Last week I wrote about authors who send agents submissions despite the fact those agents clearly state that they don’t represent those categories. When this happens, I sense one of three things from the author: exuberance, ignorance, or frustration.
An author who’s been successful for decades still can be exuberant about her work. That’s not what I mean here. In this case, the author is so new and uninitiated, that he thinks his idea is the most original and important on the planet. Wouldn’t any agent love to represent his book revealing (for example) The Secret of Happiness? Everyone wants to be happy, right?
Yet all I have to do is go on Amazon to find 14 books on the first page with this title or a variation thereof. Two of those titles are by Billy Graham. I didn’t even bother to consult the next page.
It’s great to be thrilled by your idea, to think you’re helping people, and that you are original. You may be all these things. But before contacting an agent, be sure you aren’t accidentally repeating others’ ideas, that your book is a fresh take on a great topic, and please realize it’s not easy to compete with Billy Graham.
As you might guess from the above, ignorance can persist when an author doesn’t do a simple search for comparisons. That’s why we include that all-important section in proposals we send to editors.
Ignorance is also displayed when authors don’t research agents before sending. Some authors think consulting a huge listing is enough. Listings by definition offer only a snapshot. It’s up to you to use that snapshot to decide whether to dig further.
Among other questions, ask, “Does this agent represent books like mine?” If so, she’ll be able to assess how yours will stand up to others on the market. She’ll see if it’s fresh, if it’s helpful, and if it will sell. Granted most of us have declined authors who later turned out to be the literary equivalent of Elvis. But as an author, if you’re sending submissions to agents who make sense for you, you’ve got a chance of getting a helpful response.
When your letter arrives in my assistant’s box, I realize I might not be the first agent you’ve queried. I might be the 1st, 51st, or even the 351st. If you sent to me first because I’m your dream agent, that makes me happy but if I’m number 351, I’m undeterred. What I care about is whether you and I are a good fit.
However, when someone sends me something so very, very far off the mark, sometimes I get an odd vibe that makes me wonder how many other agents previously rejected the project. Perhaps the author has pursued all the agents that make sense for her and now she’s so desperate that she thinks I’ll throw my agency’s weight behind her project just to see what happens.
Do I take chances on projects I’m passionate about? Sure. Do I take projects for fun because I don’t have anything better to do and don’t mind wasting editors’ time? No and NO!
But truly, the frustrated author drilling down to Agent #351 is likely to be doomed to frustration. When all the agents who should have been right for the project have declined, that’s a strong indication the book isn’t hitting the mark. Approaching an agent inexperienced in your genre or just plain inexperienced can succeed if lightning strikes, but lightning doesn’t often strike.
What to do?
Write something else. Yes, that’s right. Write another book. Not only will this help time seem to move faster as you wait for responses, but you’ll be prepared with a second book should you get a positive response. This book can be a follow-up or sequel to the first book, or something different. The best case scenario is that both books quickly sell. The worst case scenario would be that writing the book allows you further to practice your craft. And that’s never a waste of time.
In your view, what is the best way to research agents?
How many agent blogs do you follow?
What books or listings would you recommend to authors seeking agents?