Getting published sometimes feels as difficult as storming a castle. You meet resistance from all sides (even above). The task seems insurmountable, and it feels as though someone really evil out there has made the task extra hard to keep intruders (i.e. new authors) out. And the first fight you must find a way to win is the search for an agent.
How do you find an agent? That’s the first question unpublished writers ask all the time. I’ve seen them at conferences, stumbling between agents in pitch sessions in a daze. What do they want? How do I make them see how brilliant I am? Do you have an agent who would like my work? And I recognize the panic because I was once there myself.
Perhaps I will be seen as yet another roadblock to the nirvana that is publishing, or a pot of boiling oil that is reining down from the castle walls when I respond simply “I don’t know.” Every journey/publishing story is different, and an agent search can be ridiculously hard (100’s of letters mailed, no nibbles, 6 manuscripts later….) or easy (an agent heard me telling stories at a bar and… two months later I had a great publishing deal…), and everything in between. I found my own agent through a friend after I won the contest/publishing deal at St. Martin’s Press–so I didn’t have success following the conventional query letter path myself.
Years ago, you didn’t need an agent to reach an editor high up in their castle. You mailed in your manuscript and waited to hear if anyone managed to find it in the slush pile. Was it better or easier? Perhaps. But never mind–those days are long over. There are so many books coming from agents the editors know (and know what they like) that most editors have told me that they rarely even look at the pile.
So what is an unpublished writer, still without an agent to do? Get out there, meet people and try to do what you can to get agents to read your work (all while being charming and polite). Work on your craft. Enter contests. Ask published writers for advice. Do your research. Are there any guarantees? No. But the only way to make sure you don’t get published is to give up. So don’t!