Make Me Jump off the Fence

So, when querying me, maybe you followed my guidelines, submitted an appropriate manuscript, and your work has much to recommend itself. So why am I not getting back to you right away? Am I ignoring you? I’m sure it feels that way, and I’m sorry.

What has probably happened is that your manuscript (and yours is not alone), has me sitting on the fence. Think about that expression. Who wants to sit on a fence? It can’t be comfortable!

I may be on the fence for reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. I have several submissions in your category and am unsure if yours is The One.
  2. I’m not sure if your platform is sufficient for me to take the leap.
  3. I’m unsure if your topic will work.
  4. I’m debating if your manuscript has a chance in a crowded market.
  5. I’m undecided about your writing style or voice.

What do all these points have in common? That’s right: uncertainty.

In other words, your submission is good, but is it one I think I can sell? As you know, reputable agents don’t charge a fee to market manuscripts to editors. I don’t get paid unless I sell your work, so we are partners. When your book is rejected, both you and I are rejected. I’m not shrugging my shoulders while pocketing your hard-earned fee. I’m taking a chance with you.

For everyone’s sake, I need the chance I take to be based on my knowledge and experience, not whimsy or even my high opinion of you personally. I have to be selective about the books I choose to represent.

Though this process has its frustrations, there are significant benefits. One is that editors don’t get swamped with hundreds of terrible manuscripts that authors paid agents to pitch. Instead, when an agent submits a proposal, that agent says she thinks the project will fit with the publisher and editor, and she is saying she believes in the book and the author.

So Now What?

Being ignored is no fun, but the most painful experiences are often the most instructive. Now is a good time to go back over your proposal and see what spark it’s missing that keeps it from getting a response. Or send out a proposal for a different project and see if that resonates. Whichever path you take, make sure the proposal and manuscript sparkle. Do everything you can to get the agent excited about you and your work. Make the agent jump off the fence.

Your turn:

How many books did you submit before an agent jumped off the fence?

What do you think is key to getting an agent to respond to a proposal?


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