Posted by Lynne Griffin
It's been a while since I wrote anything about taking the illustrious trip to the place we here at the writers' group fondly call, agent city. A place you dare not go, but must, if you are to be published with any of the big six. Certainly searching out the right agent for you is no easy task, but a recent article by Paige Wheeler on the terrific new blog hosted by agents at Folio Literary Management reminded me it all comes down to communication.
I have a secret. I had an agent before I landed my dream agent. I won't say who, but suffice it to say, we didn't work out. I was naive and held her up on a pedestal. Two years and two projects later, I still trembled when I dialed the phone to ask her where my manuscript was, where it stood, was it viable?
To her credit, she got me into a total of five editorial meetings. Though even with strong interest from the publisher, which included editor phone meetings, she couldn't seal the deal. Believe it or not, I wanted to think it was me. Maybe my parenting book was too optimistic, too saccharin. What was my hook? Where was my platform? If it was something I lacked, I could fix it. I would rewrite, rework, retool.
Then I went to New York for business and orchestrated a dinner meeting. I finally met my agent face-to-face. Our conversation was awkward, stilted and when I walked out of The Tavern Jane, I didn't feel any better having met her. I didn't feel she could speak to my work, my writing, my passion. It occurred to me that if I felt this way, then of course editors would too. Two weeks later, I sent a certified letter informing her it was time to part company. In a way, I was thankful we hadn't landed a deal, because we would've been tied to each other for the life of a book.
Clean slate. A wealth of possibilities. I was afraid. Wasn't an agent on the phone, worth hundreds on the Internet? Amy, Lisa and Hannah bolstered me; they agreed, I should trust my instincts. My husband loved my new spin on my nonfiction proposal; my champion urged me to move forward.
When a sixty page proposal and three sample chapters were done, I started my list. You know, the one you compile after spending hours perusing Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery.com and every other site you can find sharing agent details, like who represents what you write and who has a record of selling projects like yours. I had eight on my list. All accepted e-queries. I was tired of waiting.
My fastest response time was four minutes. I sent my query on a Saturday, and said agent was getting caught up on email. My slowest response time? The clock is still ticking on one agent, and I sent my queries out back in February 2006. In short order, I had six requests for fulls. One week later I'd scheduled four face-to-face meetings--yes, I went to New York. I refused to sign again with someone I hadn't met and didn't have a real feel for, as a professional and as a person. Four offers of representation later, I made an agreement with my present agent. She bowled me over then, and the truth is she still does, with the way she conducts business and how much she cares about my career.
The reason our relationship works is because we communicate regularly. Everything from manuscript feedback sessions, to cursory emails sharing news. I never call her unless it's important, but I keep her updated with things on my end, whenever there's something noteworthy to share. She understands my career goals, and the kind of writer I want to be. She neither pushes trends on me, nor does she tell me my work is fantastic, when it isn't. She holds me to a bar as high or higher than the one I've set for myself.
I have no delusions that our relationship will last a lifetime--though in all honesty, I hope it does. What matters, for me, is that our goals remain compatible, our communication remain open, honesty and frequent, and that we continue to see eye-to-eye on the trajectory of my career.
If you're preparing for a trip to agent city, be sure you know what you're looking for. Last year, the wonderful Eve Bridburg, founder of Grub Street and an agent at the marvelous Zachary, Schuster and Harmsworth shared her thoughts about connecting with agents.
My best advice is to do your homework; read, read, read. And when you're absolutely sure you're ready, take the trip. Be true to yourself, and you'll get there.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Posted by Lynne Griffin