Many of the questions I received asked things like, “Are you interested in disabled protagonists?” “Will you take YA fantasy without romance?” And “How often do agents/publishers take a chance on an out-of-trend book, hoping that it’ll make a trend?”
First of all, agents are always hoping to find that one great book that will form the next trend. That would make them as lucky as you. They get 15% of whatever you make so it behooves them to get you the best deal possible. If a book gets nothing, the agent gets nothing. However, if they find the next J.K. Rowling… fame and fortune and all the things the author is hoping for will follow. That’s the dream.
It’s why agents accept queries from genres other than their favorites. They don’t want to miss that special book, just because it’s in another genre. Or something they could pass to a colleague.
As an agent, I read every query. The ones that were young adult fantasy were my favorites and what I had on my wishlist, so I got quite a few of them. But I got every genre and combination. I judged each one by its merit, word count, my personal enjoyment of it, the concept, the story arc, the writing style, and if I felt I could sell it to publishers. Just because something is “on trend” doesn’t make it a good book. But if it is a really good book that happens to be on trend, it’s going to have a better chance at getting a publisher, making it easier for me to sell.
In order to know what will sell, the agent must know the desires of the publishers they are in contact with, and to whom they will take the pitch. How does this affect the author? You can’t know who your potential agent is connected to. They could be selling books to major houses, they could have only sold to small presses, they may have been working up through the ranks and haven’t sold anything yet. That’s why you want to go with an established agency that is selling books in your genre. It is also why you want to purchase a subscription to www.publishersmarketplace.com while you are querying. In it, you can find what each agent has sold, the book’s author and genre description. This way you know what your potential agent has experience with.
The first questions I listed: do you take NA? authors of color? a YA without romance? These are all questions you need to be asking about each agent. I may not take one of them, but I guarantee you there is someone who will. Your job is to find them. I always suggest going to sites like www.manuscriptwishlist.com, www.agentquery.com, www.querytracker.net, www.mswishlist.com, and more… On these sites you can see what agents are taking and what they aren’t. They often list their wishes on their agency website, as well as their submission guidelines. ALWAYS submit according to their guidelines. If not, you could shoot yourself in the foot and get an automatic rejection. Make your list of potential agents from these wishlists. Then take that list to Publisher’s Marketplace (site above) to further target your selection.
Always target your agents and tell them why you chose them. Use words they used in their wishlist, let them understand you chose them for a reason, not just because you went through Google and their name popped up. If you show them you aren’t wasting your time sending to every Tom, Dick, or Sally, they will often give you the consideration of a colleague rather than a mass mailer. This may come in the form of some words of critique, or words of praise. Ever get a rejection letter that praised your writing and you thought, “If it was so good, why didn’t you choose it?”
Me too. But as an agent I came to understand, it’s not about publishing every “good book.” It’s about finding the “great” books in a sea of good writing. The concept must be original, the synopsis has to form a complete story arc, and the writing has to be great. If you have all these things, it shouldn’t matter what genre you are in, you should get requests for more and ultimately a contract. If you believe you have all the ingredients and you aren’t getting anywhere, check your query. It’s possible you aren’t getting your concept across or in a way that showcases your work. I have an article on writing queries here: https://jenniferhaskin.com/2018/03/04/agent-questions-volume-nine-how-to-write-a-query/
Never forget: It’s too subjective to get upset over rejections. You may have been in the wrong genre, you may have an MC with their ex’s description, there might be a plot hole in your story, the agent may have just gotten four of the same type of query and they weren’t interested. It’s kind of like dating sites. Swipe right or swipe left. You have a precious minute to engage your potential agent. So, the formula for success? Write a damn good story, express it in your engaging query, target your agents, and send to anyone who is looking for what you’ve written.
Good luck and keep writing!