Sunday, September 9, 2012

How having an agent can clear you of kidnapping charges

Querying is the American Idol audition of the publishing world.  You've got one page (one, ONE, o-n-e, 1) to convince Monsieur or Madame Agent of several things; A-You have a great idea, B-Your idea is marketable, C-You're worth the investment.  There's probably more but I'm still relatively new at this.  A bad audition can get a good manuscript rejected and a fabulous audition can get something as lame as the phone book a submission request.  Pick a good song, sing it well, and hope Randy Jackson's got rum in that Coke.

It's a small step toward publication and feels like one of the scariest.  At this early stage, unless you're lucky enough to be blood-related to the senior editor of a major publishing house, you're probably not going to get any attention from publishers.  Agents are the gatekeepers--in a non-Ghostbusters kind of way.  Having writer friends has advantages (yay, cheer squad!) and its disadvantages (boo, humility reminders!) but it's not the same as having an agent who loves you/your work enough to tattoo your name/title in fancy script on his/her forehead.  It's no guarantee you'll see your book in print someday, but (slush pile or Newberry) your agent's right there with you.

Let's say I was arrested outside Adam Lambert's house--hypothetically, of course.  (Please note; this blog post is pure fiction and is in no way a confession or admission of guilt; therefore, it's inadmissible in a court of law.)  I could go up against the legal system all by myself and try to convince them I'm no danger to Mr. Lambert or society in general, but they are knowledgeable in these matters and won't buy my story without an advocate.  I need someone to represent me and use their experience and connections to win them over.  Did I have zebra print duct tape, take-out sushi, and candles?  Yes, but my attorney will have a much better shot than I would at making the court believe I was having a picnic, concerned about a possible power outage, and uh, making duct tape wallets for charity.  You want the judge to buy your story?  Hire a good lawyer.  You want a publisher to buy your story?  Land a good agent.  You want a dinner date with Adam Lambert?  Don't use duct tape; the jury sees right through the wallet-making defense (hypothetically, of course).

While we're on the subject of having someone to go to bat for you, let's chat about publishers.  I have no absolutely no qualification or experience in this area but I have writer friends who have been kind enough to let me live vicariously through them.  Getting in bed with a major publisher without an agent--not likely.  Getting in bed with a zillion readers without a major publisher--also not likely.  There's a whole lot of self publishing going on out there.  No rejection letters, no waiting.  It's not necessarily the easy route, mind you.  If all you do is upload your MS to Amazon and wait for readers to find you, I wish you luck.  Hiring an editor and a formatter and promoting the heck out of your book will get you much better results.  Now, while I'm going to promote myself and my books like a crazy person, I would very much like to have a publisher with me on that journey.  I want my cover blown up and plastered on my publisher's booth at book conferences.  I want my books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million.  I want to see them in Scholastic book orders and on book fair tables.  I want readers to be able to pick them up as an impulse buy while they're shopping at Wal-Mart.  I'm not going to get that kind of accessibility by self publishing.  Book tours, signings, appearances, and the like are all necessary, but accessibility is HUGE.  I'm not there yet, so don't quote me on any of this.  It's just personal observation.

As I write this, my manuscript is being considered by a surprising number of agents (including my first choice Super Agent).  Even more surprising, there are some big name agents on that list.  I was contacted by one of those agents following a pitch contest and I'm one of five finalists in a kissing scene contest.  One agent already finished looking over my manuscript said she loved it and wants me to make a few changes and send it back.  I never imagined I'd get this kind of response when I started sending queries and I'm in a mild state of shock.  It's getting closer!  Hopefully I'll be posting my How I Got My Agent story soon.

What's your story?  Tell me about your agent, your publisher, your kidnapping charges, whatever.  I'd love to hear it!