Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agent, Agent, Who's Got an Agent!?

Lately, I've been noticing the lemming-like rush on the part of new writers to land an agent. The problem is, they haven't finished their books, yet, and furthermore, they seem to think that if ten or twelve agents turn them down flat, then it's time to approach other agents, as many as 100. And when I say, haven't finished their books, yet, I mean, they haven't really done excellent rewrites, found excellent beta readers, gone back to the drawing board, and dug so deep that they hit pay dirt. Some secretly believe it's "good enough" to send out.

I have a problem with that. In fact, I think this is misguided, wishful thinking. But to each his or her own; after all, who am I to judge? Frankly, there are some bad books out there, which is another cause for dismay, and belongs to another blog post.

That being said, as far as I'm concerned, it is a wise writer who carefully researches a prospective agent, and having selected a few choice potential matches, approaches that handful, sits back and waits. Maybe no one will bite, maybe one or two might want to see entire manuscripts, but ultimately take a pass in a form rejection letter.
Isn't it quite obvious, if after six agents do this, there just might be something not quite right with the work and not the agent?

A very wise writer friend told me she sat down and composed her "dream" list of agents, numbering around a dozen or so, and sent off her queries to half of them, just to test the waters. She figured that if she got no bites at all, she'd revisit her book, and examine the structure for cracks, re-finesse the paint, mow the front lawn once more, before approaching the next handful. Why? Because she didn't want to send out anything less than perfect to the next group. She didn't want to burn all her bridges.

As it turned out, she needn't have worried because she found an agent -- a great guy -- on her first round of submissions.

I've worked with two agents on various projects in non-fiction and the children's market, but I haven't looked for an agent for adult fiction because I am not ready yet. When I am, I just know I'll never find 100 agents whom I'd feel would be right for me, because I honestly think that's a myth. Mind you, I am not writing in a particular specialty field, although even if I were, I'd still be skeptical about loads of agent possibilities. Loads? Really?

I still believe the best advice out there is the advice that reminds the hungry-to-be-published-via-real-publishers: Write the very best book you can. And
for obvious reasons, this is the advice most ignored. In a psychological way, it's a real downer. Some writers don't have sufficient skills to climb to the next rung. They don't want to admit this. They don't want to know they still have a lot more to learn, that they may never learn.

Then again, persistence does pay off. So, perhaps it would be better to focus on writing, writing, reading, reading, and not so much on agent blogs, gossipy, snippy diva-pods, and the latest news about Kindles versus real books in bookstores.


  1. Great post! And while I'm still writing the first draft, I do keep my eye open to making a list of those few agents to send it to. First I have to define the genre. ; ) I'm still working on that. : D

  2. I wrote one good book and then a better one, but I was too timid to send either one of them to an agent. I don't know whether that was a mistake or not. Many agents say they won't consider self-published books no matter what, so you can't use your published work as a foot in the door.

    The next book will be better still, and I've determined that I will shop it to agents, but I'm still awfully timid about the whole thing.

  3. Dear Zan Marie,

    Yes, it's always a good idea to keep the idea of agents in the back of the mind. As for the search and defining genre, first to consider is those books you've read that you really loved. You'll often find out who the writer's agent is in the list of acknowledgments. If you think their style and subject is similar to yours, then that's a source to consider.

    The other thing, apart from trawling lists online of literary agents, is, rather than trying to define your genre, undefine it. (s)
    In other words, you aren't writing a children's book, you aren't writing a thriller, you aren't writing a cookbook, or a non-fiction or poetry book etc.Eventually you arrive at women's fiction, possibly, "chick-lit" perhaps, romance, maybe, spiritual, possibly, and then, as you study various agents and what they are seeking, you soon enough narrow things down to various broad-based agents who list numerous kinds of books that interest them, often mentioning what they _don't_ want. Perhaps they simply want fiction, both commercial and literary etc.
    Have no fear, you will eventually arrive at the "list" and start whittling it down, too. (s)

  4. Dear Marte,

    In today's world (rush, rush, hurry up and dazzle me)you don't really need a "foot in the door" because even if you have a private entrance, you still have to wow them with the book you have for consideration.
    It's wonderful that you love writing and have written books! Third one may be the lucky charm, too.

    In this business, there is no reason for timidity. Think of it as you having nifty socks to sell to a buyer from Walmart.(To remove the lofty illusion) Think of it as a simple conversation between you and a hungry reader who wants to love what you have to offer. Really wants to love it, so he or she can run with it.
    Have faith, and be "strong, Don Pardo!"

    And also, consider that timidity has no place in writing, as well. It's all about being confident in your voice and style. If you nail that, you'll nail the query and/or the submission of a few pages etc.

    Sorry to ramble, but it occurs to me that as we write and the book grows, we do develop a sense of direction and with that, confidence and determination to see the story through. So, it really can be a handy emotion to invoke when it's time to send the queries and manuscripts out there.
    Worst that could happen? No takers. Decision time. Re-examine the book, the toolbox, the theme, the goals, the flow, the plot -- really a learning opportunity.

    Best that could happen? The obvious. (g)

    But, if you don't even try, then you will never know where you stand on the learning curve insofar as traditional publishing routes are concerned.
    You might end up kicking yourself for not having explored all the possibilities.

    Instinct is crucial. Your own gut will tell you when your book is as perfect as you can make it. If that instinct doesn't kick in, then you know you are not ready to send it out.
    Trust your instincts, because they never lie.

  5. I'm still stuck in edits... When I get around to querying, I hope - on the odd chance that an agent shows interest - I don't leap all over them and snap them up, but am able to keep a cool head and consider whether they're the right agent for me and my story...

  6. Dear Deniz,

    Well, when you are ready to think agents, just keep in mind that you will want to research them very carefully. And beyond how good they look on paper, you'll also need to feel satisfied on a more informal basis.

    Good luck with your ongoing edits!