Ah, the long and winding road to agent representation. And people think running for President is tough?
A little background: my first two novels Autumn Colors and In Her Mother’s Shoes, were self-published because of my inability/failure to secure an agent, the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. I made a lot of mistakes with those first two, and as a result wallpapered my office with rejections (back when all agents replied, even if it was just that curt “not for me”- maybe the not responding is kinder, since it’s not so in your face). In those agent searches, I didn’t really search and study. I just sent letters to everybody. Big mistake #1. I didn’t target agents whose clients and websites indicated interest in the kind of novels I write (women’s fiction).
So, as I neared the end of Gram & Me, I began to put a more sophisticated search process into action.
First, I studied the “experts” perspectives on what makes a good query. There are many resources out there, from webinars to blogs to articles on agent websites, and more. Once you start looking for them, you might well be buried by the volume out there.
Meanwhile, I heeded the experts’ advice on importance of developing a professional website, maintaining a branded blog, and becoming more active on social media. It’s been a tremendous learning curve, and I’m still not savvy, but I’m getting there and ever-aspiring!
Second, I lined up early readers. These were carefully selected individuals who were avid readers and not afraid to tell me the truth. It was eye-opening in a thoroughly useful way, if sometimes painful.
I also sent the completed manuscript off to a professional editor. I have had Gram & Me reviewed and critiqued numerous times throughout its writing–by writing instructors, writing groups, and experts in the area of what makes a novel work. It sometimes was hard to swallow what they told me, but I “did it my way” with previous novels and look where it got me! This final edit, hopefully, will result in a polished version that holds together and flows smoothly.
Once the manuscript was complete, I knew it would be about a month before the edits would be sent back to me. So I began the long and time-consuming process of identifying the agents. Then I studied them: their websites, their blogs, their tweets, their wish lists, their clients and their recent sales. I compared what appeared in different sources: Writers Market, Query Tracker, Publishers Marketplace (yes, I sprung for a subscription-ouch$$$). And I paid attention to what they want in their queries. I paid attention to nuances in what I learned so I could incorporate whatever might tip the scales in my query-you have to get past the query before the actual manuscript might be read. I spent-no exaggeration-8+ hours daily for the last two weeks, studying and practicing query options as if I were studying for the Bar exam. And I’m not done.
Over the past four days, I began incorporating everything I learned into queries targeting the agents who ended up on my “final” list. I had started with over 1000, easily peeled away over 500, and then focused on what features and characteristics would be best matches. To the extent possible, I included what I could identify as personality traits that would be a good fit for my own traits, positive and negative. I pared the “A” list down to 40 agents, 38 women, 2 men. (There aren’t a lot of male agents who list “women’s fiction” in their wish lists.) If, after all my studying, this doesn’t yield success, I’ll begin the same process for my “B” list.
I spent almost one entire day individualizing content and format of any information allowed either as embedded in the query email or as (rare) attachments. One job that took nearly an hour, thanks to my very pokey printer/scanner and a learning curve, was turning a Word document into a PDF for the one agent who preferred that. Note, her site said it was “preferred” not mandatory. But there was no way I was not aiming for perfection!
As of when I put that process on hold for today’s activities (preparing this post, voting in the NY primary, a stop at Starbucks, and an overdue visit to the gym), I was up to the S’s on my list-six more to go. Along the way, I’ve created no fewer than 35 distinct versions of my baseline query letter and created packages targeting what each agent says they want in a query-no more, no less. I’ve created files for each agent so far, with the query package ready to go. I expect to complete the final six after today’s journey to the outside world. Then I wait-I don’t dare send off the queries before I have the final edits on my manuscript, just in case someone is blown away enough by my query to request the manuscript immediately–I can dream, can’t I :-)? I expect to receive that within two weeks.
Meanwhile, I’ll maintain a positive attitude, knowing I’ve done everything I can do to make my novel and me, as an author, appeal to my chosen agents. When all systems are “go”, I will look forward to clicking “send”.
And then sit back and wait. Well, not exactly. Because I’ve already begun work on Lilies of the Valley, my next novel. What can I say? Writing is in my blood, whether or not traditional publishing is in my future.