Thursday, October 23, 2014

How Did I Find My Clients?

I read a forum post this morning quizzing agented authors on where they found their agents. The authors were very nicely answering, but most of the answers were the same: "I did my research and then sent a query letter."

Why was this the most likely way they answered? Because it's the most likely way to get an agent.  It just IS. I know the myth is that you have to "know somebody" but that really isn't true. Which got me to thinking about how my clients found ME (or, vice-versa). And I decided to bust out the chart-making tools again because I know you like that.

So let's break it down:

56% of my clients came to me because of straight up query letters, from the slush. They didn't know anybody, they didn't drop names, they weren't published before, they didn't go to conferences, they didn't meet me first - some of them I still haven't met in person, because they live thousands of miles away!

24% of my clients were people that I'd met somewhere before they queried me. These are people I met at conferences, in a couple of cases, or published authors that I met in my capacity as a bookseller. (There's also a former co-worker in the mix, an SCBWI RA, and one of my neighbors. What can I say, she's a great writer!). The thing is: All these people STILL HAD TO QUERY. It's not like I said, oh, I know you, so sure... they still had to show me something I thought I could sell.

16% of my clients were referrals. This means that somebody I really trust - like an editor who knows my taste, or an existing client - thought this would be a good fit for me, and e-introduced us. But, you guessed it: These people STILL HAD TO QUERY, and show me something I thought I could sell.

4% of my clients were inherited from other agents at my agency. They actually are the only people who were kinda "grandfathered in," and did not have to show me something new to be taken on. However, I also trusted that they could write, that they had great stories in them, and that we'd gel well - and we spoke before I took them on. Still, this does not always work out, so I feel very lucky that these have!

Moral of this story? 


Monday, October 06, 2014

How Similar is TOO Similar in the Great Agent Hunt?

Research agents for even a short while and you're almost sure to come up with two competing bits of wisdom: 




Guess what? BOTH these contradictory statements are true! ....Yayyy??

Of course you want to pick an agent who does the kind of books you do, and hopefully reps some authors you admire. . . but yep, that agent will likely decline if the books are too similar. I wrote a post way back in 2011 about WHY agents can't take on work that competes with what they already rep. It's all still true, so I won't rehash it here. We know the WHY. But how can you tell if your book falls into this problematic area?

A quick way to decide if your book might be too close to what an agent already reps: If you break your book and the comparable book(s) down into general CATEGORY, TONE and THEME - TWO of these can match. But if all three overlap, it's probably too close.

In other words: 

I could rep two funny picture books ... but not two funny picture books about Ninjas. I could rep two picture books about Ninjas, if one was funny, while the other was non-fiction/factual. I could rep two funny Ninja books... if one was a picture book and one was a middle grade. (That isn't to say that there isn't room IN THE WORLD for multiple funny picture books about Ninjas, btw... just that I personally would feel uncomfortable repping all of them!)

In the case of something like "heartfelt middle grade fiction about girls growing up" - where there are certainly lots of great books that seem to overlap... the differences might be more subtle. I rep both Linda Urban and Kate Messner, for example - two great authors, both sometimes writing in a similar space - but you wouldn't confuse CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT with BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. You just wouldn't. On the surface there are similarities, but there's a difference at the bone. 

So if you're researching an agent who reps what you write... and you've thought about the chart and you see the surface similarities but you still think YOUR difference is different enough... you might as well try querying the agent... why not, right? Nothing to lose. Nobody is going to be mad at you - the worst that can happen is, you get a rejection, and that isn't anything to lose sleep over.

Does this make sense? Helpful, or have I muddied the waters even further?