To Agent or not to Agent

What a day we live in! Options are as plentiful as the calories in a Big Mac; processes are easy and deliver instant results and information is free to all! This is all very fortuitous and opportunistic for this generation of writer’s, no?

The last writer’s conference I attended was a mix of author’s that were new to the game and seasoned veterans (heavy on the latter.) The authors who walked uphill both ways on the path to publishing (in the snow with no shoes on) didn’t seem to appreciate today’s new-age methods of publishing.

To be honest, I can see their point. In their day author’s WROTE  books – no spell checker, no backspace key- they dripped blood, sweat and tears onto real paper! When they wanted to research something for their books they had to get up off of the couch and go to the library and use that little card catalog thingy! Publishing was even more tedious. Online query forms didn’t exist. No, there were reams and reams of paper sent out with hundreds of dollars of postage. Sounds like lots of disadvantages, right? It wasn’t all languishing and lament, though.

“Authors of old had one gleaming advantage over today’s prospective penmen: Fewer authors actually followed through with the process due to its rigor, which increased their chances of winning the prize of publishing.”

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Now you’re thinking, “Well, that was a happy story. Tell me more.”  Don’t worry, there are advantages for the whipper snappers too. It just involves a lot of research and knowing which path is best for you. If you’re reading this you’ve probably gotten as far as asking yourself THE QUESTION – Why am I writing a book? Your answer might be: to make money; so my voice is heard; to get my message out; because it’s on my bucket list or I don’t know, it’s just this blazing passion inside I have to fulfill. That last one is me. I’m not dying to roll in fields of cash (though if it happens I won’t complain).  I don’t have a burning message that I want to preach to the masses.

I just want to create and entertain and I want to be regarded and validated as an author.

Understanding my motive helps me choose my publishing route and I’ve chosen the traditional route of searching for an agent to represent me as an author.Landing an agent would be affirmation that my writing is ready for the public. Now, we know many authors – Steven King among them – had to query agents for just about ever to find someone who would affirm his craft. So be ready to stay the course if you choose this method.

Once an author is published through the traditional route, however, they have established themselves in the literary community and publishing becomes a much easier process.  I would say that this is the one major advantage to the traditional route that self publishing doesn’t provide. Another advantage is that there is no cash put out by the author, or there shouldn’t be. Never ever, ever pay an agent to represent you. They get there’s when they sell your book and good agents sell books. In fact, many agents give a stipend upon signing with them that doesn’t have to be paid back if you don’t sell any books. If you take the stipend, though, you don’t get a pay–out until you’ve sold the amount of  cash you accepted for signing.

Now let’s talk about the disadvantages. Oh geez, are you sure you want to talk about this?

The number one headache has to be the query process. If you’re not familiar with this constant kick to the gut I shall enlighten you. Some agents, not all, accept non–solicited manuscripts from newbies and veterans alike – again some agents, not all. Some only accept from established authors. To query an agent, you send them letters in a specific format that tells them about your experience as a writer and what your manuscript is about. Some agents request a sample chapter or two of your manuscript as well. Lots of research should go into what each agent is looking for and whether they accept non exclusive submissions (submissions that are sent to more than one agent.) Personally, unless it’s your dream agent, I don’t send exclusives because as one author put it, you’d be 108 if you had to send each query out individually and wait for the response. Speaking of waiting, most agents take at least four weeks to get back to you and sometimes eight but I’ve received responses in less than an hour before.

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What about those responses? They are rarely personal. Sometimes it’s hard to tell but I’m not sure I’ve ever received anything but a form letter and so far they have all been rejections. Be ready for rejection but don’t let it sway you. As Dory would say, “Just keep sending. Just keep sending, sending, sending!” To kill a Mocking Bird was re-written nearly a hundred times and went to countless agents before being published. I guess what I’m trying to say is : this method of publishing takes stick–to–it–iveness (not a word) but the accreditation associated with it is worth it in the end.

I could write a book on the methods and resources involved with pursuing an agent. I wouldn’t be the first one if I did.  Instead, you can check out the link I’ve provided below to many of my favorite query resources if this is the path you plan to take. There is a culmination of great information on how to build your query and what to look for in an agent. Happy hunting! You can do it!

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Here is a list of my favorite

Query Tracker.net This is a great resource for finding agents based on genre and location. It gives valuable statistical information on how agents respond to different query methods and provides for comments by authors on the process.

Writers Market – If you aren’t published and you’re in the query process this piece of literature is a must-have. You can download the book online at Amazon.com.

AgentQuery.com This is an awesome resource when looking for what specific agents are looking for when you query them.

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7 thoughts on “To Agent or not to Agent

  1. Thanks for the resources. I’m no where near querying agents … not sure I ever will be, but if/when I am, these will come in handy!

    Good luck with your querying – look forward to hearing about the time you get a response and it’s not a rejection 🙂

  2. Great read – I love the humor punches. Thanks for the vital information and thanks for stopping by my blog – it led me here!

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