Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Search for an Agent-Part 1

So there I was, in August of 2006, with a finished manuscript on my hands. It was my second novel, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think it was the cat’s pajamas. I’d been working daily on the novel form for almost ten years--whether I was in the band or working a day job or hardly working at all--and I felt that, with Ghost Notes, I’d climbed the mountain.

Of course, I loved and still love Stuck Outside of Phoenix, but first novels are inherently as much about learning to write a novel as they are about the novel itself. Moreover, I had my eye on Ghost Notes as I was writing Stuck. I knew I had something bigger and better coming down the pipe, and writing Stuck was simply the first step to getting it here.

Ghost Notes came much quicker than Stuck. The narrative arc was essentially done after the first draft, and the characters were more fully formed from the onset. The revisions were tough, but revisions are always tough. It took six and a half years of mostly daily writing to finish Stuck. I finished Ghost Notes in three and a half.

Then came the tricky part, getting Ghost Notes published.

I started with three agents. (In modern trade fiction, agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing world. To get your novel published traditionally, fiction writers either have to get an agent or they have to know somebody. I don’t know anybody.) We’ll call these three agents Agents A, B, and C.

Agent C was an agent who’d read Stuck back in the day and commented favorably on it, but in the end she didn’t take the book on.

Agent B was a colleague of a respected writer friend of mine.

Agent A was my dream agent, one who’d read and commented very favorably on Stuck, and who’d offered to read my next manuscript as soon as it was done. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I wrote Ghost Notes with Agent A in mind.

On August 14, 2006, I sent out query letters to all three agents, as directed by their submissions guidelines.

I was thrilled to get a request for the whole manuscript--which was then called Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven--from Agent B, the friend of a friend. This agent read the ms almost immediately and responded at length about it, which is a very cool thing. (Almost all responses from agents are form letters.) She liked much of the book, but in the end she suggested I rewrite it and focus more on a supporting character she liked very much. While I also liked the supporting character--as the sequel to Ghost Notes will attest--I wasn’t ready to dismantle three years of work because of the comments of one agent. I thanked her and moved on.

Two weeks later, I received a personal response from Agent A, dream agent. This agent reiterated his appreciation of Stuck, but he said there was no way, in the current fiction market, he could take on any rock fiction, as it would be “next to impossible” to sell. This agent said he wanted to make sure I didn’t think his rejection was a reflection of my writing, which he remembered liking, but rather a reflection of my book’s subject matter.

While I appreciated the compliment, I was disappointed by the idea that my book would be next to impossible to sell. Of course I knew, High Fidelity aside, novels with rock ‘n’ roll backdrops weren’t thought of as best seller material, but I’d done my job well enough, and I’d hoped to get Agent A to read the ms and decide for himself. I wrote a follow-up email, clarifying some of the non-rock ‘n’ roll elements of the book, but to no avail.

So I was three weeks into my search, I’d queried three prime agents, and I had no takers. Still, I wasn’t panicking. I had a year to dedicate to this pursuit, and there were hundreds of agents out there who represented novels. I’d find someone.

“And what about Agent C?” you ask.

I still haven’t heard from her. If you see her, tell her to check her inbox.

Next week, the search continues.

Art

1 comment:

K said...

Now, THIS is exciting! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I, too have similar experiences with agents. Recently, at the ASU writers workshop I attended I was able to meet face to face with agents and discuss their job. It was very enlightening and I no longer dread dealing with them now that I have a better understanding.

As you have, I too have received the letter after the query which stated the subject matter isn't right for them to represent and is not a reflection of my writing. Which is very encouraging. It keeps me from getting so discouraged as to give up.

Good luck! I look forward to reading about your journey to get the right combination of an agent who is as in love with your novel as you are and one who will take it on and run with it! :-)