what to write next…. and which project to query…

My client Patricia Bray has an article up at Writer Unboxed from the perspective of the working writer who has to balance the practicalities and realities of the business side of publishing with the call of the imagination.

On a related note…. there seems to be a mixed message out there about what to do when querying if one is an author with multiple projects. Having been in the situation where I turned down a very good manuscript that I thought would get a difficult reception from editors and asked the author for something else, which I subsequently took on and then sold (and, yes, I’ve also sold the first book now too), I can see where it might be tempting to send an agent a pitch for the entire repetoire, and hope you get a hit. However, as an agent, I sometimes find those lists rather daunting and want to instinctively shy away. I tend to recommend to writers who have asked me this question on panels that they pitch their strongest project — the best written and most commercial one. And perhaps tag a couple of sentences in at the end of the query about what they plan to work on next, or a sequel, if there is one. And then let the writing do the work of hooking the agent before unleashing the wide variety available from the writer’s imagination.

Don’t get me wrong. I love diversity. It is one of the best things about working with such a range of imaginative people. Indeed, Patricia speaks in her article a little bit of why we moved from romance to fantasy. And I have several times consulted with clients about which project they should write next based on brief descriptions of several from the idea folders. We have discussed a variety of factors, including the commercial aspects of the project and how it will grow their audience, how it will help them expand their talent in the craft of writing, and how strongly the story inspires them.

Since it is rare to put more than one or two unrelated projects on the market simultaneously, it’s self-evident that such choices must be made.

7 responses to “what to write next…. and which project to query…

  1. worked for me
    Because it took me a while to find an agent, and I was writing while I queried, I ended up having two completed manuscripts and one nearly finished by the time I got agent offers. About six months into the querying, I realized my new project was stronger and began to query using that one instead. I only mentioned the one project I was querying though and brought up the others once an agent showed interest. That worked well for me, so I think this is good advice.

  2. I’ve often wondered that, all though I did gain the impression early on that agents really didn’t want to know about the million words of crap entertaining the dust bunnies. *G*. But thanks for clarifying it. I also wondered how difficult it was to persuade agents that you didn’t want to write one particular genre. It made me worry about being ‘labelled’ with a particular book even if it is the most commercial. But folk like Elizabeth Bear manage to write both sci fi and fantasy, so obviously it can be done. Also some of the bigger name authors like CJ Cherryh and CS Friedman.
    I guess that is the trick. To know that readers will read whatever you write even if they do prefer a particular genre. Once you’ve gained a fan base of some kind it must be slightly easier to branch out.

  3. Thanks for the link. This ties in nicely with the conversation we were having at Thrillerfest, regarding multiple genres, pseudonyms, and “branding.”

  4. I only query one project at a time.
    But I confess to not having a clue which project is “best written and most commercial”.
    In theory the latest one is always going to be best written. I certainly never purposely wrote a project less well than I wrote the one before. But “most commercial”? That’s a stumper for me.
    Mostly I just query each project as it is completed, and don’t need to worry about choosing one. I often do mention other projects just in passing to show that I don’t want to sell a book so much as I want to sell a career — but it seems like there are a lot of extra things it would be nice to include in a query letter, and there isn’t always room for all of them.
    If one has space for only two of the following, which two would be the best choice?
    a) Mentioning another project.
    b) Demonstrating a familiarity with the agents’ current list of authors.
    c) Mentioning real world experiences pertinent to this particular book.
    d) Letting the agent know that this book is currently “sitting on the desk” of a particular editor.
    e) Listing one or two professional sales in unrelated fields — short fiction, or a non-fiction book, or whatever.

  5. Do you handle authors who also write screenplays? I had to put a hold on the rewrite of the first book in my urban fantasy series because I have some interest in my screenplay. Books are my first love but the reason I learned how to write screenplays was simple for me. If my books were ever adapted to film, I wanted to do it and I wanted to know how, even if a studio hired someone else to. Then I came up with ideas that weren’t book material but were commercially viable. My books will always be my first love. I cannot wait to be done with the rewrite of the movie so that I can get back to the rewrite of the book and query you. This is my 2nd novel, but it’s the 1st in a series. Do you have folks that do both. Or would you consider working with someone who did? Thanks! :*)
    ~T. Green

  6. I would pick (e) and (c)
    Thank you!
    There is no (c) in the case of the one that is currently out to beta readers, so I guess I’ll be going with an (e) and (b) for that one.
    Of course, please remember your mileage may vary with other agents. They don’t all use the same exact criteria to evaluate.
    I guess that makes sense — but at least I now know what one of the agents on my list would rather see.
    As for the rest, I suppose I’ll just have to keep guessing until I have a chance to ask them about it.

  7. I can see where it might be tempting to send an agent a pitch for the entire repetoire, and hope you get a hit. However, as an agent, I sometimes find those lists rather daunting and want to instinctively shy away.
    Ack. I recently re-queried you after deciding the book you asked to see (after my original query) really needed more work before I sent it out. I gave you a short synopsis of a few of the other works I have.
    I understand now it was probably not the appropriate way of handling the situation. My apologies.

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