Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finding an agent

To be clear right off the bat, this is not instructions on how to find a literary agent, or the steps I took to find my agent, because I never found one.  Or, I found several, but none ever wanted to read my manuscript, let alone represent me.  But these are the steps I took in my attempt nonetheless, and I think a lot of other writers will relate.

In 2008, I purchased the latest edition of Novel and Short Stories Writer's Market.  I went through the entire section of agents, highlighted those that might be interested in my book, and began writing queries.  I looked up all the information I could find on how to write the best query letters.  I paid close attention to what each agent wanted, because they all had different requirements.  Some accepted queries via email, some did not and had to be sent through snail mail.  Total, I sent to 15 agents.  Total rejections: 14.  One I never heard back from.

After that, I was discouraged.  I didn't want to give up exactly, but I was seriously questioning the quality of my work and I took a break.  In the next couple of years, I finished grad school and got married, and I edited my manuscript a few times but never made any serious changes.  And in 2010, I tried again.

Again, I used the Writer's Market book, and again I wrote and rewrote my query letter according to the different standards each agent required.  More agents accepted e-queries this time, which was thankfully easier and cheaper.  However I also noticed this time that the majority said specifically that if I did not hear back from them, then the answer was a no.  They wouldn't be sending a courtesy rejection letter.  Total again, I sent to 15 agents, all different than my first round.  Total rejections: 6.  The other 9 I never heard back from.

And so ended my search for an agent.  Typing it out like this, it seems like I didn't try very hard.  30 agents, big deal; surely I could have found more to try.  And probably I could.  But finding agents who specifically represent young adult fantasy novels and who are accepting queries from unpublished authors is more difficult than it sounds.  And navigating all the different requirements of each, which usually I wouldn't mind and almost treat as a challenge, is time-consuming, especially when you're at the point of expecting either no reply at all or a short, canned-response rejection for your efforts.

Though I had read and been told over and over again that finding an agent was the only way to be reputably published, and that self-publishing was for terrible, unreadable writers who couldn't take a hint... I decided that I was tired of having this finished manuscript sit dormant on my computer.  I read that it was easy to publish on Kindle, so, I decided to go for it. 

In my next entry, I'll detail the steps I took to do so.


  1. Shannon,
    You seem to have followed the "rules" of the query process (doing your homework on how to write a query letter and making sure you're sending it to the right agent). As you yourself admitted, you haven't queried many agents yet. Wait until you double that figure before considering another strategy. You should look again at your writing. Do you belong to a critique group? That can be an invaluable way to gain constructive help (without charge!). Alternatively, you may wish to splurge on a professional critique. You may also consider editorial help. And you could try directly querying publisher's editors who accept unsolicited queries. In terms of vanity presses, I agree with those who lament the overwhelming amount of bad writing you find there. And of course self-publishers are responsible for all printing and marketing expenses, along with having to do their own marketing - a full-time job. I'd stay away from self-publishing until other options are exhausted.

    I wish you every success with your book battle.

  2. Thanks Maggie!

    Unfortunately I've already very recently gone the self-publishing route. :-s So... that ship has sailed. I am willing to do all the marketing and such, so at least I'm not jumping in completely blind. But, I am still very interested, for my sake and others, in other strategies and ideas. Is waiting until after around 60 queries a good judge of numbers for anyone looking for an agent? Where are the best places to find agents who represent particular genres? I had not come across any publishers who accepted unsolicited queries; where would they be found?

    Thanks again; I appreciate the comments.

  3. PS- I have heard of people finding an agent after self-publishing a successful book, though I would imagine that doesn't happen very often. Do you know of anyone who has gone this route?

  4. Torberta Turchin looks like an interesting book. I don't know of any agents myself but keep at it. I think you're doing the right thing by getting it out there as an ebook. Check out and if you haven't already. They're good places for authors to promote (goodreads) and make contacts with other authors and publishing industry people (jacketflap).

  5. Thank you! is a great site; I didn't have an account myself until today though, so thanks for the suggestion. I'd never heard of, but I've set up an account there as well. I'll have to check it out more later, but it looks like a good resource. Thanks again!


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