querying agents

Question and Answer…

I receive a lot of questions from new writers and other authors. Once in a while, readers have questions. Sometimes the questions are private and other times they are more generic. I’d never mention any names on this blog. But I’ve decided to answer a few of the generic questions because I think most people are curious about them.

So many writers seem to be getting into self publishing now. I see all of them on facebook and twitter promoting books of non-fiction and fiction novels. Does this mean it’s a waste of time to query agents?

Like most questions about getting a book published, there is no easy answer to this. I wish there were, but there isn’t. I can only talk about my own personal experience and how I feel about querying agents.

First, I think it depends on the book you’re writing. If you’re writing m/m erotic fiction or m/m romance, I don’t think querying agents is the best route to go. This is based on my past experience, and someone else might have had a different experience. But I never got anywhere pitching m/m anything to literary agents. In fact, I’ve had some reply with scathing e-mails, insinuating they are far too grand to represent m/m erotica or romance. Those agents who say they represent “gay/lesbian” authors are usually looking for more literary novels…the arty, sad-sack, novels where gay people are repressed and helpless, where gay people are bullied, kicked, and discriminated against in society. I call them quasi emotional novels, kind of like when you know a popular talk show host on TV is exploiting a serious issue to get ratings. And I don’t write novels like that. I don’t exploit the gay community ever. I also know one or two agents out there are gay, but not openly gay. Ironically, they represent mostly mainstream straight fiction. I’m not fond of that kind of insincerity either.

But if you’re trying to get something more mainstream published (in any genre), I certainly don’t think it can hurt to query agents. A good agent will guide you and nurture you, and set you on the right path toward publication. I do think it’s important to research each agent you do query to make sure they represent the kind of book you’re pitching. I also think it’s important to follow each agent’s query guidelines to the last letter because it will give you a better shot at getting their attention…and respect. And please be sure you never use the term “fiction novel” like in the question above. They don’t like this; they will penalize you for this. And you always want to make a good impression up front with the query letter. These days, there’s enough information on the web about most literary agents to get a feel about what they are like. Do the research.

One common factor I’ve always seen about querying agents is that writers tend to obsess about it a little too much. I’ve known writers who would spend weeks working on one query letter instead of working on their books. I know it takes time to write a decent query, but if you’re spending more time writing the query than you are writing the book, there might be something wrong with the way you are going about things. And the ironic part of it all is that it’s really the writing that’s going to impress the agent in the end, the query letter is just the vehicle that’s going to get you there.

As far as self-publishing goes, I know a lot of authors who are doing it. I haven’t, but I’ve thought about it many times. I do applaud all these authors for taking their own careers into their own hands. The Internet has opened up opportunities for authors in ways that couldn’t have been imagined ten years ago. And if you’re not taking advantage of all the opportunities out there, it might be time to take a step back and evaluate what you’ve been doing. Self-publishing used to be what writers did when all else failed. I think that’s changed now, and I think self-publishing is something writers do now when they want to empower themselves and control their own careers.

To sum it up, do it all. Query agents, query publishers who take unagented submissions. Contact all the wonderful e-publishers out there. And don’t get hung up on rejection for too long. When you hear that publishing is a subjective business, it’s not someone being polite.