Even though I’ve been writing on and off since High School, I’m coming up on the three year mark of when I started writing “for realz”. In other words, when I decided I was going to pursue publication. I’m not saying I know everything now…far from it. But there are things I’ve learned over the past three years that I thought I could share. Since most of you have been in the business as long or longer than I have, I’m sure this series of posts will feel as maddeningly unhelpful as my Monday posts do, but maybe it will be helpful to someone. (btw, this is why I normally don’t give advice or claim to know anything on my blog—because I feel the need to write a paragraph of disclaimers about how I really don’t know anything and how you probably shouldn’t listen to me) So, here goes, my first post on ‘what I wish I had known’ three years ago.
Work pays off. Three years ago agents seemed like these mysterious, unreachable creatures who if I was lucky enough, one day I might be able to charm. Now, I realize how untrue that is. This business isn’t a magical creature that can only be tamed with luck. Putting yourself out there, learning all you can, meeting other writers, essentially immersing yourself in this world will all pay off in the end. And contrary to how it might feel when you’re in The Query War Zone, agents aren’t the enemy waiting to sniper you from their perch on the high tower. Now that I have an agent, I realize they don’t spend all day reading query letters and plotting how to ruin the lives of aspiring writers. They really do want you to succeed. That's not to say those who have agents have worked harder than those who don't, obviously that's not the case. I have a lot of good friends who have been working really hard for just as long as I have and it hasn't happened for them yet. But I do believe that it will. So don't give up.
Agents are real people. Sometimes because we communicate with them in such a distant, formal way, it feels like they’re the gatekeepers to the publishing world and if we don’t say things just right, they’ll lock us out forever. But I’ve had several friends who after doing some major edits have written to agents who had partials and fulls and admitted that their manuscript wasn’t perfect and that they have taken the advice of other agents and writers and fixed things. What? Someone admitted to being rejected by other agents to current agents looking at their work? Oh no! That’s suicide, right? No, it’s not. In this case, the agents asked for the more recent version. Because they know that manuscripts aren’t perfect and I think if they know you’re willing to take criticism and improve they know you’re not a diva about your work. So talk to them like they’re real people, be honest with them.
Perspective. We should be honest with them, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t be polite and courteous to agents. They belong to a network and word can get around fast. Even though my agent has her own agency, she shares office space with a few other agents and an editor that also have their own agencies. So in her case, she would just have to talk really loud to share a story about a writer being a jerk with at least five other people. The whole reason you’re looking for an agent is because of their connections. So don’t let them use their connections against you by treating them badly if they reject you.
Agents are smart. They know this business. If you get a lot of agents telling you the same thing about your work, maybe an edit is in order. It’s so easy to say, “this is such a subjective industry” (and it is, I’m not denying that). But, if everyone is telling you something, maybe it has merit.
What about you? What have you learned about agents since you started your journey?