Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 9

When's the best time to query? Hell if I know.

I had planned on the spring, but I wasn't ready. The months passed, and I still wasn't ready. Come early August, I wondered if my work would be reviewed by summer interns still in college.

I figured most summer interns would be gone by mid-August. I figured agents would be going on vacation, too. But if I waited until Labor Day, when the publishing world lurched back into high gear, I might get a brand new batch of completely inexperienced interns, and agents would be far too busy getting back to piled-up desks and in-boxes to want to deal with me.

So I decided to send out my queries and pages in the August 10 - 15 range.

I basically went in order of my list. As each email went out, I updated the status. I contacted a total of fifteen agents, ultimately, and I'd say a dozen or so were agents I had met at Query Roulette, conferences, or through webinars. The last few were 'cold' queries, including the agent I ultimately signed with -- Jane Dystel.

Most of my queries and pages generated auto-responses, like 'We will only respond to those queries in which we are interested,' or 'I am out of the office through Labor Day.'

Two came back with personal responses (both from Query Roulette agents): First, 'Hi Terri, Thanks for the email. I'll try to read this before I go away for vacation, otherwise I'm back after Labor Day...' and the second, 'Terri, please let me know if you receive an offer of representation...'

I really liked the first agency, and was delighted that the agent herself actually promised to read what I'd sent. The second response was from another agent I'd also liked tremendously, but it had me baffled. She wasn't making me an offer, she hadn't indicated she was reading anything. Was there some hidden meaning I didn't understand? (The answer came, about two weeks later.)

Email queries and submissions are soooo easy to do, really. Once you have all the shit out of the way (see my previous posts re the manuscript, the query letter, and the synopsis), all you do is follow the agency submission guidelines, block and paste into an email, and swishhhh. It's off into cyberspace. Along with the screwed-up 'Dear Agent X' query that goes to Agent Y's email address... 

Certain agents, though, don't take email queries. I noticed that with some agents who were either closed for queries, or the head of their agencies. And for someone with mobility issues like me, well, the idea of snail mail - like going to the USPS for Priority Mail, or the UPS Store - makes it even more discouraging.

Everyone I was querying took email, either because their sites allowed it, or because they had given me their email addresses, so no biggie.

Except for one agent.

This was someone I really wanted to query, albeit as a 'cold' query. She had gone to Georgetown Law School (like me); she wrote on her agency site that she wished she saw more 'great story telling;' and her bio said she had 'an abiding interest in legal subjects.' I believed 'Client Relations' would fit the bill, with its plot lines, and strong legal theme. I read all of her interviews, including a few where she discussed self-published books. Her openness to spotting new talent had caused her to sign a few best-selling self-published writers.  Although I never wanted to go the self-pub route, I liked how this agent embraced the reality of self-pub and technology, instead of denying its influence (like so many other agents).

On the other hand, the agent was Jane Dystel - and she's one of the top agents in New York. Which is to say, the universe. (Hey, I'm a New Yorker!)

I discussed the snail mail hassle with my husband. You know, like, 'Should I bother? She's never going to take me, anyway. Everyone else takes email. Maybe I should wait for the others to get back to me....' But, with his encouragement, I headed to the UPS Store the next day with my submission packet: Query letter, synopsis, and Chapter 1.

Around bedtime that night (of course, when else?), I realized I'd forgotten to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope per the agency's submission guidelines. So I sent that out to Dystel & Goderich Literary Management under separate cover, the next day, expecting to hear nothing for a really really really long time, and bracing for the worst in the interim.

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