Update Agent #14…Who Actually Gave Me Feedback

Yesterday I blogged about how agent #11 knocked me back but reminded me that she’s not the only agent at her firm. I went to their website and ended up approaching another agent there, making her agent #14 on my list. Her reply popped up in my in-box less than 12 hours later and was BY FAR the most personalized and helpful response I’ve received. Here is what she said:

I appreciate your thinking of me with your query, and I’m sorry to tell you that this is a pass from #14. …Oh! She actually read my blog! This is the first evidence that someone has read my blog who isn’t on my Christmas card list.

But I’ll offer a little insight on my position… I have a pretty full list so am really only looking when something feels it has the potential to blow me away. …That’s probably the case with pretty much every agent I’m approaching which serves to highlight how whammo-blammo your query letter has to be.

Your premise – your setting – is interesting to me, but four things in particular put me off. The first is that you talk about 9 books. Which, before I even know if this is something I’ll be interested in, feels like a heavy weight, daunting, rather than appealing. …This sort of surprised me. I’ve been cautioned before about marketing my novel as “the first in a series of nine” but my thinking is that the publishing world these days seems to be driven by trilogies and series so wouldn’t this be a plus…?  From the perspective of the agent and the publisher, all the time and effort put into bringing a novel to publication is surely better spent on something that will continue to reap future rewards rather than on an author who might only have one novel in him. Also, one of the few maybes I’ve received from the agents I’ve approached so far asked to see my synopsis of all nine books. So maybe, like so many things in life and certainly in art, it very much comes down to individual preferences. Nevertheless, it gives me food for thought.

Second, you don’t tell me anything at all about the first book – the one that, if you made it sufficiently intriguing in your letter I might be tempted to request. I did, but evidently not enough. The setting of my novel is central to the story but now that I’ve re-read my letter to her, I can see that perhaps I spent too much space on the setting and not enough on the story. Keep in mind that the Commandment on query letters is “Thou must not exceed one page” so it’s very hard to know what balance is right.

Third you tell me nothing about yourself, your past writing/publishing experience, your day job, nothing. …Yikes! That’s a big dilemma for me. I’ve never had anything published! From what I’ve read about constructing a good query letter, they say if you ain’t got nuthin’, it’s better not to bring it up at all rather than gloss over something with information that’s clearly not true. Again, with only one page to sell yourself, I thought it’s better to focus on what I think is a marketable idea rather than hover around the fact that I ain’t got nuthin’.

Last, you bill yourself as “AussieAuthor,” which suggests you may bring to your storytelling a perspective, and maybe even spellings and punctuation that will not be entirely welcoming and to an American market.…She’s referring to the email address I use for all my writing-related email. Hmmm, this is something that hadn’t occurred to me AT ALL. This was certainly the case when I wrote my first novel (about 12 years ago; I’ve lived here 14 years now) but I doubt that that’s still the case. I’ve tried very hard to listen to the way people here speak both in real life and in the movies (especially old Hollywood movies given that my story takes place in Los Angeles in the 1930s) so I don’t think my novel reads like it’s been written by someone who isn’t American. But that’s a completely moot point if someone sees my email address and dismisses me out of hand. The whole purpose of the query letter is to convince a literary agent to request the first few chapters. That would be enough to show that I don’t write “too Australian” – or at the very least “not American enough”. But if my very email address is enough to put them off, that’s a worry.

So, this is a no for me, but I hope these few hints may be useful to you. Best of luck and success. …I sent her back an email thanking her for her time and consideration and she even emailed back a “You’re welcome – good luck” What a nice lady! Thank you Agent #14!


So clearly I have some thinking, or rather some re-thinking to do. It’s hard to know if this agent’s reaction reflects how most literary agents are going to think, or was she the exception rather than the norm. Either way, I think it always pays to stop and reassess every now and then to make sure you’re on the best path. The trick is not to do it too often and risk second-guessing yourself into the loony bin.

About Martin Turnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author of a series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at www.martinturnbull.com and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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