Field Guide for the Pursuit of the Elusive North American Literary Agent — Part Two
(Part Two — Who You Know & What You do)
I’ve leaned heavily upon friends at this point of the search. “Am I doing the right thing?” and “Who the hell would want to represent me?” are two of my more common questions I ask. Fortunately, my friends usually remind me that agents only get paid if the author gets paid, and theoretically they should really want to represent me due to the aforementioned habit of “getting paid.”
One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed is the recommendations coming from friends for different agents. “So-and-so is a terrific agent” and “Have you heard of so-and-so?” It’s both helpful and not, but for the same reason: the agent doesn’t know me from Adam. Not yet, in any case, because I am about to drop a few hundred enquiries in the coming days.
Don’t ever think that a carpet bombing run is ever ineffectual.
I’ve visited dozens of literary agencies already in the short amount of time I’ve been hunting that elusive litterae procurator americana and so far have noticed that every single agency wants something slightly different. Be it a query letter and outline, a small sample (50 pages), or simply a biography and your backlog, the diffuse yet exacting nature of the wants of the literary agent are enough to drive any author bonkers. I understand that an agency can ask for formatting and samples and whatever else they like in order to gauge the skill and competence of the writer submitting, but is it too much to ask for some sort of uniformity amongst you, agents? Either font, format, file type… something. I have 17 different versions of the same novel because 17 different literary agencies want to see it 17 different ways.
Then there are the agents who still want submissions through the mail. No, not email. USPS mail. You know, snail mail? Yeah, that. It’s still a thing and a shockingly high number of agencies still prefer it over email.
(Those houses? Going to go out on a limb here and say that those houses are not going to mesh well with me, and since I’m not the one to waste paper, I probably won’t be submitting anything to them.)
Part of this search is about just knowing yourself. Knowing what you are like, and what you need to best further your own career. That’s what this is about. If you only want to see your name in print and not make a career out of this business, then that’s fine. You don’t need an agent to do that. Unless you’re gunning for the larger publishing houses, you really don’t need an agent at all. Heck, I’d recommend against getting one, simply because it is a loss of 10% or your money if you’re just doing it because. Why give away your money if you have no need of an agent? Not a want, but a need?
Okay, gotta be careful here. Litterae procurator americana is easily spooked and the hunt has barely begun.