Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Things I Learned From Playing Agent Today

Today I finally got around to shuffling through the queries over on Nathan Bransford's blog for his "Be an Agent for a Day" event.  Let me tell you, it was a lot of fun!  I highly recommend you give it a try if you can squeeze out some free time out of your day.  It is a great learning experience to give you some insight into the other side of the business, and to help you with your own query.  Casey gave a great sum of what she learned here, but I'll add a few of my own tidbits.

Some highlights of what I learned:
  • Sloppy writing will get you thrown out immediately.  I found myself not even finishing a query if it opened up with an awkward sentence, or some other mistake that fragrantly caught my eye.
  • Voice is more important than a catchy premise.  While a good tag line up front helps, the style of the writing and whether or not it pulled me in was infinitely more important than the one-liner hook, or overarcing premise.  If it was a great hook with lackluster writing, I found myself thinking the hook felt gimmicky.
  • Get to the story right away.  Whenever there was a paragraph of praise toward the agent/writer's accolades at the beginning, I skipped it.  If you're going to include this, put it at the end once you've already got the agent loving your voice and story idea.
  • Accolades help, but not as much as I thought.  If I liked a query, the mention of some publishing credits confirmed my decision to request, but their presence did not sway me into requesting if I didn't much like it to begin with.  Also, a lack of publishing credentials didn't prevent me from requesting if I liked the idea and query.
  • When an agent says it's not right for them, they're telling the truth.  Now more than ever, I realize that that intangible "it's gotta click with me" is one of the most important decisions that an agent makes in deciding to represent someone.  This is the biggest reason to query widely; you never know who it might click with.
Interestly, I only ended up requesting three manuscripts out of the fifty--instead of the alloted five--and none of them were in the genre I typically read.  I found that the most difficult part was deciding in one paragraph whether or not the story idea and writing merited another look.  And most of the time, they just didn't wow me enough to request, especially if I had tons of other agenting things to work on.  Of course, I'd imagine that's how it is in real life, too, which means your query really has to have pizazz to make it out of that slush pile.


Casey said...

Great post! You covered some of the afterthoughts I had after posting my post (gee, that sounded redundant.)

Particularly the "it's not right for me" one - it's so terribly true. SO subjective.

I only had three requested by the end, so I added 50 because it was a pretty good query, and then went back and chose another.

Can't wait for Saturday. The curiosity is killing me.

Paul Äertker said...

Are you sure you're not an agent? That was a great recap of Nathan's contest. I agree with everything you said.

And btw, did I mention that I follow your blog, Tyler, and I have read all the newspaper articles you wrote while in high school, and I was awarded the Uzbekistani Mountain Writer of the year in 2005 and the credits just keep going...

Tyler said...

Thanks, guys!

I, too, can not wait for Saturday. I'm leaving my choices at three in the hopes that MAYBE I picked all three just right. :)

And wow, Paul, those are some impressive anecdotes and accolades; I would be sure to include those when you query me.

Katie said...

I LOVED doing that Nathan Bransford thing! How crazy. And you made great points. I will never start a query again with how much I admire them, etc... because it is distracting and I just wanted to know what the story was about.

And the shorter, the better! (at least for me)

And yes - TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE. There were some great queries, but I just wasn't interested in the subject matter, so I passed.

I didn't find it hard though. Either I liked it, or not. I wasn't torn as to whether or not to take it.

But it was hard as far as the amount of reading.

very interesting.

PurpleClover said...

I have to agree with everything you said. Isn't funny how these are the exact things agents tell us all the time on blogs and FAQ's but it's like we couldn't understand until we filled their shoes for a day.


Christy Raedeke said...

Fantastic post, Tyler! It is really helpful to read through so many at once, isn't it? Looking forward to seeing who wins...

Tyler said...

Thanks, Christy! Yeah, I can't wait to see who will be crowned "Superstar Agent."

And PC, it definitely is one of those "you can't really know it until you do it for yourself" things. I'm so happy Nathan put on the contest, and that I was able to find the time to participate.

Katie, I totally agree with the shorter the better. When I scrolled to a query that took up most of the screen I found myself saying "ugh" before I even started reading it.

Great comments all around! It seems every learned a ton from this event.

Corey Schwartz said...

Wow, fascinating. I didn't do it, but I have a feeling I would have requested many more than three. Am I passing on something that could be very good?

It's the same reason that I would make a terrible juror. I will always have doubts.

Casey said...

How'd you end up doing Tyler?

I got two of the three and I'm happy to report that those two were in my original three picks!

Missed the bestseller though!