I don’t have an agent yet.
I’ve seen a lot of “How I Got My Agent” posts, and many of them result in moans of soul-crushing defeat from myself and my fellow writers. It’s not particularly inspiring to see the story of someone who was in the trenches for three weeks and got an agent, then on sub for three days and got a book deal.
So I wanted to write a post about how I’ve been querying off and on for 16 years, with seven manuscripts of various levels of skill, and how I plan on getting that agent.
No, not spellcheck. Spells.
I created this foolproof spell for getting an agent, and soon I will have all The Calls coming in. You too can land an agent with this Very Easy manipulation of causality and fate.
Here’s the ingredients you’ll need:
A dusty, vanilla scented candle to represent the smell of books.
A miniature book stitched together with thread soaked in your tears, the pages of which are made from your first rejection letter, and the cover being cut from an old library card.
A dried rose petal from the grave of someone you looked up to, who had persistence.
Then you recite a prayer over the ingredients and burn the book and the rose petal in the flame of the candle.
Seriously, though. How I get my agent will be a story of hope, rejection, wavering determination, and luck. When I get a chance to write that post, it’s going to be about how hard I worked, and how much effort it took, and how I constantly wanted to give up–and DID give up a couple times–but always kept writing and improving myself. Because that’s what authors do.
When I started, I thought I was brilliant. My friends all loved my book(s). My fledgling writing group thought my work was A+. And my very first query (sent to Baen publishing, because I didn’t realize I needed an agent) came back after thirteen months with a lovely rejection letter about how they weren’t looking for this kind of book right now, but my characters were relatable, the interpersonal relationships were very natural, and the conflict made sense. They had a few tips for fight scenes, but otherwise they said it was “a really good story.”
Well, I’d make short work of this whole querying thing.
In the 16 years I’ve been trying to “get published” I have learned a lot about my writing, about myself, and about this process. I have a lot more disappointment to go through, but I can share my struggle, dear adventurer, as we are on this journey together.
The first thing I learned, was that I’m not special. I’m a very good writer in a veritable sea of very good writers. That was humbling. That was intimidating. That was a little bit disappointing, but ultimately necessary to build my thicker skin. Lots of people are very good. That won’t get you an agent. As much as we like to think all the published books out there are the works of the best writers, it’s not true. Skill is often a requirement for success, but not a key that will open that door. They’re just the lucky ones.
The next thing I learned, is that I’m not able to edit my own novels. This one took longer to realize. I still fight it to this day, even knowing better. I write GREAT first drafts. My words are polished. But authors have blind spots. When I look back over 16 years of querying and 30 years of writing, I can see the huge jump in quality that happened once I found critique partners that wrote at my own skill level. And once I started LISTENING to them. The quickest way to lose a critique partner is to dismiss or ignore their suggestions.
And then there were the craft books. I thought I knew my shit, mainly because my English and creative writing teachers had always said I had a sense for these things. I picked up my first craft book (which was Stephen King’s On Writing) about halfway through my query journey. It cracked open a little piece of my brain where my muse had been imprisoned. It was like I’d been keeping my muse in a cave, toiling away, chained to a desk, and now there was this whole world of process and knowledge available for me to explore.
I read a whole list of craft books. Every book, no matter how little it resonated with my writing style, taught me something. Learning and trying out these techniques has helped me internalize good habits with my writing. It’s helped me be a better critique partner. And most of all it’s helped me realize that writing really is a craft and not a talent. A talent just happens, but a craft can be improved upon.
But you know all this, right? You came here for the secret to getting an agent, not for a list of rehashed advice on becoming an author.
The secret is a combination of opportunity and serendipity. You create the opportunity, and wait for the serendipity. Some people have really high levels of opportunity–like industry connections, or money, or fame–and they only require a tiny bit of serendipity. Like so little that as long as the bus splashes puddle water in their face, that’s close enough to get them where they need to go.
Other people must fight for every sliver of opportunity. Hundreds of queries, dozens of pitch events or conventions, and endless years of honing their craft. Then they have to just hope the bus of serendipity waits long enough for them to make it to the right bus stop, but it starts pulling away and they have to run after it and make a leap onto 12th street and grab the hand of someone reaching from the window, then be pulled inside where they fall into a panting heap and realize they lost their bus fare so they’re thrown right back out at the next stop. Because serendipity doesn’t give a shit.
The reality is most people miss the bus. But if you stop going to the bus stop, you’ll never get on it. Sometimes I go days, weeks, or months without going to the bus stop. Then I put my running shoes back on, duct tape my bus fare to my arm, and get ready to jump.
I’m right there with you. I’m researching agents, lurking in pitch parties, and taking every rejection like a punch to the chest. (My query group offers pet pictures whenever someone gets a rejection. I feel like I’m watching their pets grow up.)
But I’m there. And being there is how you get an agent. Keep querying. Keep building your craft. Writing is so very personal. That’s your broken soul on the page, and it’s hard to try to sell that to someone and be rejected. It feels like it should be easier than this. But it’s not.
How will I get my agent? Making the opportunities… and being ready to grab that serendipity bus when it rushes by. I’ll meet you there.