OK, I may be painting a target on my ass, but here goes...

Every agent's blog or website or article that I come across seems to be geared toward knocking the wind out of a writer's sails. I find myself thinking dark thoughts about agents, and am interested in hearing peoples' experiences with them.


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My experience was that the genre agents I queried didn't really get what I was up to, and the literary agents got it but didn't know what to do with it. I got very lucky with the lovely M_________, who represented a couple of friends of mine, had just started her own house and was looking for new clients. She represents a range of writers, from genre to literary to scholarly, and has gotten some huge deals for people (not for me, alas, but there's always next time). But of course it's all true--there are overwhelming numbers of manuscripts, limited numbers of agents, and very few available slots in publishers' rosters for new writers. The math is ferociously against us, so we have to write like angels and be lucky as hell.
What exactly is so discouraging on the websites?
I lucked out in that I had just been nominated for a short story Shamus award and contacted an agent about the series. There were at the time already four unsold novels. She specializes in historical novels and mysteries (though I think the ad just mentioned fiction) and was very enthusiastic about taking me on. She does not handle literary fiction, and that's causing me some problems now. I'm afraid I didn't research at all. Not recommended. But my agency has been excellent.

Anyway, don't give up.
They sound like a bunch of prima donnas! I won't read your manuscript if the font is wrong; If you don't address me correctly I won't read your letter; Don't even bother sending me your first novel; I don't have time to educate you about the publishing industry, do it yourself; Look at this poor boob, s/he has no idea what s/he's doing, har, har; etc. etc.

I'm not looking for a pal, but I can't see myself having a productive business relationship with the owner of such an attitude. Believe me, I understand that in a cut-throat business certain things have to fall by the wayside (hell, I'm a successful practitioner in one of them myself), but these people seem to be trying to drive AWAY business, not attract it.

(BTW, I.J, I just read Dragon Scroll and really liked it. I gave it four stars on my facebook bookshelf.)
Thanks, Minerva.
I have a feeling they've had to wade through a lot of crap and are trying to cut down on it. Just ignore the verbiage (except of course the font, etc business) and approach them via a short, businesslike cover letter and a one page synopsis. Do it by mail unless they invite electronic submission. Don't write if they say they're full up.
I don't think I've ever read an agent blog that was actively discouraging writers. I've read sites that actively discouraged writers who weren't ready (incomplete manuscript, no clue about how to query or proper etiquette). I've also read sites that have been starkly realistic about the publishing situation, which I know can be discouraging to many. In that case, the site does everyone a service. A writer who knows what she's up against and perseveres anyway has a chance; someone clueless, not so much.

As a recovering musician, friends sometimes ask me what they or an acquaintance of theirs ought to tell a kid who wants to make a career of music. I always say they should try to talk the kid out of it, and give them a few tips. Don't forbid it, or holler and scream about it, but try to dissuade him. If you can, he had no chance, anyway. If you can't, at least he knows what he's up against, and sincere good luck to him.

I think writing is like that in many ways. if a potential writer can be dissuaded by stark assessments of his chances, he might be doing himself a favor. if he can't, at least he knows what he's getting into.
My agent may be the exception, but she was VERY helpful in revising my first book and making sure it was market-ready, and she's been a source of encouragement and good advice ever since. She gets what I'm trying to do, both with the current books and with my broader writing career, and she's working actively to make it happen, so I have time to do what I'm good at: writing books. Do you have an agent, Dan?
OK, here's some further thoughts:

I've been bitten by the publishing bug. I want to be published. I don't really care if I make any money at it, but I'd like my book to be read by some number of people, and I'd like to be published by a 'legit' publisher because that confirms, in my mind, that the book is considered readable by people who know more about what other people read than I do.

So why don't I just query a reputable small publishing house myself? Is it because they simply won't take me seriously unless I have an agent? That, I can understand. I can't imagine that they have the staff to read every manuscript that comes over the transom. So, I figure, that's what the agent does. S/he sifts though the billions of manuscripts and selects the ones that seem readable. So why don't the agents I read about seem excited by the prospect of finding another good writer? Is it just because they read so much crap that they're jaded? Or are they, as Dan suggests, drunk with power? Or what?
Don't send to them. Ask around; see if you can get the names of a few hungry young agents who are actively building their client lists. Even in a business as tough as this one, there's no law that says you have to work with people who suck.
Not all agents handle every sort of book. They have, as a rule, a number of editors they have sold to before and they try to find books that fit that editor/publisher. Yes, you can go directly to small publishers. I intend to myself.
I love my agent, and he loves me. We've been together for 10 years, and consider ourselves a team. He's my #1 reader, he's a terrific editor, he champions my interests when necessary with my publishing house, he advises me on all aspects of the publishing business, he's smart, clever, creative, funny, responsive - he helps out with my Backspace conferences - even came to a book event I did in New York City last summer in support (and I'm by no means his biggest, best selling client) - what more could a girl ask for?

To get a glimpse of how well an agent-author relationship can work, you can check out the video excerpts from a panel on this topic at the last Backspace Writers Conference on our website - "The Agent-Author Relationship" with me, my agent, Jenny Bent, and her author, Liz Rosenberg.

I know Liz--how's she doing?
Liz is marvelous - this was the first I'd met her, but I really enjoyed her perspective - she's very gracious and talented, and has a lovely, succinct way of putting things that the audience really enjoyed.

Nice that you know her - proving once again that publishing is a VERY small world!


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