The Quest to Find an Agent by Deb Meredith

posedformurderGetting 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 That’s the first question unpublished writers ask all the time.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So what is an unpublished writer, still without an agent to do?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!

11 Replies to “The Quest to Find an Agent by Deb Meredith”

  1. And I may add, don’t be afraid to move on to a new manuscript, either, if for whatever reason the first (or um, in my case second and third) one isn’t panning out.

    Now, someone should really do something about that moat. It’s starting to smell.

  2. I barely recommend blind queries anymore when people ask for my own, poorly-informed opinions, because agency query piles are now as high as the editorial slush and just as dusty. A connection through a personal meeting, event, referral, or some kind of personal correspondence seems to be the way to actually get your samples read.

    BTW, that feeling of ‘someone really evil out there’ opposing you? Sorry, that was me. If I’d know how good the MS would be…

  3. I was a query pile find. I think my agent has found about 75% of her clients there. People need to know that it is worthwhile to hang in there. Most people I know who have agents didn’t have a secret in. Although heck if you’ve got one- use it. : )

  4. I agree with Eileen, Clare. It’s always the work, ultimately, whether you have a connection or not.

    Also, there are plenty of newer, hungry agents out there building lists. Those slush piles might not be as high, nor as dusty.

  5. During my search a few years ago, I had personal connections to two high-profile agents. I was thrilled when both requested material,. But then they both sent rejection letters. The agent signed with was the result of a cold query. Although attending conferences can help, they are very expensive–too expensive for many people, especially now. So for those seeking representation, just keep writing; consider a critique group; join organizations like Sisters in Crime (if you write mystery/suspense), RWA (romance), or Backspace; get feedback on your query; and enter contests if your pocketbook allows.

    Meredith, I like what you said about every writer’s journey being different. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to other writers and wonder what’s wrong with us. (My own journey hit a bump last year when I lost my agent. So after I finish my next WIP, I have to start again. But that’s okay.)

  6. Great post, Meredith. I love your “storming the castle” metaphor.

    And can I add, for those thinking of going agentless, that with the arrival of digital distribution, the rights game is going to get more and more complex. Authors need all the help they can get in that regard. (Unless you’re an author who happens to be a contracts lawyer… in which case, you have an edge.)

  7. Thanks everyone! I was on the road from Boston back to New York (don’t you just love 95?) and email-less all morning.

    Whew! I’m glad everyone liked my metaphor. My heart sank yesterday when I read Deb Katie’s lovely how to find an agent post… What more was there to say?

    Keri–you give some great advice for writers. That’s interesting that the personal connections didn’t work the first time around on your agent search. You never know. And there are lots of ways to “network” on-line without even going to a conference, as you all pointed out. I’m sorry you lost your agent and have to start the journey “over,” Keri–but clearly you have a good grasp of the process and you’re in it for the long haul (which is the right kind of attitude to have if you want to get published).

  8. It’s interesting how many people say blind querying is a waste of time–but then I hear from lots of people that they were found in the slush pile. It’s worth trying, if you can afford the stamps. But it’s also worth going on agent query to make sure you’re sending letters to people looking for your kind of book.

  9. I read on the Guppies digest that you ladies were blogging about agents this week and came on over. This is timely for me as I am “between” agents, and I’m finding it just as difficult the second time around as it was to get my first agent, only now I have decent publishing credentials. I know friends who had tepid interest from agents but only got signed once they had a contract offer they’d finagled themselves. Pretty convoluted if you ask me. Why isn’t there a magic pill to cut through all the layers in publishing? Someone should invent a little cyber-bot that would connect the right agent to the right writer (and to the right editor). Wouldn’t that be slick?

  10. Maggie-
    I like the idea of your cyber-bot! Reminds me of transformers (my son’s current obsession) but to my mind much more useful than a tank!

    I’m sorry you’re having trouble finding an agent again. Agents are just as fearful of this whole financial mess as publishers–and I’m sure they’d like a cyber-bot which would show them who to sign, too…

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