By A.C. James
I try and balance my blog with posts for both readers and aspiring writers. Today, I want to shower my fellow word nerds with some nuggets of wisdom regarding agents. Take it for what you will.
I still don’t have one 😉
When I first began pursuing writing and taking myself seriously I had a lot of preconceived notions about the process that were way off base. First, I thought that if I found an agent, they would sell my book to a publisher, and everything would be taken care of—marketing, etc. and I could just sit back and worry about writing my next book.
All I had to do was write a really good book…
Yes, you may start laughing now 😉 Don’t fall off your chair.
That was the general reaction I received when voicing such faulty philosophies. Oh, and sometimes this was the reaction (Don’t hit play if there’s a child in the room.):
Finding an agent is one thing. Selling your book is another. Well written, wonderfully crafted books have a hard time finding a home even when represented. This is especially true given the changing climate in publishing today and the current economy.
Writers have to be well versed in a lot of different areas. We must be proficient in technology including the use of social media—even web and graphic design at least to some extent. We must be bloggers and book lovers. Above everything we must be able to connect with readers on an emotional level.
This means being open, honest, and real. Readers will support someone who’s authentic and takes the time to make a connection. It requires responding to emails, tweets, and Facebook comments. Gone are the days where the only connection readers had with authors were at an occasional book signing.
It means not feeding readers a bunch of bullshit packaged in overused tropes and stereotypes.
So why is my writing getting rejected?
There’s a multitude of reasons why an agent isn’t interested—the first basis being their own personal tastes and subjective views. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on my blog before. Don’t submit blindly but choose an agency and agent carefully, keeping in mind what genres they acquire. Also, they may have knowledge about similar books in the pipeline or they have recently acquired books that are too much like your manuscript.
Yes, I’m sure your book is completely original. You consider yourself a literary maverick.
[Insert Gales of Laughter Here] I have officially fallen off my chair.
Think about it from an agent’s perspective. Yes, they want that perfect book—a polished manuscript that’s ready for submission. Of course, they don’t want to see the first draft of your manuscript, the minute you’ve finished writing it.
But they also want more from a writer. They want someone who is ready to be a business partner—an individual that is knowledgeable about the publishing world.
If an agent takes you on as a client they are representing you as an author, not just your book. That means they consider your career over a lifetime and what you’re capable of producing. If you rush a book and submit it before it’s ready without any polish, they won’t be interested.
Take twenty years (unless you’re Tolkien) to write your book or have no intentions of writing another. Again, not impressed and certainly not interested.
Do you write beautifully but are difficult to deal with and lack interpersonal skills? Agents will certainly pass you over for someone who is the total package, talented and professional.
An agent wants someone who brings something to the table besides just a well polished manuscript. They’re looking for a writer who is productive, and professional in manner. They want someone who is serious about their career. They’re investing a lot of time in their clients and they expect writers to do the same for themselves and their writing.
This means if you don’t have an MFA in Creative Writing you need to take courses. That means join a critique group and a writing association. Attend conferences, ask questions, and be polite while you’re doing it.
No one wants to work with an asshole.
And publishers expect the same thing. Ok, think of it this way. An editor falls in love with a manuscript that your agent submits to them and they make an offer. They are making that offer with the assumption that the agent is bringing them the total package.
Not some prima donna.
Not someone who is argumentative. This means that you accept certain things are out of your creative control, like book covers. I’m not saying that if they want to stick a bloody knife on the cover and you’re writing a romance that you shouldn’t voice an opinion. But if you’re writing a romance you have to accept that a stiletto shoe might end up on the cover because that’s expected of the genre. That’s what sells. And marketing departments know this.
It means accepting that your title The Hamster and Little Jimmy might not be the one the book ends up with because the marketing department or book buyers know it won’t move off the shelf.
Otherwise, you’re better off considering indie publishing.
(And my apologies if there really is a book titled The Hamster and Little Jimmy. I have no idea. I don’t read children’s books except for YA and didn’t do a title search before writing this blog post.)
Publishers don’t want someone who is difficult at every turn or who won’t meet deadlines. The publisher is investing money that goes beyond what they’re offering in an advance. They want to see a return on that investment.
Instead of spending years branding yourself online and building a readership via indie publishing, traditional publishing and working with your agent and a publisher accomplishes this much faster than you would on your own.
What good is that if you never write another book or take a decade to complete your next manuscript?
That makes you a shaky investment.
So here’s the thing. You, the author, need to work on multiple fronts to make sure you are the total package. You cannot focus on one book at a time. Don’t write the book, and then market it to an editor or an agent as your sole mission. Don’t wait until that first book is repped or sold.
I’ve mentioned this before. Write one book, edit another, and do research for the next. Be prolific. While you’re being prolific actively build and participate in your platform.
Selling books and getting representation takes time. By waiting for a return on your time investment, you slow down your career. Be more productive, work on the next book, and then the next. Not a bloody sequel because that is a poor investment if that first book doesn’t sell. Once the book is complete and sent out, move on to another project—still doing what is needed to market it, but also creating the next manuscript.
Writers who continue to write and produce even as they try to get representation for their work are who agents want to represent. If an agent reads your manuscript and falls in love with it, and then calls you… they’re going to ask you about your goals as a writer. They’re going to see what other writing you’ve done and what you plan to do in the future. If this is your one and only piece of writing and you don’t have anything else in the pipeline, they may pass you by for someone more serious about their career. If you’ve got several other projects it demonstrates that you are serious. You are productive.
So here’s the other part of the equation.
Professionalism—your manner should be professional. Be reliable and dress appropriately when meeting agents and editors at conferences. Trust me on this. I once talked to a young woman I met at a conference at great length. She attended conferences all the time but couldn’t understand why she did better with written queries. The woman was wearing lacy stockings and a dress that revealed cleavage that was almost knee deep. Not kidding. And don’t wear jeans either. Dress like you would when attending any other business meeting. Writing after all is a business. Your business.
You need to read deeply. I’ve mentioned before that if you want to write then you need to read. And you need to have realistic expectations in dealing with agents and editors along with achievable goals for your career. You need to have an understanding of the publishing business so you’ll know how to talk to an agent and how to deal with an editor, the do’s and don’ts of your desired career and/or genre.
This means research, becoming knowledgeable through attending conferences and through professional writing associations. And you need decent interpersonal skills. If you can’t speak civilly, if you are rude, if you spend more time looking at your shoes, or are passive aggressive or just plain arrogant in your dealings with others—good luck in finding someone willing to represent you.
When an agent calls you or meets you at a conference, they will try to establish your expectations, measure your professionalism, and if you can work well together. If there are red flags, they will not offer representation. And if, once you start working together, a pattern of challenging or demanding behavior arises, then representation will be withdrawn.
It’s an agent’s reputation on the line. If they match you up with an editor and you’re a difficult or unreliable author, just imagine how that editor will feel in regards to the next author your agent presents to them after you.
Learn. Grow. And always continue writing. Be the total package by growing your writing ability and through being a professional with a strong work ethic.
Don’t forget to stop by my blog tomorrow.
Tomorrow kicks off my Red, White, and Wolf Giveaway in celebration of the 4th of July… Independence done with paranormal flair that will leave you howling for more 😉
Ok, that was cheesy. Sorry… sometimes I really can’t help myself!