It’s all about YOU

Posted on 11/24/2009

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WANT AN AGENT?! It’s about YOU–not about the agent.

Okay, I am on the board of a writer’s conference so I deal with a lot of people who know very little about how the whole “getting an agent” thing works.  No problem! I was there too once!  Over the past three years I have really studied up on how the entire business (NOT just getting an agent!) works.  People think getting an agent is the first step, but let me tell you, it’s not. The first step is writing a book that will make an agent’s ears perk up, either in a query letter or a pitch session.  The next step is for YOU to get that book into their hands.

What kinds of books will make an agent’s ears perk up? Good question, and not something I’m going into a lot of detail here. Every agent has his or her favorites, so you (yes–YOU!) need to go and study agent websites, blogs, tweets, etc.  You see, agents are doing YOU (wow, I sense a trend here) a GREAT service by blogging, tweeting, keeping relevant websites up.  This is free information that I never had six years ago when I started querying my first book.  It is priceless!  There are so many good blogs out there, and good information on how to get their collective attentions, and how to write a solid query letter, and how to make sure your book is polished, etc. IT’S OUT THERE–YOU NEED TO READ IT.

And most of you do.

But I still (STILL) meet unagented writers who think that agents are these New York urbanites who have their noses in the air and laugh at their writing and attempts.  I met one person who thought agents were stuck up snobs. 

Huh?

Seriously?

Do you people even know what agents do for a living?

I have made an attempt to befriend as many agents as I can, not only to network and build relationships with them, but to better understand how the whole thing works.  However, that doesn’t mean I am going have an agent who I buddy up with take my story.  I have to write a badass book first.  Let me tell you something, the agents I have met in person/online are normal, good people.  And let me tell you something else: AGENTS ARE THE MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED, STYGMATIZED, DEMONIZED people on the planet!

Why?

Because they want a good story.

Man. What a shitty position to be in.  You want a good story, someone writes crap, and then gets mad and thinks you are evil.  How ridiculous.

You want an agent?

YOU need to write a good story. YOU. Not your neighbor, Bob. Not you pet cricket, Leviticus. YOU. YOU. YOU.

If you think that agents are all snooty New Yorkers with silver plugs in their ears, a glass of wine, and a big red pen, ready to write NOT FOR ME letters, you are sadly mistaken.

Agents are the freaking backbone of the entire industry. And they are woefully underappreciated by the unwashed, unpublished writers.

One person said agents were these rich people who don’t need your book to begin with because they were already rich from their other clients.

Huh?

Really?

Ignorance and injustice are the two things that get me hot under the collar quicker than anything. They are both hot buttons. I had to swallow my coffee before answering this fool to tell them agents are honestly nice people (well, the ones I have met) and they are not all rich. Hell, most of them aren’t.

Here’s the deal.

Let’s say you get an agent. Sweet! She likes your story and works with you to polish it. (Yes, to be honest, I would love to have this happen to me. I keep writing…because it’s up to ME, not the agent.)  So she sends it off to a publisher.  The publisher likes it! They want it! Oh happy day!

The publisher offers you a large advance, let’s say $20,000 (yeah, that’s a large amount. If you think you’re getting $100,000 or rich off your first book…go play the lottery)  So how much of that money does the agent get? Hmmm…let’s see here.

She get’s 15%.  What’s 15% of $20,000?  

$3,000 dollars.

OH WAIT! I forgot…she REALLY only gets 10%, because if she works for an agency, they get a 5% cut to go into the general coffers to keep the agency afloat! So she gets $2,000 bucks.  

For one book.

One.

 And she probably lives in NYC.  $2,000 don’t go too far in New York. (Of course this doesn’t count royalties…but they come later…if you sell out your advance.)

So imagine how many freaking books she’s going to have to sell JUST TO GET BY!

Sheesh. They don’t make bookoos of money.  So why then, do they do this THANKLESS, LIFE FORCE DRAINING job?   Think about it. How would you like to have to read hundreds of queries a week? Deal with asshole writers who send you hate mail after a rejection?  Deal with the prima dona writers you already have who are late on their current novel?  Deal with publishers who change things multiple times during the process, and jack the cover up three or four times? Read over mindless legalese to work out the best deals for your writers? Have to take the freaking subway or bus to and from home and sit next to people who smell like rotten mayonaise?  Work 80 hour weeks because you have to read (NOT FOR PLEASURE) your writer’s latest book, twenty partials that you’ve promised to respond by in two weeks, three fulls you promised to respond to in one month, and–oh wait—more EFFING query letters? How would you like that?

Yeah, it’s a shit deal, no matter how you look at it.  And these people do it for the love of the BOOK. For love of the PRINTED WORD. They don’t do it to get rich. They do it because they LOVE good stories.  They get shit from the writers, they get shit from the publishers, and shit from just trying to eek out a living.  When’s the last time you worked an 80 hour week (or more)?

So people–for the love of Pete–stop slamming on agents!  They have a shit, thankless job, and catch hell from everyone around them for it. Stop it.  (Of course, their clients love them, but that’s a whole other column…of which I hope to write some day)

So once and for all, if you want an agent to represent you, then YOU need to write a compelling story. YOU need to write a kick ass query letter. YOU need to do the homework to see what agent reps what you write. YOU need to go to the conferences. 

You see, it’s not about the agents. It’s about YOU.  It never was about the agents.

<Steps slowly down from pedestal soapbox>

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Posted in: Writing