Agency Lesson: It's not you, really it's not

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

I found this post in my archives. I have no idea if I ever published it here or shared it as a guest post (clearly I need a better system). But the advice is still valid so I'm sharing it today and ask for your forgiveness if it's a repeat.



There are a lot of sites and blog posts out there dedicated to helping writers with the dreaded query letter (my personal favorite is Query Shark). Unfortunately, most of the blog posts about writing query letters I’ve read lately have left a sour taste in my mouth.
Was their advice wrong? Not at all. Just maybe a bit too … hopeful.
The advice all tends to be the same. Follow the guidelines to perfection. Only query agents who represent your genre. Don’t pull any bonehead moves (mass emails, spelling the agent’s name wrong, sending a link, etc). Write a good query letter.
Do this and you’re golden. The serious writers, the ones who scour the web for query writing advice, already know this stuff. They’ve studied the guidelines and rewritten their query a dozen times or more until it shines like the Hope Diamond. Then they send their baby out in to the world full of all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings. They followed all the advice and now the requests should start pouring in.
Only they don’t.
Cue dramatic crying and eating cookie dough ice cream out of the pint with a serving spoon. “What’s wrong with me?” the heartbroken writer asks.
Thing is, your query might need work. Or your writing just isn’t good enough. It happens people. You might have a brilliant concept, but not the skills to pull it off yet. Good news for you: you can get better.
But what if your query is so good it hurts, and your writing makes little blue birds sing? You can have the perfect submission and still not get a request. And it isn’t because agents are blind or the entire publishing world is out to get you. Here are five reasons you might get a rejection that have nothing to do with you.
The market is a fickle beast
 
One minute paranormal vampires are all the rage, and the next they’re the butt of every literary joke out there. It doesn’t mean writers ran out of good vampire stories. It does mean publishers don’t feel the market can sustain any more of them. Could they be wrong? Sure. It doesn’t change anything.
 An unsold book doesn’t make anyone money

New Adult is sweeping the nation, but publishers are just now starting to buy them. Not because they don’t think they’re any good. Just like an agent doesn’t want to sign a book they can’t sell to publishers, publishers don’t want to sign a book they don’t know how to market to readers. They are figuring out new markets like the rest of us. Your book might be so original an agent (or publisher) doesn’t know how to sell it. 

Clients come first
 
You have an amazing YA contemporary with hints of magical realism that takes a fresh look at teen relationships. Great. So does an author already signed with the agent you’re querying. Bad for you. Many agents work with their clients to talk about what they are writing next. So even if the client’s book isn’t anything more than a one page outline, if the concepts are similar it wins against your completed, fully polished manuscript every time. Yes, I’m fully aware of how much that sucks. 
You've hit on the next big thing
I can see all your confused looks from here. “Wait a minute,” you say. “Isn’t that what every writer wants to do? Don’t we all want to be the first?” Yep. But this just doesn’t happen very often. Here’s an example for you. I haven’t seen a genie story come through the slush pile in six months. Last week I saw at least five, and most of them sounded really good. Does that mean genies are going to be the next big thing? Maybe. Let’s say they are. How many of those genie stories do you think an agent should represent? If you guessed one, you’re today’s big winner. So even if your story is fresh and really well written, it now must be the best genie story. Because if genies aren’t the next big thing, no agent wants to be caught holding five genie stories she can’t sell.

      Agents are book lovers
What happens when you read a really good book? One that stays with you and changes how you think or feel about something. I don’t know about you, but I tell people about it. I become a fan and make it my personal mission to get other people to love that book. That’s an agent’s job, too. They become the biggest fan of their clients manuscript and do everything they can to convince publishers to love it. Now picture trying to do that for a book that you like, but don’t love. “Yeah, this book was pretty good. You should stop everything you’re doing and read it now.” It just doesn’t work. So while an agent may like your book. Maybe they even like it a lot. If it isn’t love, they are going to pass.

Is that enough doom and gloom for you? Before you throw the pages of your manuscript down in disgust and shout “You vile impersonation of a book” while standing on the sidewalk in your bathrobe, here’s a nugget of hope. Despite all the reasons why your stack of rejection letters could rival the Eiffel Tower, there are still plenty of reasons why agents would beat each other senseless with hardback copies of 50 SHADES OF GREY for the chance to represent you.
If you love writing, then keep doing it. And if you dream of being published, then keep working toward that goal. There’s no guarantee that all that hard work will eventually pay off with the publishing contract of your dreams. But no dream comes with a guarantee. That’s what makes them as sparkly as a rainbow unicorn.