ve got a question regarding your submission form…there’s no place for a pitch. Does that mean you don’t want one? Just the synopsis (with spoilers)?

    • You can paste in your pitch there. In general though if you’re querying me (holly) you can email your query to me direct; for Scott, Byrd, or Farley, the form is your best bet.

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