Looking up some contact information in our database, I was reminded of my very favorite thing about it: small notes, devoid of context, that give a strange glimpse into our conversations with editors. The stand out stars of the “notes” section of our contacts are surely that one editor has “three tiny kids” and another (whose name is not one you’d come across often) “is a GUY!” I like to imagine the shock and surprise of the assistant who’d picked up the phone to discover a deep, masculine voice attached to a name he or she had previously assumed belonged to a woman. (I also am not entirely certain that one wasn’t me, back when I was Jane’s assistant an alarmingly high number of years ago.) I also imagine the kindly editor who sat across from one of my colleagues at a lunch meeting and showed off pictures of her miniature children, perhaps posed next to objects of regular stature for comparison purposes. That note has been in there long enough that the tiny kids are probably not so tiny any more.
Most of the notes, though, are actually quite useful—such and such a person is obsessed with dogs or used to be a ballet dancer or absolutely cannot stand misery memoirs. When we submit our projects, we’re working not only on the parameters of a publisher’s and editor’s list and our personal interactions with them, but with the company’s collective knowledge of what makes them tick and gets them excited. Excitement is the huge intangible of the publishing process. And when we just happen to have a book about dogs or dance or misery, we know where to go—or where not to.
For authors looking for agents, I suspect the best resources out there are the blogs and websites and Twitter feeds and what have you of the agents themselves. We do suffer sometimes from too many queries quoting our own bios back to us, sending us things that are far off base because they might have a common keyword. I think all the agents who’ve been here a while have at one point or another edited a reference out of our descriptions of ourselves or our lists, because we found it led too many people down the wrong path. But more often than not, these little factoids about us and our interests point people the right way. While we do share queries amongst ourselves and know each other’s taste well, it’s always nice to look at a batch of newly arrived queries and see that several of them are on a subject that we’re already really enthusiastic about—it doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but a book on a subject that usually bores us has to be that much more amazing to even catch our eye. Much as agents train themselves to see the difference between “I like this” and “this is good” (and “I don’t like this” and “this is bad”), we’re still human, and with all the reading at night or on the weekends, it’s a real pleasure to come across the projects that we’d happily buy off the shelves if they had nothing to do with us.
So when you’re querying us, if it’s because an off-hand reference in one of our blog entries made you realize we just might be the right advocate for your book, please do let us know! It always helps us to know why you wanted us to read your work.