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c.e.lawson
07-11-2012, 11:51 PM
I began querying in late May to mid-June for the first time ever. Because I want to "test the waters", I have sent out only 6 queries. All are to top tier agents. I've received form rejections on two (though one was admittedly not a great fit but a fast responder, so I thought I'd try), a 'no response means no', and I still haven't heard on three (ranging from 3 to 6 weeks since sent). This not hearing worries me because it sure seems that the successful queries hear back right away. I'm a cautious person, and I really do not want to blow through other top agents and then find out I had a fixable reason for rejection, so I'm willing to wait on the other 3 before sending out any more in the hope of receiving some kind of feedback that lets me know what I might need to fix. Two of the agents who haven't yet responded have only queries, and the third has a short synopsis and three chapters along with the query (per their guidelines).

I've taken my query through QLH, and I've had the first 20 pages read by a pro editor (whom AW speaks highly of) and that editor was very positive about it, thought the opening was strong and pulled her right along. So at this point I'm speculating that my problem is most likely:

1) simply haven't met the right agent and need to send more
2) word count too high
3) ancient world fiction is a tougher sell than eras such as Regency

I'm strongly leaning towards high word count as a significant issue and think maybe I should stop querying (and outlining my new story) until I go through the MS again and take at least another couple thousand words off, leaving me in the 127 -128K range. Or even cut more. I know that's still on the highish side, but I've also heard that historical fiction gets some leeway for world-building. Anyway, I'd appreciate any advice.

Thanks,

c.e.

heyjude
07-12-2012, 12:37 AM
Six isn't very many. Keep querying!

c.e.lawson
07-12-2012, 12:45 AM
Hi heyjude,

Thanks so much for your response.

Part of me agrees with you, and I've heard that from others, but there just aren't that many top agents who represent the combination of historical and women's fiction. Add to that the fact that it's ancient world and it brings the number down further, and I'm afraid to blow through them too quickly.

heyjude
07-12-2012, 01:07 AM
Ah, got it. Probably word count is a good place to start.

Also, have you had other beta readers? Besides the editor?

JanDarby
07-12-2012, 01:37 AM
The thing is, you'll never really know why. Not until you send it out, and the whole world rejects it. And even then, you won't really know why. Could just be bad luck. Could be that every word is bad. Could be too long. Could be too short (for that particular agent, although this option seems unlikely). Could be the setting (no way to change that for this book; write the next book). Could be that the name of the protagonist reminds the agent, who'd be interested otherwise, of someone he/she hated in childhood.

Just keep sending it out until someone buys/represents it, or until your skills have improved (by having written the next book or two or six) that you pull this one for revision. If it's the best you can do with your current skills, just keep sending it out.

You'll drive yourself crazy looking for answers that just don't exist.

Send it out.

c.e.lawson
07-12-2012, 01:40 AM
Yes, I've had three betas, all of whom gave great feedback before my last two revision passes. One identified a subplot I could eliminate if I really need to bring the count down, though I'm a bit partial to that subplot and haven't yet done so.

c.e.lawson
07-12-2012, 01:50 AM
Oh, hi JanDarby,

Yeah, I totally see what you're saying. I think the word count issue is truly nagging at me, because I don't know if it's a reason for automatic rejection. If I knew that, I'd definitely cut out that subplot. But I like my MS better with it in. Still, I can probably tighten it to under 130K with another careful pass and eliminating a couple of scenes but not necessarily the entire subplot.

Or I can just keep sending the darn thing out. :)

Thanks so much.

JanDarby
07-12-2012, 02:29 AM
Trust me, I've heard ALL the excuses to avoid querying, because I've used them myself. I'm a chickenshit when it comes to sending stuff out. Scares the bejeebers out of me. But it's the only way to get the stories into the hands of readers.

So much of writing (and publishing) comes down to "just do it."

whirlaway
07-12-2012, 06:12 AM
What you are experiencing is a perfectly normal reaction to the realization that, having done everything you can, you still cannot control the outcome of your agent search.

I went a little bats myself at that point, too. I'd written the novel, revised the living (and dead) crap out of it, researched agents left, right and center, spent months revising the query letter and synopsis and all that was left was to send out the queries.

But I just couldn't let it go at that. So, before I sent out any queries by snail-mail I Googled all of the agents' names, noted what color clothes they tended to wear and fastened my SASE to my query letter with a colored paperclip matching that agent's apparent favorite color.

Like I said--bats. I got over it after I'd sent out about 50 queries. I laugh at myself about it now, but I'll probably do something equally silly (and hopefully just as harmless) when I query my next novel.

c.e.lawson
07-12-2012, 11:07 PM
I appreciate that, whirlaway -- you are very kind to share your experience with me. The only thing that nags at me is the word count, because that's still something I can change. But I do absolutely understand what you're saying. Thanks.

Becca C.
07-13-2012, 01:22 AM
Hi heyjude,

Thanks so much for your response.

Part of me agrees with you, and I've heard that from others, but there just aren't that many top agents who represent the combination of historical and women's fiction. Add to that the fact that it's ancient world and it brings the number down further, and I'm afraid to blow through them too quickly.

The stuff I've bolded kind of makes me think that you're thinking too narrowly about this.

When you're researching agents to query, don't just take specific elements from your novel -- ancient world, female protagonist, love interest with blonde hair -- and look for agents who like those exact, specific things. Your novel is historical. Send it to every agent who has the word "historical" in their interests.

Query widely. Even if the agent doesn't specifically say, in their wish list, that they're looking for exactly what your novel is, query anyway. You (and they) never know what they'll fall in love with. The worst they can say is no, right?

c.e.lawson
07-13-2012, 01:59 AM
The stuff I've bolded kind of makes me think that you're thinking too narrowly about this.

When you're researching agents to query, don't just take specific elements from your novel -- ancient world, female protagonist, love interest with blonde hair -- and look for agents who like those exact, specific things. Your novel is historical. Send it to every agent who has the word "historical" in their interests.

Query widely. Even if the agent doesn't specifically say, in their wish list, that they're looking for exactly what your novel is, query anyway. You (and they) never know what they'll fall in love with. The worst they can say is no, right?

Hi Becca C,

You know -- you're right! That was exactly how I was looking at things. I'm a total rookie. :) Will do as you say. Thank you so much.

c.e.

Becca C.
07-13-2012, 02:56 AM
Hi Becca C,

You know -- you're right! That was exactly how I was looking at things. I'm a total rookie. :) Will do as you say. Thank you so much.

c.e.

No problem! Good luck querying. I'm querying myself right now and we need all the luck we can get :)

victoriastrauss
07-13-2012, 07:25 PM
The stuff I've bolded kind of makes me think that you're thinking too narrowly about this.

When you're researching agents to query, don't just take specific elements from your novel -- ancient world, female protagonist, love interest with blonde hair -- and look for agents who like those exact, specific things. Your novel is historical. Send it to every agent who has the word "historical" in their interests.

I agree. Bear in mind also that agents don't necessarily want books that are exactly like books they already have--something new, while still fitting their range of interests, may appeal more. I often hear from writers who think that "if she agented Clan of the Cave Bear, she's definitely going to want my adventure romance set in prehistoric times," but it's just as likely that the agent will not want something that so closely resembles the work of an existing client.

I also agree with others that six queries is just the beginning of a starting point. However, if your ms. is over 130,000 words, I think you may indeed get rejections based on word count alone. Not saying that will definitely happen--but there are few books that won't benefit from some cutting, so if you can get the word count down, it certainly might help.

- Victoria

c.e.lawson
07-13-2012, 08:59 PM
Hi victoriastrauss,

I'm so glad I posted this question. I've decided to cut another 2K out of the book, leaving me at 128K, then will start querying widely. I just can't ignore that voice telling me 130K is scaring people off before they even read, and your comment confirmed it. Your point about an agent not wanting something too closely resembling what they already represent is an excellent one and is much appreciated.

Thanks so much, everyone.

c.e.

Old Hack
07-13-2012, 10:08 PM
If I were you I'd cut it by more than 2k. Try getting it below 100k. You'll be amazed how easy it is if you're ruthless and serious about it.

BethS
07-13-2012, 10:34 PM
The word count doesn't sound that high for a historical novel.

Have you tried Bob Mecoy? He represents some authors who write ancient world fiction. And he's not afraid of a higher word count.

c.e.lawson
07-13-2012, 11:44 PM
If I were you I'd cut it by more than 2k. Try getting it below 100k. You'll be amazed how easy it is if you're ruthless and serious about it.

Hi Old Hack,

Wow, cutting thirty thousand seems like so much right now. This story is sort of a saga (spans twenty years), and I've tried to be true to the culture and portray some of its more intriguing aspects in the context of some real history and family dynamics. I'm just not sure I could cut out almost a quarter of the novel and retain those things, even if I did cut out the subplot I mentioned earlier. I really need to think about how I could even approach that much of a cut. Of course, I can always query Mr. Mecoy in the meantime. ;) (Thanks for the tip, BethS) I will seriously consider cutting more. Thank you.

Old Hack
07-14-2012, 12:41 AM
C.e., I know it feels like a lot. But if you approach your book with the right attitude then you will be able to do it.

Can you guarantee that every single paragraph in your book advances the story, or makes your characters more vivid? Every single word?

I recently took a novel which stood at 130k and cut it to 85k. When I was done, its author couldn't work out what I'd taken out and asked me if I was playing a trick on him. All I did was prune away the superfluous descriptions, dialogue tags, and so on: in some cases I cut single words, in others a sentence or clause went; sometimes, paragraphs, pages or scenes were sliced away. Really, it can be done and the resulting book is often much better for it.

c.e.lawson
07-14-2012, 03:00 AM
OK, I'm taking your advice (thanks for the specifics!) and going through the MS again, trying to be ruthless. It's good to have been away from the actual story while researching agents and such. And I do have a tendency to explain things and say the same thing more than once, though I tried to eliminate those on my last pass. Still, I'm already finding things to tighten. We'll see!

Thanks so much,

c.e.

SophieM2401
07-14-2012, 02:28 PM
Hi CE Lawson - you've had some really good advice on here from people who know a hell of a lot more about this than I do, but as I am in a similar-ish position to you I'll throw in my two pence worth.

I've sent my book (mainstream women's fiction) out to 11 agents. So far I've had:

One request for a full, which is still with her
One rejection with good feedback about the writing and the reason for rejection "I don't feel quite passionate enough about it to offer representation"
One rejection saying that the genre is dead and no one will publish my book, ever
Three form rejections with no feedback
Five yet to respond

I've also given the book and my hit-list of agents to a friend who works in the industry for their comments. So it makes sense to me to wait until I've had a bit more feedback and can see if there are any specific problems with the ms that I can address before I carry on burning through possible agents. I'm in the UK so the pool may be smaller.

On the other hand, I do agree with the advice to widen your pool of agents.

I also agree totally with the advice to cut, cut, cut. As a first-time writer word counts are even more stringent and many agents will reject your ms out of hand based on its length - they might not be the ones who are looking at it now, but they are out there. Keep the original, obvs, but cut another version to buggery. If one of the agents looking at it now accepts the original, you've lost nothing and gained useful editing skills :D