My first “two cents” post is about the increasingly outdated and aggravating task of obtaining a literary agent. I am not just using this blog to rant, but to offer my experience, as well as an opinion and amicable, yet, partial, solution for both authors and agents. Think of this as my version of Jerry McGuire’s mission statement.
In pre-internet times, obtaining a literary agent was the only way for an unknown author to make a name for themselves and sell a ‘pay rent/food’ number of copies. If you had an agent, you could, in most cases, obtain a deal with a publisher.
I reference Thomas L. Friedman’s books (The World is Flat and That Used To Be Us—co-authored by Michael Mandelbaum) in my novel about how and why the world is changing so quickly and what we all need to do in order to keep-up and stay competitive in a world market—that’s right America, it’s not just about us anymore. And agents and publishing houses are not the exception. It’s not just about the union factory worker—who is in competition with equal or better technology, tax breaks, and lower wages from an equally competant overseas counterpart—who is forced to go back for additional training or sacrifice part of an overinflated wage.
We all need to accept that stopping change is out of our control and personal comfort zone.
Reinvention is a positive thing and what better tool for reinventing but an imagination? Certainly people who deal in the artistic field of book publishing have a plethora of imagination?? Maybe they are just like the rest of us, overwhelmed and resisting change with every fiber in their traditional business bodies?
“So tell us a better way, smart guy,” you say.
I certainly don’t think I can fix the system because I don’t think it’s broken, just outdated—needing a tune-up, like a car with half-flat tires, rickety exhaust, and dirty oil. But I offer suggestions on behalf of both sides.
Agents/Publishers: Both of you would admit that the bottom line is book publishing is a business, and I would agree. But there are countless people out there, including many from your own ranks, who believe the way that business is conducted could use some updating. I understand many agents have left the field entirely because they are overwhelmed with submissions and their “gatekeeper” position is being circumvented by authors self-publishing. I will begin with one suggestion today: open your doors to unknown writers with a completed manuscript. That’s right…I want to be able to make an appointment, drive to your office, and discuss what pay services you offer to read my work and provide feedback. This, instead of wasting a writers time making them sit around month after month, first sending a hundred individually catered queries, then waiting for form rejection letters, if anything.
This is a realistic starting point that is mutually beneficial to writers and agents/publishers. On one hand, writers get to have their work read and critiqued; on the other, literary agencies are generating new income for their firm and have a more personal, hands-on approach with potential clients. Win-win!
“You couldn’t handle the line around your office everyday,” you say?
Go to an a-la-carte menu of services for manuscripts—complete reads, per page, overview, ect. Charge what you want. If your firm does not want to stay competitive and possibly hire more staff, charge 20$ a page so no writer in his right mind (well, you know what I mean) would consult your agency.
Struggling writers: Now…for all the me’s out there, I say this: Make sure your manuscript is as polished as it can be before pursuing an agent or self publishing. The publishing world and Amazon is bombarded by sub-par work. This makes it harder on everyone. I can’t stress this point enough. Do yourself a favor—save up your money and hire a professional editor.
I spent years on research for my books, wrote full-time for 14 months to finish my first draft—185,000 words. I then spent two months cutting and editing. Then I spent 3 months to find the right editor for me (Debra L. Hartmann—fantastic). We spent 2 more months editing the manuscript, synopsis, and query letter. I spent countless hours researching literary agents to query. In the end, I sent (individually catered for each agent) 100 queries…and waited…and waited. After three more months passed and after a few personalized, flattering responses, but no request for further reads, rejection emails stopped coming in. All in all, 38 out of 100 agents had the courtesy to respond, mostly with a form letter.
Don’t take it personally. They don’t.
The game has changed and so must we. Advocate for yourselves after your work is as perfect as it can be. These days it’s going to take a lot of self promotion if you want to actually make a living at this. If you simply want to get your work out there for sale on Amazon, I still say, polish it until no one can fault the basic technical side of your work—grammar, punctuation, plot holes, contradictions. These alone certainly won’t guarantee your success, but being lazy with them will certainly sabotage any chance for success.
Agents/publishers: Open your doors and charge a fee so your potential clients can be heard and professionally critiqued.
Writers: Take charge of your own destiny…and EDIT! EDIT! EDIT! Read Stephen King’s book: On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. Then, spend the money to hire a professional editor.
The days when Nicholas Sparks queried an agent and received a million dollars for his first novel are all but over. And if you read his website or hear him lecture, he will tell you how lucky he was and what a random fluke it was in obtaining the now famous literary agent, Theresa Park. She found his query where most of ours go—in the trash can.
That’s all for now…more thoughts worth at least two pennies apiece coming soon.
~~ Andrew Harkless
What do you think about my suggestion? Do you have other ideas or suggestions for how the traditional publishers and agents can update their system?
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