Sunday, June 10, 2007

Getting an Agent IV: Commandments (Part 2 of 4)

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Continued from the previous post: Yet more presumptive, pompous, proscriptions:

6. Don’t respond with hostility. At least not overtly. At least not to the agent. No matter how whacko their response may be, do not respond with anger. It may be true that the agent couldn’t piss their initials into the snow (an unfair demand of nimbleness in the case of women anyhow) and wouldn’t recognize quality if it jumped into the shower with them. So what? Kick the wall, rant to your friends, and then write a nice note thanking the agent…and move on with the intent of making them regret unto their dying day that they rejected you. Do your best to make them feel like the Decca Records executive who rejected the Beatles in 1962. (“We just don’t like their sound. Guitar groups are on their way out.”) But keep it to yourself.

7. Don’t make yourself crazy with the synopsis. Some agents don’t want them at all. If great works of literature had to be sold on the basis of their synopses, then no great works of literature would ever have been published. True plot synopses are pathetic things to behold. Fortunately, few agents really want them. What they want to see is something very much like the back-cover blurb of a paperback—something catchy that tells them why they should read the manuscript; something that offers them a sales handle for offering the book. Don’t give them three or four pages of detailed who-did-what-when unless specifically asked. Don't deliberately withhold details, but focus on giving them two or three clean paragraphs that sketch the throughline and make the book sound interesting.

8. Don’t be desperate, and don’t settle for something that feels wrong. If someone says they might like to represent your book, but you feel a lack of enthusiasm or commitment from them, stop and think. Get back to them later (or don’t). Refuse to let the if-I-don’t-marry-Bob-no-one-else-will-ever-ask-and-I’ll-die-a-bitter-spinster syndrome rule your life. Your book is your baby. Don’t hand it over to someone you suspect is a child abuser.

9. Don’t take what one agent says as representing the viewpoints of all agents. One agent will say, “Your query letter needs to reach out and grab me by the throat!” Another will say, “Don’t engage in hype and hyperbole. Give me the facts and can the hysteria.” One says, “Your query letter should tell me something about yourself, your life, your history,” while another has stated, “Anytime I start getting biographical info not related to publication history, I stop reading.” An agent I’ve talked to even says, perhaps not unreasonably, “I throw away as a matter of principle any letter that says, ‘My new novel is the next Da Vinci Code.’” What one agent will hold up as an example of a perfect query letter, another will hurl to the floor.

10. Don’t blindly accept what established authors say about the process of getting an agent. Doesn’t matter if it’s Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates, Lawrence Block or Martin Amis: the business landscape in publishing was dramatically different when they were getting started. The whole process looks a lot like getting married, and there aren’t any experts on the subject: how often does someone get married, and do they know more about it, or less, because they’ve been married ten times? Some of these folks started back in the days when agents still represented the sales of short stories to magazines…you know, back when they did dental work without novocaine. Back when you could drink the tap water. Back when there was a demand for fiction.

Coming soon to this space--the Ten Do's

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Sam Taylor said...

Holy rusty metal, batman! That's a lot of agent resources. Thanks :)

David Isaak said...

Thanks, Sam! There's probably about three more posts in this series (of which the last might be the most important).

I'll be linking these together and tossing a link into the sidebar so they're easy to find.