Do you remember when you were fresh out of college or university and wanting to find that perfect job in the field you just spent four years studying? You got money from your parents to buy the perfect “power outfit”, perhaps an attaché case to look more professional, and then you set off in search of gainful employment. You arrived on time for each interview and got told the same thing from each prospective employer – come back when you’ve got some experience. As you left the interviews, the thought in the back of your mind got stuck on a crazy loop in your head and played incessantly – if nobody will give me a job, how can I gain the experience I need?
Looking for a literary agent is much the same for a debut author. It took more than four years, from conception to finished product, for me to write my first novel. I put more focus and emotion into creating the story than I ever expended in college and I am truly proud of the finished product. The people who have taken the time to read it have loved it.
But convincing an agent to give the whole story a chance is like applying for a job with no real world experience. Those first five or ten pages you submit are like your first two minutes in a job interview, they are introductory and don’t really give the person reading you enough time to see what you are really about. They can only judge you based on a succinct appraisal that doesn’t give your story time to prove itself and, in the end, they prefer an author who has been previously published. In other words, they don’t want to give the job to people who don’t have experience.
This post is not an attack on literary agents, by any means. I get it. They receive a plethora of emails from thousands of people who think they could be the next Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks or J.K. Rowling. Their email inboxes must feel like a revolving door, having multiple queries thrown at them every time the door makes a new revolution.
My intent with this post is not to blame literary agents for being so busy. My intent with this post is to merely put a wish into the universe that, one day, that revolving door will find a giant foot wedged into it allowing my query to fall into the right inbox at the right time. Just maybe, I can impress someone enough to have them read the whole manuscript and to get the job without having previous experience.
Lots of good luck to you. It was too frustrating for me, so when I wrote my book I self-published it through Amazon.
It is a long process. Thanks for the luck!
There are so many books waiting to be published and nowhere near enough agents to represent them. It has to be the right book at the right time. Many agents themselves say they have to pass on wonderfully written books all the time; they just don’t feel like they can sell them at the moment. So yes, it’s a loooong process. Hang in there.
I’ll be the one lurking in the corner, waiting for the right time to pounce on the right agent… LOL
Keep writing, Susan…it will happen. I wasn’t even looking for an agent when I signed with mine. Sometimes it’s best to have no agent than a bad agent, so take your time.
Very good point, Jill. Thank you!
Yes, very tough. Like most editors I think they read to reject. Strike 1,2,3 you’re out. Although writing, like all art, is subjective, and you think if they’d just read the whole thing they’d love it, most won’t if it doesn’t follow their preferred format (e.g. open with a hook, follow with an inciting incident, have characters in conflict, keep back-story and exposition to a minimum especially in the beginning etc, etc). I learned all this after writing my book – thought I could beat the odds because I was just that good – turns out I wasn’t, hehe. Now I feel like Dalton Trumbo doing my rewrite: “There’s a damn good story in there somewhere, I just have to find it.”
I completely agree! When I began writing my book, it was several years ago. When I picked it up again, I began the story where I left off but my writing voice was so much different. Although the story still flowed, the first three chapters sounded like they were written by a different author. The rewrite for those is still in process before I submit to other agents.
As someone who is both looking for a job AND a literary agent, this post really hit home. Thank you so much for sharing; I wish you all the best of luck!
Thank you, and the same to you!