A Reason to Say No

I’ve started querying agents again.

I know, I know. I said I didn’t think I wanted to. I still don’t think I want to.

But I want to give The Body Gift the best possible chances. So here I go again, go again. (Yes, I’m totally feeling like OK Go on the treadmills.)

So, you all know how it goes. The queries go out. Vast silence ensues. People are reading. Be very, very quiet so they can concentrate.

But, every once-in-a-while I get the insta-reject. Or near instant – within a few hours. I know these are from the readers whose mission it is to say no. They scan the incoming queries and hit the “no” button as soon as they find a reason to. This is how the business works and I totally understand that.

Still, it reminds me of an NYC editor friend. She was a friend of a friend, who came to visit, so I spent some social time with her. She published mainly celebrity tell-alls and kitschy coffee-table books. Once of her favorite rhetorics was “Give me a reason to say no.” Getting a book through all the layers of approval at her mighty publishing house was such an Olympian feat that, if she could at any point find a reason to say no to a project, she would.

I sometimes imagine how it would be if we all approached dating this way. The human race would die out.

But that’s neither here nor there. This is the cutthroat business of Big 6 Publishing.

It got me thinking though, because Jane at Dear Author, a blog I really admire for its forthright honesty, posted the other day about how agents are the unseen gatekeepers to reading. She referring to a daunting story where two successful authors collaborating on a project were told by a major agent that he/she would represent the book if they changed a gay character to straight, or cut him altogether. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this because, thankfully, this sort of thing is just not acceptable to say anymore. At least in certain circles. That’s not to say that this sort of thing hasn’t been going on all along. Jane’s point, and I think it’s a really good one, is that most readers didn’t know it.

Why would an agent suggest such a thing? Right. It’s a reason to say no.

The agent is thinking ahead to the ladder of editors, the marketing folks, the distributors, the booksellers and imagining if anyone in that whole vast chain would say eek, we can’t sell a gay main character.

Not hard to imagine at all.

Maybe the dating analogy is relevant, after all. Agents like to say that they only represent projects that they fall in love with. To some extent I imagine that’s true. But I think it’s more to the point to say that they want projects they think other people will fall in love with. So it’s not so much if their date has a bad habit of slurping his soup or blowing his nose on the napkin, it’s more, will everyone fall in love with that strong jaw and those steely blue eyes.

The agent figures she’ll just keep him away from restaurants until the ring is on his finger.

4 Replies to “A Reason to Say No”

  1. Good luck on the queries. I’m sure Rowan will give the agents a lot of reasons to say “yes.”

    I’ll keep the Hornitos in the my left hand and the champagne in the right. You get to call the drink. 😉

  2. You’re right. Push comes to shove, even the agents who only rep “books they love” are more likely to love a book they think have a good shot at selling. They have to earn a living, after all. 😉

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