What does a lit agent want, for chrissakes!

Let's make the assumption that I have some talent in writing. Total strangers have read my books and have gone out of their way to contact me and tell me I'm not bad. . .so there is some truth in the statement.

And let's assume I write detective novels---which, by the way, I do. So here's the qustion; Why can't I convince a good--reputable--agency that I'm qualified enough to be represented?

We all have read good writers. And we've had the unfortunate luck in our lives to run across authors who's work, in our opinions, is just atrocious. Badly written, badly plotted, the worst of the worst. They are, nevertheless, in print. And selling quite well.

And you're not.


What set of magical bones do I have to toss up into the air? What roll of the dice do I have to come up six times in a row before an agent actually finds my stuff exciting enough to read?

Got any ideas?

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Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 14, 2009 at 1:16pm
Oops. That's Christopher Paolini.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 14, 2009 at 1:14pm
Good point, Kathleen. A similiar story concerns Christopher Paiolini, author of the Inheritance series in Fantasy. He came out as self-published--and then had the fortune of having his book read by a big time writer, who in turn, convinced his big-time publisher to take Paolini on. End result is Paolini's books are in the Top 10 NYT bestseller's list.

There's hope. . . but it's damn slim these days.
Comment by Kathleen M Puckett on February 14, 2009 at 1:08pm
I think we may all be underestimating the panic in the publishing industry right now. Simply put, agents spend their time trying to intuit from publisher's reps with whom they're lunching or drinking, and then getting feedback from each other - a total feedback loop. They miss a LOT of quality this way. Case in point: there was an article in TIME recently about the (originally self-published - on iUniverse) book "Still Alice." The exhausted author had pitched many dozens of agents and some fewer publishers and finally despaired of being taken seriously, despite the fact that her topic was an absorbing story about a woman with Alzheimer's. Now, the literary community (elite) should have known that was a hot topic - but no one bit. Until the author sold copies out of the trunk of her car, her book started getting independent buzz on the Web, and voila: Simon and Schuster gave her six figures for it last year (a year after she'd published it herself). It hit the top 10 on the NYT booklist. So: there's a panic in publishing park, and we shouldn't expect rational behavior from those who are part of it.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 10, 2009 at 8:27am
I.J. thanks for the tips. And the reasons why. As to writing for other venues, I'm not thrilled at that thought. It's like asking a plumber to become a diesel mechanic. Both work with their hands, so the switch should be easy, right? Not really. To be honest, I really doubt winning awards and going back to being a newspaper reporter is any more a guarantee for success as an author, than just setting down and writing the best damn novel you can right. Yes, I'm sure others have gone that right and have succeeded. But the overall odds of that route succeeding are probably the same as doing it another way.

Jon--I know what you are saying. I have had agents who represented me--for one year and then threw up their hands and said "The market is really poor in this genre this year." Now--if I wanted to write a confessional saying that (as I friend of mine threatened to do in his desire to get published ) that I was a vampire-lesbian who hated the smell of humans--then I might have something!

Dana, I think most agents work on one thing; the smell of money. And when it gets to that point, forget everything else. Go only for the money.
Comment by Dana King on February 10, 2009 at 12:45am
I agree with both Ingrid and Jon. Even after getting an agent--which I have--there's no guarantee they'll advocate a book for you. Last year my agent declined to submit a book I had written because she thought there was no market for a multi-POV, organized crime-oriented book. She had no objection to the writing, it was at least as well written as the book she's trying to sell, but she passed on it just the same.
Comment by Jon Loomis on February 10, 2009 at 12:38am
It took me ten months to find an agent and three months to make a sale. I got rejected much more often by agents than publishers. Agents seem to be driven largely by a sense of their own taste--if they don't love it, how can they sell it?--and a sense of what's going on in the industry at the moment. If memoir is hot, they read memoir with extra attentiveness, etc. I'm not sure classic detective fiction is "it" right now, so it might be a hard sell. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but it might take awhile.
Comment by I. J. Parker on February 10, 2009 at 12:17am
Yes. There are lots of answers why agents aren't biting. They may not handle your type of novel. They may have been told by their contacts at the publishing houses that this sort of book is not selling well, or that they already have a number of authors doing the same thing. They may have been told that nobody is buying anything because of the economic crunch. The agent may have overload of clients already.
Now what to do about it: Try to get some credentials. In other words write for other venues and try for an award. Then return into battle when you have something to make you stand out from the crowd.

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