Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Entering the Agent Rat-Race (or Why I Haven't)

Sorry this is longer than my usual posts, but I think it's important.

I have been wondering if it's time for me to look for an agent. I have written a killer query letter (with invaluble help from Elana's Book), I have a great synopsis (Thanks to the incomparable Suzy--love you, girl!), and I am ready to go. But I can't make myself do it. I have been on Querytracker a dozen times looking at agents I might want to query, but I haven't queried them. I just really don't know if I want to.

After discovering Writing Excuses at LTUE, I listened to several of the podcasts. One that especially caught my eye was this one about whether authors need agents. It was a response to a series of posts by Dean Wesley Smith as part of his Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series, taking on what he perceives as myths about agents:

Agents Sell Books
Agents Know Markets
Agent Agreements
Agents Care About Writers First
Agents Can Give Career Advice

Since most of the writers I know and whose blogs I read have or are actively seeking an agent, I HIGHLY recommend reading all of these. I found them very thought-provoking and eye-opening. I don't know whether Dean Wesley Smith is right or wrong about agents, but I have read him, submitted to him, and sat in workshops with him (at LTUE many years ago, as a matter of fact), and I consider him someone who knows this business and knows what he is talking about. Some quotes from these articles (which you really must read, whether you agree or not):

From "Agents Sell Books":

To be clear, I like agents and have no desire to bring them harm. But the myths these days about agents are so thick and have become so ugly to new writers, I figured I had better tackle at least one of them next. And yes, there are more than one.
And in the last 20 years, the biggest myth that has blown up into a damaging myth is that you need an agent to sell a book.
This is, of course, complete hogwash, but I have no doubt some of you reading this are already resisting this idea. You want someone to do the dirty work for you, to do the research, to just “take care of you.” Yeah, that’s going to happen.
From "Agents Know Markets":

Before I get into the silly myth about agents knowing markets better than writers do, let make a few quick, basic points that need to be clear.
—Agents work for writers.
—Agents can’t buy books, no matter how much they talk about “acquiring” a novel.
-–Agents make 15% of what they sell of a writer’s work, never money in any other fashion.
—Agents don’t know enough about writing in any fashion to make a writer rewrite a book. If they did, they would be writing and making 85% instead of 15%.
-–95% of modern agents, especially agents you can get as a beginning writer, have no more clout with editors than a beginning writer does.
—It takes nothing but stationery to become an agent. No rules, no organization, no school is needed.

This advice (from the "Agents Can Give Career Advice" post) really struck home for me at this point in time:

In summary:
—Write what you love, what you are passionate about, what scares you, what you want.
—Never, ever write to market. Just go into your writing space or office and be an artist.
—Then, when the project is finished, worry about how to sell it.
—Never, ever let anyone tell you what to write. It will kill your writing and your career faster than anything ever will.
Trust your own skills, your own voice, keep learning, and enjoy the writing.

I would also highly recommend listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast on the subject (click the link above), as they also have good advice and a more moderate approach. Like I said before, I don't know whether Dean Wesley Smith is right or wrong, but I think I have figured out what's right for me. Call me crazy, but I think my killer query will be just as great for submitting to editors (yeah, the people that can actually buy the book) as it would be for agents. I think I'm going to stick with the belief that I don't need an agent until I have a contract. (Even then I wonder if an intellectual properties lawyer at that point might be a better choice for me, let me emphasize for me. I'm not trying to say what's right for you or anyone else.)  I, of course, reserve the right to change my mind.

Am I crazy? Doomed to failure? What are your thoughts?


elizabeth mueller said...

Wow... I have always felt a certain way about agents. It is a confusing feeling, you know?

Thank you so much for taking the time to posting this!


L.T. Elliot said...

I'm not sure where I'm at in the agent thing but I do know that when I'm ready to query, I will research it with zeal. My thoughts are simply this: If you know what you want and feel like it's best for you, I support you. =]

Aubrie said...

I've tried querying agents and had no luck, and it made me feel really down, so now I don't put much stock in it. I'll query my next book, but if no agent wants it, I'll just keep going on myself. I have four publishers anyways.

This post made me feel better :)

Nisa said...

I think this is definitely something to think about, Angie. Every person should seriously consider all sides of anything before making a decision. I intend to look into this closely. Thanks for the links.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Angie, I like the way you try to explore all views, not just the conventional wisdom.

I do think it might be possible for someone with a truly amazing novel to get a contract directly through an editor. It is rare. And you would have to meet that editor at a conference and get a manuscript request, as most editors no longer look at unagented submissions. (One of the few exceptions is the category romance market, which still takes unsolicited manuscripts, but neither of us writes in that market.)

On the other side of the argument, one might say that if a manuscript is truly amazing, an agent will take it. But that's not always true. They receive so many submissions that people get lost in the shuffle.

I do believe that once anyone *has* a contract, an agent is a very, very good investment. My agent is a partner for me. She knows contract language and law. This assistance becomes more and more important as a career grows. I'll be talking more about my relationship with my agent as I wait for the go-ahead to share my "news." :-)

Elana Johnson said...

Angie, I'm really impressed that YOU know what YOU want. And then, how to get it. So no matter what you choose to do, it's going to be amazing!

Good luck in your submissions, no matter what capacity they're in.


tiff loves kent said...

i think YOU are the only one that knows what is BEST for YOU we all can give our opinions but you know whats best for you i will love you no matter what

Tess said...

I'd echo what has been said...go with your gut. there are no right or wrong answers for this sort of thing.

ps - saw your clip 'because you asked for it'. very, very nice.

Angie said...

I really appreciate all your thoughts and support. I know in my genre (Science Fiction) it can be easier to go this route than with other genres. I guess we'll see how it goes. *keeping fingers crossed*

Tess--thanks for reading the clip. Glad you like it!

WindyA said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It's clear you've one your research and know what you want and how you plan to go about to get it.

Good luck to you!

Terry W. Ervin II said...

It really depends on the markets you hope/intend to submit your work to. Many big publishing houses don't accept unsolicited submissions. They require agents.

On the other hand, many would argue that an agent (a good one) is harder to find than a publisher. Agents are getting flooded with queries and it's difficult to get their attention.

What I'd recommend, if you really want an agent to access some of the restricted markets, is to attend a writers conference that has 5 or 10 minute pitch sessions with either editors or agents that are on your list. You may have to pay a little more for the session, but you will have the agent/editor's undivided attention and will know if your work is on target or of interest to them--or not.

I recall reading an article by the author mentioned, and if I recall, he had a background in law or contracts. It's not impossible to negotiate a contract on your own, but it's important to have studied and know the potential pitfalls. I know authors that have really dodged some issues by having an agent do the negotiating, and have placed themselves (and their career) on a better track, instead of a level, downhill, or even dead end.

Good luck!

Larry and CIndy said...

You Go Girl!! I know you will be guided to the right decision!!! Pray about it...I know when you decide, your decision will be the right one. You know you have a very intelligent attorney, brother-in-law that also majored in English in under grad. You may want to run it by him. He has helped me in so many things I have ran by him. He has an incredible, insight into you as a person, your talents, and he has great intuition. Just a thought. I Love Ya, MOM

Mary Cunningham said...

Excellent post, Angie. A real eye-opener. I don't have an agent, but have always wondered if I made the right decision.

With a couple more books in the works, I've been doing research on finding one. Now I wonder if it's the right decision.

I'm so glad I found your blog!