Field Guide for the Pursuit of the Elusive North American Literary Agent — Part One
(Part One – The Opening Sequence)
There comes a time in every author’s life when a cruel yet necessary part begins to emerge from the depths of the shadows. It is viewed as nefarious and honored at the same time, a part of the author life that everyone must go through at one point or another. It is… The Hunt for the Literary Agent.
(cue dramatic Russian music)
I spoke with Amanda about this and she agreed that I should blog my experiences as an established author hunting for a literary agent for all to see. So let’s get one thing out in the open first: this is a learning experience for all involved, be it me or the potential agent. For on one hand, I don’t see the need for an agent. I’ve sold 20 or 21 professional works at this point of my career (it’s bad when you can’t remember without looking at the spreadsheet), and have more work under contract than quite a few SFWA members have ever managed to publish. So no, my ego proclaims with much gusto, I don’t need no stinking agent!
The other hand knows, for it is not deluded by its success. It is a pessimist and a realist. It knows what darkness lies in the hearts of men (and women, just to be inclusive here). There is a gatekeeper process in publishing. It used to be the editors and the publishing houses themselves who acted in this manner, finding the gleaming jewel midst the mountainous piles of crap. Wearing thigh-high muck boots they tirelessly slogged through the steaming heaps of dung in search for the Holy Grail. You think I’m kidding, but the amount of utter feces and turds of novels (I had to crack open a Thesaurus today to hunt for synonyms of the word “shit”) that editors were forced to deal with.
Somewhere along the road the agent began acting in a similar manner. No more did agents say “I want to represent you, send me your best!” No, agency submissions became as stringent (if not more so) as the publishing houses. In return, the benefit of this meant that publishers had more time to go through more queries. That’s the theory I’m going with, that is. In actuality… I have no idea if this is how it works. See? A learning experience already.
I’ve had exactly one agent over the course of 6 years (November 30, 2010 is the exact date, for those wanting to know) since I broke into this business and while Bob was a pretty nice guy I have no comparison as to how good of an agent he was. Besides, he was an agent for only one book (per the contract) so there was no need to continue working with him if I had any doubts. Again, there’s nothing preventing me from reaching out to him to see about further representation, but at this time I’ve decided to be a research subject and up the search.
The first two days of the search brought me to the Preditors & Editors (henceforth to be known as P&E because I hate seeing that much red in my spell-checker) site, something I used a long time ago when I was a wee lad looking to publish my first book. Unfortunately, the site is not very intuitive, and unless you know the name of the agent you want to search for you’re kinda surfing through thousands of names until you find one that jumps out at you. Now, it’s not an entire waste of time, because I can Google an author’s name and add “literary agent for” and, nine times out of ten, the agent for the author comes up. I use this method because it allows me to find authors who have similar writing styles and voice, and so I know that the agent could be familiar with how I write. Or if you have a desire to be represented by the same guy who represents Stephen King, who knows. Everyone’s wants and needs are different.
Well, once you do that, you can type in their name at the P&E and see if they are a legitimate agent or if they’re one of those bilking clients for “extra fees”. Even though the P&E website looks as if it were built in 1999 it still possesses a plethora of information about authors and publishers alike. It mentions whether or not an agent is recommend3ed, not recommended, and even has some flagged as agents to avoid at all costs. Outside of dropping $29.99 (or however much that book costs now) for a copy of the 2017 Writer’s Market (and oftentimes a few publishers they list have already gone out of business before the book hit the stands), P&E is probably the most complete tool to use for your initial search.
However, I discovered that the guys I write like do not have literary agents. They have such a good relationship with their publisher or are knowledgeable enough in contract work to be able to fend for themselves and be successful authors. I pretty much have nothing to go on except “I know a guy” and “Have you tried…?”
So I started small. I Googled “literary agent” and started scrolling through the long (and I do mean long) list of potential agents. I found lots of agencies who deal with fiction. I start to parse through the names, looking for recognizable without immediately jumping on the “big guns” like Donald Maass. I am looking for the right agent, one who can match me personally with the publisher who would work the best to ensure that my book does well and everyone enjoys the experience. That might be wishful thinking on my part, but I’d like to think that an enjoyable working relationship means that everyone wants to do it again.
The list is long and shows no sign of nearing an end. I decided to make camp for the night and rest as the first few days of my hunt for the elusive North American Literary Agent (litterae procurator americana) come to an end.