Thank you again to everyone who participated in our AUT ARC giveaway. We got some amazing questions!

As promised, I’m here to answer Amy’s winning question.

Amy asked: “If someone queried you with a story you thought had the potential to make a high profit but which you didn’t personally care for or connect with (much like many people dislike twilight or harry potter), would you accept the author as a client, or would you pass? Similarly, have you ever passed on a manuscript and later regretted it (no matter what the reason was for the rejection)?”

This is such a good question. It’s good because I’ve been thinking about the perfect way to answer it for days.  Really there are two questions here, so I’ll start with the first: would I take on a project that I thought would be profitable even if I didn’t personally connect with it.  This is hard to answer because I connect with projects for various reasons and one of those is absolutely because I think it would sell.  For example, I am not a cat person, but last year I spent a great deal of time chasing a certain cat costume maker because I thought her photos would make for a great cat photo book (ultimately, it didn’t work out). I also update my “what I’m looking for” list – which goes to the readers at Browne & Miller who evaluate query letters – constantly to reflect popular (or saleable) themes, ideas or trends in addition to personal areas of interest. Right now, for example, I’m all over steampunk and post-apocalyptic fiction.

But the bottom line is that there is so much more to a successful publishing relationship than money – be that advances or royalties or in my case, commission.  There’s something to be said for trendiness: it’s proven, it works. And there’s something to be said for a catchy idea: it gets you talking.  But a trendy and catchy idea needs to be backed by good writing and an author I want to work with.  I don’t want to have to convince an editor that what I’ve submitted will sell. Sure, to an extent that is my job, but I want them to fall in love with what I’ve sent their way and know that it will sell because it’s good.  Plus, in reality, it’s simply more difficult to sell projects, no matter how potentially profitable, if you can’t get behind them 100%.  

Now on to the second question: have I ever passed on a manuscript and regretted it.  I have passed on many manuscripts, to be sure.  Once, I even picked up a book at an airport bookstore only to find that it contained the pages of a manuscript I had considered a year ago. On another occasion, I was visiting a fellow agent’s blog where she had posted examples of successful query letters (i.e. query letters from projects she took on and sold) only to read one query that I had rejected.  So far I’ve never regretted passing on a manuscript. That’s not to say that elements of manuscripts I passed on don’t stay with me. They do. There are characters or scenes I still remember from manuscripts that didn’t work as a whole. But when I pass on something, I try not to look back. Even when I was standing in that airport bookstore reading those familiar pages, all I could think was “It’s still not working for me.”  That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for it, it simply wasn’t my cup of tea.  If I pass on something it’s rarely because I’m not ready to take a chance. It’s usually because I don’t think the manuscript works or because I don’t think I am the right agent for it.  If it goes on to find another home, with an agent who has expertise in a genre I might not be interested in, than that’s great.  The other agents who passed on Harry Potter or Twilight might be kicking themselves now, but at the time, for whatever reason, they didn’t think they were in a position to take on and sell the books.  The seeds of Harry Potter and Twilight’s success were planted when the author-agent relationship was made and obviously, it was the right one. Maybe that’s too idealistic, but I think it’s true.

The query letter, the one that I rejected and saw posted on another agent’s blog, was another thing. I remembered this particular query letter because it was, to sum it up, “quirky.”  When I read it initially, I believed the project was too quirky for me, but when the agent expanded on the manuscript in her blog, I realized that it actually was the type of story I’m usually drawn to.  So, if anything, that experience taught me to take more of a chance on query letters that land on my desk.

I hope that answers your question, Amy!  Thanks for asking.

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