Submissions Updates

Summer Buzzing and Reading

I’m spending the longest day of the year in a place where the sun barely sets in the summer. It’s incredible to see clearly at 2am, it really brings a whole new meaning to the solstice. It’s also given me more hours of bright reading light, which has been helpful in catching up with submissions. My deepest apologies to those of you who had to wait as I considered yours. Due to outside forces, it took me far longer to read through my maybe-pile this past winter than I expected, I had to extend my submission closure through spring. At last I’m back on track, having whittled down my list to 10 requested fulls (for those of you wonking out on query stats, that’s just 1% of the submissions I received in the fall, mostly upmarket adult fiction). So I will be opening for the summer after the 4th of July!

I also will be on faculty for two conferences this fall: 

Say hello if you are attending!

Submissions Update

It’s the Season of the Witch, and pumpkins abound. As do, unfortunately, book bans. Penguin Random House has created a wonderful resource for anyone interested in joining the resistance to these bans, click here.

For those of you following my submission stats, I’ve officially narrowed the inbox down to full requests. I opened to submissions for three months this past spring and had 1,850 submissions. I ended up requesting 19 full manuscripts and so far have made 3 offers of representation.

Now that I’ve caught up on queries, I’m opening to submissions for the remainder of the year and will likely close again in the new year to catch up, as settling in at the new agency and this little one is keeping me busy.

Wonking Out on Query Stats

I will be closing to submissions at the end of the month to catch up. For those of you who like to wonk out on #querystats (thank you Patrick for the easy to access stats on QueryManager), this post is for you.

I opened at the end of March and have already received nearly 1500 queries. Although the largest amount came in on the first few days of opening, it’s since averaged out to about 20 a day. If the trend continues, when I shut down my query box on May 31, I will have received over 2,000 queries.

Rainbow’s ploy to get me to stop working.
  • I’m usually able to filter out about eighty percent within a few days:
    • Most aren’t ready for me, about 10-14 or ~sixty percent of daily submissions
      • Often the pitch is not focused. It relies on vague rhetorical questions for tension or makes grandiose statements like “this will be an instant bestseller” or it’s just confusing. Whether it’s due to a lack of resources, inexperience, or laziness, I know these authors aren’t in a place for me to partner with, and when I give the sample a quick glance, this is confirmed. But as these authors are often vulnerable first-timers, any feedback I give may do unintentional harm, so these get a form pass.
      • Sometimes the pitch is fine or even great, but the sample isn’t quite there. These will get a note that says the concept intrigued me, but the sample didn’t pull me in as I had hoped. The tricky thing about this response, is I hope it inspires the writer to keep going, polishing and honing their craft, not discourage them. So I try to use it when I think the writer can handle the response, i.e. has a bit of experience, they are about to level up, or would appreciate knowing their sample isn’t quite working.
    • 2 to 4 are not my taste or not in my wheelhouse, ~fifteen percent of daily submissions
      • These are most often picture books (PB). There is understandably confusion about this, as I do represent authors who write PBs. But I only sign projects in the upper age range, and sometimes said clients also write picture books. So 99% of PBs will be quickly passed on.
      • Sometimes these are nonfiction proposals. I’m newly exploring the idea of representing nonfiction, again because I have clients who write in the fiction space and are crossing over. But I’m extremely selective and will either pass the submission on to one of the agents at KC&A who do a lot of nonfiction, or will send a form rejection as I’m not comfortable enough in the genre to give feedback.
      • Sometimes the sub is simply something I’m not interested in. There is no way for the submitting author to know this, and if I state it, an author may interpret it as a professional take, i.e. how the market is leaning. But I don’t represent the entire market and there are other agents that will feel differently, so these get a quick form pass from me as well.
    • 1 or 2 are inauthentic, ~five percent of daily submissions
      • Writers who exaggerate their resume to an extreme, falsely claiming to have had best-sellers, big name support for their book, film and multiple agents interested. They are more interested in being famous than writing. Form pass.
      • Market chasers, writing in a genre because they think it’s easy money, not because they love and know the genre. Form pass.
      • Writers attempting a take that requires nuanced experience they don’t have, i.e. someone writing magical realism without understanding the cultural significance behind the genre. These are tricky and tend to take more time to review, but they also get a form pass.
  • That leaves twenty percent that stay in my inbox, which at this point is 250 submissions and if things stay on track, 400 submissions when I close at the end of the month. This is not yet my maybe pile even. For now I’ve kept them for one of the following reasons:
    • the writer intrigued me
    • the concept/pitch intrigued me
    • the sample writing caught me
  • A submission has to hit all three of those factors to go into the maybe pile, and the rest will be passed on, hopefully with an encouraging note, but not guaranteed (timing-wise, on average, one of these passes requires the same amount of time filtering the ~14 quick passes does). This stage will leave about ten percent of the submissions in my inbox, ~200. Half of these will be further narrowed down:
    • Too close to something I already represent
    • Passed on to colleagues
    • Upon further reading the sample doesn’t hold up as well as it did in the beginning
    • The promise of the pitch ultimately isn’t met in the actual manuscript
    • I know the manuscript needs work, but have no vision on how to steer the editorial
    • I don’t have a clear picture on who the target audience is, comp titles, how to pitch it to publishers, and it didn’t gut-punch me enough to take a chance on it anyway
    • The author gets an offer of representation, I tend to step aside on those because I don’t want to rush my decision
    • The author gets an offer of publication from a smaller press, I tend to step aside on those or pass them on to my colleagues
  • That still leaves ~5 percent, which in this case is around 100 submissions, whew. Wish me luck!

Skimming vs Deep Reading Submissions

I quietly opened to queries ten days ago for the first time in over two years. I was closed for so long mainly because my clients were turning in multiple manuscripts regularly. It was averaging 30 manuscripts a year, which meant there was no time nor room in my head for deep-reading fulls in my submission pile. And the idea of opening up to queries was daunting, I’d been hearing from others how there’s been a surge in submissions since lockdown. But a few things aligned that pushed me forward. Most important, I caught up with my clients. On top of that my baby is now posed to enter toddlerhood, so the newborn days are a foggy memory. And lastly we revamped the website at the agency (check out the new Kimberley Cameron & Associates site, it is lovely, professional, and friendly in my totally biased opinion).

My cat Rainbow has a sixth sense for when I’m reading on my tablet.

Once I made the decision to seek new clients, I realized I was ready, keen even, to read subs. When over a hundred submissions rolled in that first weekend, I was surprised, but not overwhelmed, jumping in late at night, as the baby slept curled against me. I tweaked my submission form a few days later to find the quickest way to work through them thoughtfully, and plowed on in the odd hour I could find here or there. I skimmed through some fantastic pitches and lovely samples, all of them had potential, but only a few I set aside for further consideration. This is the easy part, the scanning, skimming, flicking through text. If this was all there was to it, writers would never have to wait long for a response.

But of course that’s not how it works. Many of you probably have partials or fulls that have been with an agent for months, even a year. Sure enough, five hundred submissions later, I’m slowing down. The maybe pile is growing. As eager as I am to find a new client or two, I’m not going to rush this part. Although I can enjoy a quick read, see potential in a few sentences, I’ve learned from experience that I have to truly sit with and deeply read a manuscript in order to absorb it, to have an editorial vision for it, to know if the connection I feel will be enough to champion it through the ups and downs. And that is a must before I take on that manuscript for representation. To find that vision, I have to be in that “Deep Reading” space. There’s a fantastic interview by Ezra Klein with literary scholar Maryanne Wolf on the difference between scanning and deep reading.

Both methods are valid, and indeed necessary when I’m considering submissions, but a deep read is the final step before I would offer representation, and it’s the most difficult to achieve. The research done by Wolf and others of the neuroscience behind the different ways we absorb information, is fascinating and enlightening and helped me further define how I want to work. It has also meant clarifying something I had already sensed, that I was going to take longer than ever to read and consider fulls for representation. But I have to be okay with that, and I hope after reading this, writers will choose to query me (or not) with this deeper understanding of my process.

New Year, Submissions Update

2021 was quite the year, but I don’t have to tell y’all that. I didn’t get as many posts up as I wanted, nor did I get as much reading done as I had planned. I only made one offer of representation, which I lost to another agent. But the year was not quiet for me. I was swamped for the best reason. My clients have been super prolific and successful, and it has been a chaotic whirlwind of joy to partner with them. And although I had planned on re-opening to queries at this time, that has changed as I am going out on parental leave this spring. Yes, we’re having a pandemic baby! So unfortunately I will not be open to queries until late summer, perhaps even until 2023. I do appreciate your patience and understanding, and please know I am eager to be open to new clients, I just want to be confident that I will be able to give the time and energy that they deserve.

In other book news, we did manage to install a Free Little Library, which I’m rather proud of. My talented partner built it, and I filled it. It’s been quickly put to use, and now half the books in there have been donated by random people passing by. I love sneaking one of my clients’ books in there every so often and seeing them disappear.

May you all stay safe and well!

UPDATE: March 15, 2021

Remaining Closed to Submissions

I have made the difficult decision to remain closed to submissions for the foreseeable future. My client list is really tight at present (as is my attention span given the current global situation). I’m a bit burnt out in general, as I imagine we all are, so I’m also pulling back my professional social media engagement. Bottom line, I want to ensure I can give my full attention to my current list.

My colleagues Lisa Abellera and Dorian Maffei are up and coming agents at our agency, who have very similar taste as mine, and who work closely with me, so I urge you to consider submitting to either in the interim.

I would like to reopen in the fall (hopefully along with the rest of society) and will re-examine when the time is closer. Until then, wishing you all a safe and healthy spring/summer!

Blog Post Image by Mary C. Moore

Examining the “I Just Didn’t Fall In Love” Rejection

As I gear up to open to submissions for the new year, I’m once again faced with the task of whittling down the remaining fulls in my query inbox. I’d love to get down to zero, a fresh start to 2020. I have less than ten manuscripts to consider. Should be easy right?

Wrong.

As the pile of “maybes” gets smaller, the harder it is to make decisions on what to let go. There’s the young adult thriller I’ve had since spring, in which, although the plot is a mess, I’m in love with the narrative voice. The contemporary middle grade that’s been there since late summer, with the amazing concept and natural tension, but rough writing. The adult fantasy, just requested before shutting down my inbox, that is totally epic and totally up my alley, but perhaps not enough to break out in the smaller SFF market. The interesting women’s fiction from early fall, with the really cool author with lots of great experience and a huge platform, that doesn’t quite catch, but maybe could with some edits.

I can’t take on all of them. But there isn’t a good reason to reject them. So I start typing those dreaded words, “I just didn’t fall in love,” cringing because after months of considering a full manuscript, I know the author is going to be frustrated by this lame response. Sure I try to dress it up best I can, but the bottom line, is “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve gotten plenty of those types of responses from editors to know that wrapping it in a pretty ribbon of words isn’t going to make the seemingly arbitrary rejection any less baffling and/or disheartening.

How can I explain myself, and my cohort of literary agents across the country, for sending rejections we ourselves dread to receive?

So I emphasize once again, how in tune I must be with a manuscript and its author. My vision for what editorial the manuscript needs and who the target audience is should be crystal clear. Knowing those two factors, I can lay a path forward for myself and the author. My vision has to be strong, because that path will most definitely veer and fork and turn on itself. This business is a roller coaster at best and a human-eating monster at worst. As one of my favorite lit peeps Literary Agent DongWon Song pointed out in a recent Writing Excuses podcost:

Now, the thing is, publishing is a system that is designed to be extremely random. What makes a book work is highly unpredictable. What makes a book tank, also highly unpredictable. So when you’re thinking about this, there’s two things you need to keep in mind: always have a plan. But also be ready to throw that plan out the window at the drop of a hat. . . . You will go completely mad if you try to map the whole thing. So you pick your path, but then you’re ready to know, we can pivot wherever we need to. 

https://wetranscripts.dreamwidth.org/166134.html

So when I’m reading a particularly strong submission, I’m considering the biggest factor that will push me to make an offer: Is my vision for it strong and clear enough to survive through the inevitable roller coaster?

The writing may be excellent, the author may be fantastic, the story may be right up my alley, but could I take it the distance? If I give it more time, will my vision potentially solidify or should I let it go now?

The next time an agent hangs on to your manuscript for months and then all you get is a “I just didn’t fall in love” rejection, pat yourself on the back, you’re rising to the top of hundreds of thousands of submissions. It’s only a matter of time before you find someone who will “fall in love.”

And in the meantime, remember, it really wasn’t you, it was me.

UPDATE: December 5, 2019

Closing to Submissions for the Holidays

I will be closed to submissions from December 15 until January 15, for the holidays. I hope to catch up with all outstanding queries, partials, and fulls during that time.

Wishing everyone a joyful holiday season and a happy new year!

UPDATE: September 15, 2019

Briefly Closing To Submissions

I will be closed to submissions September 23 through October 14 for travel and work. Will also use the time to catch up on query backlog. Reopening in time for #DVPit! For those of you planning for the future, I will also be closing to submissions for a few weeks over the holidays.

Write on.

Agents Query Too

One of the most important and also hardest aspects of my job is getting a project past the publishers’ editorial front line. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the process: once an agent has sent a manuscript to editors, said editors will read and consider whether or not they want to take the ms to acquisitions. That means the editor has to be passionate about it enough to get their team to read it fairly quickly (all of whom are swamped with their own tbr pile), draft a profit and loss statement, convince a room full of people that the ms is worth investing in. Basically stake their reputation on it.

This excruciating process can take weeks, and it is a lot of time and energy away from current work (not taking into consideration the project going to auction). So an editor can like a project–they mostly do like the client work that I send, as I work hard to maintain a standard and appeal to individual tastes–but simply liking a project isn’t enough. So I have to do everything in my power to get them excited before they read it, which means creating a letter that indicates why they are a great fit for the project, and one that includes a powerful pitch, current successful comparative titles, and a clear author bio. Sometimes I will pitch in person or on the phone, but the power points remain the same. Sound familiar?

If it works then they go in primed to love the manuscript. Which gives it the best possible chance to make it past the front line. And ideally go further–then the editor will use those same power points when lobbying your manuscript to marketing, financial, the publisher itself. And those points will be part of the final decision, i.e. if you are going to be made an offer.

So remember, that’s the end game. Your query is not just a way of introducing yourself to an agent, but to show how your manuscript can be positioned positively in the market and that it has potential to sell. You’re clearing the road blocks, so the decision gets down to the writing itself.

Don’t be intimidated by this, we don’t expect new authors to navigate the market with years of experience and execute the perfect query letter (that is why you’re looking for a literary agent after all), but at least understanding why these concepts are important can only benefit you on your road toward publication.

And even if you do pull off everything perfectly, you will probably still get rejected. It’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking, but you’re not alone, and we feel it too. Every agent has a few of those projects that they’ve never forgotten and were stumped as to why they didn’t sell.

But you can and will navigate the process with more confidence and knowledge and eventually there will be a project that will get that yes.