Monday, January 21, 2008

Q & A 126 If my book is now better than it was when an agent didn't want it, can I query her again?

Hypothetically speaking, suppose I queried an agent who expressed interest in seeing the first fifty pages of my work, but on seeing those first fifty pages decided that the characters weren't engaging enough and she would have to pass on the rest of the novel. Now say that further hypothetically, this comment caused me to do some intensive work on the novel with a critique group and it is now dramatically better.

You have every right to scoff at me for not doing the revision before I started querying agents. But my question is, when is it proper etiquette to re-query the same work to the same agent? I have been querying other agents, too, but this one specifically sells the sort of novels I write. Would it be appropriate if I waited a year? Should I mention that she expressed interest last time?

Hypothetically, what do you mean, she expressed interest last time? You sent a query, she agreed to look at fifty pages, she looked at them (or at some of them) and said she didn't want to see the rest. Is that the extent of her interest?

Some agents reject books by saying, Sorry, but your novel doesn't sound like something I would represent. Other agents feel that's too impersonal, so they have come up with a few standard explanations for breaking your heart, explanations that sound good but mean nothing. The top ten:

10. It's not commercial enough. Translation: I didn't like it.

9. It doesn't meet our present needs. Translation: I didn't like it.

8. I wasn't enthusiastic enough. Translation: I didn't like it.

7. My workload is such that I'm being very selective about taking on new clients. Translation: I didn't like it.

6. I already have an author working on this type of project. Translation: I didn't like it.

5. It doesn't stand out in this crowded field. Translation: I didn't like it.

4. I didn't fall in love with it. Translation: I didn't like it.

3. I didn't find it compelling. Translation: I didn't like it.

2. It's not right for my list. Translation: I didn't like it.

And the number 1 explanation for rejecting your book:

1. The characters didn't engage me. Translation: I didn't like it.

Hypothetically, if there were ten things she didn't like about your manuscript, she would have mentioned only one, so as not to be responsible for your falling into a state of abject depression. Lucky for you, Evil Editor isn't such a wuss.

If you are determined to go through with this anyway, send a query without pages, tell her you've dramatically improved the book based on her suggestions, and are hoping she might have time to take a look. Don't mention the involvement of a critique group, as that tends to make books worse as often as it makes them better. Waiting a year isn't a bad idea, and right before sending the query, read the book again and make sure it doesn't need another overhaul. And keep trying the many other agents who also sell the type of novels you write. Best of luck.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, this sounds like me, once. The second time I subbed the foul thing to that 'show me 50 pages' agent the response was a quick form rejection sans comment. I moved on to another project. One does hear legends of people who finally got accepted by Dream Agent the second or third time the manuscript went around, but that's not the usual.

Some agents' guidelines say DO NOT resubmit a rejected/revised MS unless requested. If you see that and she didn't specifically ask you to revise and resubmit, it looks like trunk time for this thing or else you should sub elsewhere until your next project is ready. If they really love the work they'll sign you on and then tell you what to revise.

Critique groups can be excellent social groups but really bad for your writing. Usually they're most able to instruct you on how to write more like they do. Which might be helpful, or not.

Anonymous said...

So, when I was in High School there was this cute - I mean cute - girl in my English class. Cheerleader type, but not the Cheerleader Princess type, if you know what I mean. Well, I decided she was just the girl for me. Fate - can't fight it. No other girl could ever measure up. So, with the senior prom coming up, I decided I'd ask her. Obviously, right? And I composed what I word say to her and rehearsed it and rehearsed it, because it had to be just right, you know? So come the day, I waited, shaking, all through a composition class, and then at the end, as everyone was wandering out, I kind of sidled up to her and word perfect delivered my invitation to the prom. She said "yes, love to." I guess I just picked the right girl.

Josephine Damian said...

EE, if I were an agent, (the horror, the horror) it would mean: This sucks!

But a writer's reply to any rejection is always this: Next!

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for clarifying, EE. "No," means "It sucks." Got it.

none said...

EE nailed it. Alas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling me, EE. Guess I'll keep on querying.

Anonymous said...

The good news is, you're already ahead of a lot of us.

My one story: I was lucky enough to be able to talk to an agent live, as it were, and pitched my novel. She requested my first fifty pages alarmingly quickly, and fortunately I did have them about my person (this was at a convention). In the event, she only needed the first three pages, but that was enough to tell me never to corner an agent in the restroom again.

Apparently, my manuscript was a little rough.