Posted tagged ‘literary agents’

Obelus query status

October 19, 2020

A friend once kept an account of the submission status of his novel on his blog, culminating in his publishing success, and I thought I might do something similar with Obelus.

I’ve mentioned before that I truly think submitting a novel — to agents and to publishers — is a numbers game, and success is more likely to be achieved through volume rather than precision. I think the factors in success are so variable that even the best written query, adhering exactly to a site’s submission requirements, can meet with rejection unless it reaches the right agent in the right mood on the right day. Something that might seem appealing on a Monday morning could get dismissed on a Friday afternoon. I realize that literary agents are professionals, and for the most part I don’t think they are capricious, and I’m sure they know their markets, but they’re human too.

I’ve visited hundreds of agent websites and studied their wish lists, and in my observation these are imprecise, suggesting an agent will just “know it when they see it.” Sure, many agents say, for example, that they are only interested in women’s literature or young adult novels. That’s precise enuf for me to know not to send my query. (What of a young-adult novelist? Is it clear what type of YA novel the agent is looking for?) But when the agent lists “literary fiction” as their field, just what does that mean?

Not much, and so volume approach.

To date I’ve sent 77 queries to agents, mostly by email though a handful were submitted via a given site’s online submission manager. I didn’t do a tally, but I think most of these have said they won’t respond unless interested. Several state that if there is no response within a specified number of days, the query was rejected, which amounts to the same thing. One said to expect a response in six months. Others have spans of a few weeks to a few months. It’s because of this that I’m not doing the conventional method of picking my “top ten” targets and waiting until I have a response from each before moving on to my next ten. I just don’t seen how that would be efficient given the variables.

In some cases, the agent will list their clients so that you can get an idea of what they like, but in nearly all of those cases, I’m unfamiliar with the authors or the list is of the last ten years of Pulitzer Prize winners. In a couple of cases the agent has asked for my “platform” and “marketing plan,” which I can see might make sense for nonfiction, but for reclusive, antisocial fiction writers, not so much. (I can’t ever see myself as an “influencer.”)

Of the 77 submissions, I have received 15 rejections. Most of those were automated and most came within days. As unpleasant as a rejection email is, I think it’s better than not getting any response at all. I have received two personalized rejections, including one that offered some praise and went into detail about why it was declined, even welcoming further submissions.

I think I’m about halfway through the potential agents listed in Duotrope. It’s a painstaking process, and on a good day, I can get about a half dozen submissions made. I expect a couple more months of this, all the while refining my query letter.


Here’s a random picture of some round rocks:


October 5, 2020

Simple word. Not so simple process.

In the last couple of weeks I have been submitting queries to literary agents for Obelus. (The novel is as finished as I can get it, though I did add “like an aneurysm” at one point in it over the weekend.)

This is harrowing work! It requires a lot of mental effort and a certain robust level of self belief, at least for me. I’ve written a query, and rewritten it a few times, and rewritten it more than a few times when I’ve pasted it into an email and re-read it. I struggled for a long time (well, several weeks) with writing a synopsis, then rewriting it to get it under two pages, then rewriting it every time I opened it. And then assembling all of this in the specification of each agent I thought might be a suitable target.

I’ve been researching agents every day. Mostly I’ve been relying on the huge listing in Duotrope (approximately 850 good souls), which is searchable based on a few criteria. But Obelus is quirky enuf — BTW, I’ve replaced nearly every occurrence of “enough” in the manuscript with “enuf” as part of the metafiction — that the search criteria in Duotrope don’t really align with it. After exhausting the few listings for “comedic” and “quirky” I’ve just begun going through the hundreds of agents who are interested in “literary” and visiting their actual websites to see if they might be suitable. (That’s another beef. Many of the agent websites are more biography than interest. You can often learn more about their education and pets than about the kinds of fiction they’re interested in.) I send my emails or complete the site submission forms and cross my fingers and move on to the next. (I’ve also dipped into AgentQuery, but I think that site’s gone static, and Manuscript Wishlist, but that’s pretty vague.)

I’m still convinced this is a numbers game. I can’t get a clear enuf indication from the listings and bios exactly what most agents want, and I suppose it’s an intangible want anyway, that I mostly just submit to any who don’t specifically rule themselves out. For example, I’ve come across many “literary” agents who turn out to only be interested in young adult novels (but no sparkly vampires, thank you!) or family sagas or even nonfiction. Those I pass. But the remainder mostly get a query from me. I feel that sooner or later my query is going to land before the right agent in the right frame of mind at the right moment to create an interest.

I don’t think I’ve exhausted even a quarter of the potential agents in Duotrope (either with a submission or a confirmation they’re not suitable), so I’ll be at this for a while.

Curiously, I have not been doing much other writing. I have an idea for my next novel, but it’s still gestating and far from a point where I can begin writing it. No short stories are demanding my attention, though I have a few ideas I think are pretty good.

In other news, grand #8, named Paul, is doing well. He’s three weeks old today, and I’ve been to visit him in St. Louis once (though with the virus rampant, that’s a risky thing to do).

various thoughts on submitting a novel

May 29, 2019

I’ve begun submitting queries to potential agents for One-Match Fire. I dithered and hesitated for a long time, thinking the wording of the cover letter had to be perfect. But I knew I would never recognize when perfection was achieved, and I also knew I was mostly just stalling.

I’ve put my basic query together, and I refer to OMF as a novel-in-stories, and I continue to tinker with it, but it’s now a working document that I customize for each submission.

I’m using the new-ish agent function at Duotrope’s Digest. It’s still considered beta, but I’ve found that it seems to be more current than what’s at AgentQuery. I don’t know if the former “polices” its entries better, but I have seen some outdated information about agents at the latter. Duotrope also keeps a log of my queries so I don’t have to.

What’s common I’ve found at most of the agents I’ve submitted to is a statement something like “we will only respond if we are interested.” I guess that’s easier for them. And maybe it’s easier on the hapless submitter not getting dozens of soul-killing rejections. But like the promised letter or postcard that never comes, you wonder.

Some agent webpages have detailed guidelines while others are sparse. Some want an attachment to the submission email, some will delete any emails with attachments. Some ask for the first three chapters while others want only ten pages.

I dipped into the OMF manuscript and removed all unnecessary line breaks so that the text I can fit into a page-limit submission will be a little greater. You never know if the added sentence or two might be the persuasive eloquence that will win the day.

I’m trying to target my submissions now. So far I’ve only submitted to agents that are interested in story collections. (I’m still not certain how lethal or benign having some of the chapter already published is. I’ve been told that a story collection often needs to have 40 percent of its stories previously published to be considered marketable. This is also why I’m calling it a novel-in-stories, which I guess is more palatable than a story cycle, which is what I had originally conceived it to be. Still, if an agent doesn’t respond because the published chapters were the deal breaker, I’ll never know that.)

But I expect that I’ll soon move into a mere numbers game once I exhaust the list of story-collection agents I can find. And maybe after that I’ll begin submitting directly to publishers who are open to queries.

And I hope that taking this action, which “means” OMF is finished, will free my mind to working more earnestly on other work.