Agent of Change

I’ve written before about navigating the kraken-infested, crag-strewn, terrifying waters of publishing.  Or rather, I’ve written about all the questions I had: I’m new at this and still learning the ropes.  And boy, are there are a lot of ropes: you can self-publish, you can send out queries to publishers… And you can try to find an agent.

Agents are scary.

To me, they’ve always been something that mysteriously appeared after you got published.  They sat atop their ivory towers and judged you until you were worthy, and then swooped out of nowhere to carry you out of the slush pile and off to the magical land of Writing as a Career.

Unsurprisingly, this is fairly inaccurate.


You don’t have to do it all alone!

Of course, you can.  You can send your book out cold to a thousand publishers and wait for someone to recognize its genius.  You can navigate the marketing and the contracts and the red tape.  That’s totally possible.  I’ve actually been planning to for most of my life, for some reason.

It’s just that you can also get someone to do all that for you, and they already know how to do all that stuff.  It’s literally their job.

I’m not sure why, but for some reason High School Me just assumed that once  you hit a certain level of writing skill, you automatically knew how to handle the publishing world.  Like it was a video game or something; an achievement to unlock, a feat you got as a level 15 writer.  I don’t think this is an uncommon belief among young writers, either. For some reason, there are a lot of tips out there about how to write a marketable book and a good query letter, entire classes on making connections and how to actually sit down and write, but no one just sits you down and tells you how the business works.

So here’s the thing: it’s an entirely different skill set.

As a writer, you have your own set of skills, right? You can write fairly well.  You can form a good plot, write rounded characters, stimulate the mind’s eye and the heart.  But unless you’ve got another skill set (say, you’re a social media genius like that chick who wrote 50 Shades or have parents who own a publishing company like that kid who wrote Eragon), that only gets you so far.  Your job, ideally, is to write.

So write.

Agents already have the connections.  They know the landscape of the publishing world: they already know the people who would love your book and the people you should avoid.  They’ve already done the legwork.  That’s their skill set.  You don’t have to do it.

This is old news to any agents out there, but it was somewhat of an epiphany for me.


Okay. Awesome. So where the hell do I start?

My personal favorite site for this is AgentQuery, which has more than just a huge list of agents: it’s got resources for new writers.  There’s a great page on writing a query, and even a great forum for getting critique on your letters.  It’s excellent for newbies.

No good? There are plenty of excellent publishing blogs.  The one I just linked regularly exhibits new agents looking for authors, and even if those don’t seem like your type they’ve got agencies they’re attached to that might have someone you want to send a query to.

Still no luck? Open the back of a book in your genre.  Who’s that author’s agent? And more likely– what agency do they work for?  Probably a long shot, but there’s a name you can start with.

Google it if you’re really lost. I’ll even give you the keywords: “agent accepting inquiries” [your genre here].

My main point here is this: the more you read, the less scary and obtuse this industry becomes.


So you’re going with an agent, then?

It’s what I’m trying now.  Let me know if you have any comments on my latest conclusion– or if you know anyone I should talk to.

And good luck out there.


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