The road to publication is long and twisty and not for the faint-of heart, but along the way you may meet some incredibly cool people who help make the journey all the more fun and exciting. One of those people for me is Brent Taylor, who is an amazing, enthusiastic, up-and-coming literary agent with TriadaUS Literary Agency, Inc. (Follow him on Twitter @NaughtyBrent)! Although he is not my agent, from the moment we became friends, we have each been cheerleading each others' successes along the way. Brent has provided me with incredibly helpful insight into all the ins and outs of publishing, and I told him that when I was first starting out querying, I wish that I had been able to find more information that helped de-mystify the whole process and answers to all the noob questions about the things most authors are dying to know. Being the awesome person that he is, he graciously agreed! So without further delay, Brent Taylor gives you all the answers you've been waiting for.
Hi Brent! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and offering to help shed a little light on the mysteries of the agenting world! Top of the list, of course, is once a writer sends off that query, why does it take so long to hear back? (I know TriadaUS is pretty fast, but speaking generally for most agencies) Aren’t you all sitting by your computers hitting inbox refresh, just waiting for that hot new idea?
You’re right—it generally doesn’t take that long at all for a writer who has queried me to hear back. The longest I let a query sit is two days, but I typically respond within 24 hours. A response time that quick is understandably rare, and it will change once I have a heavier list. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessarily all about that “hot new idea” that will make editors line up outside the door with cash. I get a lot of queries that I’m on the fence about, so although I do take a peek once a new email comes in, I almost always file it away for later.
Describe a typical day in the life. What sorts of fires do you have to put out on a daily basis?
I wake up around 6:30 a.m. and drink coffee as I do damage-control on my email. I like to clear everything pressing off my desk before I start going through queries. After that and through lunch time, I’m usually editing client manuscripts, on the phone with editors or my boss, or doing miscellaneous emailing. The wonderful thing about agenting is that there is no “typical day,” however, so sometimes this routine is shaken up by a book deal or the signing of a new client.
Do you read manuscripts at home in the evenings and on weekends?
This is the only time to read manuscripts. There are just too many phone calls, emails, and distractions during the day.
How many queries do you get a week? On average how many of those turn into full or partial requests, and ultimately into offers?
I get roughly 20-25 a day, so a minimum of 140 queries per week usually. I’m awful at math, so I can’t even begin to comprehend what it would take to calculate a conversion rate, but I will tell you the following two things:
I do tend to over-request. My philosophy is when in doubt request the manuscript and take a closer look, because I don’t want to miss on the opportunity to work on something that could be great with one extra push. I started taking unsolicited submissions in September 2014, and I have 4 clients as of February 2015. My first client was a writer I’d worked closely in a handful of other capacities, the next two were from the slushpile, and the last was a referral from a colleague. So of the thousands of unsolicited queries I’ve read in the last months, two turned into offers of representation.
What is the number one thing with a bullet that makes you fall in love with a story?
Writing that resonates. It’s a very magical feeling when a novel invigorates you and you’re able to reflect or grapple with a personal issue in a new light because of that novel.
So many authors complain that an agent passed because they loved their writing but didn’t connect to the story. In those circumstances, would you ever consider signing that client anyway because of the potential you see? If not, why not?
Here’s the thing: it’s hard enough for us to sell the books that we love. So offering representation to a writer we can’t get fully behind isn’t only a drag for us, but it’s a huge disservice to the writer. You really deserve nothing less than an agent that will fight to the death for your writing career, and I would have such a bad conscience if I represented someone whose writing I couldn’t get passionate about. I’ve passed on a ton of books that other agents represent and I know will sell—because they just weren’t books I gravitated toward as a reader. That’s something I remind myself a lot when making important decisions: I’m an average reader first, and a literary agent second.
Once you get a query that interests you and you request to see more, what happens next? What is involved before you would actually offer representation?
I read the manuscript, and if about 50% of the way through I’m really loving it, I ask for a second opinion on the pitch and first few pages from a friend or colleague. Once I’ve finished reading and still feel confident about offering representation, I make an exciting phone call.
Once you have signed a client, how often should they expect to be in touch with you? What sort of role should an author expect of their agent in getting a manuscript ready to go on submission?
This is so tough, because not only is every agent different, but every client and novel is different too. Like in every business, you have clients and projects that need more attention than others. For me, it’s less about giving each client X amount of my time, but instead striving to constantly assess and meet their needs with 110% effort.
What are the key things a writer should and should not do when reaching out to agents to ensure they do not induce involuntary eye rolls and make them feel stabby?
I’m so grateful for anyone reaching out and sharing their novels with me, so I try to keep eye-rolling to a minimum. But just a few things that come to mind…Be polite and don’t assume too much. Phrases like “I know you’ll love this” and “you said this is what you’re looking for, so you’ll love this” don’t work in your favor. A concise query is a good query. If it can’t fit onto one page, it needs some strong reconsideration.
What made you interested in being an agent?
I’m a natural leader and I have been since I was a kid, so taking charge and being an authority is what I’m good at. Being an agent in this day and age requires this amazing balance between business-savviness and having your finger editorially and artistically on the pulse. That’s precisely why agenting is the only job for me.
What types of manuscripts make you jump the couch that you’d love to see but aren’t seeing right now? What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
No one’s sending me this generation’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, perhaps because I’m a man, but I’m trying to put the word out there that this is something I desperately want. Beyond Sisterhood, I’m very open to all sorts of YA. For some reason, I’m also having a hard time getting diverse submissions to come through my inbox. All flavors of diversity are welcome, but LGBT characters and storylines are of a great personal importance to me. I would go crazy for a literary MG or a novel written in verse. The best way to reach me is at email@example.com. Querying writers can send me their query letter and first ten pages pasted into the body of the message.
Thanks so much for all this great insight, Brent! Good luck everyone!