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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Securing a Literary Agent: A Perspective

I've been doing this writing thing for a few years now. I've been told I'm a very good writer by some of the best in the business (who then followed with a swift rejection). Hey, I'm a writer. I've got the hide of a water buffalo.

I've read the books, attended writing conferences, taken courses, joined a writers group (or two). My writing is better today than it's ever been--yeah, me!

I've had my work ripped to shreds, gone back to the table, rewritten till tendinitis reached my armpits. I decided (with the assurance of some seasoned vets in my writers group) that I was "agent ready." Yeah, me!

I pitched to one of the best (from what I hear) in the biz. He offered kind words, praised my work, and then said, "I'll pray for you as you seek another agent." Rude. Condescending.

I worked harder, prepared through another year, and pitched to another top agent. He read, complimented, said it was the best work he'd read that day then told me not to submit until it was 95% ready. He then went on to explain that new writers were too much work for what he was able to get out of them. Rude. Terse.

Another year passes and, yes, I improve and pitch to the biggest, bomb-diggity editor of all. She reads my work with great interest. She comments several times that this is good, really good. Then, she sets the manuscript aside and said, "This is really good and I'm turning it down but I don't know why." Confusing.

I'm going to share some frank observations from this side of the agent's desk. I have a secret to share, people: Agents work for you not the other way round. It has been my experience that somehow in mess that is publishing, many agents adopt the attitude that you work for them. Yet when the paychecks roll in, it's you paying their bills. To be precise, the agent-author relationship is mutually exclusive. One can't exist without the other, though many have forgotten this.

Word to the agents: When a writer forks out the dough to attend a writers conference, when a writer summons the courage to sign up for a 15 minute conference with you, when said writer makes her pitch with quaking hands and trembling lips, have the decency to listen. Have the kindness to sit and hear her no matter how ridiculous the story sounds. It's our 15 minutes and you've agreed to participate. Keep your word.

I know a writer who'd no sooner sat down than the agent said, "I can't sell this stuff." He summarily dismissed her. I am not exaggerating when I say she wasn't there more than 2 minutes; I know because I happened to be next in line. Rude.

Excuse me?

AGENTS, THESE ARE MY 15 MINUTES, NOT YOURS. The very least you can do is shut up and listen respectfully. That writer was hurt unnecessarily because it was easier for the agent--whom I've lost all respect for--to cut her off at the knees than keep his end of the agreement. If I want to talk about the color of an agent's shoes for the entire 15 minutes, that's my business. This type of agent thinks it's all about him. I've never seen an agent who paid their clients. They may have connections and get contracts but that is their job. No contracts, no pay.

Word to the writer: Seek out an agent with integrity and reputation for being ethical and honest in all his ways--not just when people are looking. You, dear writer, interview them. Don't just grab the first one that says yes. Personally, I want an agent I can trust to represent my values and goals not one who will bend the rules to get a sale. I don't want one that treats people rudely, unkindly (who doesn't demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit) when I am not watching. I don't want to be labeled as rude, unkind, a person who steamrolls over others to get what I want because I've made an unfortunate alliance with such an agent.

I want an agent who loves my work and sees my heart as well as my potential. I want an agent who is not too lazy to work with me, encourage and develop me, and tell me to go back to the drawing board and hash my novel again. I'm not afraid of working hard or as long as it takes. I'm not afraid to have honest or even harsh critiques about my work but, I want an agent with the same values. An agent I can trust.

2 comments:

Pen to Paper; Spirit to Soul said...

Very well said...lots of advice to think about!

Jane said...

My sentiments exactly and succinctly said!

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