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Monday, April 9, 2012

On Love Affairs with Agents--My Prince Will Come

A wise person, whose name has escaped me, once advised me and a thousand other readers that finding an agent works very much like dating. You have to come across as confident, and not needy, stalkerish, bribing, or desperate, and you have to have something interesting, eye-catching, and hot to offer. Like with relationships, there's usually a best-fit, one-true-love agent for you.

When I first started working with Bioumatta, I felt like I could work with whatever agent took me into her grand cloak out of the rain of rejection. I imagined her stooping down in the dark alley to lift my spirits, her silhouette strong against the streetlight--"Come, my child, come inside and live."

Okay, I didn't think anything quite that creepy. But I'm beginning to understand this "best fit" thing a lot better now that I'm not just getting form rejections. I'm starting to realize, "hey, this rejection is good, because this agent really wouldn't have fit with me." It's not Pollyanna trying to find the happy in a sad, and it's not the fox in Aesop's fables saying "oh, I didn't want those grapes anyway." It's realism.

Case in point--I had an agent tell me in no uncertain terms yesterday that he did not find my work at all interesting, and he thought the publisher currently reviewing the manuscript would toss it as well. Agent added, however, that if Publisher did accept the MS, Agent would be happy to negotiate the deal. A year ago, I would be slobbering at the almost. "This person would negotiate the deal if the publisher liked it! Wow! So wonderful! Fingers crossed!" This older and wiser Jen knows Agent will never make a good fit for me. If Publisher does find himself interested in my manuscript, I will not go to Agent, because although he's skilled at his job, he's not my True Love Agent. Why?

Firstly, I don't want my manuscript backed by someone who doesn't believe in it until it starts making money. I want someone who wants to fight with me to get it published, and until that special someone comes along, I am willing to wait. Secondly, we clearly have different personalities. I'm an encourager by nature, and I give and need specific criticism; Agent has a personality that takes the extra time out of his very busy schedule just to say, "I doubt Publisher will be interested in your work." That "keep-your-hopes-down" strategy probably works really well with some authors, but it's not for me. That same extra time Agent took to tell me I have no chance, True Love Agent could use to tell me why--"that publisher usually prefers this and this, so I think your book might not work for him." I'm not asking for an agent who says, "I'm sure it will work" when it won't. I hate sugarcoated rejections. I'm asking for an agent who doesn't waste her precious time telling me I'm doomed when she could just as quickly in that same space of time tell me why. This agent's style works for his clients, but it would not work for me, and that's okay, good, and wonderful. I'm a little sad that I haven't found the One, but I'm very glad I'm not throwing myself into the arms of the Wrong One.

My dream agent? Vickie Motter. She's new-ish, like me, but she has experience working at a good agency. I love her fun, metaphoric, slightly stream-of-consciousness writing style, so I know I would not begrudge her advice--which is important, since she's a heavily editorial agent. I hear third-hand that she's enthusiastic with her clients, and I like the strong but specific criticism she gives on her blog. She has a sarcastic but not depressing sense of humor, and she's interested in YA books that I think sound interesting. I've got a partial in to her right now, and I have to admit, I'm going to be disappointed if that one comes up a rejection. Disappointed, but not horrified or upset, because she has to feel it's a perfect fit, too. Using the dating metaphor, no wise person wants to drag an unwilling partner into a relationship, because "a griping spouse is worse than a constantly leaking roof," says Proverbs. If she's not sure about me, she'll make me miserable. And neither of us wants to deal with a metaphorical restraining order.

It is time

I do not really believe in writing blogs about writing until one has reached some point of writing success. I don't want to write about something I know nothing about.

But I know a little bit now. I've taken the beatings of writing workshops for the past two years, I have actually gotten partial and manuscript requests, and I'm a paid journalist, free-lancer, and ghost-blogger. That's pretty sweet.

I've heard two trends of thought on prospective authors blogging--one I heard from the esteemed Molly Jaffa at a writing conference, and the other I see reiterated again and again from various writing blogs online. The two ideas do not conflict so much as balance. Per Ms. Jaffa, it does not look good for authors to gripe and whine about the publishing industry, or give advice on things they really know nothing about. If an agent googles you and finds out you have angsty anti-agent anger issues, they want to steer clear. On the other hand, "they say" people need to be able to see you, and prospective agents and publishers like knowing you have a following. I got an e-mail just yesterday from author Mike Duran describing how he met his agent through an online blog--it appears the publishing world's all about networking. Good writing, of course, but also a fair sprinkle of luck and networking.

All that said, I had hoped to somehow make use of my following on The How Not To Blog when it comes to this publicity stuff, but I'm realizing more and more that my readership there revolves more around a transient interest in the sporadic topics than in a dedicated following. In other words, people come there to get the facts from me on their particular topic, not to stick around and read the next blog post. Hopefully some of those folks can transfer over into my fiction-writing-world, but I know the probability of that happening lies somewhere in the 1/8000 margin mark.

So here I am in the Brave New Internet, talking again to an audience of nil. Beginning at the beginning, for that is the very best place to start. Here, I will talk about fiction, and fictional things will happen.