Thursday, February 05, 2009

Who's the Culprit?

Question of the day: So my question is, how is the poor author supposed to determine if she had a poor agent or a poor manuscript? Somehow I can't see a poor agent admitting that they hadn't really tried

Ooh, toughie. Well, if your agent has lost interest or you suspect your agent has lost interest, I'd ask to see the list of where he/she has submitted. You're entitled to this information. Some agents openly share it (mine does) as the process goes along, others are more cagey. But, if you're considering moving on to someone new, it's imperative that you know where your ms has been, and thus, your agent should be more than willing to let you know who has read it. If the list looks long and relatively complete, you might still want to poke around on Publishers Marketplace to ensure that the right editors read it, and if so, well, then, it's best to start writing something new. If it's short and pathetic, however, this might be your opening to seek another agent with the same ms: you'll have to share this list with the new potential agent, and it would be up to him/her to assess.

As to whether or not the problem is that the ms itself sucks? Well, this is something we've chatted about a bit before, and the problem with getting an objective feel for it is that we often aren't capable of this until long after we've stepped back from the ms. In my own case, it wasn't until I'd written a much, much, much better book that I realized that my first (unsold) effort seriously blew. But given that you might not want to take this route, I'd recommend getting it into the hands of objective readers: find a critique group - maybe online, maybe at your local college, maybe via a local writing workshop - whom you trust and see what they have to say. Listen with open ears. If you truly want to be sure that the ms is the very best it can be, you have to accept some constructive criticism.

Anyone else have a good method for determining when your work stinks? Or for determining if it's actually your agent, not you?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

To Agent or Not to Agent, That is the Question

Question of the day: Do you think having an agent is critical in getting your book published? Does it make you more legitimate?

Ooooh, I want to handle this one with kid gloves. :) But, the quick and dirty answer to both of your questions is yes. And yes.

I'm pretty sure that I've talked about this before, but an agent, or at least a GOOD agent, goes way beyond just introducing your material to the right editors. A good agent helps guide the overall arc of your entire career, and at least for me, this is invaluable. Furthermore, a good agent helps you vet your contracts (look, when you're signing your life away, you want to know what the fine print reads), helps you negotiate said contracts, and often finds ways to garner your more buckaroos than you would on your own.

As to your second question, well, this is where it can get a little tricky because I know that there are plenty of talented unrepresented writers out there, and I'm certainly not looking down on any of them. But the bottom line is that, like it or not, landing an agent is sort of like competing in the Olympic's a gate-keeping process that attempts to ensure (though it doesn't always) that the cream is rising to the top. (Wow, that's a bunch of analogies - sorry!) While not all good writers will get agents and certainly, some crappy ones will, for the most part, most writers who land agents have some sliver of saleability. I know that it's not necessarily what you want to hear. But I've always promised to be honest with you guys about the industry, and that's the truth. Having an agent helps prep you for the big leagues, and without one, it is very, very tough to make it there. Why? Because again, editors use agents as filters: they assume that if a writer has landed an agent whom they (the editors) respect, that chances are, they might like the submitted ms. And why wouldn't they? It's more efficient, and certainly, the system works.

Look, getting an agent isn't easy. It's not supposed to be though. We all go through the same process: I landed mine via a blind query. So did lots of other great published writers I know. So you have to get out there and do it because honestly, without an agent, I don't think you can ascend the ranks of the industry.

I'd love to hear how you guys out there landed your agents, and if you think they're a critical part of this process.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sloppy Seconds

Question of the day: My agent hasn't been able to sell my manuscript, and I'm getting less than positive vibes from her now. Is it possible to take the manuscript to a new agent, or do I have to give up on this book? Should I find someone new regardless?

This is always a tough situation, and having been there, done that, I'm not just saying that to be sympathetic. Writers view having an agent as some sort of safety net, as if being able to say, "I have an agent," they are somehow ensured more success or offered more legitimacy. And certainly, to some extent, this is true. However, I've said this before: having an unenthusiastic agent can be more detrimental than having no agent at all. If your agent isn't going to be your advocate or doesn't love your work/writing, what's the point of having her represent you? Consider that word: represent. She is your representation. As in, she is supposed to stand up and speak for all who you are as a writer, and well, if she can't (or won't), honestly, what's the point?

In your case, I can't speak specifically to your manuscript because it's all contingent on how many editors your agent shopped it to and if she shopped it to the right ones. If indeed she went out wide with it (and got it in the right hands), your book is likely DOA for now. Another agent simply won't be willing to take it out to the same editors...because she'll likely be met with the same result. Certainly some agents are able to get material read faster or maybe even a little closer, but at the end of the day, if an editor doesn't respond to material with one agent, she's not going to respond to it simply because it's repped by someone else.

If your agent hasn't gone out wide, and in fact, only took it to a handful of editors, you might be in a better situation. That said, you'd have to disclose the situation to a perspective agent so he/she could make up his/her mind as to whether or not it's doable. I don't think you have to get into the nitty-gritty in your query letter, but yeah, as things get closer - like if he/she calls you to discuss representation - you need to come clean. Because your new agent WILL NOT be pleased if she submits it to an editor only to be told, "Oh hey, yeah, I've seen this and already passed."

In the end, you have to go with your gut. It's a very scary (and brave) thing to walk away from an agent. But if you feel like you're moored in a boat with no paddles with her, I don't see what you really have to lose.

Anyone else agree? (Or not?) Anyone successfully switched agent and had the new agent sell an old manuscript? Because, truth told, I think this is pretty rare. I'm curious to hear.