15 June 2007

The Circle of (Literary) Life

It's not easy finding a (literary) agent. On the path towards being a published author, a few people are lucky enough to be contacted directly by a publisher, or know someone directly at a publishing house, but otherwise it's all about submitting a manuscript and hoping for the best. Ever submitted manuscripts to a publisher before? Good luck hearing back from them. It's like mass emailing companies to find a job. It'll get to the point where you're just praying for a rejection letter to acknowledge that someone looked at your work.

Here's where your agent steps in. A (good) agent will know the book industry, they'll know which publishers are more amicable to certain types of books, they'll have a Rolodex full of contacts and a network of publishers to sell your book to. On top of that, your agent can offer insightful advice on shaping your manuscript, they can find you a good editor, they can find other avenues for your work to be shared to the world. After they get you signed for that elusive book deal, they'll also work with you on a marketing strategy and things you could be doing to increase sales.

For all this, your agent receives a tiny percentage of your pay. Trust me, agents are way underpaid. Way.

An agent sounds great right? But how does one go about finding an agent? In my case, I got lucky, incredibly lucky. Full Circle Literary, run by Lilly and Stefanie, like my work, they do everything for me, and offer me not only writing advice but also keep an eye out for projects that might fit my style. On top of that, they double as my legal representation for contract negotiations and everything else under the sun. They really are a full service agency (read their blog) and I got supremely lucky having them find me. I didn't have to seek them out in a direct way, thus, I'm totally unfamiliar with the process of acquiring an agent, and I didn't quite realize (like really realize) how much of an uphill battle it can be.

For many aspiring authors, the search for an agent is as difficult as getting a book published. Finding an agent who believes in you is half the battle because literary agents want to represent quality work that they can get behind and sell. A good agent (I keep saying "good," but there really is a huge difference between good and bad agents) will be able to place your manuscript in the right hands -- and those hands will, at least, take a closer look at the manuscript than if you were just some unrepresented Joe Nobody off the street. Some publishers won't even look at an unrepresented manuscript. At all. Hello shredder.

At the Ann Arbor Book Festival we attended, Lilly gave an excellent talk about pitching your work to an agent. Afterwards, there was a pitch session where prospective authors were given five minutes to give their pitch for a book. Five minutes. That's three minutes of pitching, and two minutes of American Idol-style verbal evaluations. You generally have less time than that to sell your idea to an agent. It's hard work to find an agent and I know that I'd never even have the gumption to be a writer without an amazing agency by my side -- or actually, dragging me along and being my cheerleaders the whole way. Thank you Full Circle!