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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Agent Panel: Quit Obsessing

Every time I go to one of these "How to Get an Agent" panel discussions, I always end up feeling a bit like this:

The experience is often a bit like that child psychology class I took in college where I got a whole semester of "101 ways you WILL ruin your child's life before it's even born."  The only difference here is that instead of ruining your child's life, you're destroying your book before it's even published.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

The agent panel at the Writer's Digest Conference taught me that finding an agent boils down to 3 principles:
  • Do Your Homework
  • Don't Be Stupid
  • Quit Obsessing
Here are a few priceless gems I learned from that panel discussion.  (By the way, the amazing agents on this panel were: Janet Reid, Donald Maass, Jud Laghi, Mary Kole and Chuck Sambuchino as moderator.)  Now for the pearls of wisdom.

Do Your Homework.  This includes obvious things like researching the agents before querying or knowing the word count parameters for your genre or target age group.  It also means finishing the book before you query (for fiction and memoir) and sending material to the agent the way he or she wants to get it (i.e. don't snail mail if he asks for email, don't send an attachment if he prefers pages in the email text).

Don't Be Stupid.  There are no-brainers like: "don't send naked pictures with your query" (do people actually do that?) and "don't make claims about your internet presence if you don't have the numbers to back it up" (i.e. don't lie).  But some mistakes they mentioned were also more subtle.  For example: if you have an editor at a publishing house who's already looking at your work, let the agent know.

Notice how there is a significant correlation between this principle and the previous one.  In short, if you do your homework and use common sense you will seriously cut down your chances of doing something incredibly stupid.  And that's a good thing.


Quit Obsessing.  This was probably the principle that most made an impression on me.  A few examples:
  1. Of course you want to know what the word count parameters are for your genre but don't obsess if your book lies a little outside the limits.  As Donald Maass put it: "When a book is powerful, I never hear editors comment about length."
  2. It's a good idea to have your book professionally edited, but that doesn't mean you have to shell out a gazillion dollars to do it.  A couple of insightful beta-readers can be just as professional.
  3. Don't apologize for not having credentials.  Most authors have had one book that came before they had "credentials."  It's called a first book.
  4. As for genre, you worry about all those fancy marketing terms like "commercial women's fiction" (stuff for women that sells) but in the end, it's about figuring out where your book will find a home in the book store.  And in the words of Donald Maass: "Genre is a 20th century concept."  Considering how book retail is changing, I think he may have a point.  In other words, don't panic if your book falls outside the genre pigeonholes.
    In the end, these three principles of querying are just a tiny slice of the pie, because what really matters is the writing.  As Janet Reid said: "Write beautifully and send the query."

    I don't know about you, but that makes me feel a lot better.

    21 comments:

    Stina Lindenblatt said...

    The toughest thing I find is spending a hour researching the agent, and receiving a form rejection (if anything at all). Despite what your research told you, the agent wasn't into your concept (or whatever). You might as well have just queried the agent cold. ;)

    Natasha said...

    Good informative post. Thanks! Sounds like a fabulous panel discussion as well...

    M Pax said...

    It's an art unto itself.

    Ghenet said...

    Tehe, iggi's obsessing face is funny :)

    I didn't make it to this panel so thanks for recapping it!

    Jenn said...

    Thanks for the post--makes me feel better too.

    Haha, Iggi's obsessing face reminds me of someone eating something sour. Love it!

    Samantha Blackwell said...

    Thanks for the post. It's good to know that I'm already doing all I can...now I just need is to get published!

    gabi said...

    Thanks all for the great comments. Glad to hear you found the post helpful!

    Stina makes an excellent point. It can be so frustrating to spend tons of time doing the homework part only to get a form rejection. I think every writer's been in that boat at some point and it stinks.

    But I've found that every hour I've spent making myself prepared eventually pays off somewhere else because I'm learning from the process. Sure, it doesn't make the rejection any less painful but at least I know it's not for nothing.

    Andrew Rosenberg said...

    Great post.
    Querying seems so random.
    As Bob Seger says,
    "I've got so much more to think about
    Deadlines and commitments
    What to leave in, what to leave out."

    Which is why the response at Pitch Slam was so surprising, figured they would just sniff at pretty much everything.

    Kari Marie said...

    Wow! Very informative post! Thank you.

    PS I love your blog. The little drawings make me smile every time.

    Julie Musil said...

    This post was awesome! I try not to obsess over the little things, but I don't want to do something wrong. Researching does make a huge difference. Just a little homework could save us all a lot of trouble. Thanks for the great information!

    HowLynnTime said...

    Yes, I love this. We get so caught up in what we are doing wrong we may be tossing what we have done right!

    Dawn Simon said...

    Excellent post! I would have loved to have gone to the Writer's Digest Conference!

    I love the points you make. People have to remember agents are human beings, just like us. Also, rejection truly is nothing personal.

    Thanks for sharing!

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