Thursday, May 7, 2009

There's Nothing To See Here... Let's Move On

Crisis averted. Blood sugars normal. No hospital trip necessary. Thank you all for taking my little rant about my health to heart. You're awesome!

Moving on...

I've been thinking lately about the early process of publishing... getting the agent to read and love the book we've so carefully crafted. And I came to this conclusion:

If I'm not getting offers it's because of at least one of these three things:

1. The query isn't good enough
2. The writing in the manuscript isn't good enough
3. The subject/plot isn't appealing to the readers

Maybe this all seems like common sense, but I found it so helpful mentally to lay this out, because it helps me to know how to proceed, and it's encouraging. And I like lists. :)

I think my query is fine. I've gotten at least 12 requests (I stopped counting at some point, when the process starting really dragging out), which may not be 50% request rate, but is still fair enough to mean it isn't awful. I've also had at least 5 referrals from agents who got my query but just aren't taking on new clients or thought someone they knew would be a better fit.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't think it's my writing. I only say this because my mother and husband have read my book and say I'm a fantastic writer.

Just kidding!!

No, really, aside from people I know (including my writing group, whose job it is to critique and yet are such good friends now they probably have some bias too), the personal responses from agents are all very positive about the writing. I've gotten more complimentary rejections than I care to count! And I've gotten quite a few fulls requested from partials, which can't mean I'm an awful writer, right?

So the only option left is the story.

And the more I think about it, the more I understand how this is often the big stumbling block for writers. You may write a kick-butt query, and write like a dream, but if the agent just isn't that into your topic, doesn't connect, has seen too many similar, it's going to be a no.

While I thought my topic - a child dying, a mom finding a cure in stem cell therapy - would be timely and dramatic, I've had several agents say they just aren't interested in repping books where children are in danger or someone is dying or where there is some political agenda in the story (which I promise there is not!). It doesn't matter how good the writing, they just aren't interested. I suspect some of the form letters came from agents who read the pitch and thought the same thing: it's just not my thing.

This isn't entirely a bad thing. Once an agent really took time to write a lengthy email to me about the book, and why she couldn't represent it even though she loved my writing and the story, I got it. She told me to send it to Christian agents who would be able to find a place in the market for it.

And so I did. And now I have some serious interest. Maybe all that time I was trying to appeal to the wrong people. Maybe it wasn't the story, it was the audience.

But as I'm moving forward in writing my next project, I look at that list and think, if I'm going to have to start all over, scrapping my hope for the last book and querying based on a new book, am I covering all the bases? In other words, if I can write a query, if I can write well, then my focus needs to be on writing an amazing, unique story that will capture the attention of agents and readers alike.

Not that it's easy to do that. But it helps me focus on what I need to do this time around, should the last time around not work out (although I'm still keeping my fingers crossed - or saying my prayers - that MOCKINGBIRD will find it's home at one of the four agencies still holding the full). You can't rub a crystal ball and see what agents are going to want, but you can work really hard to make your idea interesting and unique. I admit, I tend to be lazy that way and so my stories have been less Wow! and more, yeah, that's life.

If you are in this place like me, querying, waiting, figuring out what your next steps are, just remember: you can't please all the people all the time. Not every agent is going to love your book. If you know your query is good, and you know your writing is good, then rest in the knowledge that all you need is the right agent to connect with it. And when you move on to write something else, work hard to make it unique and different and appealing. Try to think objectively: is this the kind of book I'd read about on another blog and have to go out and get based on the blurb?


  1. This is a great post. I hadn't thought about this, but it makes sense.

    I'm still in the butt in chair just finish this thing phase. Haven't even thought about querying yet.


  2. Congratulations on the interest. But it does beg the question. Is it better to be a fantastic writer or to have a fantastic story?

  3. Paul - enjoy the writing! It's truly the best part. The querying thing really can suck the life out of you!

    Patti - Oh ain't that the truth!! I think agents will say you have to be both, but I'm putting my money on the fantastic stories. Not that I have one, but I think there are a lot of fantastic stories out there with very mediocre writing. And lots of readers for them.

  4. You took such time with this post and you so hit the nail on the head1 Another one to hold onto and savor. Thanks Heidi!

  5. Excellent post, Heidi...but the nicest thing is your determination to see it through.

    I am really happy you've got that interest. :))))))


  6. Twelve requests is an amazing number, as is your perseverance. I think it's sad for everyone that editors/agents/writers look at the monetary potential of a book and not just at the "I love this book and it needs to be published." Maybe if enough people clamor for good stories written well, there might be a shift back to those good ole days.

  7. First, I'm SO glad you're okay. Scary stuff! And in case you were wondering why I've suddenly assaulted your inbox with comments, it's because for some reason Blogger stopped relaying your posts to my Dashboard so I didn't even realize that you were posting. I was thinking, man I haven't seen anything from Heidi lately, and I popped on over. Lo and behold, here you are blogging away...I just didn't know it!

    Secondly, congrats (and good luck, with fingers crossed!) on the agents still holding your fulls...that's huge!!! I think your numbers are great! I'll add one thing that I've been hearing more and more lately, especially as my middle-grade is getting ready to go out on submissions soon...agents are being choosier because editors are being choosier. This economy has made a big dent in publishing, so that could have something to do with a quick jump to make an offer as well.

    But, I like your odds. And I can't wait for the "I've Got An Agent Post"!!! (assuming Blogger lets me see it.)


  8. Nice! Why didn't I just create my own blog post: "Dear Heidi"

  9. Kimberly - You crack me up!!

    That's happened to me with blogger and other writers a few times too, so I get it. :) I didn't sit around grinding my teeth thinking, "Man, that Kimberly is totally dissing me!"

    I can't even imagine the "I've got an agent" post right now. It seems so... I don't know. Against the odds? A dream? Something that happens to other people but not me. It feels so unreal.

    But I'm hoping this one I sent today... I'm thinking it will be a much better fit for this agency than the others. Maybe... who knows?


  10. I totally know what you mean, because even though we send query after query, and manuscript after manuscript, I'm not sure anyone really feels like it will most certainly happen for them. It's such a "pipe dream" kind of thing. You sort of feel like one of those *thousands* of people who show up and stand in line at American Idol, wondering have my parents just not told me that I really can't sing???

    But it really does happen for someone, why not you? (That became my mantra) And the harder you work at it, the more likely you are to become that person.

    Good luck (again) on the new mailing!!!! Maybe it's "the one"!

  11. Kimberly - I've said exactly the same thing!!! What if I'm one of those people who doesn't know I can't sing?? (metaphor only... I do know I can't sing!!). I've said before, agents need to be a little less egg-shell walking and a little more Simon Cowell. Nicely, of course. :)

    So why not me?

    I feel like I've known your personally for a long time. One of these days I'm going to have to fly to Seattle again and meet you face to face.