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Posts Tagged ‘agents’

In my day job as coordinator of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I get a LOT of questions in my email inbox. While many of the queries are conference-related, an amazing number are about the writing business. More and more, it seems, the questions focus on finding an agent.

I’m not sure I qualify as an expert, but I have learned a lot about the industry over the years, both as a writer and in working with and attending the conference. So I thought I’d address some of the very frequently asked questions I receive, mostly from people who are brand new to the process and who’re stressing out about it. If any agents or agented authors are reading this, please feel free to correct my assumptions or add your thoughts in the comments. This post is entirely my own opinions, for what they’re worth. Please always check the websites of agents you’re considering for their specific preferences and go with those.

That being said, here are the top five things I end up repeating in my answers to emails about agents:

1. This is a BUSINESS. I know you put your heart and soul into creating the baby you’re sending out into the world. It wouldn’t be worth trying to find an agent if you hadn’t. But once you’re ready to send it out, you need to separate your emotional connection to your book from the business of getting published. Easier said than done? Of course! It’s a lot like sending your kid off to school and then going to a parent-teacher conference to hear a stranger’s assessment of his skills and personality. It can be brutal. But if you don’t want to be seen as the crazy parent no one wants to deal with, you stay polite and have a reasonable conversation, even if you drive home privately convinced the teacher has no clue about your child. As personal as your manuscript is to you, to a potential agent, your book is a business prospect. Do they believe in it enough to sell it? And if they do, have you shown them that you’re going to be easy to work with, professional, and able to respond reasonably to criticism and editorial comments?

2. On a related note, a query letter is a business letter. Inject your personality, give a sense of the voice of your book, sure, but don’t let it go out full of errors, don’t tell agents how fabulous your book is or how it’s going to be the next big thing (again, the kid analogy applies. You polish ‘em up and send ‘em out in the world; it’s up to those they meet to form their own impressions). DO be clear and grammatically correct and interesting and let your story sell itself by writing a great blurb.

3. Agents are people. For the time they have our manuscripts on submission, they hold our dreams in their hands, so it can be really easy to be intimidated or see them as somehow different, scarier, maybe. But they’re human beings like the rest of us. Remember this when you write to them or meet them at a conference.

4. Don’t get caught up in the idea of a dream agent. You’ve researched her inside and out and you just KNOW she’s The One. You hang all your hopes on her. And then she rejects you because your work isn’t right for her. I’ve seen a lot of people react to that by saying, “But I know she’s the perfect agent for me!” Guess what? If she doesn’t love your work, she’s not the right agent for you, no matter what your research told you. Assuming you’re only querying reputable agents who actually sell books, the perfect agent for you is the one who gets it, the one who cares about your book as much as you do and with whom you can have a great working relationship. And just like finding a partner in life, chances are she might not be the one you thought she was going to be when you started looking.

5. This can be a SLOW process. Your manuscript is the focus of your attention, the one submission you have to think about, and every day that goes by without news can feel like an eternity. But for agents, reading your submission is just one thing on a VERY long to-do list that has to lean in favour of existing clients if they’re going to succeed. You’ll expect them to work hard for you if you become a client, so trust that they’re busy doing that for their current ones, too, and may take much longer than you’d like to get to your submission. In the meantime, query widely and keep working on the next book.

Do you have tips to add, especially for those dipping their toes in the querying pool for the first time?

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Agents and Underwear

I haven’t talked too much here – or anywhere – about my recent serious effort to find an agent. It’s no secret, but it’s a business thing, and I figure it’s pretty much between me and the agents until something official happens. In the meantime, either someone is going to love my work and want to represent me or s/he’s not the right agent for me, however perfect s/he may look on paper. But, of course, as easily said as that is, the whole process is also a very emotional one. I don’t think it’s possible to write a good book without pouring your heart and soul onto the page, so sending it out and waiting for likely rejection isn’t easy and feels very personal. For me, it’s essential to remember, always, that this is a business. But it’s also essential for me to keep my sense of humour about the whole thing.

My best friend is not a writer, and is the perfect person to help me keep this process in perspective. So especially for those of you who are also going through this process at the moment, I give you her analogy about agents and underwear:

A query letter is the first time you see a potential date across a room and get up the nerve to go over and introduce yourself. Rejection is likely, but the amount of yourself invested in the attempt is relatively minimal. Being rejected sucks, but it’s a numbers game. You expect it to happen more often than not. If it happens every time, you polish your approach and try again. And if things go well, it leads to

The partial. This is the first date. It’s conversation over dinner, where you find out whether you have the same taste in music and feel the same way about dogs vs cats and whether there’s any chemistry. At worst, one of you will feel it and the other won’t and you’ll get rejected. This will sting, because you had your hopes up that he might be The One and you put your best effort into being your most attractive self. But if the two of you click and you can’t stop talking and suddenly it’s two am before you realize it’s even dark outside, the relationship will progress to

The full manuscript. This is the first time your date is going to see you naked, and you’re not sure whether you’ve picked the right underwear for the occasion or if he has an aversion to cellulite or freckles, but cellulite and freckles and the lacy number you picked up that one day you were feeling thin is what you have to offer. And it’s here that you reveal so much of yourself that rejection is going to hurt. You know he likes you enough to want to see you naked; that’s been established. But when you’re standing there in your best bra and panties, holding your breath, it’s nerve-wracking. Being told “Sorry, not for me” at this point is a blow. No matter how circumspect you’ve tried to be about the whole thing, standing nearly naked in front of anyone is pretty intensely personal. But there’s always the hope, the chance, that he’ll take a long look and want to take things to the next level as much as you do and maybe even propose…

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