Sunday, June 3, 2007

Getting an Agent, I: Everything I Think I Know

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I'm being published by Macmillan New Writing, an imprint that accepts unagented manuscripts. And, in my discussion of giant advances and their effect on the publishing industry, I may have given the impression (or hope I did) that I think the advent of the uberagent was a disaster for writers everywhere. So who am I, you ask, to hold forth on the topic of agents?

As it turns out, I'm someone who has dealt with about 70 agents, been represented by one, and had offers of representation from others. I have friends who have been through an even-more-lengthy hazing period, and I know a writer who has been through at least three agents over as many decades. So, even though I'm not agented at present, I know more about agents than a sane person ought. I can even imagine working with an agent some day in the future.

The question I am most often asked is, "Do you work here?" and the answer is always, "No." The second-most asked question is, "Where did you get that cool fedora?" and if I'm in a charitable mood I might tell you.

But the question I'm most often asked by other writers is, "How do you find an agent?" The answer, of course, is "Go to New York City and roll a quarter down the sidewalk." (The ones chasing it who are also wearing nice shoes are probably agents.) The reason this gets a silly answer is because it's a silly question.

The question these writers ought to be asking is, "How do I find a good agent who is likely to want to represent me?" and the truthful answer is, "God knows."

Over the next few days, I'll be laying out everything I think I know about the getting of agents. (Those of you who are happily agented, or don't give a damn, may want to tune out). The reasons I am undertaking this task are:
  1. I'm going to be at a writing workshop all week and need something easy to post about, and

  2. Some of the things I say will probably annoy some people and thereby steer more traffic to this site, and

  3. In the future when I am asked The Question I can refer people to this blog, and

  4. I don't want to tell the "Roll a quarter" joke ever again.

I know that many of the regular visitors to this blog have as much or more experience in this area as I. Some of you will probably feel your eyes glaze over; but feel free to jump in with corrections, addenda, or anything else that comes to mind.

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2 comments:

Matt Curran said...

Hi David

This sounds familiar. Like yourself, I've been in contact with many and represented by one - a cowboy agent I had the good sense to flee at the first sign of trouble.

I have mixed feelings about agents accordingly, and will be interested to see if over your way the business can be just as disreputable as it is over here.

Cheers

Matt

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt

My agent was a good agent--but we parted ways when I insisted on trying to sell my book in the UK...