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Agent for a Day

Yesterday I participated in Nathan Branford's "Be an Agent for a Day" contest. It was a BLAST and it's going to be open until Saturday, so if you haven't participated you still have time. It was really eye-opening.

My thoughts...

It was as hard as I expected it to be. I've read enough agent blogs to know what I was getting into, and yes, comparatively, we had it easier than a real agent would with a real slush pile. I knew it would be time-consuming, especially with the extra speculation of which queries were published books, and I knew it would be subjective based on what I like and actually read. It was.

So why was it eye opening if I expected all this already?

A few reasons.

1) I tried to offer at least one comment of personal feedback on each one but as I was working through them it got harder and harder. It wasn't that I didn't want to put the time into it, it was more often how difficult it was to pinpoint and/or word exactly what didn't work for me. In a lot of cases, I couldn't do so without having to sit there for 20 minutes to figure it out. And with tens of queries coming in on the hour, an agent can't let that 20 minutes go unless the query is really worth investing that time in and in most cases I imagine it isn't. Form reject. Problems solved.

2) This little competition didn't include reading partials, fulls, taking phone calls, writing proposals, and working with clients and editors. While I didn't have a problem with form rejections before, I really don't now. It makes sense. I can even understand why some agents don't respond at all unless interested. Sure, it may only take a few seconds to slap a form rejection in an e-mail, but if you're a busy agent who is continually swamped, those seconds could add up fast with the amount of queries that come in. Personally, if I were an agent, I would make a point to take the time for at least a form rejection - business etiquette, courtesy and all that - but at least I can better understand why some don't.

3) It was insanely easy to pinpoint the rookies. I often knew whether or not I was interested in a query within the first two sentences. Voice really did lend a lot to a query. Awkward phrasing and clunky, disjointed paragraphs were extremely common turn-offs.

4) It was hard to look for the published queries when I was really only interested in the queries for YA novels, which lends insight into why agents generally only represent what they are passionate about. When I start querying, I think I'm going to focus on agents who primarily (or only) represent children's/juvenile fiction. Having done this, I don't think I'd feel entirely confident in someone who represents a ton of genres.

5) I've heard several agents say something along the lines of: "I'm looking for a reason to reject your query." I understood this in essentials, but now I really, really understand it. If you have a handful of partials and fulls to read, client manuscripts you're offering edits on, published books you want to read, proposals to write, clients and editors to work with, and a never-ending stream of queries flooding you inbox, you're going to be loathe to take on any more reading material in any fashion unless you absolutely cannot say no to a query, which is exactly what we writers need to strive for. Make your query irresistible. If anything about your query is so-so, keep at it. Get it critiqued and critiqed again. Read article after article on crafting a perfect query. Don't let your eagerness work against you. You can't afford to - they really are looking for a reason to say no unless they can't, unless you give them something to be really excited about.

Overall it was an amazing experience and opportunity. As I continue on this journey, I think I'll continually come back to this experiment in my mind and apply it to things I read, experiences I go through, and queries I write. I really think I've gained something by taking the time to view the other side.

Huge thank you to Nathan and everyone that participated. I can't wait to see the results.


Joy said...

Wow, did you finish all 50 in one day? I'm having to take them a chunk at a time with my schedule, but I definitely concur with your conclusions (and I'm only about a third of the way through!)

Casey Something said...

I did! I sometimes humor myself by thinking I'd like to be an agent or get my foot in the publishing business somewhere when the kids are older, so I wanted to try to do it in one day.

Can't wait to see what the rest of your thoughts are on it!

Angela Ackerman said...

way to go, taking this on. I thought it was a great idea.

Jennifer said...

I read all of the queries, but I haven't posted any rejections or acceptances. I don't know if I will. Some of them were just so bad...I think I decided to reject a good 90% of them within the first ten words.
*Crosses "agent" off of "potential future careers" list*

Christina Farley said...

I just heard about this today so I'm going to have to check it out.

I loved reading about your experiences though.

Heather Hansen said...

I had two thoughts…

1. You’re right, it is insanely easy to spot the rookies. It makes me want to help them all! Unfortunately, I can’t. It takes some practice to write a query letter. THIS IS WHY I firmly believe in always writing the query blurb BEFORE writing the book.

2. I don’t know if it’s a bad thing to have an agent who focuses on more than juvenile fiction… I read and am interested in different genres. I think as long as they are truly passionate about every category/genre they represent, it’s not a bad thing.

Casey Something said...

You're right, Heather. As long as the are passionate about them all, it's totally fine. I guess I'm just leery of the agents that rep almost everything!

Thanks for all the great comments everyone!

PJ Hoover said...

Wow! Great insight into your experience! I'm glad you did it so I can live vicariously through you!

Corey Schwartz said...

Great post, Casey! So interesting to hear the analysis of your experience.

Tyler said...

Great sum-up of Agent for a Day! Just read them all myself, and recapped my experience with it over on my blog. I only ended up requesting three. It sure was fun, though!