Friday, March 21, 2014

Querying: Bassackwards & Cattywumpus

If you've never had the pleasure of "querying" literary agents in hopes of finding one that wants to represent your work and has the editorial contacts in the publishing industry that will want to pick it up, well, you're missing one of the great joys of life. 

First, there's the research. Almost every literary agent out there claims to represent "general fiction", which is Publisher's Marketplace only label for everything that isn't genre fiction or non-fiction. There are other sites like Query Tracker that allows the writer of "general fiction" to further categorize their work, but the agents in general don't distinguish between literary fiction and contemporary fiction, so all an author would be doing is limiting their choices. 

So the list of agent possibilities is quite long. In order to find agents that might be interested in your particular brand of non-genre fiction, you have to go to the agency's website and find them. However their description of what they like is mostly intended to be inclusive - they don't want to miss out on a blockbuster just because they intimated that they weren't down with religious mysteries, for instance. (ie: The Da Vinci Code). 

Once you find someone who has either represented a book that's something like yours, or they claim to like "riveting stories told with a compelling voice" or something you think might be relevant to your novel, you structure your query so they feel like y'all are a match made in heaven. And every agent wants a different type of submission: query letter, synopsis, first chapter, or first two chapters, or first 10 pages - every agent has different requirements. 

If you're a LImbolander you know I like to go for the funny bone. I have yet to find a single literary agent that has admitted to even a remote appreciation of humor, much less someone that likes funny stories. This, we're supposed to assume, is because the general reading public does not like funny stories. Or anything remotely light-hearted, fanciful, bawdy, or inappropriate, regardless of how meaningful it might ultimately be. If an unknown John Irving were to try and shop The World According to Garp, or an unknown Richard Russo was to shop Straight Man, these days it's unlikely an agent would even take a second look. When was the last time a tragicomedy like The Hotel New Hampshire or That Old Cape Magic was a bestseller? 

So here I am doing what I do, trying so hard to be serious for a change, trying to build some
pathos into the relatively insensitive hilarity and dark irony, feeling like I just arrived in a "no-laugh" zone. I'm certain it's just me looking out from what's a sorta dark unemployed place lately, and I'm probably only a third of the way through the query process. It's the same process I used to snare my first two agents, and Learning to Limbo isn't a far cry from Hack, so something is likely to break loose. 

But wouldn't it be great if the authors, the ones that are working for nothing, completely betting on the come, could publish the availability of their book and then let the agents do the research? Given that more and more great books are going to market without an agent or a publisher, but by the pure blood, sweat and tears of the author, wouldn't ya think that the shoe or at least the shoelace might be headed over to the other foot?

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