The Agents’ Panel was moderated by Michael Joy, Co-chair of Sleuthfest 2018. The four agents on the panel were: Mitchell Waters, Literary Agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd.; Anne Bomke, The Annie Bomke Literary Agency; Evan Marshall, The Evan Marshall Agency; and Jenny Bent, The Bent Agency.
Michael asked questions, which I’ll paraphrase here, and the agents answered.
How many submissions do you get a day or week?
Waters: 40 – 50 a week. Mostly email. Nowadays snail mail gets his attention because he receives so few that way.
Bomke: 7 – 10 a day. She prefers email. She said sometimes snail mail has a cigarette smell.
Marshall: 25-30 a day. He gets almost 100% email. He does YA and Fantasy.
Bent: Does not take snail mail. Her numbers are around the same as the others. She’s closed to queries now, but said she’d take queries from people at the conference if they mentioned that when they contacted her.
What are you looking for now?
Domestic suspense. They mentioned Laura Lippman’s new one is doing well. They want stories that are female driven In the fashion of Gone Girl, Woman in the Window.
Marshall said he’s looking for well written Amish romances. Romances that are sexy/erotic. (He said they have words and acts that will shock you.) In mystery, he likes cozy and historical mysteries, but with cozies the writer has to come up with something fresh.
Bomke likes psychological suspense and cozies, but no paranormal, vampires, angels or devils.
Waters is not looking for psycho killer mysteries. He likes the P.D. James approach to murder. Mysteries devoted to solving a crime. He does like historical fiction and mysteries.
What guarantees a rejection?
Don’t say: fiction novel (a novel is automatically fiction)
Waters: misspelling, typos in query or first page, and if he can tell you’ve submitted to multiple agents (by using blind copies with the email).
Bomke: the writer misspelling name, submissions that aren’t the genres she represents. Submissions that are above or below the required word count for the genre. Name of sender is different person from the one sending it. No name of the book or their name in the query.
Marshall: A query that lists all possible genres; i.e., “It’s a erotic romantic suspense, paranormal thriller time travel.” Lack of knowledge of the genre. Queries for genres he doesn’t handle. And don’t try using the blind CC. He can tell if it’s sent to multiple agents. They didn’t say multiple submissions were bad, just don’t use one email to submit to a dozen agents at the same time.
Bent: She’s turned off by queries that say, “This isn’t a …” Queries using tiny fonts. (Use Times New Roman 12 point) If an attachment is sent, it must be easy to open. Word or PDF. She prefers Word docs.
Most of the agents said they didn’t want attachments, unless they ask for one. They said to go to the agent’s website and see what an agent actually wants.
What is Up-Market fiction?
Book Club fiction. Character driven or plot driven. A well written commercial plot. The kind of book that would have discussion questions at the back of the book. A story to think about.
What happens when an agent takes on a writer?
Bent: An agreement signed. A couple rounds of edits. (She does a lot of editing before she submits to editors.) When she feels the book is ready, she does a wide submission. If more than one publisher interested, they hold an auction. She has a UK colleague who submits the book over there and worldwide.
Marshall: Usually asks for some editorial changes. Client signs a contract. He does multiple submissions (because many editors nowadays are not responding with a yes or no.) He shows the book to foreign rights agents and film agents.
Bomke: Also gives editorial feedback. She said that might take 6 months. She also sends out to multiple editors. She said she sometimes never hears back. She grants worldwide rights.
Waters: He said agents are as frustrated by lack of responses as writers are, but he feels sorry for editors who have lots of work. (He said they’re overwhelmed nowadays.) He feels that’s a shame because personal responses showed an editor’s tastes, which made knowing which editors to submit to easier.
How can writers get feedback?
Critique groups. Conferences. Beta readers (You can find them on-line) If an agent or editor says something in a rejection letter about contacting him/her again, DO SO! Also, thank an editor or agent for taking the time to read the submission. Follow agent on Twitter or Facebook. Find out what they’re reading. Go to #mswishlist on twitter. (MsWishlist)
What should a self-published author send to an agent?
Unless a self-published book sells 8,000/month for every month published, they’re not interested in what’s already out there. Sales must be consistent. They’ll want the sales figures for all of that author’s self-published books. (That’s even true for traditionally published authors.) Pricing is important. Selling a million copies at .99 cents is not impressive.
Send new work. It’s not as easy to re-sell self-pubs as it once was. The writer needs a strong platform. Forget doing a series that was started as self-published. Even traditionally published series that are dropped are difficult to find new publishers for.
Do short stories help?
Not essential, but it is a credential. Shows you have fans.
How to promote?
A website is essential. A writer can’t do everything, so pick the social media you like. Show an interest in others in your genre. Build relationships.
Success is a combination of luck and how a book is published. The cover, how many bookstores carry it, is it placed in a co-op (up front in the store). Much of the process is outside of a writer’s control.
See if an agent you’re querying is an AAR member (Association of Author Representatives) or adheres to their guidelines. (AAR)
Many said to paste a submission into the body of the email.