notes on an author’s view of hunting for an agent

Time works differently for agents and writers, much as it does for humans and dogs. If one human year translates to seven dog years, one normal-human week for a writer equals roughly one weekend for an agent. This is because an agent is unlikely to get to the reading of your manuscript during actual work hours. They are busy. They are working, and their official duties do not yet include the reading of you. While they go about the course of an already-busy normal workday, manuscripts pile up on their desk and on their floor. That kind of reading gets squeezed in on their own time: their lunch hour, or after hours, or on the weekend. So when an agent has had your manuscript for six or eight weeks, that means he’s actually had it for whatever fragments of time he’s scraped together during the week…plus the weekends. So what the writer regards as forty nine days might translate, roughly, to fourteen days of the agent’s actual reading time, during which the agent is also dealing with whatever manuscripts got on that stack before yours.

This is from an entry that Justine Musk posted called “I Really Hated Writing Query Letters” which is mostly about her perspective on hunting for an agent and how valuable (or not) connections are in that process. It’s on Storytellers Unplugged. The entry as a whole has a number of interesting points, but it was the paragraph above that caught my attention as I am currently looking at a significant reading backlog (which really tends to cut into my time to post online I’ve noticed).

As for connections…. what are they worth? I suspect that might vary to some degree from agent to agent. It’s true that a referral from someone that I respect (editors particularly) will get my attention. But you can network yourself to death and if the book doesn’t have what it takes to win me over, it just doesn’t leave me much to work with. I think connections – the right ones – can assist. But talent and mad writing skills are so much more valuable in the long run. Once you get your foot in the door, you still need to have something with which to prop it open.

By the way, her first article on the topic of hunting agents also has some gems. Including I can’t write about anyone else’s route to publication except my own. So, true. Not only is every author different, but every book is different. Therefore, the routes can never be the same even if there are some common truths. It adds to the challenge, but it also adds to the diversity, and from my perspective, those are two things that make this a most interesting journey.

In any case, I recommend you read both of these posts if you are currently searching for an agent. And I’d be intrigued to know which thoughts, themes, and sentences resonate with your own experience and feelings.

9 responses to “notes on an author’s view of hunting for an agent

  1. I just did a contract with Justine Musk.

  2. I liked the analogy with dating. The query letter is the flirting, the request is the asking to dinner, etc. Hee.
    And it’s a wonder that slush gets read at all if query letters and solicited manuscripts take that long to get read.

  3. It is quite the process, that’s for sure. I know another writer who said it should take between 3 and 12 months to find an agent. That was a little daunting — I started my agent search last November (though, as every path is different, mine is also — I only sent out five queries…then started again in February). Anyway, I’m certainly hoping I can find that perfect agent before November (or at least by then). I also write fast, so I have three different mss out with agents. I don’t now if that’s a good idea or not, but that’s where I am….

  4. What resonates with me is the waiting. The not knowing if something I’ve sent is ‘good enough’ and also not knowing why something is rejected. No, I don’t expect agents to write critiques of my writing. I understand perfectly why they can’t. But even if you do the classic and send something off and then start writing something else, there’s part of your mind that says, well, if that one isn’t good enough, then why am I bothering with the next?
    A writer will continue writing ‘whatever’ because there’s a compulsion to do it, but I know for myself, I really want to know what I’m doing wrong. IE: is it merely a crappy query letter or is the writing laughable? What am I missing? And so on and so forth.
    But agents aren’t there to teach us those things, they are there to represent us, when we have got it right. It’s the getting it right that’s the hard thing.

  5. Hi Jennifer —
    Justine here. You’re on my friends list, actually, so it was both startling and gratifying to scroll down and see my own words reflected back at me and not in a “what the hell has she been smoking?” kind of way. So thanks for the affirmation and also for your comments about connections.
    And congrats on such a cool client list. 🙂

  6. I think what resonated the most for me was the part about looking for the perfect agent and not just sending out queries alphabetically.
    In the beginning, I just tried looking for agents that represented my genre, but after several rejections, I realized I had to dig deeper than that. It took a while, but I did find a perfect fit – someone who loves my writing. That’s what’s most important to me – feeling like I have a real support system behind me.

    • I liked the bit about age, and looking for a junior agent. That’s just what I did – I’m 55, and right now a very new agent at a very big agency is reading my full manuscript. I googled her and found a photo of her at one of those publishing parties, and God, she’s young, AND pretty! I don’t even think she’s made a sale yet – at least, I couldn’t find one.
      My ms has been with several other agents for several weeks, big names at big agencies. But you know what? If this young one wants to rep me I’m going to go with her and not even wait for the big names to get back. I love her enthusiasm and speed. It’s exactly what I want for my ms.

  7. I really liked the dating analogy too, but I admit what really leapt out at me was the bit about the agent who didn’t read synopses. Since my queries aren’t terrible and of course I’m proud of my work, it’s the synopsis that makes me want to hide in the closet.
    Unfortunately, it’s only one (anaonymous) agent who says they don’t read them…but I’m hoping A) I manage to query and get a request from that agent, B) that s/he isn’t the only one, and most of all C) working as hard as I can to get my synopsis in shape pays off to the point where it’s pretty good.

  8. most maddening
    “The kind of connection that matters is the kind you usually end up making yourself.”
    I know this to be true and have read all the advice for maximizing the chance of a connection. Most maddening is the understanding I have that there’s only so much I can do to initiate, and from there it’s a matter of finding who’s interested in new connections. I understand perfectly why many of the best agents aren’t, because their hands are already full with success.

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