Finding an agent / Finding a match

During the summer of 2013, I wrote the first draft of a Young Adult novel. I had a few trusted people read it and make comments. My beta readers told me where I needed more description or explanation and where I needed less, they told me what worked (a lot) and what didn’t work (thankfully, not much), and they pointed out typos and other errors. They liked the story and the characters. I took many of their suggestions and improved the book.

I dreamt about my book appearing on the shelves of school book fairs, but the only way for that to happen was to find an agent. I had to write a query letter: a short description of the story meant to entice an agent—somewhat similar to the blurb you’d find on a book’s back cover. Distilling a 73,000+ word novel into a select, well-crafted 150 words was more challenging than writing the book! Several drafts later, I had composed my query and was ready to send it out.

Fortunately, there are online databases of literary agents. I can’t imagine how would-be writers found agents before the Internet. I researched agents by going to their websites to see if they were looking for YA Fantasy books (my story involves mermaids). Thanks to email, it’s easier nowadays to send out queries and cut-and-pasted book excerpts to agents. Some wanted the first ten pages, some wanted the first three chapters, and some wanted only the query letter and a synopsis. But last fall, I sent many of them what they wanted.

I knew rejections would come, and even now, I consider them badges of honor that made me feel like a real author. None of the agents I queried offered representation, so maybe I didn’t send out enough. But I sent out enough to do some meaningful statistical analysis.

About a quarter of the agents I queried never emailed me back. More than half of those who replied declined with no explanation other than they received so many queries that personalized responses weren’t possible. Agents have their reasons for turning down a project: it doesn’t fit their agency’s needs, it’s too similar to something else they’re representing, it isn’t something they think they can market (bottom line: money), or it simply isn’t something they’re passionate about.

Some agents gave a little more feedback. Some told me that the story was fun and well-written, but mermaids were a tough sell to publishers right now. Some asked for additional chapters of the book before declining. Yesterday, I got a reply from an agent I queried five months ago; my book was on their short list of projects they were considering, but they ultimately chose to pass. I won’t deny that the process has been discouraging at times, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I had already experienced something just as uncertain and frustrating.

I’ve done online dating.

Since my divorce, I’ve been on and off of dating sites. I’m not in my 20s anymore, and I’m often busy at work, so I use it as one way to meet people. I’ve read countless dating profiles, and I’ve emailed women who I thought had things in common with me. Many didn’t respond at all, and I’ve heard statistics claiming that women, like literary agents, receive a lot of emails and don’t have the time to respond to all of them. Some have replied and politely declined, saying we weren’t a match. I met a few in person and had wonderful conversations over dinner but received “no love connection, Chuck” emails the next day.

I won’t deny that it was discouraging at times. In the year or so after my divorce, I was lonely. I believed that if I had a special someone in my life, then I’d be happy once again. I’ve grown since then, and I’ve learned that before you can be happy with someone else, you need to be happy with yourself. Would I like a special someone in my life? Yes. But do I need a special someone? I’m currently happy with who I am by myself.

Would I like to have found a literary agent? Sure. They know the business end of publishing and marketing a book, and they can negotiate movie rights if that dream ever comes along. But do I need an agent? Self-publishing options exist; many other people are doing it, and some have been very successful. I can commission an editor and a cover designer, and I can format and upload a manuscript, and I can try marketing through social media. That YA mermaid novel will be available soon.

I can do it—and still be very happy—by myself.

Comments

  1. If I was an agent I’d represent you no doubt. I believe in you Mr.Tarsi and I know that this book will be successful and once it is everyone else will see what they turned down!

  2. In my mind, you’ll always be writing on an old Commodore 128 while listening to Alanis Morissette. Can’t wait to read the book when it’s ready!

  3. There’s definately a lot to learn about this topic.
    I love all of the points you’ve made.

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