The search continues

Since October I've been looking for a new agent. I'm not going into detail here, though if you're a prospective new agent I can fill you in. I promise there's nothing scandalous. I am not a psycho hose beast.

Searching for an agent is an expedient way to wither your soul. It involves a lot of people telling you no. Sometimes it's a generic "Dear Author" letter. Sometimes it's an implied no, this conclusion being reached after four months of silence.

Sometimes--and this is uniquely painful--it's an agent writing back in response to your query, or your partial submission, or your full submission, with the apology that the book is really great but Urban Fantasy just isn't selling right now.

 But my book is different. Really! If you'll just let me explain... Hey! Where are you going?

But my book is different. Really! If you'll just let me explain... Hey! Where are you going?

Dear prospective agents, if you're reading this, let's talk. Give me five minutes to convince you that I can make a splash in a saturated market.

I'll update here again if--

*clears throat*

--I'll update here again when I have secured a new literary agent.

High-level noodling

My nom-de-real-life frequently reminds me that she's already published one book and is under contract to write another. This would be impressive if anyone cared.

She writes boring articles related to her boring job as a librarian, and the book she wrote--also boring--is not something you've ever heard of. It was never meant to be consumed by a popular audience.

For academics and others who write technical or professional literature, the barrier to publication is fairly low. First you pitch an idea to the press, and if they like it, you go about writing the book, already knowing that it will have a home.

What I am trying to do is much more difficult. With popular fiction, you write the book first, even though probably no one will ever want to publish it. It's depressing as hell but it's the statistical truth: most novel manuscripts never get published.

If you want to be not just published but published by one of the big five (HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, or Hachette), you should paint landscapes or tutor children or develop alcoholism, whatever it takes to distract yourself from the slow realization that your dreams have failed.

There is a very small number of people who do break in to the big five, but again: statistically, you won't be one of them. Sorry.

If you refuse to listen to reason--if you are resolved to die on this particular hill--then you attempt to get a literary agent, because otherwise you can't even get your foot in the door with the big boys.

This is an arduous process in itself, but to cut to the chase: I got an agent. I got an awesome agent. I got an awesome agent and three months ago I signed with him.

Then nothing happened.

This was by design. I explained that I was moving and wouldn't have time to work on the manuscript. 

A common nugget of writerly advice is to write every day, even if it's only for a little bit. "Make the time," they'll tell you. "Don't make excuses. You have to sacrifice if you want to be a writer, you know."

I sort of want to push them off the balcony of my new house, but I'm sure they mean well.

My agent completely understood that my time would be consumed by little tiny things like maintaining a full-time faculty job and buying a house with a sufficiently high balcony. He gave me plenty of time and space to move and settle and unpack.

Actually I still have a couple of boxes to unpack but anyway.

Yesterday my agent sent me his proposed revisions. These are the changes he recommends to make my manuscript as attractive as possible to the five-count'em-five publishers we'll be courting. 

In other words, I just got a hell of a lot of free professional editing.

 Noodling.

Noodling.

It's wonderful feedback. I was not sure what to expect when my agent told me he was working on some high-level noodling, but it turns out he was looking at the big picture. It's like he wrote a college essay on my book, only without the stuffy writing. He identified themes and character motivations and conflicts, and told me where they were strong and where they needed extra help.

So that's my project for the next few weeks, polishing this manuscript until it glows, preferably in the dark.

You'll have to ask my agent

A literary agent has offered to represent my first novel, WITCH WAY. This is significant, because without an agent, my novel will remain unread and unloved, languishing forever in a dusty Dropbox folder.

 Not this type of agent.

Not this type of agent.

In a stunning display of maturity, I did not respond to the offer with "YES OKAY REPRESENT ME PLEASE. TAKE MY NOVEL. TAKE IT! TAKE MY NOVEL AND ALSO HERE IS MY FIRSTBORN! I DO NOT HAVE A FIRSTBORN BUT I WILL MAKE ONE SPECIALLY FOR YOU!"

Though I was tempted.

The thing is, my manuscript is sitting with two other literary agents. Out of professional courtesy I owe them a week to make their decisions. One or both of them might choose to offer me representation, too. If they do, then I get to pick whichever one suits me best.

If they decline, that's okay, too, because I'll still have a literary agent, who I quite enjoyed talking with.

Updates to follow next week, after I know which one I'm going with.

Hexy Lady

I have been silent for several months. This is not my fault. My nom de real life decided to pack her bags and move halfway across the country, without pausing to consider how a move of 850 miles might inconvenience me.

Fortunately I was able to influence her into relocating to a strategically valuable destination. My car now serves as a marketing tool, for instance:

 I'm not a witch, but my protagonist is.

I'm not a witch, but my protagonist is.

That's Lucy's license plate, completely accurate, even down to the state. Free publicity, every time I drive.

Our new home is ideally located for my research. We are near to Cherokee, Lucy's ancestral homeland on her mother's side, and Asheville, the setting of Lucy's first book, Witch Way.

Speaking of: in response to my queries, three literary agents have now asked to see my manuscript. That's not too shabby. According to the best stats I could find, literary agents solicit manuscripts in response to no more than four percent of the queries they receive.

Agents then offer representation to less than one percent of those manuscripts, but I'd rather not think about those odds just now.

Instead I will be grateful that I am now in the same time zone as New York City, the ancestral homeland of literary agents. There will be no confusing time adjustments, should one of those agents decide my manuscript makes the cutoff. 

Literary agents

Good news: a literary agent asked to see my manuscript. I obliged her because I am considerate like that.

You don't need a literary agent if you plan to self-publish. All you need is money and a rudimentary grasp of the written language, and honestly some people treat that second requirement as more of a suggestion. 

You can usually skip the agent if you plan to publish with a small or academic press, particularly if your book is nonfiction. Even some of the medium-to-largish presses will accept un-agented manuscripts, though looking through the slush pile is usually a low priority. It could be months before they get around to reading it.

If you have written the best novel in the history of Western civilization--Crime and Punishment (but more thoughtful) mixed with Jane Eyre (but more romantic) mixed with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (but funnier)--you will die in obscurity, impoverished and alone, or at any rate you won't get published by the Big Five.

 This is what happens if you don't get a literary agent.

This is what happens if you don't get a literary agent.

Literary agents are flooded with requests to look at people's writing. These requests usually take the form of a query letter, which usually consists of a short pitch, a synopsis or outline, and a short sample of the manuscript.

If the agent is persuaded by the query, she will ask to see the full manuscript. (This is the stage I'm at.) If she thinks she can sell it, she'll agree to represent the writer, thought she'll probably suggest manuscript revisions before she's willing to shop it around. Only after all these hurdles have been cleared will the agent consider sending the book to the big boys: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

In other words, it's extremely difficult to get your manuscript into the hands of a Big Five publisher, to say nothing of selling it. The odds of achieving publication are infinitesimal. 

But it sounds more fun than other long-odds activities, like climbing trees in thunderstorms to see if you can get stuck by lightning.

I don't want to self-publish. I'm no Dostoevsky or Brontë, not even one of the lesser ones, but I'm not horrible. That's not enough to stand out in the self-pub crowd, unfortunately. Everybody and her brother (the one with the rudimentary writing skills from the second paragraph; remember him?) has self-published. My book, although not-horrible, would barely stand a chance of being found online. Nor would it be found in bookstores or libraries, which typical don't carry self-published books.

Books from the big publishing houses, on the other hand: those are findable. They are promoted by marketing professionals, and they land on the shelves of local bookstores, national chains, and libraries. They might fizzle and die, but even the least-promoted titles still enjoy more visibility than I could ever achieve on my own. 

So now I wait a while, weeks or months, to see if this agent will represent me, If not, I have a fallback plan that involves the Doppler radar and a tinfoil hat.