School’s in

My weekly magazine hit 40 to 48 pages a week shortly after my last post here. It stayed a weekly magazine, 16 to 24 pages, through the first week in November. And then I plowed through the last five chapters of the fourth draft of my novel. So my prediction in June came out right, and likely will as long as I have this job: in summer, I’ll have less time to write here. But now it’s a new year.

And I have a book to sell.

Yes, it still needs work. But there comes a time when you have to try to do something with it regardless. It has a structure now; it has the shape of the book it will be. Revisions won’t mean taking it apart and putting it back together, as the last three drafts have done. So it’s time to start working on the next part.

I went down to the local library and checked out most of its books about literary agents. That makes four, all five to ten years out of date. (Any that look useful I’ll look for in an updated edition.) I’m trying right now to get a sense of how the process works. It’s huge, and I’ll need to break it into manageable pieces, but I can’t cut it til I’ve got it assembled. (Like pie.)

So I’m going to be talking a lot about it here. As I figure out what I want to know, especially if the books won’t tell me, I’ll be thinking things through here, trying to figure out how to act on it and what questions to ask.

Here’s a start.

From what I’ve read so far, finding a literary agent sounds almost exactly like finding a job, except that if it works, I’ll be paying them. The most useful book I’ve found so far (the one least like a telephone directory) used a lot of the language you’ll find in What Color Is Your Parachute.

But it didn’t tell me a lot of what I want to know. It concentrated on questions that are either too early or too late. Do I want an agent? Yes. I already know why, too. I want people to read my book. And a) No editor with two brain cells to rub together will look at a manuscript that doesn’t have an agent. b) I don’t have the background to interpret contracts or copyright law, let alone foreign rights. c) I’ve hated selling things since I was old enough to knock on doors. And d) Agents know people. That’s their job, and it’s vitally important.

All those are jobs I won’t have to worry about uless and until I find an agent to do them. I’m just saying, in a New York oyster shell, that’s what agents do, and I know it; I don’t need a fifty page treatise to convince me of it. I also don’t need to know yet what to say to an agent at our first meeting.

I hope I’ll need to know it some day not too far off. But right now, I need to know how to get an agent to meet me. And I have more ideas about htat from my job hunt a year ago than from anywhere else.

From conversations, reading and extrapolation, here are the steps I can see to take. I’m setting this down as a general guide for myself; feedback’s welcome of course. 🙂

1. Determine what kind of literary agent I’m looking for, what I want a literary agent to do and what kind of relationship I’d like most.

In Parachute terms, this means filling in the early chapters: the ones that explain what different kinds of jobs hunt look like and then give you ways of assessing yourself, so that when you ask people for help in finding a job, you know what you’re looking for.

2. Write a sample query, get advice on it, revise.

This is the equivalent of having a polished resume and samples with you when you get to an informational interview, just in case.

3. Talk to the contacts I aready have.

There are a handful of them. When I’ve done enough work to feel that I can ask them useful questions, and not get told just what my pocket guide has already told me, I need to see how many of them will talk to me. That could mean showing them a query if all goes well — the way that an informational interview can let you leave a resume with someone. But all I mean to ask is, will they talk with me about the industry.

4. Talk to anyone they send me to.

5. Assemble a list of possible agents.
That means agents who will bother with an unknown writer — but also agens who are good at their job. The job-hunting manuals remind you that wneh you get an interview, you are also interviewing the workplace, deciding whether you wnat to be there. They know that you’ll be feeling vulnerable and overeager. They tell you to choose a place where you’re comfortable. The agent-hunting manuals tell you the same thing. Who’d-a-thunk, huh.

Of course, there are differences. On the one hand, my entire livelihood doesn’t hang on getting an agent. I have time. On the other hand, there’s more than one job in the world that I can enjoy. This book has a lot more of who I am in it.


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