Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Really Good Might Not Be Enough

STATUS: Ugh. I’ve got 300 emails in my inbox.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HAMMER AND A NAIL by Indigo Girls

I have to say that I’ve been shaking my head a lot lately. This market is just brutal.

Today I wrote a rejection letter to a really talented author. Previously published, had a really good manuscript but I honestly didn’t think I could sell it so passed on offering representation.

You know things are bad when as an agent, I’m passing on really good novels because currently I believe that really good might not be good enough in today’s market.

I really hope another agent takes it on and proves me wrong in a heartbeat. Is it odd to say that I’ll be really happy for the author if I see the sale announced on Deal Lunch? I’d really like to be proven wrong. I’d prefer it!


37 Responses

  1. nkrell said:

    I don’t think it’s odd. Thank goodness there’s such a thing as hope in this world. Otherwise, this business would be even more difficult than it already is.

  2. Mechelle Fogelsong said:

    There are those hidden gems, novels that nobody seems to know anything about, but when you read them, you were deeply moved.

    And yet, every once in a while I’ll read a novel, that makes me ask, “How did this ever get published?”

    It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

  3. Dreamstate said:

    In a strange way…what a relief to hear you say that! Today I received a personal rejection with feedback on a partial from an agent that said almost exactly that. Maybe it was just a line, but then again, maybe it wasn’t.

    Doesn’t make me feel a lot better about the market though. *sigh*

    Still, thanks for the post!

  4. ann foxlee said:

    If I can be so nosey, what genre was the work?
    Nonfiction does seem to be harder to sell these days, so if it is that, I can see why good work might not be enough…
    Even fiction is tougher these days, though I hear that YA is still doing well (fingers crossed that it continues, since that’s my genre!)
    Anyway, I hope you see them on deal lunch too!

  5. Anonymous said:

    Do you have suggestions for those of us querying or writing? What do agents think will sell in this market? Thanks!

  6. April Henry said:

    I feel really odd, because this year has been the best for me, career-wise, since I got my first book contract in 1997.

    I hope you start seeing a warming trend soon.

    aprilhenry.livejournal.com

  7. Sharon Mayhew said:

    Kristin,

    Did you suggest any other agents for this author to approach? I’m so confused by the whole rejection thing. I’ve gotten multiple hand written rejection from editor-in-chiefs. I wish someone would say, you know this might be a good fit for xxx.

    🙂 Have a good week.

  8. Anonymous said:

    This may sound like a strange question, but can you quantify “Brutal”? Are less units being sold? Fewer book deals being signed? Less money being made(And by whom)? Are things taking longer to get to market?

    What does “Brutal” look like form the perspective of an agent?

    Curious!

    K
    It wo

  9. Two Flights Down said:

    Lucky for writers, everything’s subjective, so there’s a chance you’ll get your wish and be proven wrong.

    Off topic, I was listening to that same song today, which I find a nice coincidence.

  10. Connie said:

    I guess I’m “comforted” to find out that I’m not the only writer getting this kind of response from agents. But it’s frustrating to hear: “I love your book, but I’m not sure I can sell it.” or “Sorry, I don’t think I’m the best agent for your book, but I can’t wait to get it once it’s in print.”

  11. Anonymous said:

    Shucks. This blog post left me wanting more. What was wrong with the project really? Couldn’t you have asked the author to bring teh project up to speed since it was so close? How can editors be turning everything down? Don’t they have slots to fill?

  12. Nicole Chardenet said:

    This just validates my current view that it’s an utter waste of time for a debut novelist to send out queries for a project right now. The market is there (which I think you understand, Kristen), but too many entities just have their heads up their arses at the moment. I’ll keep my current completed project aside until y’all figure out where you’re going 😉 Yes, I can understand why you’d like to see another agent prove you wrong!!!

  13. Anonymous said:

    I’m previously pubbed and I can’t get an agent either. Nearly every agent that has read my (new) manuscript — and I’ve had over twelve fulls requested — have said, “This is really good and you are really talented, but I just can’t offer rep for this, sorry.”

    THEN they ALL say, but I’m “sure” another agent will snatch this up.

    Yeah, or you know, not.

    But please, all of publishing, keep cranking out all those vamp books because 85 different series of those just aren’t enough….

  14. L... said:

    What’s defining these BIG BOOKS that publishers are looking for. Obviously, commercial appeal is important, but how do you determine what that is? Big conflict, that elusive hook, lots of sex? If plotting is tight, the novel is well written, but perhaps the anticipated audience isn’t massive, is that enough to have a publisher pass these days?

  15. magolla said:

    I’ve been seeing more and more of this sort of thing lately–published authors who can’t get an agent or contract. It makes me realized I don’t have a hope in hell of publishing my stuff. I’m glad that I’m happy just writing. Oh, I’ll query, but if something positive happens, well, then that’s just the thick layer of chocolate buttercream on my devil’s food cake! 🙂

  16. Anonymous said:

    It would be really amazing if you could tell us exactly what publishers feel they can sell …especially in the YA market. Because whenever agents post about this sort of thing they either a) assure people it’s all about the writing or b) tell people it’s about that, but MOSTLY about what sells without giving anyone an inkling into what exactly DOES sell or at least what the publishers think will sell.

    It doesn’t have to be anything specific, but just general stuff. Of course it depends on the genre. Maybe start with YA? What about your YA clients’ books made you think it would be a great sell as opposed to other well written YA you might have liked but passed on because you didn’t think you can sell it?

    Any information would definitely, definitely be appreciated! As always though, it’s nice to hear your honesty. I’m sure it must have really hurt for the writer in question, but at least seeing that sort of enthusiasm hopefully gave her SOME hope…then again it might have just made her feel worse, especially if you’re not the only agent telling her that.

    Man…it’s times like these we really shouldn’t be looking down on ppl who self-publish. I myself want to be published in the traditional way but hearing stories like these at the very least makes me understand what drives some people the POD way. I don’t even have the cash so it’s not an option for me though.

  17. Nicole said:

    I am seriously going to pretend I didn’t just read that.

    *sticks another stamp onto a query letter envelope*

    Happy thoughts…happy thoughts…

  18. John said:

    @Anonymous 11:14: There’s a huge difference between what publishers think they can sell right now and what they can sell 2 years from now. Realistically, that’s the time frame within which anything you sold to them would actually make it to the shelf.

    They’re all looking for the next BIG thing, but nobody knows what that is. It’s a guessing game for the most part. And since the mass buying public doesn’t have a keen sense of what good writing really is, simply being a great writer doesn’t mean much.

  19. Anonymous said:

    Kristin, this post above all others demands more details. You say it wasn’t good enough in today’s market. Okay, that sounds like it was just the level of writing? Or did it have anything to do with the genre? Was it not fresh or original enough?

    This post is really a tease without just a tad more information (without being too specific of course).

  20. in the deep end of the pool said:

    don’t mean to an ass here, but there are about 370 questions in this string and no answers. anyone got any answers to these questions?

    just to add to the discourse, if an agent says the story rocks but they can’t sell it or can’t deal with it now, can’t they call a cohort who could? ‘hey, bobby, i have something you will love, but i can’t deal with it now. i’ll send it over.’

  21. Anonymous said:

    Anon 7:31:

    Unbelievable.

    I understand that in today’s market a manuscript has to be not just good-to-go, but great-to-go.

    Makes me wonder how a novel like Twilight would fare in this market….

    How many writing fiction have a chance to publish when even the good books aren’t considered viable? Not many, not in this arena as it exists.

    I think many future authors are going to rethink querying, not waste the time and energy and create their own markets. It’s already happening.

    Read Seth Godin. Choose your customers, choose your future.http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

  22. Anonymous said:

    I also wish you could’ve responded to some of these questions. All you did was depress the heck out of us and leave us hanging with nothing but despair. Other than that, great!

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