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?
When I was searching for an agent, I used The Christian Writers Market Guide to locate the ones that represented novels in my genre. I made a list and then turned to the internet to find their agency’s website. Blogs? I think I follow two or three. Yours is my priority! I’ve already mentioned the Christian Writers Market Guide and the internet but my best recommendation for seeking an agent is attending conferences so you can meet them personally.
Great post, Tamela.
For me, the best way to research agents is doing that which I am doing now – following their blogs regularly and participating in the blog community. It builds something of a relationship – I develop an understanding, over time, of that agent’s preferences and values.
The operative phrase is ‘over time’, because it does take awhile. In that time, the agent may become familiar with one or two things – hopefully GOOD things – about me, and the proposal I send may have some context in persona and personality.
I only follow two agency blogs; this one and Books an Such. My thought is that a deeper knowledge will in the long run be more beneficial. And it is more fun; to truly feel like a part of things.
I echo your comment that “it is more fun; to truly feel like a part of things”.
What about a query will generate a response from the agent? I have made queries in accordance with all guidelines and never received a response. Not complaining – just would like to know how to get this response even if it is just a “no thanks”
Tamela Hancock Murray
Cindy, I am so sorry you’ve been ignored, especially when following guidelines. I also have a pretty good and specific answer, and I think it’s worthy of a blog post so stay tuned. Thank you for asking!
In the meantime, I am hoping my office was not among those who ignored you. If we did, I believe that was in error. Feel free to try us again and flag the email by referring to this blog post in the subject line.
The thing I’ve found writers forget, yours truly included, is how difficult the biz of writing and publishing. Even when I stepped away for a time after my wife was diagnosed with cancer, getting back to this biz wasn’t easy. But I love writing too much and I’m too stubborn to give up. My point is if landing an agent and/or publishing contract were easy, many more would be doing it, so perseverance is tantamount to leveling the playing field.
For research, I always start with the CWMG, as Loretta pointed out. https://christianwritersmarketguide.com. The low cost for its content is just too good a deal to pass up, not to mention if you tell an agent you found them there it usually buys you high marks as savvy and thoughtful.
The only agent blog I follow regularly is this one. I check in on a couple others now and then. I don’t really find a lot of agent blogs helpful because most agents are quite busy and so few have time to put out frequent posts.
The next best resource is conferences if you can afford them or have the paid time off from the day job to go. I cannot stress how much these have helped me through the years. Better than half of everything I’ve learned or accomplished as writer has been through building relationships and networking. I even have those in this biz with big names who are actually friends. This is vital, and especially for someone like me with my rather introverted personality.
One other recommendation. Attend educational opportunities that arise. Check out places like Christian Writers Institute – https://christianwritersinstitute.com or join American Christian Writers (ACW). These groups not only teach writers but they also have built in partnerships and resources with some agencies.
Happy writing (and agenting)! 😉
Tamela Hancock Murray
Joe, thanks for these great tips!
Ready to run with your valuable tips, Tamela, thank you!
Looking for agents in books I’m reading and the genre
I’m writing served well as a first step.
My hubby mistakenly thought agents would be competing to represent me! Laughing. Or choosing a literary emissary as simple as picking out a pup.
Currently, this is the only blog I follow.
I would recommend Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents blog and Steve Laube’s, The Christian Writer’s Market Guide 2017.
Rebekah, thanks for sharing that thought-pondering quote. Brenda Ueland said it well. 🙂
I still follow 2 agency blogs every day even though I’m publishing indie. I have learned SO much here at the Laube blog, ranging from how the traditional publishing business works (useful even for an indie like me) to how to hone my craft and build my platform (invaluable (!) for any writer). I would not be where I am today without you folks at this agency, even though I don’t think I’m ever going to seek representation, at least not for the Roman series. I have to stay indie to keep the rights to my books for missions.
I also follow 2 writer blogs all the time and a few others sporadically that often address trad publishing issues. So worth the time it takes, no matter how much I’m juggling with both creative and business work demands.
The frosting on the cake is the community that develops among the regular commenters at your blog. Many thanks to your team for making that possible, too!
Tamela, I must say that if ever (or when) I may put together a “short list” of dream agents you will certainly have a very prominent place on it under the first paragraph heading group subtitled “the best of the best”.
When I repeatedly hear that an author without a spectacular social media platform can literally “fuggedaboutit” I believe it.
I have absolutely no fear of rejection, I’ve been experiencing it in various forms regarding many aspects since very early in life. I have learned a long time ago how to ride rejection as a vehicle to ever greater heights. I do, however, have an abhorrence to wasting precious time, first mine and then others.
I have seen what I consider to be very talented writers give up on or just skip the whole trad pub route and go indie simply for “platform” reasons. A particular lady I know who is brilliantly talented made this decision. She said that since she was a little girl being a traditionally published author was a lifelong dream that has turned out to be just an illusion which has broken her heart. She said she has had to face the fact that she wasn’t going to live forever and has grown tired of being a “lady in waiting”. After many years she has, at least initially, reluctantly self published. Since then she seems much happier and confident as her indie books sales number continue to accumulate. People she would have never known have shown much kindness and appreciation towards her in reviews and appearances.
Converse to todays blog subject it seems there is a silent and invisible form of “rejection” and “no response” from writers to publishers as well as publishers to writers. Does anyone know how widespread this is? Has proposals fallen off since 1995 at all? Is there any anxiety that some “good ones” (authors) are getting away? Is this of any concern whatsoever to the industry? Just curious.
The other side of the coin of this phenomena, if even a little bit widespread, should propel Steve’s new book release. My compliments on a brilliant business model that illustrates the wisdom of properly positioning oneself in the marketplace. Whatever route someone takes its still a winner for the house. Kudo’s!
To the hundreds of thousands if not millions of “ladies in waiting”.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Rochellino, it’s hard for me to speak to what others are thinking industry-wide, but I’m not sure submissions have fallen off for me since 1995. I think I am getting a lot more promising submissions by ratio, as opposed to back then. I attribute this in part to the ability of agents to reach out directly to authors over the Internet now, through so many platforms. Authors who query me are, as a whole, much more educated than in the past.
I know the Lord will lead the right authors to partner with me. I don’t stress over what could have been, but am happy when authors succeed. That’s the beauty of CBA — we are all writing to His glory.
As for Aerosmith? I find it ironic that they were in their 20s when this was a big hit for them. The song’s protagonist should have been much older. 🙂
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Tamela, thanks for a great posting. Your words are always so helpful. My researching for an agent began with the purchase of a writers’ guide. I went through the complete book, even though it took days. I marked out any agents who did not represent my self-help genre- why waste their time and mine?
Next, I focused on agents who seemed to be Christians. Since we are not to be “unequally yoked” and my research told me that an agent-client relationship is like a marriage (but without sex, if you both know what’s best for all concerned!), it was important to find someone who shared my beliefs, at least to some extent.
I wrote up proposals that met the agents’ guidelines and sent them off. and waited…..and waited…..and got rejected…..
Finally, I attended a writing conference, where I could meet the agents I thought would be the best fit, send them proposals to followup as requested, and waited again. Two out of the three rejected me but one accepted and I was launched…..to wait again on publishers…..
I follow two blogs……but actually find the Laube Agency blog is my favorite.
Thanks for the post today. I’ve been writing long enough (since 1976) that I understand something of the screening process for acceptance or rejection. So many factors are involved for the writer, the agent, and the publisher. Sometimes it seems like lightning must strike to hit the exact combination for a published book. Your advice is excellent, though. Research for the best fit in all categories. Lightning or published book: “It is no secret what God can do.” I love it when I get a “great rejection letter,” such as one from you. God bless you, Tamela. All the best, Effie-Alean Gross
As a newbie writer, I read this blog and Books and Such regularly, though every now and then I visit Writers’ Digest, The Writer, and individual writer blogs. I find so much helpful information, particularly from this blog and Books and Such–everything from articles about craft, to articles about conducting myself in a professional manner. I’m not sure I’ll use some of it, but it’s always presented in an interesting, sometimes humorous way, and it certainly enriches my life.
Thanks for all you do.
Books and Such is another good agency blog.
I continue to write my first Christian fiction novel. I know the time will arrive when finding an agent will be crucial. There are several agents on Facebook who pursue new writers. But just because someone pursues you doesn’t mean they are a good agent. I like meeting people in person and meeting you, Tamela, at the ACFWVA conference last year in Woodbridge, was a true highlight for me. 🙂
Tamela Hancock Murray
Thank you, Melissa! I love that conference, and enjoyed meeting you, too!
I have often vowed to myself that if I “made it” in publishing, that I would be open to helping other writers succeed. That I would be open to reading others’ manuscripts. But I imagine it is like becoming very rich; people come to you wanting favors of all sorts…people want you for what you can do for them. It must be frustrating sometimes to be a literary agent.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Over time, you learn how to set boundaries. 🙂
Christine L. Henderson
Today I met with one of my critique groups and we all agree that our biggest frustration is the non-response from agents or publishers. My group follows the submission guidelines and researches what types of books the person represents.
At conferences, we’ve each been encouraged to follow-up with those we’ve met who claim to like our work, but no response follows.
We keep writing and submitting. However, I am really beginning to understand why many writers are taking the indie route. If you’re going to have to do a lot of self-promotion, why not invest in yourself and make it your own with your own editor, book cover designer, formatter, etc? Or maybe do a bunch of it on your own.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Christine, I can understand the frustration with a passive no. We’ll never get rid of the passive no completely. But I appreciate you and others here for pointing this out. I’ll remind my office to step up our vigilance on responses.
As for going indie, yes, there are advantages to this route, especially for the self-starting author who doesn’t mind paying and/or can afford to pay for the services you mention. Indie authors do need to take care to hire the best professionals for the ideal result. With this route, the author is the boss and the author’s word is final. This is a different dynamic than working with a traditional publisher.
A publisher has hired professionals at their own expense and, while the author has input, the publisher’s word is final. Major traditional publishers have big budgets to help authors make the most of their existing platforms. Even new and mid-list authors are awarded bigger marketing budgets than many authors can afford to spend on their own.
Also, consider time. If an indie author has time to spend on editing, cover design, production, and marketing, great! If not, the traditional publisher is a powerful partner. They pay the author, often before the book is even written.
And of course, some authors go the hybrid route.
Whatever you decide, enjoy the journey.