Life on the Fringe
Bear in mind, all of these posts are my own opinion. Others may have differing advice and that’s fine, but I’m giving you MY opinion, based on my many years as a career author. Take what you will, leave the rest, and don’t bitch at me either way. I don’t self-publish and am not interested in it, so I’m not offering any advice on that, here. I also don’t use the term ‘indie publisher’ for self-publishing. To me an indie publisher is a traditional publisher not part of the big six (soon to be five).
Last week, we examined some of the other things an agent can do for a writer besides the negotiations for contracts/advances/etc. This week, I’m going to tell you the reality about getting an agent and some things NOT to do. First: a lot of authors get all heavy handed about “the Agent works for YOU” and “don’t let them push you around.” Well the reality here: you and the agent agree to work TOGETHER. You should be a team, both working for your best interests. The career author does her/his best to create a team of supportive people around them and your agent is not just some random ‘worker’ but a partner, whose job it is to help her clients achieve their best potential.
Another reality: There are bad agents out there. The truth is anybody can hang out a shingle and call themselves a literary agent. And there’s a ton of information you can find out online so be damned sure you do your research—there’s no excuse nowadays for a writer signing on with a bad agent.
One of the first things you have to accept is that it can be very hard to get an agent. It’s a huge commitment of time and energy they put into their clients, and first—and foremost—they owe their time to their current stable of authors. So prepare for it to take some time to get on with an agent.
Should I go with a new agent or one established?
It is not a bad thing to go with a new agent, but make sure they know what they’re doing. The pros of new agents: they are hungry and eager to establish themselves so they may work extra hard. Their client lists aren’t usually full so they will be more receptive to queries. On the con side: they may not have the contacts that will help them get the best deals with the publishers (this is a maybe, not a ‘definite’). They might be so eager they take on too many clients and overextend themselves, making them unable to give as much time to each client as needed. It really depends on the agent and what their background is, which is why you need to do your research.
How can I check on the background of agents?
I always recommend you stick with agents on the AAR list. They have agreed to follow certain ethical guidelines. You can also find out about agent scams, etc. at Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. I recommend reading the Writer Beware blog on a regular basis.
Now, for some general tips and hints:
So how DO I get an agent?
Write a clear query letter. Have a polished manuscript ready to go. Do your research. And when (not if, but when, unless you are a rare rare exception) rejections happen, do NOT take them personally. This is a business. If an agent isn’t thrilled with your work or can’t find passion for it, they won’t be able to sell your book. It’s that simple. Or maybe you aren’t ready for publication. Or maybe they have very little room on their client list and you just aren’t quite the right fit for them. Whatever the case, if they do NOT say to revise and re-submit, don’t. They’ll ask for a re-submission if they want one.
Then, take a deep breath, shake off the disappointment, and submit to the next agent on your list. The process takes time. It’s worth the wait. And it’s worth not signing up with a scam artist.