I recently met with an agent at a writing conference a couple of weeks ago. This statement in itself makes writers lean forward. Our hearts beat a little faster, and our fingers twitch to think of talking with agents. It’s ridiculous how nervous people get around these “gatekeepers.”
Many writers cold query. They get their submission ready and email a list of people they’ve never met in the hopes that their work will speak for itself. That’s the dream. That the writing is so good everyone will relate to it, love it.
That can happen but it’s not often the case.
The number of writers actively seeking agents far surpasses the number of active readers out there. Meaning people who aren’t just literate, but those who seek out new books and actually buy them. Add in the fact that the art of storytelling is overly romanticized and the market becomes flooded with people looking for their break.
When I first got into indie publishing I queried a little. I figured it’s best to aim high and then explore other options if that doesn’t work out. It landed me some deals with smaller publishers and the opportunity to climb the ladder.
I found submitting short stories to publications was a great way to receive feedback from top industry pros and build my skills as I went. I’m still doing that. But the necessity for representation is growing.
I’ve been at this pro writing life for almost eight years now. (Yes that means getting paid to write)
I cringe when I look at my early work. I shake my head at how I used to view agents and marketing. Sure they were always important, but they seemed almost like demi-gods towering above us peasants.
Truth: Agents are not magical purple flying unicorns.
They don’t fly around sprinkling fairy dust. Nor do they lead writers over a glittering rainbow into top author status. (Not literally, at least)
They are hard-working individuals who care about their clients and generally wish for everyone to succeed. They are best understood face-to-face. If a writer is going to work in the industry long-term they must set aside their fantasies (I keep mine in my pocket because they do come in handy sometimes), and learn to be professional.
This means writers need to get comfortable speaking with those who have risen higher than them. They must also get cozy with pitching, describing themselves, their style, and their goals.
I used to hate talking about myself. It seemed vain and egotistical. I didn’t want to be full of myself.
I still don’t wish to become self-absorbed, but there is nothing wrong with cheering yourself on. If a writer can’t talk their work and themselves up, they’re not going to get very far. When living in the business of crafting words, language don’t just matter on the page. It matters at events, in emails, and blogs. Social Media. All of it.
It creates a lot of pressure when I stop and think about it.
I’m not saying anyone should be afraid to mess up or botch their words sometimes. We’re all human and even agents understand that.
My background in theater helps me with this. When I get tongue tied I just make a joke, laugh it off, and move on. I’m better in person because I like to get a feel for who I’m talking to. I like to know my audience as best I can. That’s why I love book tours and meeting with readers. When I hear what people like and want from me as an author I can better direct the bajillion ideas that flood my cranium on a daily basis.
The first time I met an agent at a signing, I didn’t know she was an agent. I thought she was a reader. She was genuinely interested in my work and we just talked about writing and publishing. We hit it off and THEN she handed me her card and suggested I submit my novel.
I could’ve died right there.
It was great.
Unfortunately her agency wasn’t a good fit for what I needed and my work wasn’t what her agency was really looking for. That’s how it goes. When we talk about this business being a “business,” it is truly that: A BUSINESS.
If a writer can’t imagine talking about their work over lunch with the agent they are querying, then maybe they’re not the right one. The right agent will become a partner, the person who gets the work where it needs to be to reach the broadest audience it can.
Going into my second sit down with an agent, it was with someone I’ve cold queried a couple of times (my work has far improved since then), my nerves were present, but I drew from my previous experience. She was nice, friendly, and encouraging. I could see myself working with her, asking for her input and guidance.
We meshed well.
That’s a good start. I don’t know if it will lead to a working relationship or not, but I can say that the experience lifted a weight off my shoulders. Agents are people. They are powerful to a degree, but they’re waiting to find that voice, that person who speaks to them so they can support their work and spread the word.
It’s as simple as that.
Emails are not the greatest introduction. The tech wall blocks a lot from view. Most aspects of communication have nothing to do with words but body language and styles. This is why everyone encourages writers to get out and attend events.
The more we circulate within the publishing world, the better we find our “fits.”
The old cranky hermit writer stereotype is sooo done. Writing is about communication. That means connecting with others. This includes, editors, publishers, and especially agents.