How Getting an Agent is Like Duck Duck Goose

angryrobotetsyI was terrified of the game of Duck Duck Goose* when I was a kid. I’ve always been an anxious type, so Duck Duck Goose was second only to dodgeball on the list of most dreaded recess games. It’s ironic, then, that as an adult I would submit voluntarily to a similar game–that is, the game of getting a literary agent.

For me, getting an agent took two years, two manuscripts, and more rejections than I care to advertise, but let’s just say that Katherine Stockett ain’t got nothin’ on me. The game went a little something like this:

Rejection, rejection, partial request. Rejection, rejection, FULL! Run around like crazy with excitement, make a couple of last tweaks to the manuscript. Hit send and get bonked on the head again with another rejection. And so on, until I’d run around the circle until I was dizzy. I even had a revise and resubmit in there from a fancy-name agency that turned into a big, fat nada. When, after a few months of not hearing anything, I followed up with the agent, her assistant emailed me to say, “Oh, she passed. I thought we had told you.”

Like so many other “debut” authors, my first published novel is not the first novel I ever wrote. I queried a prior novel for a year before deciding to set the first project aside to chase the story that was tugging at my imagination–a story about a Midwestern vintage clothing store and the women who work and shop there. That second project, VINTAGE, is the one that ended up getting me an agent and publishing contract.

That being said, all of the no’s along the way, especially the ones where I got feedback about what wasn’t working, helped me get to YES. So I actually owe all of those people who rejected my novels a thank you. I even connect with some of them on social media from time to time, so I know it’s not personal. It’s just that my project, in whatever stage it was in at the time I submitted it, wasn’t what they were looking for. Or the manuscript needed guidance that they didn’t have the time, inspiration, or inclination to provide.

It’s hard, though, when you’re in the trenches of submitting and querying and blog contests and Twitter pitches, not to take it personally. It’s hard not to sulk and slump your shoulders, thinking you’ll never be the one who gets tapped on the head with an offer. But stay in the circle. Stay in the game. You’ll be a goose soon.

*I hear that, it in some places, the game is called “Duck Duck Gray Duck.”

Image credit: TheAngryRobot Etsy Shop.

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Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

11 thoughts on “How Getting an Agent is Like Duck Duck Goose

  1. I’m just sitting down in the circle and my nerves are sparking waiting for those passes and pats on the head. I was just trying to explain the process to my mom last night (who is supportive, yet thinks we are all crazy to endure such a process). Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. I’m waiting in the circle now, sending out my first novel with my fingers and legs crossed. Your post captures the whole experience perfectly! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I like this analogy. And I HATED that game.

    It’s interesting that so far the other Debs have written about “the call” for their agent. I had a relatively easy time with the agent search, so I guess that’s why “the call” for me meant when the book sold.

    I did have that experience with a (very high-powered) agent who passed on my book but, you know, forgot to tell me. I let her have three months and change before I checked in. What I learned is that I didn’t want someone so scattered and rude to be my agent!

  4. The name of the game really is persistence, isn’t it? The funny thing is that at the beginning of the journey I didn’t realize just how much persistence I’d need!

    This line struck me: “Or the manuscript needed guidance that they didn’t have the time, inspiration, or inclination to provide.”

    What I’ve noticed since about 2008/2009 is that agents have less and less time for the developmental stage. It makes it more difficult to land an agent if they think they need to take you through a round of edits. In fact, I had an agent take me on, then reject me, saying she didn’t do that anymore. “That” meaning a developmental pass. It was nuts, and it was too bad, because she was nice, actually.

  5. I think that’s a perfect way to describe the process—especially because of the “run around like crazy part.” There are a few agents who I queried, who rejected me, but I always remember them fondly because they were so helpful or just so graceful about it that I appreciated it soooo much.

    And I agree with Lisa, about less and less agents being hands-on, editorially speaking. That’s something that’s always been so important to me because I love getting feedback and collaborating. Luckily my agent is amazing about this, but I did originally receive an offer from someone else who thought the ms was perfect and ready to be sent out; I chose to go with my agent because she had such great suggestions for how I could make the story better.

  6. Great analogy. I hated duck, duck, goose too (probably because I have short little legs and don’t run very fast) and your comparison to agent hunting is hilariously apt.

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