Saturday, June 9, 2007

Getting an Agent IV: Commandments (Part 1 of 4)

[Jump to next post / previous post on this topic.]

These might seem a bit, well, prescriptive, being commandments and all. So? If you don't like these, make your own list. Heck, I'll even post it here!

There's ten of these Don'ts, just like the Sephiroth on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, but I'm putting only the first five in this post (as it gets a bit too long)...

1. Don’t spam the universe with e-mail queries, or query too many agents at once. To be truthful, I’ve seen the mass e-mail approach work for authors in terms of getting several requests for manuscripts; some writers I know have even acquired agents with this approach. But only rarely does a writer acquire an agent they keep through a mass e-mail query. In terms of how many agents you should query at once, I’d recommend no more than a half-dozen to a dozen. This is self-protection—it allows you to adjust your query tactics based on the responses you receive.

2. Don’t ask your friend/teacher/mother-in-law to recommend you to their agent. Ask them for advice on getting an agent, but don’t push to be put in touch with their agent. Because writer-agent relationships are often complex, asking to be recommended to someone’s agent can be one of those awkward questions, on the order of, “Do you mind if I start dating your ex?” Leave it alone. If your acquaintance thinks it’s a good idea, they’ll bring it up.

3. Don’t assume that a bad agent is better than no agent. A bad agent can put your manuscript in limbo for months or years. A bad agent can annoy editors so that they never want to see a word of writing from you again. A bad agent can give you stupid, career-wrecking, block-inducing advice. A bad agent can get your manuscript turned down at every possible house, so that no good agent will take it on (what’s the point in marketing a manuscript that has already been shopped all over town?).

4. Don’t believe everything agents say about themselves or about what they represent. Like corporations, many agents like to present themselves as something slightly different from what they really are. You know: MegaChemical Corporation—Working for the Environment. This isn’t evil (at least in the case of agents). If hypocrisy is the Astroglide® of social intercourse, then self-deception is what allows us to sleep at night curled up beside our own conscience. The most common of these little deceptions by agents is claiming to represent, say, “Time-travel Romances, Romantic Suspense, Cookbooks, and Literary Fiction.” (Or, “Serial Killer Novels, Soldier-of-Fortune Novels, True Crime, and Literary Fiction.”) Perhaps they’re afraid that their former Sophomore Lit professor will read their webpage and be disappointed if they don’t include ‘literary fiction,’ or don’t claim to be searching for ‘original, distinctive, edgy voices.’ But check their client list, not what they say about themselves. (And don’t look so smug, especially if you’re telling everybody you’re writing ‘a literary novel about a plot to kill the President.’)

5. Don’t read too much into rejection letters. If an agent takes the time to correspond with you, be grateful—much of the time it will be form letters, badly photocopied—but don’t automatically assume that what they say has much more insight than what you might get from Aunt Sally. Remember: these people are inundated with paper. They’re exhausted and snowblind. If you hear the same thing from several agents, then give it some credence; but don’t start rewriting because one agent, on one day, possibly having just separated from their spouse or entered the early stages of food-poisoning, suggests that your plot is overused, or outre, or puzzling, or should be set in another century.

Don'ts 6-10 to follow soon...

[Jump to next post / previous post on this topic.]

No comments: