Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quagmire by Any Other Name is Still...Quagmire

This post is in response to Josephine’s question, “What if a query said "MY TITLE is written in the tradition of X and X" (best selling novels)? Would that be an instant turn-off? Auto-reject?”

It's all in the phrasing. If you state that your work is the same as a famous someone's work, your stating that, as an artist, you are at the same level as him or her, which might be viewed as an arrogant and presumptuous statement. Why even say that your book is written like anyone’s book? Why not let your work stand on its own merits rather than make comparisons? Some agents might view this as name-dropping or you might run the risk of naming an author’s work that an agent can’t stand, which could be a complete turnoff. So why take these kinds of chances by mentioning someone else’s work?

I know for many this might sound like a cop out, but when querying agents you really don't know how anything will be taken on the receiving end; you can only do the best you can based on the knowledge you have of the agency or agent, or lack thereof. So in that case, it might be safer to pick and choose your phraseology carefully, which is standard practice when writing a formal or business letter to someone you don't know well. Err on the side of caution.

Would it be an instant turn-off or an auto-reject if you said your book is written in the tradition of a certain author’s book? That would of course depend on how well your book was written and on how familiar the agent was with the referenced work. If you offer a comparison to an author with whom an agent is unfamiliar, he or she might think you don’t know what you’ve written and are trying to move attention away from that fact by trying to impress him or her with your vast literary knowledge. Another aspect is that if the agent knows the work to which you are making your comparison and your novel or book doesn’t stand up to that comparison. No matter how you phrase it, you are asking for trouble.

As far as I’m concerned, I base my acceptance on many things of which a well-written work is only one. If your book meets my requirements and I think I can work with you, I will represent your work. In other words, I over-look name dropping in favor of other factors.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Question of Social Networking

There are five questions in the series that Miss Expatria submitted. We will post the questions and answers one at a time here. Here’s the second in the series.

Question: How much has online social networking changed the way you do business, both in your dealings with potential clients and with the industry as a whole? Do you think this phenomenon will force the process to evolve over time?

Answer: Social networking per se, hasn’t affected the way I personally do business. The structure of how writers contact agents would have to be redefined and changed before much effect would be noticed. Most agents don’t solicit business, at least not in a conventional sense. Size, location and reputation have more bearing on who we are than anything else. Unfortunately, more emphasis these days placed on location than anything else as novice writers believe that being located in or close to NYC gives agents opportunities those of us outside the city don’t have. However, if an agent is known, has a track record for being able to find books editors want to publish, and is easy to work with, location means little in this business.

Social networking does a great job in giving potential clients a view of who we really are and in that respect networking has helped let those seeking agents know who we REALLY are. My current approach is to be out there more as a person rather than as an agent. Agents have gotten such a bad rap because of a few bad apples that if an agent looks to be too solicitous, danger alarms go off. With all the horror stories floating around on the internet about scammers, it’s no wonder writers are cautious. However, most agents actually like people, especially purple ones with orange stripes.

Because of the nature of the querying process, a literary agent, many times, is the first and possibly the only contact with publishing a new writer experiences. And because of the very nature of the query process, this experience might be very discouraging. Most writers experience rejection early on at the hands of a frustrated agent who, to keep up with his or her massive query load, will usually send a cold, canned rejection letter to all writers while muttering under his breath—“Dumb Ass!” Social networking does help remove some of social stigma caused by this frustrating experience. Writer and agents, know that we aren’t who each of us perceive the other to be so networking allows us to show our real, hopefully not to scary, faces to the public and gives us the opportunity to help each other en mass rather than one at a time, which we don’t often have the time, energy, or the opportunity to do.