Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why is it so hard to find an agent?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

So you've written and edited your book, and you've decided to pursue publication. If you're hoping to sell your book to a big publishing house, one that has a presence in Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores, you will most likely need an agent. There are definitely exceptions, but the majority of published writers get contracts because they have an agent.

By far one of the biggest complaints I hear from aspiring novelists is that they can't find an agent who's interested in representing them. Why is this so difficult, you might ask. Here are a couple factors:
  • Agents only make money when you make money. My agent keeps 15% of what I earn. If I don't earn money, neither does my agent. So an agent has to be careful about which clients they take on because they need clients who will make money for them. This means they can only afford to take on a few unpublished, unproven writers.
  • Agents don't have an endless supply of time which means they can only take on so many clients. There's no set amount of clients that an agent should have, it just depends on their personality. I've heard between 50 and 80 is a good amount, but of course it depends on how long they've been an agent. If you're talking to an agent who already has a very full client list, and who's very happy with all their clients, they might decide they don't have time to invest in you even if they like you and your idea.
  • Many agents (I would venture to say most) don't just care about if they can sell a book. They want to work with people who they enjoy spending time with, they want to like what their clients write, and they want to be apart of books that matter. So ideally they're looking for a writer who they respect as a person and a writer.
Those bullet points can make it seem like too much is stacked against you, but the writers I know who are persistent in their hunt for an agent eventually find one. While there are times that it will seem impossible, it really does happen. Here are the main ways you find an agent:
  • Query letters. This apparently works for some people, though I hardly had any success with it. Here's a link to examples of query letters that sold.
  • Writers conferences. Here's where I had my success, so despite my feelings that I'm an awkward conversationalist, I must make an okay in-person impression. Most writers I know met their agent at a writers conference. Writers conferences provide lots of opportunities for you to connect with agents, through classes, shared meals, and appointments where you can pitch to them in person. Here are a few posts that might be helpful regarding this: Pitching to agents, What Teens Should Know About Pitching Their Book, Elevator Pitches Part One, Elevator Pitches Part Two, How to Get Requests From Agents and Editors (a guest post from teen writer, Leah Good)
  • Contests where the agent is a judge. This one is pretty self-explanatory. I know a couple writers who have entered contests and wound up with agent (or book contract) out of the deal. Typically this happens with the big contests, like for ACFW or RWA or something.
  • Referrals. This is when a published/agented writer recommends you to their agent or an agent they're friends with. Mostly this happens if you're already published.
If you're wondering why in the days of self-publishing you need an agent at all, just this week Chip MacGregor wrote a really great explanation on his blog called Yes, You Need An Agent. Chip is an agent, of course, so there's a bias toward doing business that way, but he's also worked for publishing houses and has been in the biz a long time. On there he articulated something I've felt but haven't figured out how to express about the value in having an agent. He says, "More than anything a good agent looks after your career in difficult times."

Next we'll talk about how you identify agents with whom you could work well!

20 comments:

  1. Oh. So that's why they might not take you on. Thanks for explaining this. :D I only knew that they might not take you on if they didn't like your book. Didn't Jill get an agent through queries? I wouldn't be able to go to many conferences whiles I'm in America, but hopefully I can get in on a few! :) and eeeeeek! Sorry. I cant wait to see Monday's post! (Which u suppose is the time you will be posting more on agents...)

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    1. I got my first agent through queries, yes. I don't recommend it. There is something important about meeting a person face-to-face, seeing what kind of a person they're like, letting them meet you. You can't tell that stuff through email alone. But yes, I had sent out multiple query letters, and one of those led to him offering to represent me. It was not a good fit later on because I hadn't really done my homework on him. I was just so excited that someone wanted to be my agent. But at the time he didn't have the contacts to pitch my book. And when I finally did meet him, he was a very nice man, but it felt wrong. I didn't "get" him and he didn't "get" me. I think that's really important in an author-agent relationship.

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  2. How long did it take from when you met your agent at the conference to when you signed?

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  3. It took about a month to hear from her. She had to weed through all the stuff she had brought home from conference. Then I sent in my stuff to her and waited. It was about six months, but that's partially because she asked for some edits.

    The second time I signed with an agent, it was a referral, and it took a month or six weeks.

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    1. okay : ) I've done tons of research, but no articles get past the conference haha. I met an agent, she asked for my first three chapters, then asked for the whole thing, and she just asked for some edits before she looks at it again. I'm still learning, but to me I don't see an agent going to all this trouble if she's not at least semi interested.

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    2. That's AWESOME, Alyson! :) Congrats!

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    3. I agree, Alyson. That's super exciting!

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    4. I am excited too!
      Stephanie, you were the first person ever to read my writing and now I'm hopefully on the right track for publication. It's pretty awesome to go to a writer's conference and be used as an example in the class on being professional. Go Teen Writers has brought me from a preteen who didn't have the patience to write a 100 word prompt to a teen who's on her third book and confident enough to tell people about them. Thanks : )

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    6. Congratulations, Alyson! You must let us know when that book gets published. And I think as definitely sounds interested :)

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    7. That's great!!
      You're almost one step closer to publication. I hope the agent accepts your book.
      Now go and get that book published!! And don't give up. Publishing is a bumpy road (so I hear), but it's well worth it.

      Congratulations!!

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  4. Thanks for a wonderful post, Stephanie! Always good to have a brush up on publishing knowledge.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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  5. Great post! Though I always feel a tat sad when Writing Conferences seem like THE place to quiry, seeing that most conferences (I'm aware of at least) are always outside of Europe. Would you then say that query letters would be the best second option?

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    1. Hmm. Yeah, query letters are probably second best.

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  6. Thanks for the post! This is very helpful.

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  7. Storing up all this wonderful info for later...:)

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  8. Thank you so much for this post! I've been looking for an agent for months now, and I've gotten so many rejection letters. I will definitely keep trying and I will take on board this advice.

    www.alicekouzmenkowriting.blogspot.com

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    1. That's really common, Alice, so don't let it bother you. You just have to press on!

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  9. Thank you so much for posting this, Stephanie! I'll probably be referring to this often :)

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  10. I found my agent as a combination of referral and a conference. An author friend told his agent about me, and she asked to see a proposal for my latest project. At the ACFW national conference, she and I happened to strike up a conversation between workshops and she asked what other stories I have. When she learned I also have a completed suspense novel, she asked to see that too. Before long, she offered a contract to rep me! This is no guarantee my manuscripts will sell, but I see it as a huge boost!

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