Agent Meeting Experience

ColGray

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I've been struggling with my query letter and first X pages and so I paid to do an agent feedback meeting through Manuscript Wishlist this week and it was... I dunno? Have others done that and had good/bad/other experiences? Is this just, Hey, this agent isn't a good fit?

They were complimentary of both my opening lines, query and my manuscript -- like, real time, Woah, that's a good a line, full stop, complimentary--really liked the comps and had some good feedback on what my query lacked, but had basically 0 thoughts on how to improve it. We talked for a bit and they understand the challenges but it also seemed like they went, <shrug> Yeah, multi-POV with a non-basic world conceit is hard. Yeah: I know! The same thing happened with the MS and I'm feeling like ... they confirmed that the good parts are good and didn't help with any of the challenging parts.

Anyone else had that kind of experience? Sorry for being ranty.
 
I've tried and tried and tried and tried and etc to get an agent for my novels, and in the end totally gave up on them. But I've now had my first novel published by an American publisher and a second novel is planned to be published by a British publisher later this year. Yes, I've got two different publishers and still no agent.

The reason? I write science fiction that is out of the mainstream trend. In fact those few who have read my second novel say they haven't seen anything like it before and liked it!

Sounds like you might be in similar position to what I was in. All I can suggest is you go direct to the publishers who are willing to publish your type of novel.
 
agents are good at spotting marketable books and selling them. If they’re not falling over themselves, even if they think it’s a good book, it’s because they can’t sell it.

There are two scenarios - Harebrain’s and Serendipity’s. It may need work and experienced feedback. Or it may already be the finished product and just needs to find an alternate route to market (I’m both published and self published - there are many pathways)

Doing the first doesn’t rule out the second but doing the second may rule out the first so I’d be inclined to seek an experienced genre editor
 
I really appreciate the responses.

While I'd love to pat myself on the back and say everything is in such great shape it couldn't be improved, even the deepest, most egocentric parts of my brain doesn't believe it. :LOL: But also, I think the MS is at the tweaking stage not the, this isn't working, stage (shoutout to @Yozh for awesome beta feedback that helped me overhaul and fix my third act). The agent interaction made me re-read and re-examine the first 3 pages of the MS and make a few minor tweaks, but that's about it.

That said, the concept/conceit isn't even neighbors to the realm of, I've never read something like this before. It is a, Human with complex relationships in a scifi setting, story.

This is why I'm ultimately left scratching my head with this agent interaction: Saying, Your query isn't showing how the MC drives the plot forward, is a good step 1--but I knew that. The, And here's how you could fix that in a multi-POV book, is that part for which I'm seeking help. Saying, You need to ground your world's conceit, is a good step 1--but I knew that and did it, just maybe in the first 2000 words, not the first 150.

Having slept on it, I'm wondering if it just didn't resonate with this agent--which, if that's my takeaway, hey, cool: they trend towards less complex worldbuilding and I can strike them from my list.
 
Out of curiosity, is there a main character? You mention multi-POV so is one clearly the main one?

In terms of editing, John Jarrold has a very good rep - former commissioning editor of the Earthlight imprint. Is both an agent and an editor.
 
There's no one MC, but rather 4 rotating POV's (each with about 22% of the overall narrative and 18 chapters per POV) and 3 minor POV's (one with ten chapters, the others with two each, making up the remaining 12% of the narrative).

However, for a query letter, everything I've read says, Pick one character and treat them as your MC. The best advice I've read on that is, If your book were a movie, who would the movie poster feature? My complication here is that there is a clear movie poster character, but she drives scene plot through activity (hands and feet in scenes) and drives arch plot through her inaction (omissions, failure to disclose, keeping secrets, etc.).

I'm working on changing the query structure and maybe changing movie poster characters to someone who drives arch plot.

Jarrold definitely has a good track record--thanks for the call out. I may submit there shortly. Thanks!
 
There's no one MC, but rather 4 rotating POV's (each with about 22% of the overall narrative and 18 chapters per POV) and 3 minor POV's (one with ten chapters, the others with two each, making up the remaining 12% of the narrative).

However, for a query letter, everything I've read says, Pick one character and treat them as your MC. The best advice I've read on that is, If your book were a movie, who would the movie poster feature? My complication here is that there is a clear movie poster character, but she drives scene plot through activity (hands and feet in scenes) and drives arch plot through her inaction (omissions, failure to disclose, keeping secrets, etc.).

I'm working on changing the query structure and maybe changing movie poster characters to someone who drives arch plot.

Jarrold definitely has a good track record--thanks for the call out. I may submit there shortly. Thanks!
Be aware that John’s services as an agent and editor are two seperate entities. Either submit seeking an agent or approach him as an editor. There are other editors, including our own @Teresa Edgerton , who may be worth looking at
 
There's no one MC, but rather 4 rotating POV's (each with about 22% of the overall narrative and 18 chapters per POV) and 3 minor POV's (one with ten chapters, the others with two each, making up the remaining 12% of the narrative).

However, for a query letter, everything I've read says, Pick one character and treat them as your MC. The best advice I've read on that is, If your book were a movie, who would the movie poster feature? My complication here is that there is a clear movie poster character, but she drives scene plot through activity (hands and feet in scenes) and drives arch plot through her inaction (omissions, failure to disclose, keeping secrets, etc.).

I'm working on changing the query structure and maybe changing movie poster characters to someone who drives arch plot.

Jarrold definitely has a good track record--thanks for the call out. I may submit there shortly. Thanks!
Agents can and do see past awkward query letters and synopses - they tend to look for unique selling points and good writing. They won't take a risk on something that has no track record whatsoever, which unfortunately includes truly innovative science fiction (I'm not talking about variations on a theme or tropes here, but really groundbreaking newness) from a relatively unknown writer.

Your query letter should include unique selling points, but your novel should be sufficiently close to something that is selling well to make the link obvious. Basically what I'm saying is try to look at your novel from how you think an agent might view it. The way ahead might become clearer if you do.
 
Agents can and do see past awkward query letters and synopses - they tend to look for unique selling points and good writing. They won't take a risk on something that has no track record whatsoever, which unfortunately includes truly innovative science fiction (I'm not talking about variations on a theme or tropes here, but really groundbreaking newness) from a relatively unknown writer.

Your query letter should include unique selling points, but your novel should be sufficiently close to something that is selling well to make the link obvious. Basically what I'm saying is try to look at your novel from how you think an agent might view it. The way ahead might become clearer if you do.
Yep, fully agree.

tldr: i think the manuscript works, the query is still off and the agent doesn't like en media res action beginnings.

Longer thoughts: My comps are good and accurate (I think? And the agent agreed, so, I feel good about that part?). The story structure, archetypes, archplot and storytelling are pretty standard (maybe outside of having 4 POV's, none of which are male, but that's not like, WOAH WHAT?! No Male POV? In scifi? <voice goes up and cracks>). The worldbuilding is a massive multi-system, multi-state affair that travels via induced wormhole (again, standard, though, obv, execution varies) with an underlying conceit of, What if .001% of the time, a portion of the ship and travelers emerged from wormholes irrevocably altered, like someone slapped a hand down on an origami crane?

In thinking about it more over the last day, I can't think of scifi or fantasy novels that fully define their conceit for the audience in the first 200 words. I can think of a rare few that do it in the first 2,000 (first ten pages). Most set a mood and introduce the reader to a conflict, centered on a character, rely on genre trope/shorthand and introduce a worldbuilding hook, then pull back on the lens to reveal more.

I think my issue is mainly one of multi-pov in a single-pov query world.
 
I think my issue is mainly one of multi-pov in a single-pov query world.
Honestly I don’t get this. Multi pov is not unique. Becky Chambers uses it. If you can’t use a character, use the central dilemma instead. If you don’t have that, then there is a potential problem with stakes and structure

An agent looks to sell your book. A reader looks for exactly the same as a query letter - the blurb, the stakes, the reason to read. That’s all your query has to do. There are no hard and fast rules - only guidelines. Look at the different tag lines of books. Make a killer tagline. Do whatever works for your book. But if you can’t market it to agents, they will move on because they can’t sell an unmarketable book even if it’s brilliant.
 
It's not unique, but I'm just really struggling to distill 115k words and multiple viewpoints into 200 compelling words.

Also worth noting (as I love Becky Chambers) that Chambers sought an agent for Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and they all passed. She self-published it.
 
It's not unique, but I'm just really struggling to distill 115k words and multiple viewpoints into 200 compelling words.

Also worth noting (as I love Becky Chambers) that Chambers sought an agent for Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and they all passed. She self-published it.
Well that’s kind of what we’ve all said - there are multiple routes. Agent and big sale may not be what works for your project
 
I've tried and tried and tried and tried and etc to get an agent for my novels, and in the end totally gave up on them. But I've now had my first novel published by an American publisher and a second novel is planned to be published by a British publisher later this year. Yes, I've got two different publishers and still no agent.

The reason? I write science fiction that is out of the mainstream trend. In fact those few who have read my second novel say they haven't seen anything like it before and liked it!

Sounds like you might be in similar position to what I was in. All I can suggest is you go direct to the publishers who are willing to publish your type of novel.
What kind of subgenre are your books in? And as a followup, which publishers were they?
 
Some distance, a Jane Friedman web workshop and a MSWL meeting really helped me rethink and refine. Currently out querying via QueryTracker with about a 14% full manuscript request rate, so feeling better/more confident, but nothing back on outstanding. I'm queuing up my next round of queries now.

In retrospect, I think my biggest issue was thinking like the person who wrote the manuscript. With the query, that meant telling agents about my story, rather than selling them my story. The same with the opening pages--they told the story, they didn't sell someone who wasn't committed to reading it. I asked a couple friends to look at the first 10 pages and highlight anything that didn't make sense, anything where they bumped or paused or held. Every single flagged item was an easy fix--and opportunity to add clarity, add concision or rip something unintentionally opaque into something clear, or something intentionally opaque.

Are the query and first 10 pages perfect? LOL -- NO! Of course not. There's always a tweak or an adjustment to be made. But they're better. The writing is better and now they actually serve their intended purpose, rather than my ego as "the author".

I'm attending a conference in a couple weeks and starting to work through a 30-60 second pitch. And I'm right back at the same starting part -- Let me tell you about my story! -- but this time I feel like I know where I need to go.
 
Good luck with the upcoming pitch session! I only tried that sort of face-to-face agent thing once, at a conference. I paid for a first five pages crit and a query letter crit (with separate agents). The five pages one was helpful (the agent read them beforehand so had time to think about them). The query crit was on the spot, and was honestly useless. The agent gave me advice, then asked questions on plot, then backtracked and took back her advice and gave me new advice, then second-guessed that too, lol. I asked both politely if they were interested in seeing more, they both said no, end of story.

It was an interesting experience, but played into my anxiety in a way that made me not want to repeat it. I did (a couple of years later) win a ten pages crit at an auction and that was a much easier experience, as it was all via email. But that's just me... And I would be a useless puddle of nerves at an actual pitch session! I volunteered as timekeeper once for a big pitch event and just watching was brutal enough, so you're very, very brave!
 
I've never done it before and I'm anxious about it. I'm normally super comfortable speaking -- groups, professional stuff, public speaking, even performing-- but I went to an author panel recently and when someone asked me if and what I write, wow did I clam up hard! Just pure stumbly-bumbly vocal leakage. Developing a quick 20 second, I write THIS, is a current project (among many) on my list becauuuuuse that was not good.

One thing Jane Friedman did in her webinar was read queries and opening pages and call out exactly where she stopped reading and why. It was brutal but deeply helpful because it was honest, direct feedback with a concrete example based on a concrete manuscript, not something created for the illustration.
 
I've tried and tried and tried and tried and etc to get an agent for my novels, and in the end totally gave up on them. But I've now had my first novel published by an American publisher and a second novel is planned to be published by a British publisher later this year. Yes, I've got two different publishers and still no agent.

The reason? I write science fiction that is out of the mainstream trend. In fact those few who have read my second novel say they haven't seen anything like it before and liked it!

Sounds like you might be in similar position to what I was in. All I can suggest is you go direct to the publishers who are willing to publish your type of novel.
Same experience here. A small UK publisher bought two of my books (time travel & YA SF) after I failed to get an agent over many years. I'm now writing mainstream crime thrillers and it is still very difficult to get a read request (or reply!) from agents after querying. I thought after being traditionally published twice it might help, but I'm hitting the same roadblocks as when I was unpublished.

The game goes on!
 
With a big pile of salt, I think the biggest issue is that query writing is a sales skill and novel writing is a writing skill. It's apples and canaries.

If you write something and share it and Alpha readers yawn or beta readers tell you, THIS isn't working -- you can rework and fix that. It's actionable. Not so with a query. As a trad pub children's author friend says, No one does favors in publishing. Enough people are good (enough) at selling their work that mediocre or poor attempts get rejected without second thought.

More than that, trad and self publishing are in turmoil. KDP and legit great self-pub books changed publishing. Covid (and a sudden glut of novels), booktok and the death of white-shoe taste makers changed publishing again. There's a solid degree of unknown and it means agents and publishers retreat to safety. Dead genres are growing market.

More than that, it's not just selling your work, it's finding someone who's passionate about it.

More than that, it's about having something the agent thinks they can sell--because that's what they do: they sell your work. Reading about people's highly polished manuscript dying on sub is, frankly, heartbreaking.

Hoop, meet the next hoop!
 
What kind of subgenre are your books in? And as a followup, which publishers were they?
TBH - the closest sub-genre my first novel is, is a kind of slimmed down space opera, but in the sense of slimming down that most people would think of. The second's sub-genre - well frankly it doesn't really fit any known sub-genre as it breaks the mould in so many places.

As for the publishers... the admin would shoot me if I mentioned them as it may considered self-advertising.
 

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