I have never met a literary agent. It would be interesting to talk to one to find out more about their jobs and what they do on a daily basis. How much time they spend on queries. How much time they spend talking with publishers. How the whole selling a book process works…
Most literary agents seem to be in the New York City area. Others are in LA or San Francisco, Denver and a few other places. A lot of the agents who don’t reside in NYC have a little explanation on their websites that they don’t need to be in NYC, where apparently most of the publishers are. Being in the age of of e-mail, it’s probably much easier and in reading agents’ blogs, they seem to travel to NYC periodically.
Therse are a few other things I wonder about too.
Is job hopping prevalent with agents? In my short time querying, I’ve seen a lot of change over. So when it comes to querying my next story, I can’t just send to those on my list. I will have to go back to websites and make sure that agent is still with that agency.
A funny thing happened a few months ago.
I queried Jane at Agency A. I queried Mary at Agency B. On a Friday, Jane responded and said she was not interested. On Tuesday Jane responded to my query on behalf of Mary (who was no longer with Agency B) that she wasn’t interested.
Did Jane switch agencies? Or are the two agencies tied together somehow?
This confused me slightly so I decided to write Jane (now at Agency B) and ask if she switched jobs. She responded. She’d indeed had switched jobs, taking the place of Mary.
The whole thing was weird because it happened within a span of a few days. But it was nice of Jane to respond to my query to Mary—even if it wasn’t a yes.
I also found that agencies share addresses although I can not otherwise find a link between them. In Microsoft Excel, when you start typing a similar word it does the autofill. So are these agents just friends and share a common workplace? Or do they work together even though they each have their own agency?
No more queries…
Some agents post on their website that they are no longer accepting queries. (Some never accept unsolicited queries—you have to be referred). Most of the time they’ll give a specific date when they’re opening back up, othertimes it’s indefinite.
Why do they do this? Are they in query overload? Have they recently acquired several clients and need to concentrate on them?
Being in ND, I don’t get the opportunity to smooze with litarary agents. Maybe someday I’ll get to attend a conference and meet some agents and learn more about how their jobs. It’d be fun to learn more about what they do.
Did you know there is a big debate raging out there? Okay, maybe it’s not raging, but I’ve seen people on the internet arguing about what is better, literary fiction or genre fiction? For a while I was confused about what literary fiction means because even the experts can’t agree to a specific definition. But I think I got it now.
A simple way of looking at it is like this…
Literary fiction is like an education from Harvard. You think you’re better than everyone else because you read some 1000 page intellectual novel that nobody else gets. And you paid way too much money for that privilege.
Genre fiction is like a degree from a state college. Anybody can read it. Anybody can write it. And this book is really the same as that book, and that one, and that one.
Joking aside… this is how I see the difference.
Genre/popular/commercial fiction is more plot driven, more commercial, open to a broader audience.
It includes different genres (of course) like horror, romance, suspense, science fiction…
It is more for entertainment.
Literary fiction is more character driven and often appeals to a lesser audience.
It is more about the changes inside a character than what is happening to them on the outside.
It is more thought provoking.
It tends to be more descriptive and stylishly written.
I didn’t really know there were two different categories until I got into writing. A lot of book club books probably fall into literary fiction. Right now I’m reading The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton for our MOMS Club Book Club. I assume this book falls under the literary fiction category. It has long descriptions of places and things but I don’t mind it because it’s interesting. The story takes place in Australia and England over a long time period (1900, 1913, 1975, 2005). A woman is trying to figure out a family secret that her grandmother had been trying to uncover. It’s told from the perspective of at least 5-6 people and sometimes it gets confusing keeping track of ALL the names, but I like it so far.
But back to the literary versus genre fiction.
From a reader’s standpoint, I probably prefer genre fiction and read more of it. But from a writer’s standpoint, writing literary fiction would be much harder for me, so I admire it in one way. I don’t know that one is necessarily better than the other because it’s all about personal opinion. But I hope that at least now you understand the difference between the two.
On my home page, it says, “Because reading and writing are my two obsessions.” Maybe I should have put writing first, since this blog is more about the writing end. But it sounded better that way I did it, so I’ll leave it. But time for a post on reading.
There are not many books I have started and not finished. I thought of posting this after I didn’t finish a book club book. Luckily my book club is very forgiving. It’s not the most serious book club because we all have young kids and try keep track of them as we talk, but the ladies are all fun.
So here’s my list of unfinished books (as an adult—I don’t remember the teen years).
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – Started in early 2000s – I know it’s a classic and it is on many required reading lists, but I didn’t like it. I got ¾ way through (and I had to force myself at that), but I couldn’t finish. I like war stories in general and I understand that there is no “normal” in war, but the main character was unrealistic to the point of absurdity. (This is how I remember it, as read probably 8-9 years ago.) I could/would possibly try this again sometime. We’ll see.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – Started in early 2000s – Another classic. But seriously Ms. Woolf, those long sentences stopped me cold, including the one sentence that had 52 words—no exaggerating—and I didn’t make it past the first chapter. So sue me, I like period breaks every once in a while; maybe it’s poetic, but I didn’t like her style and it would take some convincing before I try read another Virginia Woolf novel.
King Lear by Shakespeare – Started in the early 2000s – Plays are okay to read, although not my favorite. But it was the Elizabethan English and the footnotes that got me—in my version half the pages were half footnotes and they seem important because sometimes they explain what the words. “I am so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to’t.” I wouldn’t have understood that “brazed” meant unashamed if the footnote hadn’t told me. I’ll probably try re-read someday because he is WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE after all and I still have the book. Maybe I should read it the first time and ignore the footnotes. Then re-read with footnotes. Good idea, but when would I find the time?
Notice the big jump in years due to lack of reading (children being the excuse)
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III – Started in 2010 – I don’t know why I quit this one. Maybe because I just had other better books to read. It still looks interesting so I’ll probably read it someday.
The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer – Started in 2011 – I finished 120 pages. And since my book club (who doesn’t mind if you don’t finish the book) filled me in on the rest of the non-story, I don’t feel the need to finish. I was bored by the lack of plot. 120 pages and I felt like almost nothing had happened.
That’s all I can think of right now. Generally I hate not finishing a book, so it takes a good reason to quit. I’m curious about what other people do. If they trudge through it no matter what, or if they give up right away.
When the Mist Clears, a paranormal young adult novel, is my current project. I’ve just finished my first draft and am looking for feedback from a few friends (beta readers). If you’re interested in reading it and are good at analyzing stories, let me know. I can always use extra help.
So this is it… When the Mist Clears
At the end of a horrible day, seventeen year old Lyrica commits suicide. There are plenty of reasons why she is dead. Mostly because of her mother… who kicked her out of the house. And because of her boyfriend Eddie… who dumped her when she needed him most.
While living among her family and friends, Lyrica begins to see her old relationships in a new light. Lyrica understands that she has become a ghost for a reason, but doesn’t why or how to change anything. All she can do is stand by and watch as the lives of her sister and mom start to fall apart.
The guilt is enough to kill her, except that she’s already dead.
Since I’ve written a little about queries, I’ll now write about query rejections. According to my very unofficial approximated tally, only about 50% of literary agents even send responses.
A general rule is that if you don’t hear from them in about 2 months, you can probably consider it a no. Many of them will tell you on their websites what their response time is, if at all. It can vary from 2 weeks to 3 months.
Most of the replies are form rejections. So I’m impressed when I get one that is addressed to me personally. They don’t offer much advice though. (Which I do understand, but don’t like.)
Usually what mine have said is that they are not the right fit/agent for this project. That could mean several things. Maybe they don’t like the story. Or maybe they don’t like the writing (it needs a lot of polishing). Or they’re just not looking for that type of story right now. It could be a lot of things.
I had one agent say Frosty was an “interesting premise,” but wasn’t right for her. I had one agency tell me it wasn’t “polished” enough. That was very helpful and since then I’ve done some major polishing and other additions so I could resubmit to them. Normally you wouldn’t do that, but I called the agent’s assistant and she said it was okay to resubmit.
Some of the rejections are apologetic, like they don’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings. They remind you that writing is subjective so there may be another agent out there who might get excited about your story. Often times they wish you good luck. But as I said, this is usually a form letter.
I wish they had the time to give a tiny bit of feedback. A form letter would be fine, but if they could include a little check box with these options, it would help.
__ I’m not looking for this type of story now
__ Your idea sucks (could be for many reasons, but at least you know it’s the idea and not the writing)
__ Your writing sucks
Then I wouldn’t have to wonder what it means when they say, “I am not the right agent for your book.”