Pre-published writers everywhere long to land a top flight literary agent. After all it’s true that you can’t breach the Big 6 houses without one. But many don’t realize that securing representation isn’t always a golden ticket.
Writing Tip for Today: If your agent doesn’t sell your book, is it the agent’s fault, the publisher’s fault or your fault? Let’s look at some possible reasons:
- All Representation is NOT Created Equal. OK, I admit that I once had a top-flight (New York, AAR) agent. She couldn’t sell my first novel. But since, I’ve had a succession of not-so-top-flight agents who couldn’t do a thing for me because they were either inexperienced, inept or unknown. Another reason to heed the adage, “All agents are not equal.” While you swim in a sea of rejection, any agent who says yes may sound tempting. But be sure to vet this person before you sign an agreement. It’s wise to ask about other clients, a list of recent sales, etc. And just because an agent is “top-flight” doesn’t mean that she can sell your book. In fact, an agent with a big agency may spend all his time with “A-listers,” and pretty much ignore you. Check Preditors & Editors before hiring any agent.
- All Publishers have Target Markets. A shotgun approach to submitting, either by your agent or by you (to smaller independent presses) will be largely wasted. When submitting to any editor, be sure your work reflects the target audience. It’s like Cinderella–a perfect fit is the only sure thing. A good agent already knows what publishers are looking for and has relationships with editors. Anything less and you may as well count on the slush pile.
- Is Your Work Ready? You may be screaming, “YES!” But a good agent knows the difference between a writer whose learning curve is still pretty steep and one who’s mastered her craft. Even if your critique group and your mom say your book is the best thing they’ve ever read, look farther for validation. Enter contests that give expert feedback, submit shorter articles or essay to periodicals, attend workshops and conferences to hone your skills. You wouldn’t expect to take up the cello this week and next week be asked to play Carnegie Hall. Writing is a craft. You can learn a craft, but it takes time and practice.
- Retire the Blame Game? Finally, maybe it’s counterproductive to spend all your energy blaming even yourself. Get busy with your practice, write a ton, do your due diligence. If your agent can’t produce for you in a year or two, start looking for an agent who may have a fresh perspective. A pro will understand.