The (NON)-Shameful Truth I Learned about Literary Agents, and Great Resources for You to Gain Insight, too!

I’m querying my fifth novel, sixth book overall. My latest is FIND THE MOON, about a teen girl whose truth that cost her everything just might save her. Read more about FIND THE MOON here.

In the process of all this querying, I’ve been educating myself because even though I’ve been a traditionally published author for over 10 years, I still want to stay on top of what publishing currently looks like. I amicably parted with my long-time agent last year because I knew that I was nearing the completion of FIND THE MOON, and I wanted to switch gears to a representative for whom YA fiction is a more significant focus of their efforts.
I am encouraged that I’ve gotten requests for the full manuscript pretty quickly after querying. I attribute this to FIND THE MOON having a very strong premise by virtue of working on it with Kate Brauning of Breakthrough Writers’ Bootcamp. She outright “fangirled” over what she was seeing in the pages, which was reassuring and gratifying!

As of this moment, 3 agents requested (and have) my full manuscript, and 1 has the first 50 pages, but since I have not yet had an offer of representation/ signed on the dotted line, I’m still carefully researching and querying agents who seem like a good fit for my work, and I’m hopeful that I’ll sign with an agent by July.

Through my search for a new partner-in-publishing, I discovered resources that are helpful, surprising, and, in one case, revelatory of what is apparently sort of a secret in the publishing world. . .but before I begin sharing these resources, I feel that I should disclose that I do have queries and/or the full manuscript on submission with some, but not all, of the following agents/agencies. While this could appear to some cynics as maximum sucking up to the agents, my purpose in sharing the following is to help my fellow writer-types gain insight into what can feel to new and intimidating to authors (and not-so-new authors, like Yours Truly). Chalk it up to my other profession–I’m an educator–a high school English teacher–so sharing ways for others to better understand tough stuff is in my bones.

Cracking the code to “inside publishing” can feel like trying to scale a daunting (oil-slicked) wall in an attempt to gain a quick glance into an “agents-only” clubhouse, but the following very-helpful agents/agencies effectively step out of the clubhouse, open a portal in the wall, and invite authors in. I sense graciousness in these respective agents’ resources for authors, and these offerings are both valuable and reassuring to those of us who volunteer ourselves to be vulnerable when we query, since the very act of doing so is risking rejection of our book baby. The whole process is daunting and anxiety-provoking, but as the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.”
Here we go with resources from helpful folks:

BookEnds Literary
Bookends has a great informative blog that syncs with their YouTube channel. Thus far, I have found their blog entry/video on simultaneous submissions, The Unfairness of an Exclusive Submission, to be the most memorable as I go through this process of cold-calling people that I hope will find what I put on paper to be what they’re looking for.

When I was a newbie author, circa 2006-2007, and I queried agents with my first novel, I contacted one agent at a time, and since publishing is a glacial process, finding an agent took the better part of a year. Back then, my perception of the expectation was that one should query just one agent at a time, because to do otherwise was disrespectful to the agent. But Jessica Faust helped me understand the process differently. She writes, “Giving an agent an exclusive takes away the opportunity to interview all possible agents. Simply because no one else has your material. It would be like hiring the first contractor who shows up at your house without the chance to get bids from others.”
The insight gained from agents Jessica Faust and James McGowan in this blog post/video also clarified my understanding of what to do when one has simultaneous queries out and an agent requests an exclusive, for example, if the agent gives significant feedback and requests revisions, it’s reasonable for that agent to expect an exclusive submission. Jessica tells us what to do with regard to the other agents who are likewise considering the manuscript at that time.

Tia Rose Mele, Talcott Notch Literary Services
Tia is a junior agent and the director of audio rights at Talcott Notch. Her outreach efforts add to authors’ abilities to increase their knowledge about publishing because she solicits questions from her followers about what they’d like to see on her blog, which addresses her agenting life. Her voice is authentic, and the commentary is indicative of interest in helping authors understand the world of publishing more clearly.
My favorite blog post of Tia’s so far is “My Submission Process,” because this is something that is not always clear to authors. Tia does state in her blog post that all agents have their own processes, but I appreciated her drawing the curtain back on how it works for her. (As a side note, I cannot find the Twitter thread at this time, but I @Tia and asked her about her process for keeping her authors informed as to the progress of submissions, and she told me that she creates a Google Spreadsheet and shares with the author the list of editors to whom she has submitted, as well as feedback received. I really liked that.

Print Run Podcast
Erik Hane and Laura Zats, the agents who comprise Headwater Literary, have a phenomenal podcast called Print Run. According to their site, “Its aim is simple: to have the conversations surrounding the book and writing industries that too often are glossed over by conventional wisdom, institutional optimism, and false seriousness.”
And they deliver. I like the Print Run podcast because it does not pretend that agents are anything but regular people, just like authors, and everybody has the same goal: to produce a damned fine book.

The following is the above-referenced NON-Shameful Secret: Erik and Laura’s episode titled Work Life revealed something that I had no idea about: most agents and editors have full-time jobs in addition to agenting, or, at the least, they are working other part-time jobs to make ends meet. This is in such conflict with the image I had of most agents, and I think many others do, too– which is why I’m so grateful that there are people in publishing willing to tell it like it is. Erik and Laura reveal that it’s frowned upon in publishing to reveal this truth about having to work jobs other than agenting to make ends meet, as if to do so somehow casts a shadow on the concept of agents as living glamorous lives. They stated that talking about the other jobs they have is “frowned upon.”
Think about it, y’all: when you see a literary agent portrayed in a movie, they’re not, as Laura shares she has done, sharing a hotel room with another agent to save money at a conference that they had to pay their own way to attend, and taking along a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter so they can eat while out of town!
I find that just like the impression people have of agents, the general public has an impression of authors that comes from the movies, not reality. (Castle, anyone?) The majority of authors also have full-time jobs that actually pay the bills–even prominent authors–of which I am not.
When I landed my first publishing contract, my fellow teachers at the time assumed I was going to quit my job and live the rich writer’s life. I laughed. I would love to be offered a huge advance–who wouldn’t?– but the majority of authors do not receive huge advances. Plus, we receive royalty payments twice a year, and our agents get paid when we get paid. Agents work on commission. They, like their authors, do not make money if their authors’ books don’t sell. While Erik states that there are some salaried agenting positions, he and Laura are really up front and bold about telling the truth about what they have to do in their own lives to make enough money to pay the bills.
I’ve been a traditionally-published author since 2008, but my day job as a teacher provides money for bills, health insurance and a pension; my job as an author does not. When I am eligible to retire in two years, I intend to supplement that pension by freelance editing and writing full-time, but I am realistic enough to know that even with my backlist and when FIND THE MOON and my subsequent books sell to a publisher, the odds of writing making me a wealthy person at any time are very low, but I don’t write for the money. I write because, as Harper Lee said of reading, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
I suspect that most people who are agents or editors likewise cannot imagine themselves not working around books in some way. I just hope most are lucky, as I am, to be able to have the ability to create using words in both my jobs, and I hope that if folks in the publishing industry are ashamed of having to work jobs outside of agenting to pay their bills, they will let go of that dark shadow. There’s no shame in it.

Speaking of shame (awesome segue, right?) another topic the Print Run podcasters address is the issue of rejection, which leads me to another highly recommended Print Run episode: Am I Good Enough? This one really helped me be less anxious about submitting to agents because there is so much out of our control that may lead to a rejection at that time.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *