I subjected the 41 agents who made it through my first screening to a subsequent evaluation, based on information readily available about them on the Internet, especially interviews. I also looked at their blogs and tweets if they had them, as well as what their clients had to say about them. Granted, my selection/rejection criteria aren’t very precise and the information is sketchy at best. I don’t read much contemporary American fiction, so I’m unfamiliar with nearly all of the books and authors represented by these agents. Nonetheless, I’ve now pared the list down to 18. Here are the hooks I intend to dangle in the personalized first paragraphs of my inquiries, the sensibilities I share with these particular agents.
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1. A European, this agent expresses interest in international fiction. He reviewed a German novel on Youtube in which he remarks on its author exhibiting a claustrophobia reminiscent of DeLillo.
2. A preference for “dark literary;” had been a doctoral student in social and personality psych before becoming an agent.
3. International; “smart novels with big ideas.”
4. Represents Mark Danielewski and House of Leaves. I didn’t like the book all that much, but the author is now commissioned to write a 25-installment serialized fiction, which is a premise I envisioned when I started reconfiguring the existing novels and writing new ones as a possibly ongoing “suite.”
5. Slipstream fiction; “I love a book that takes an unusual look at the world,… books that capture elements of the strange and wonderful.”
6. “Novels that incorporate some kind of surreal or magical element.” Represents a novel that presents an alt history of the Romanovs in which there is another “secret daughter” of Nicholas and Alexandra; my novel includes a chapter about their hemophiliac son.
7. “Novels which stretch the bounds of reality… a dissatisfaction with the mundane… hyperreal.” This agent got a vintage PK Dick collection published — I explicitly reference Dick more than once in my books.
8. Wants literary with speculative or psychological elements. “Render the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary somehow relatable and within reach.” Magical realism. European orientation with a degree in Renaissance studies; my books occupy a kind of post-medieval Euro alt reality.
9. “Up for anything unusual… alternate realities.” Attended Catholic schools; my books play on Catholic mystical practices.
10. “Innovatively literary.” Has a Youtube that consists almost entirely of photos of men with the tops of their heads chopped out of the frame — strange.
11. “Deeply imagined worlds… take risks.”
12. A published poet. Sees us living in “a state of cultural redifinition” that good lit can address. Poets and fiction writers “struggle to remember how to make sense of existence.” “Silence and the void.”
13. Writes a blog reviewing novels that she doesn’t represent. Recent entries ovelap with books I’ve read and liked myself recently: Bolaño, Egan, Speedboat by Renata Adler, Leaving the Atocha Station by Lerner.
14. Favorite authors include McCarthy, Saramago, Egan.
15. “Idea-driven narratives.”
16. In a blog post somebody calls him an “outlier” for skipping over the query letter to the sample text; I write about outliers.
17. Represents Chad Harbach of The Art of Fielding and MFA vs NYC (see yesterday’s post). “You have to be willing to pull yourself into [your writing] even if no one else sees it because there is no guarantee that people will.” I write with this awareness firmly in mind.
18. “Great ideas, compelling stories.”
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Next week I’m going to send query letters to six of the agents off this list. I’ll focus specifically on In the Days Before the Reckoning, the overture to the suite of novels. I might launch a second wave of six letters the following week.