Agent Green

There’s been an interesting discussion on Crimespace recently about whether the search for an agent or the search for a publisher is the hardest to endure. Since I haven’t gotten an agent yet, I can only respond to that side and the answer is unequivocally: the agent search is harder. I’m in the midst of the submission process for my second novel. While I’m not nearly close to the submission numbers of some other people, I’ve tallied up quiet a total myself and it’s starting to wear on me.

I almost wish I could just send out hundreds of query letters and know they would all be passes. The worst part is getting nibbles here and there that show you glimpses of the promise land. I have no doubt that I will eventually sign with an agent and eventually sign a book deal. But that dream is at best several months or several years away, and in the worst case scenario, it could be decades before it happens. I’m not sure I have the patience to deal with that time frame.

Now part of me really enjoys the query process. It makes me feel like I have a measure of control over my career and that I’m not just waiting around. But the more successful I am at the querying process, the more waiting there is involved. When I was querying for Lunchbox Hero, I sent out letters to 31 agents. More than 60% requested sample chapters, and that process went pretty quick. I sent the letters out and started receiving responses within a few weeks to a month. After I sent out the sample chapters, I would usually hear back on them within another month or so. None of the agents who requested sample chapters requested the whole manuscript, so the process went fairly quickly.

With this new book though, I’ve so far had three requests for the full manuscript. One agent responded within a few months, another agent has had it for almost six months, and a third agent just requested it a week or so ago. In addition to those requests, I’ve sent out about 30 queries, mostly through email and haven’t had any other bites. I’ve been pretty turned off by my success rates with email queries, so I gave up on that and will concentrate any further efforts through snail mail. Last Wednesday I sent off a batch of 10 query letters and received my first two rejection letters in the mail today. I’ve got a list of another 10 agents I will send paper queries to within the next couple of weeks.

I realize it sounds like I’m complaining about my tiara being too tight or my wallet being too full, but I guess I’m just trying to work this all out in my head and understand the process. The key, I think I’ve finally figured out, is to keep myself busy with other things. Not only am I constantly researching and updating my list of potential agents, I’m also working on the next book in the series (Sorry Harry) and rewriting the last couple of chapters of the current book on the advise of a great reader.

But until I get an agent, it all can seem at times like I’m wasting my efforts. When it all comes down to it, I guess I’m desperately seeking the validation that comes with a reputable agent wanting to sign me.

2 thoughts on “Agent Green

  1. I “wasted” years writing without an agent or a contract. A writer friend who is very successful and has been published for 50 years told me that a writer is constantly writing, never stop. I’ve held to that, and I don’t think there’s been a time since 1990, when I first started writing seriously with the aim to be published, that I haven’t been writing something (I did write a series of short literary stories right after we adopted our daughter because I just didn’t have the energy to think of doing anything longer). So the short answer is, just keep writing. If we stop, we’re like sharks, we’ll die… And with each project we get better! And you’ll find an agent. You have what it takes.

  2. It definitely sounds like it will happen; just a matter of when. … My experience looking for agents did include those moments of excruciating anticipation, but now I look back on those times and realize they also were moments of extreme excitement and satisfying validation. … To be honest, I believe in the chaos theory of agent-searches. What one is doing is launching a query over a giant wall hoping it will reach the right agent at the right time, and those are slim odds with snail mail, in my opinion. With email you can reach agents directly, and if you have a web site with samples, you can even see who’s reading what and for how long. …. When it comes to agents, there are so many variables out of the writer’s hands (and beyond his or her knowledge, regardless of painstaking research, which I did, too) that I believe in the Gatlin Gun approach; within reason, I believe in flooding the market with one’s email query, because that increases your chances actually finding the right agent, and we really don’t know who that person is. Case in point: In 2005, after vigorous application of the Gatlin Gun approach, I signed with a very successful “boutique agency” that had (and still does have) a book on the NYT bestseller list, and I was on cloud nine. Taped the contract to my fridge. Stared at it every day. Would’ve sucked my agent’s toes, had he asked. … He did ask me to revise, and I did for eight months. When he read it again, he suggested I look for a new agent. Unbelievable let down. Devestation. But God am I glad it happened. … In a few days I was talking with an agent who was at the right place at the right time, and who happened to be a major Raiders fan (my book involves a paroled Raiders fan), loves humor (my book has humor), had a No. 1 selling novel earlier in the year with his previous agency (that appealed to me) and likes mysteries (mine’s a mystery). He had requested my book a year earlier, but I had soon after signed with the other guy (i.e., wrong time). Long story slightly less long: The new agent has come through with some of the most brilliant, insightful feeback I have ever gotten. My book is exponentially stronger because of his feedback; it has grown up, and I have grown up as an author. Even when I came back with a revised second half of the book that he hated, he didn’t drop me; he explained he wanted to see this project through, and now we’re getting close to completing some major revisions that I never could have predicted. … Point being, there was no way to design this experience; the Gatlin Gun approach simply got enough queries out there that it finally reached the right agent, with the right interests at the right time. Fate draws straight with crooked lines. .. Good luck to you, Bryon. I do feel like it will happen; like you said, it’s just all about timing, and it’s rarely ours.

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