If all agents did was read submissions, mail the ones they “love” to editors, then wait for the “I’ll buy it!” reply so they can pocket the cash and move on to the next manuscript they love, I’d share your mystification. But they don’t. Every ms an agent agrees to rep commits her to a slew of work for that project and all that author’s future projects: read and respond to every ms the author wants to sell (often multiple times), create pitches and strategize editors, track submissions and nudge editors, make deals and negotiate contracts, and handle rights and other issues for the rest of each book’s life. Dozens of projects in various phases cross an agent’s desk each day. Then there’s the ever-present submission pile and just the business of being in business. An agent’s time is not infinite, and neither is her client list. That agent’s “love” may be just one notch on a stick, with only those mss that hit the “head over heels” mark joining the agency.
Thanks so much for putting clarity in what is often mystifying to those of us on the outside. Even though I understood how much work an agent has to do for any one client, I never put all the pieces together AND looked at the work associated with future projects. It’s a lot the agent is taking on. Makes it easy to see why an agent says no. Perhaps there is just too much “product” out there and unless your manuscript does indeed whack an agent over his/her head with its magnificence, you’ll be out of luck. But that’s too depressing to think about before Easter, so I’ll just keep writing. Thanks!!
Ha! Bill made me laugh when he mentioned “depressing.” I know what he means. I’m finishing up a novel and am not looking forward to querying. I think some agents will “love” it, but that “head over heels” is a tough bar to cross.
Thanks so much for such a clear and succinct overview of an agent’s job. I knew they were overworked but it’s good to know the details and how they connect. The “swoon factor” is what makes the submission process so challenging. How indeed do you get that one agent to fall in love with your manuscript? No one answer.
“Love it” has to also translate into “I see a market for this”. My agent has read four drafts of my current MG novel, found 2 outside sources to read it and give editorial feedback, given editorial feedback herself, passed on feedback from 8 editors/editorial boards and is committed to continuing to shop it around after yet another draft. This isn’t a highly commercial manuscript and her cut won’t be a huge amount of money. I feel fortunate to have gotten so much attention from her.
Katie nailed it on the head about market. Someone may love manuscript, but may not rep that kind of manuscript, or might not know who would buy it. I’d suggest the question writer, put comments on the agent’s blog about the books loved but not represented. Ask why not representation? The agent may think the reasons are clear.
I did ask but didn’t get an answer. And the thing is, the books she reviews are published books, some really successful and she has commented that she wouldn’t have represented the book. That’s what I didn’t understand. It’s like having a “Hunger Games” (Okay maybe one not as big, but still big in it’s genre) and you say, “pass”. I don’t know about you, but if I’m an agent and I see something with huge potential out of my “genre”, I would make an exception. Maybe it’s about her contacts in the business wouldn’t have been enough to sell it. Not sure. But like they say, the business is subjective. If we didn’t love to write just to write, why bother? I joke with my daughter, it’s a Vincent Van Gogh thing. When I’m long gone, someone will see the value of my pitiful books! 🙂
You are so right! They also have to know someone they think would be interested in that particular piece. It can’t be competing with a piece a current client has.
I am in the midst of searching for an agent, and your description of what it means for an agent to offer representation was very helpful. Thank you!