Five Four Three Two One Unique Ways to Get an Agent
Oh these sad and weary tales of woe.
Nope. Not this time. We’ve all been there and done that. Personally, I’ve read so many articles over the years about how to write the ideal query letter and get the perfect literary agent that I ought to be an authority by now. Unfortunately, like the typical ‘rules for writing’ article, most of them are little more than a list of things you shouldn’t do:
DON’T do mass, impersonal, “Dear Agent” queries;
DON’T query agents for genres they don’t represent;
DON’T make hyperbolic promises about your book being a guaranteed bestseller;
DON’T lie about all the literary awards you obviously haven’t won;
DON’T spell their names wrong.
There are lots more, but they all break down to the same basic piece of advice: be professional. A query letter is a business letter. Agents are in business to make money, so don’t waste their time with a lot of nonsense. Pitch the book, give your credentials, keep it brief. And edit for typos.
I think I’ve crafted some pretty good query letters in my day, but most great query letters end up in the same place as all the poor query letters: the reject pile. I don’t want to belabor a point that has been made too many times in too many places, so let’s just take it as a given that writing is hard, getting published is hard, making money is hard, yada yada yada. You can do everything right and still end up in the slush pile. In fact, most of us do.
Of course, most of us also keep dreaming. So when an article called “5 Unique Ways to Land An Agent” appeared in my email feed this morning, I had to look. Given that I am too cynical and hardboiled to believe that there are any magic beans in the publishing world, I wasn’t expecting much.
Guess what? There wasn’t much. Nothing against Meredith Blevins, who is a reasonably successful author and, I’m sure, a fine teacher, but I had to laugh at her list of five. I’ll summarize:
1) Get a writing degree. If you do (or hopefully did), you’ll meet people who can give you references and personal introductions and stuff like that.
2) Go to a writer’s conference, for the same basic reason.
3) Really. Go to a writer’s conference!
4) In fact, here’s one writer’s conference in particular that worked for one author she knows.
5) Go to New York and talk to agents in person. (The first time I typed this, I wrote “talk to agents in prison.” Sometimes the fingers just know what you’re really thinking.)
Maybe I’ve miscounted, but that’s really only three unique ways to land an agent. Unfortunately, two of them are nearly useless. Not a lot of us have the wherewithal to fly to New York or to attend graduate school (or even writer’s conferences, for that matter.) Her bottom line advice can be summarized thus: personal contact is always better than a letter. I have no doubt she is right. But also? Wow. Obvious.
So do these things work? Does a writing degree or attending writer’s conferences at least increase your chances of landing an agent? Maybe. I’m sure they can’t hurt. But I’ve known writers who have gone to plenty of conferences and never gotten representation, because it’s still an uphill battle against very long odds.
I’ve had some big name agents request full manuscripts of mine, even had one offer rewrite suggestions—which I followed to the best of my ability and conscience—only to meet with eventual rejection. Not because she thought the book was bad, but because she didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth her time and effort
The bottom line really is the bottom line.
But put all that gloom and doom aside. I’d love to get your take. Have you succeeded in landing an agent? What did it take? Did it help? Are agents even the way to go in this era?