Most authors have a box full of rejection slips from agents. It is easy to get them electronically too, with so much of the query process being handled online.
So what is the secret to getting a good agent?
If you have the answer, please share it here. I would be the first to tell you if I knew. But there are a few things that I do know.
Having talked with authors who are represented or trying to find representation, and from my own personal experience, it is a tricky business. Luck often plays into the equation. (Let’s all operate under the assumption that your work is fabulous and deserving of the best agent in the business.) Even J. K. Rowling had trouble finding an agent.
And there are tons of websites offering advice to writers looking for agents. A lot of agents are blogging now and they give great tips for new authors or unrepresented writers.
There are considerably less blog posts dedicated to what authors wish agents knew. So here is the list I’ve accumulated. Please feel free to add yours in the comment section.
1. If you are closed to new authors, just say that on your website. Most of us look there first to determine whether or not you are accepting new material.
2. If you are looking for something specific, please mention it. If you represent sci-fi but have all the authors you desire in every sub-genre except shape shifters, a note with an asterisk saying something along the lines of ‘closed to all material except manuscripts featuring shape shifters’. See. Not difficult.
3. Any other ‘absolutes’ before you will consider representation should be mentioned there as well. ‘Must have MFA in Creative Writing from Stanford’ or ‘Must have already published a best seller.’
4. Authors are busy people too. We’ve heard the urban myth about the socialite writer who parties all night, sleeps in until noon, jots down her memories of the previous evening, then races out for another tantalizing adventure. Jackie Collins aside, I’ve never known one to exist. So spare us the whole, ‘I’m too busy and incredibly important to reply to your query’ routine. If you would follow suggestions 1, 2 & 3, your inbox would have fewer undesirable emails.
5. We are nearly paralyzed by the pressure of the query letter. Most of the advice I have read and that other writers I know joke about, is the impossible task of getting everything right in a query letter. It seems to contradict itself. ‘Have a great hook, but be serious, though not too serious. Tell them the plot but build the suspense. Lead with a catchy opening, but keep it professional.’ And my favorite – ‘Tell them how you know them.’ Here’s a tip query-writing-advice-givers. If I already knew the agent, I wouldn’t be sending a query. I would be serving him or her barbecued ribs on the back deck pleading my case in person while making sure their glass never emptied of a rich Zinfandel.
6. Give us enough respect and courtesy to at least pretend to have read the query letter that had us nearly catatonic for two weeks before hitting ‘send’. ‘Your project doesn’t seem to fit our agency. Good luck.’ If that comes back to my inbox within three seconds of sending the query, I am not stupid enough to believe you actually had time to read the letter, much less the first two pages of my manuscript.
7. We’re not as fragile as you make us sound. Many of you state that you give no response at all because you fear hurting the sensitive writer when you have no interest in their work. Here’s a little secret. This is the nastiest form of rejection. It robs us both of integrity. You tell us to be clear and concise. May I suggest that in a rejection letter as well? ‘Your manuscript about sea lions taking over the world isn’t a fit for this agency because we like our science fiction to be believable and this plot did not convince us it was possible. Furthermore, there were twelve misspelled words on page one alone. We pass. Good luck.’ The author might then change the sea lions to gorillas, run spell check, get a proofreader and an editor, and come back with something better than ‘Planet of the Apes.’
Query Tracker is a great place to get information about agents. So is Writers Digest and Writers Market. On Query Tracker, there is a section devoted to writers experiences with the query process. And so many have the same response from the same agencies – the canned rejection that passes the query being sent out in cyberspace in its anxiousness to get back to the author so he or she can begin to feel horrible as quickly as possible.
I understand the importance of having a good agent. Writers tend to be creative souls wishing to leave the nuts and bolts of the business end to someone else. And face it, if we are constantly marketing ourselves, when would we find time to write?
On the other hand, agents only exist because of the work of writers. So please show us a little respect. To not reply at all, is unprofessional and undignified. And according to Wayne Dyer, bestselling author and inspirational speaker, “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”
Writers have trimmed their pencils on the adage of ‘rejection happens’ and can handle it. Give us the chance to prove that – please.
Now it’s your turn. What did I leave out that drives you insane about the process of acquiring an agent?
Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.