Apologies for missing my post time last week. My computer crashed Tuesday night, so blogging on Wednesday morning wasn’t an option. I now have a brand new hard drive, and thanks to an excellent external back-up, I’m back in business!
I was interviewed over the weekend in preparation for an upcoming speaking engagement and thought we might discuss one of the questions.
Do you need an agent to get started [in publishing], and if not, at what point do you think one is most useful?
My answer (modified somewhat since I haven’t reproduced the entire interview here):
It depends on your path. You don’t need an agent to sell short fiction or for e-publishing, which is a totally different business model from traditional publishing. If you’re writing novels and your heart is set on one of the big NY publishing houses, then you need an agent.
The best time to find an agent is when you have a novel that’s polished and ready for submission. Here’s the sticky point: you may not recognize when that criteria has been met.
I wrote my first novel without benefit of craft knowledge. My husband read it. My best friend read it. My daughter read it. They were all so proud that I’d written this massive story they couldn’t see straight. They certainly couldn’t give me knowledgeable critique.
Based on their benediction and my own glow of pride, I queried numerous agents. Looking back, I am totally unsurprised that I received only form letter rejections, but at the time I was frustrated beyond belief.
But you know what? That frustration proved to be the catalyst that turned me into a real, honest-to-God writer. I had two choices: throw up my hands and wail, “It’s not fair! No one will give me chance!” or suck it up and figure out what I’d done wrong. I chose the second option. I found OWC [Oregon Writers Colony and began taking classes]. I accepted the invitation to Wordos [a Eugene, Oregon critique group]. I drove to and from Eugene [two hours each way] every Tuesday night for eighteen months. I accepted contracts with a brand new nobody-has-ever-heard-of-them e-pub. I listened to every comment my editor made and absorbed as much as I possibly could. And…I wrote.
When I finished my first contemporary young adult novel, I decided it was time to try for an agent again. I sent my novel out to beta readers. Not my husband, best friend, and daughter. Oh, they read it and loved it, but the readers who helped me decide if it was ready were writers with NY contracts and unpublished writers who understood plot and characterization.
When my query letter and synopsis had undergone a similar vetting, I began my agent quest, and this time I received personalized rejections. But I also received requests for partials and fulls, and one fine day…an offer of representation.
So what about you? Do you agree with my assessment of the agent question? I’d love to hear your thoughts.