How not to get an agent
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Today I’m going to tell you how a writer did everything wrong…and acquired an agent. Do not, I repeat, do not try this at home and expect the same results.
I’m writing this blog post because sometimes we all become so caught up in the rules that might lead to finding an agent that we forget the most important element of all: when the agent’s gut says, “This is the one I’ve been looking for.” That’s what this story is about.
The rules that were broken
1. Read the agent’s website for how to submit (query first, submit only what’s requested, submit as directed via email or snail mail).
This writer’s package was sent via the postal system, while Books & Such agents like email queries. This wasn’t a query but a proposal and entire manuscript. The material looked like a hodge-podge of pages. The packet was sent to Wendy, who picked it up at the postal box. (While we want email submissions sent to us, we respect every writer’s efforts and look at even those submitted contrary to our specification.) Since Wendy was waiting in the car while her husband ran into the bank, she opened the packet and started to read.
2. Know the word count for your chosen genre or category. While I remained on the phone, Wendy took a closer look at the manuscript. The word count was 10,000 words. She could tell the writing wasn’t as strong as necessary. We both sighed that such a gripping story hadn’t been handled as it needed to be.
Still…I couldn’t stop thinking about the visceral response we both had to the essence of the story.
The next day, a Saturday, I was still thinking about it. So I phoned Wendy. “There’s something in that submission. You should take a closer look at it.” Wendy replied, “I can tell it’s not ready, and I don’t have the time or energy to work with the writer to get it there. If you want to take it, I’ll pass it on to you.”
3. Don’t volunteer why others have turned the project down. In the proposal, the writer volunteered that he had attended a number of writing conferences and had been told that he: 1) lacked a platform; 2) was not a strong writer; 3) should self-publish the piece. Offering an agent a list of reasons to join everyone else in turning down the project might not be the best strategy. In addition to those concerns, by the time I finished reading his submission, I also noted that he lacked the skill to write a publishable manuscript. Oh, dear, not exactly the perfect client.
4. Do not rely on one resource to learn how to approach an editor or agent. The writer had read Michael Hyatt’s book on how to write a proposal. Mike’s book is excellent, but the writer assumed that reading a book on the matter made him fully knowledgeable on how to proceed and capable of following the steps provided. In actuality, neither of those conditions proved true. The proposal was pretty much a jumble. However, the writer kept citing Mike’s book as the determinant factor in how the proposal ended up being what it was.
The reasons it didn’t matter the rules were broken
Despite all of these missteps, I decided to represent the writer. Why? Pretty much because Wendy and I cried.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t put on my business hat and think through that the writer was writing about a topic (heaven) that has put many books on the New York Times best-seller list. And he was looking at heaven from a fresh angle. I also knew that having a platform wasn’t what would sell this book; it would sell because of the subject and because of the story’s emotional pull.
Those factors were important, but I realized I had to be confident that the writer was willing to have a professional collaborator take his story and tell it in all its power and glory. Several phone calls with the writer later, I felt sure he would be relieved to hand the story over to someone else.
That was several months ago. This week I’m finalizing negotiations on a contract with a major publisher who has offered a nice sum to produce the story. You know, the story that didn’t get published because the writer broke pretty much every rule in his search to find an agent.
What does this blog post suggest to you is crucial in finding an agent?
In what ways does this story encourage you?
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