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Hunting for greatness

September 13, 2010

I took the weekend off, and the queries have accumulated.

I’ve been astonished at the quality of the submissions I’m getting. I worked in publishing for decades–I know what a mixed bag comes in the door every day.  But I’ve got really solid manuscripts and queries to look at.  Nobody is making beginner mistakes in this pile.  My theory to explain this curiousity is as follows–if a writer gets something to an agent within a week of that agent’s start date, the writer is probably a pro watching the industry news.  That’s the only way I can explain the almost complete lack of clankers in my pile.  It makes my job both more exciting and harder.  I’ve got a lot of material to get through, then I need to make some serious decisions.  Who among you do I think can make it all the way to the top of the lists?  Who makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up in awe of your talent, whether I think it is commercial or not?

I asked Ethan what makes him pick up a new client, and he told me to pick what I truly love, because I’m going to be working with that material and that author for a long, long time to come if I pick right.  I thought that was really good advice.

It’s a HUGE responsibility, and I know I’m going to have to make heart-breaking decisions.  I’m reading as fast as I can.  It’s going to be a bit slow getting answers to the people who’ve submitted, in part because of the wealth of good material.  But I’m reading with my mind and heart wide open.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2010 8:25 pm

    I hate to askk, but I know at least several on QueryTracker are curious – are you sending out declines to the queries you’re passing on? Or should one assume after x-number of weeks, it’s a pass? I know the agency site specifies no answer means no, but every agent is different. 🙂

    It’s understandable that agents don’t have time to respond to every query, of course. But it’s helpful for those of us querying to know!

    Good luck to you, and my fellow queriers!

    • Denise Little permalink*
      September 13, 2010 8:38 pm

      I’ll send out declines. It’s going to take me a while to get through everything, and I’m in the middle of moving, so it will be slow, but I’ll do my darndest to make sure everybody gets closure.


      • September 13, 2010 8:43 pm

        Great to know. It’s worth the wait. Thank you!

      • Denise Little permalink*
        September 13, 2010 8:50 pm

        I’m figuring six weeks at best before I get through everything, maybe two months.

        If you don’t hear from me in 10 weeks, nag.


  2. September 13, 2010 8:33 pm

    Oh, you sound you are having lots of fun!

    I love blog posts like this.

  3. Shannyn permalink
    September 13, 2010 9:22 pm

    I love reading a blog like yours after reading about the doom and gloom of publishing. You sound as excited about reading our stuff as we are about writing it.

    And really, six weeks is short compared to the wait other agents are giving.

  4. September 13, 2010 10:41 pm

    What do you look for in “writing style” and the so-called voice?
    Do you prefer one-pov-character story, multi-pov presentation or…male protag or female?

    What element, in your experience, sells a book to an agent? (in any genre)Premise? Style, plot development, characters, old theme, new theme, totally fresh idea…? I’m trying to understand what matters to an agent because, honestly, I can’t write what I dream about. I write what I love to read. Unfortunately, I’m an eclectic reader. Your insight would be much appreciated.

    • Denise Little permalink*
      September 14, 2010 12:34 am

      It boils down to the same thing that you look for as a reader.

      When you’re reading a book, do you love it?

      If the answer’s yes, that’s what you’d pick as an agent. I do exactly the same thing somebody does in a bookstore looking for something good to read.

      I’m just propping my feet up (Between packing to move), and reading submissions. When one makes me love it, I set it aside to read again after the first cull.

      Then I’ll read through all the stuff I loved, and make up my mind what to do next.

      The questions are, “Do I know what to do with this?”
      “Do I know a place where this will thrive?”
      “Do I think this author is a one book author, or do I think this is somebody who can be in the business a long while?”
      “Does this person have a track record? If so, is it a plus or a minus?”
      “Am I the right person to cheerlead this book?”

      There are other questions of style and genre and personality.

      But on the whole it comes down to “Is this book fabulous?”

      • September 14, 2010 3:25 am

        Thanks, Denise, for answering so thoroughly.

      • Keith Yatsuhashi permalink
        September 14, 2010 3:56 pm

        Wow, Denise! I LOVE the way you approach your readers. You show tremendous respect for those of us who submit to you. One question. When you say, “Do I know what to do with this?” do you ever contact the author to ask what he/she has in mind? I ask only because, in my case, I’ve actually studied my target consumers and put a marketing powerpoint together.

      • Denise Little permalink*
        September 14, 2010 10:30 pm

        Of course I do. I don’t take anybody on without talking to them. I want to know who I’m dealing with. If I don’t like a client, I can’t do my best for them. So that’s a part of the interview process for me.

        The most important thing for me on that call is to listen. I want to figure out how realistic the client is about the business, if they’ve done their homework, and if they understand publishing is a crapshoot. Bestsellerdom is never a certainty, even for writers who are at the top of the lists at one point in their career.

        An agent’s job is to minimize the risks and expand the rewards of that crapshoot, but there’s absolutely no guarantee for anybody that success is a sure thing.

      • Keith permalink
        September 15, 2010 4:00 pm

        Would SO love to brainstorm with you. I might end up tongue-tied though 🙂

  5. Jen permalink
    September 13, 2010 11:41 pm

    I fell in love with your attitude towards all the responses you are getting. Hope there are some winners in there for you to fall in love with!

  6. Kaitlyn permalink
    September 14, 2010 4:51 am

    You are a very positive and upbeat agent from the sounds of your blog and that is very refreshing. I’m so pleased to hear there are no beginners mistakes so far, since my work is sitting somewhere in your pile lol. I wish you the best of luck in choosing the submissions you love and hope you continue to enjoy what you’re doing.

  7. September 14, 2010 4:56 am

    I really enjoy reading about an agent’s enthusiasm for the slush pile! It’s very refreshing, especially in an industry that can seem so jaded, and can be so frustrating for both agent and writer. Denise, I like your blog so much, especially the honest/informative tone. It’s fun, getting a little insider’s peek into the agent world! Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  8. September 14, 2010 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the helpful blog. It’s refreshening. I’m enjoying reading it.

  9. September 14, 2010 3:13 pm

    That should be refreshing. LOL. The kids decided we needed to wake up early this morning 🙂

  10. September 14, 2010 7:40 pm

    It’s good seeing a new face in the world of agents. I am enjoying your blog so far. Thanks for keeping us updated on this new experience.

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