Agent Monday: Promises, Promises

Girls Running Lemonade StandHappy sunny Agent Monday to you all!  As I raise my second coffee cup to my lips and contemplate the queries I’m about to read in my inbox, I can’t help but think about how hard this whole process can be. Yup, it’s hard for you writers to find the right agent who will “get” you and your writing enough to champion your work (remember, I’m a writer too, so I totally understand). But on the agent end of things, it’s hard too. Agents are looking to connect with novels, but all we get is a query and a few sample pages. When we latch onto something that really interests us in a query, it’s like a promise that the manuscript we request will deliver even more of that interest. So, promises, promises.  Are you keeping your promise to me?

Too often, I’m seeing these promises broken when I dive into the requested full, and, yes, that’ll result in a rejection.  It’s like a thirsty traveler happening upon a lemonade stand, plunking down a dollar with eager anticipation, only to find she’s walked away with a glass of tomato juice.  Not cool.

I think two things are happening with queries, neither one of which will help you get an agent…

Thing One: You do not have a clear vision of your novel, and because of this, you misrepresent it in a query. You call it a thriller when it’s really a contemporary. You say it’s contemporary when it’s really a paranormal. You call it a YA when it’s really a middle reader novel. You tell me it’s a dark emotional novel when it’s really a comical parody.

Thing Two: You do have a clear vision of your novel, BUT you’ve also read up on what’s hot and what I’m looking for and you recast your query to fit that so you’ll get me, the agent, to ask for it. You may think that if you could just get me to read your full novel I’ll fall in love with it and forget that it isn’t anything like what I’m looking forward to.

But Thing One or Thing Two = EPIC FAIL. Sorry, gang.

Truth is, when I’m settling in to read that requested full, I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve promised to deliver. When it doesn’t deliver those elements, or the focus quickly veers from what I was eagerly anticipating, I’m not delighted. I’m disappointed and confused. What happened to that quirky character the initial pages had me intrigued about? Or that contemporary tale I was looking for? Or that thriller you foretold.

Like with any commercial transaction, the old bait and switch ain’t gonna work. I’m gonna return that product to the seller fast and never look back.

So be careful what you promise. The query builds an expectation. Keep your promise, and I’ll keep interested.

Happy writing and querying! 🙂


*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

8 thoughts on “Agent Monday: Promises, Promises

  1. When I help people with queries, I often ask to see their first twenty pages — nine times out of ten there is a “disconnect” between what they’re describing and what they’re delivering. And they usually say — “Oh, you have to read much further to understand” and I’m like, dude, no one will wait that long!

  2. I’ll echo all of the above. If you have to read much further to understand, that means the story didn’t start in the right place.
    I’m learning, I’m learning! 🙂

    I just critiqued a self-pubbed middle-grade novel for a friend who wanted to know if her relative had done the right thing in self-pubbing. The title involved a particular premise, but said premise wasn’t visited until approximately 80 pages in. Um. I can safely say: Nope.

  3. Perhaps writers spend too much time on queries, rather than focusing on the “whole” project. Even resumes can give a false representation of a person’s skills. The truth “always” comes out!

    This is my second Monday with you! Just what I need to get going!

    Thank you!

    • Hi Heather!

      Yeah, ideally the manuscript should exceed expectations. Sometimes writers spend a ton of time polishing not only their query, but their opening pages, yet the rest of the manuscript just isn’t at the same level of polish. Weird, I think.

  4. Alas, I’ve been guilty of this, focusing on the query rather then the whole project. And I’ve seen this with my NTD submissions, too, especially when someone promises me a zombie tale…but it needs lots of work. It’s like offered a bouquet of Mylar balloons, but when I get a good look at them, I realize they’re half deflated.
    Whether I’m self-publishing or submitting, I’ve decided to get an editor to look over my work before I send it out in the future. It’s worth the investment.
    Barbara of the Balloons

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.