Apr 18


I talked a few weeks ago about the moving target syndrome in finding an agent: some agents want to be called by their last names, some by their whole names, and still others by their first names (and some find it hysterical that other agents might ask for anything different); some want a particular brand of genre fiction (and are a bit irritated if you don't get the genre right); and some want to talk about their cats.  (Kidding, Colleen–we consider you a friend here at R.R., even if dogs are cooler.)  The issue isn't that agents have different wishes; it's easy enough to read the requirements on their websites and adjust accordingly, at least most of the time (I'm looking at you, Barbara Bauer–any time your site comes up ninth on a Google search for "worst literary agent website," you know you've got some garbage HTML coding on your hands (and, apparently, garbage elsewhere as well).).  The problem is agents assume that their requirements ought to be (or are) everyone's requirements, and thus authors are left scrambling to avoid violating one of the sacred commandments (queries must be short, queries must be targeted, queries must only be sent to one agent at a given agency, etc.), which tends to be a pretty big waste of time when most queries get rejected anyway for reasons having nothing to do with whether the letter went longer than four sentences.  Still, there's a kind of comfort in all of this; sure the hoop jumping is pretty tiresome, and the self-love laughable at times, but at least you know where you stand (and you stand here, in case you're wondering.  I forget sometimes myself without a friendly reminder.).  Agents tell you what to do, you nod your head and comply, and on it goes.  It's got that vaguely soothing feeling of a massive bureaucracy; sure the DMV pisses you off, but don't you feel even a bit more relaxed knowing that it's always going to be there, unquestionable, enduring, slow and unresponsive as hell but still there, by God?

Whatsa matter, you got something against faceless bureaucrats?

The truth is that agents have a limited tolerance for what they see as easily avoidable mistakes, and so you're pretty much out of luck if you make one.  Until, that is, now.  For straight out of Bizarro World comes Janet Reid's recent blog post, where she tells you to make mistakes.  Actually, make lots of them.

No, I'm not making this up.  Reid says, apparently with a straight face, that "you have to come out of your safe little cave for the opportunity meteor to hit you."  And then she proceeds to throw the meteor (actually meteors):  "Query everyone. Forget that crap about honing a list and researching what agents like….If you don't hear back in 30 days, query again. Don't EVER assume silence = no. Not even if the agent says that's what no response means…It's not illegal to query twice, or a hundred times…If one agent at an agency says no, query the other ones…Write what you don't know."

Wow, check out the opportunity crater in my front yard! 

I really don't know what to say about this.  All of this advice–especially the query everyone and query again after thirty days business–runs counter to pretty much every official suggestion I've ever read anywhere about this sort of thing.  I'd like to think Reid's got a bet with friends about how many careers she can permanently ruin by giving terrible advice, or alternatively that she's reached the "what the hell, I'm never going to consider these authors, but let me act contrary and radical so I can feel all countercultural again" stage.  And it's entirely possible she was just hideously drunk when she posted this.  But the post is still there five days later, so unless she got a hold of some pretty badass Goldschlager I'm going to guess she's sobered up by now (though that is some powerful stuff).  No, apparently she's actually serious.  And the reaction has ranged from dumbfounded ("Who are you and what did you do with that agent who used to live here?") to positively giddy ("Janet, Janet, how I love you. Don't worry. I'm married. It's only in an obsessed-fan type of way.").  It's like Santa Claus merged with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy into the Sweet Jesus, This Guy Freaking RULES!!!!!!!!!…Guy.  (Not so catchy.  I've obviously got to work on my pithy names.)

But the question still remains: what the hell are we supposed to make of this?  Even if Reid would actually encourage authors to do this with her, and would have no problem reading queries about, say, fantasy fiction (and if she happens to mosey on by this site, I've got a nice offbeat one I'd love to send if you're curious!), are other agents going to go all Haight-Ashbury on us the same way?  If I query Nathan Bransford–twice–with a romantic graphic novel about the forbidden interspecies love of a hamster and iguana, is he going to dig it because I couldn't possibly have left his alleged comfort zone any farther behind?  Am I just doing this so I can "learn from my mistakes" (in which case I'd rather skip the lesson and get to the grade part, thanks)? 

And that's what gets me back to my point about shifting goalposts: I'd love to take this seriously.  Really.  I'd love to be able to send my work to a bunch of agents without having to worry that they only like left-handed tennis-playing Eskimo protagonists or something (though Game, Set, Igloo was a damn fine book).  But it's hard for me to escape the feeling that this is exactly the way to get my work ignored and get me dismissed as a lunatic who doesn't play nice at lunchtime, and that's an issue when agents are looking for any and every reason to get authors out of their overflowing "maybe" piles.  Of course, it's equally conceivable that thinking outside of the box like this, when done the right way, might help my queries stand out in those piles; it's entirely possible that agents haven't suggested these kinds of tactics because it hadn't occurred to them that authors would be able to use them properly, with discretion.  Hell, it's possible that the Sweet Jesus, This Guy Freaking RULES!!!!!!!!!…Guy exists.  (You don't have any proof that he doesn't exist, do you?) 

But still, I'd sure love some independent confirmation that we've changed the rulebook before I jump on the crazy train.   Say what you like, but I've seen Deep Impact, and some of those meteors are no freakin' joke.