On Getting an Agent

Okay, so you’ve accomplished the impossible. An agent has expressed interest in your work and you’ve signed a contract.  All those months (maybe years) of sending out your novel have paid off.  Not only do you have an agent, but she’s in New York, on Park Avenue.  A respectable established firm.

Now what?

You wait.

First, give up the notion that the agent will want to see everything you’ve ever written.  Maybe she’ll politely glance at some of your things, but she has to keep building her list.  Taking time to read your backlog of writing keeps her from reading promising manuscripts from other writers.

Forget the idea that she’ll want to discuss your career with you. After you’ve sold something, she may want to work out a plan for future projects, encourage you to try out certain directions.  But first you have to be financially viable and make money.

I know, you’ve thought agents shared your idealized opinions about art’s supremacy—that we’re all in it for the sake of art, that art comes first, money second.

Not on your life. This is strictly business.

Look at it from her point of view.   Articles don’t make her money.  Anything that has a regional audience won’t make her money. Most small presses won’t make her money. Agents are only interested in what can make them money.  This is their livelihood.

Also don’t expect her to send out your manuscript indefinitely. She’s losing money if she does—and time. And don’t assume she’ll stay on top of submissions without an occasional reminder from you, showing you’re interested in knowing what publishers have received the book and where it’s going next.

You’ll find it’s a fine line.  You don’t want to bug her every week or so, but you also don’t want your novel to grow cobwebs when it could be out working for you.  A call or email every couple of months sounds about right.

Trust is a nice word and an honorable one.  However, people usually have to earn our trust. Agents are no different. Assume the worst but expect the best—demand the best.  After all, it’s your future; you’re the one who has put uncountable hours into this project

So initially, at least, put away your great expectations.  The publishing world is raw, rough, and unpredictable.  If you’re used to being the only child or in sharing your parents with only one or two siblings, you’re in for a shock. The agent will have many clients, all of them like you, hungry for attention, for feedback, for a sale.  You’ll have to be happy with the crumbs that come your way.

There are some payoffs.  While an editor might not buy your book, she may say you’re a very talented writer.  Those three words can give you much-needed inspiration to keep writing.

And maybe one day, one of your books will sell.  Maybe it will even hit the best seller list and you’ll graduate to your agent’s inner circle, become one of the writers whose career the agent does want to direct.  But until then, don’t waste your energy wishing for what can’t be.

At least now you can tell people you have an agent.  It’s almost as good as selling a book.

(My thanks to whoever wrote this blurb about agents, origins unknown.)

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