Oh Agent, where art thou?

As the hunt for agent representation continues, I find myself on the short end of the stick. There’s plenty more growing pains to be had and this past week and a half was no exception. For starters, I decided to open my field of agents to include not only narrative, but pop culture, humor, young adult and essay. All of this within the confines of non-fiction. Why? Well, my manuscript covers each of those topics. And the amount of rejection letters I’ve been receiving haven’t exactly lifted my spirits. So why not broaden the scope and see what I find, right?

The first order of business was taking my inquires to agentquery.com. It’s the premier site for searching literary agents. Think of it as the Match.com for aspiring writers. You can scroll through hundreds of agent profiles, sorted by specialization, and as a bonus, you don’t have to look at some creepy picture that may or may not be the person in the profile (I would assume that any other Internet daters can relate).

So away I went. Searching, spelunking, looking, etc.

By expanding my criteria, I discovered several potentials who were interested in all 4 or 5 of my aforementioned list. So I wrote their names down, jotted some notes about their agency, and went to the agency website.

From there, it was a crapshoot. Let me explain: You are essentially trying to impress someone you’ve never met before; that’s first and foremost and can seem to be a little daunting. I’ve already gotten my feet so I feel less intimidated by the notion or the rejection that may follow but still, it’s tough trying to visualize just what you want to say via an email or a snail mail message. Do I boast about my writing prowess? How great the idea is? Or do I write a very formal, stuffy letter? Much of my research on the topic tells me to do two things:
1) Write with your personality and style that the book presents
2) Don’t get too casual (in other words, no “hey, what’s up?”)

Agents are professionals, after all. This is important to remember but easy to forget. Yes, you want to form a partnership that can assist you with your book idea, but you aren’t exchanging pleasantries at a house party either.

As I journeyed on, I found another interesting truth – not every agent is where he says he is. As it were, people can change jobs and positions rather regularly in this world, so be sure to follow through and check that the agent is still with the agency before you start crafting a letter. The yellow pages may say they’re with Super Great Literary Agents R Us, but if you try to contact them via their website, you discover that the agent has left the nest. Or found another place to land. And what’s more, if they’ve moved, then they may have changed their focus altogether too; no longer working on fantasy or fiction, but self-help books instead. Weird, right? Why yes, this was quite frustrating. The agent world is looking as fickle as a teenage girl, I thought.

Thankfully, not all agents were like this. I can’t speak for them all, of course. But wouldn’t you know it – there were plenty that fit the bill.

When this happened, I got discourage but I stuck to the original formula: find an agent by topic and then do the background check. When I found a few that were legit, I decided to dig even further. If there were indeed still at the same agency and still had the same interests as what I sought them out for, I decided to look at their past clients. This would seem like a very logical and natural thing to do next, but I can assure you that it was not. For after searching for a good hour, sifting through the muck, it’s rather easy to pass up this crucial step. Who have they represented in the past? What’s their track record look like? Are they established or not very established? And ultimately, which are you looking for? It might be a good idea to try and strike rapport with an agent who has less clients so you can have more hands-on attention. Once again, there’s no perfect candidate but it’s crucial to call upon these questions once you begin engaging a potential agent to represent you.

Additionally, I read interviews and blog posts that the agents wrote. One such agent, who will remain anonymous, gave a very engaging interview that was eye opening and insightful. He talked of the ebb and flow of the business, the need to be reactive to the market (what’s trending) and how to recognize a good idea when it comes to his table. A delicate thing to discern, but that’s what this is all about. Taking some chances, right? But still managing to not get caught up in those who may only have 15 minutes of success.

Reading what the agent writes is beneficial in that it allows you, the writer, to get a personal peek at what the agent is looking for. What’s their style? How are they communicating? And do they sound like someone you may want to pursue a relationship with? Tough to do, yes, but it’s one step closer to potentially building a partnership. And it’s one step closer than where you’d be if all you were doing was sending out generic letters with no sense of personalization.

And if it helps, develop a personal tracking system. I’m all about trying to keep my head on straight so I devised a small chart to keep my things in order. You don’t want to be sending out the same letter to the same person three months later so keep tabs on who you’ve been in contact with. I would suggest the following table:

Name of Agent / Agency / Criteria / Sent? / Response

Simple and effective. The first two columns are easy to fill out and you can track sent and response dates with little trouble, but try to focus on what the agent wants in a cover letter or sample too. For example, many agents only want a cover letter. Some want snail mail while some only want email. Others desire a page of your work to accompany the letter. The list goes on, but be sure to see what’s required before you make grand plans about creating the perfect “agent snare” for your book idea. And if you’re viewing it as a snare then you should probably reevaluate your methods for contacting an agent and start at square one again. Just saying.

But that’s where I’m at. It’s been a little more than 2 weeks into this quest and I’ve learned my fair share already. Are there are other methods for bettering one’s agent search? Yes, I’m sure there are (outside of driving to the front step of a building, camping out and outright stalking your person of interest), but those are things I’m looking forward to uncovering. In the meantime, back to it.