Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why Researching Editors and Agents Is More Important Than Ever

One of the biggest reasons for writers getting rejection letters from editors and agents is the simple fact that they sent the wrong project to the wrong person. In simple terms, it wasn't an issue of the writing being good or bad, it was the fact that the writing was not going to fit with that editor, agent or line. I started thinking about this last night so I did a little scanning of the information you can find out there on the Internet about the editors and agents. Please note, this was a QUICK scan, but what I found was pretty revealing.

There isn't much - at least not much on the surface.

I looked at submission guidelines for publishers and agents. I also looked at the "bios" and information about editors and agents writers would normally find for conferences. Again, it is pretty darn vague.

You find broad lists of genres and certainly the requirements for what needs to be included in a submission (send a query letter, the first three chapters and a synopsis, type of stuff). Many of the bios simply say they want "great stories with great voice and great characters." Again, pretty vague. To add to the vagueness, many of the 3rd party sites out there to "help" authors, such as Writers Market, Query Tracker and so forth, are even more limiting with just the contact information, and, more often than not, out of date information.

Now, before you start blaming these sites or you start blaming the editors and agents for not including the information, we need to understand a few things. The problem is not entirely theirs. The problem is also on your shoulders as an author.

Let's start with the publishers and the agencies. Leah Hultenschmidt summed up the reason for this vagueness at a conference I attended with her a while ago. She was asked what trends were out thee and what she wanted in particular. She refused to answer, but here was her reason. She noted that if she said she wanted stories that were a certain word count and about a certain topic, all of the authors out there would immediately write exactly that story and her submissions would be flooded with poorly written projects. Instead, when we say we want a really good story, we are hoping you, as an author, are taking your time to craft that really good story, and you know why it would fit with us.

Publishers also make comments over and over again on their websites advising authors to "read what we publish." The goal is simple - you should know the voice of the publisher. The assumption is that an author wishing to write for a particular publisher will take the time to know the line inside and out. The author will have read books (and not just one or two) from that publisher, and yes, even books that agent has sold, to know if their individual voice fits.

The assumption is also that you have taken the time to visit the blogs of those prospective editors or agents. You have "followed" them on social media. It is amazing what you will find out based on the books they talk about, the books they grumble about and the books they personally read. It will tell you a lot.

I know when I send out a project for one of my clients, it is not a mass email to every editor out there. I only send it to those people where there is a direct fit. I know which editors like those steamy stories and which editors like the sweeter romances. This is not because they personally sent me an email or told me at a conference (although that happens). It was from the research.

Now, would it be nice if we had some more specifics in terms of books we like and want as editors and agents. Yes! I do believe there is room for improvement from our end. But, remember that you need to do more than simply look up contact information and start firing off those query letters. Take the time to research.

If you have specific questions for what I am looking for in projects, post those comments here. Read my submission guidelines first but certainly ask away!

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