It’s been said a thousand times, but the publishing industry sloooooooows during the summer months. This happens for obvious reasons (vacation time) and less-obvious-to-the-public reasons (editors are preparing for their upcoming fall and winter launches and catching up on material sent to them in the spring).
The most recent conference I attended was from the comfort of my own home (well, a Starbucks) and it was the free online conference, WriteOnCon (which is wonderful, and did I mention free?). I did a live chat with a few other agents in which we answered questions specifically about querying. Writers always have many, many questions about querying to the point where I just want to hug them. But since I can’t do that through the internet, I try my best to answer their questions.
“How important is my author bio?”
“Should we use comp titles?”
“How long should a query be?”
“Can we send a previously rejected query after a major revision?”
… and other good questions that pertain to querying in general – as a process, as part of the business, as a necessary step toward reaching a larger goal.
There are other questions that always come up though – whether in Q&A sessions at conferences or in #askagent chats on Twitter – that only tell an agent the writer is at best, uninformed, and at worst, desperately unprofessional. These questions are rarely questions at all. They are masks to hide their pitches behind.
Here are questions to reconsider before asking an agent during a Q&A session:
Is this something you would like?/Can I send this to you?
This question is one I usually receive after I do a critique. At conferences, part of the draw for authors to attend is getting a one-on-one session with an agent and getting personal feedback on their pages. Once the 10, 15, or 20 minute conversation is over, I always ask “do you have any other questions for me?” And sadly, from at least one person, that question will be whether I want to represent the manuscript based on the opening pages I just read. No. The answer is no. Even if it’s a genre I love and my critique was entirely made of praise, that was not the point of meeting with me. If there are no questions about the critique itself, or larger industry-related questions, then just say “Nope. No questions. Thanks!” (And then query me after you revise.)
I understand frustration with rejection and feeling like any chance you get to speak directly to an agent should be used to sell your book. Professionalism is about curbing that impulse and thinking before you act. Agents experience rejection all the time, but if I’m at a cocktail party I don’t pitch books to editors. I get to know them, get a feeling about their taste, and then we either set up a lunch or I’ll send a follow-up email to pitch books to them. Think of conferences and Twitter as the cocktail party; your query is the lunch date.
If you’re interested in other query-centric discussions on this blog, feel free to read these as well:
4 thoughts on “Any Questions?”
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I've seen several conference panels hijacked by people pitching their book, even more directly than the questions you highlighted. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it myself. If the audience is cringing, not a good sign.
At my first conference, I had a very specific genre question I wanted to ask, and I wasn't sure who to ask. After a session was over I went up to the presenting agent and asked her. She was very gracious with a response that helped me. I think that is appropriate, you want to keep a session or panel discussion general enough so everyone can benefit.
Great post! I did tons of research before querying and I read agent/agency blogs as well as follow industry professionals on Twitter. I rarely come across a question I can't answer with a little more research. Thanks again–I love getting an agent's perspective on these things!