Monday, October 7, 2013

Dream agents, or how things are bigger in your head

We've all heard people talking about the dream agent.

Being a querying writer is a unique form of hell (somewhere near the one for people who talk in theaters). First you're throwing yourself out there, trying to catch the attention of the rare literary agent in their natural habitat: the slush pile.

You're elbowing around with all the other people who have stars in their eyes, and you have spent your whole life working on getting published. So you research the agents you're going to query. Turns out one of them plays hockey.

You play hockey.

The agent also loves Sci Fi art.

You love sci fi art!

The agent is funny on twitter.

You LOVE funny on Twitter!

So you send to this person to whom you now feel strongly connected (hey, it's hard to find an LA Kings fan in NYC, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth). They must be your dream agent. But despite being into Sci Fi, hockey, and funny on twitter, you really have NO IDEA what kind of AGENT they are.

This is a wake up call people. Being funny on twitter doesn't mean an agent is good at being an agent, and here's the problem I see with people talking about their dream agents: until you've worked with (or at least talked to) that agent, there is no way to tell if they are a good agent. Yes you can look them up on predators and editors, and Of Course you looked them up on absolute write and AgentQueryConnect, but that's all second hand information.

It's the difference between seeing something and hearing something.

Your eyes believe what they see.

Your ears believe what someone else says.

Until you've worked with that person, you have no idea how the two of you will work together.

So I'm sure you're all wondering, do I have a dream agent? Well, if you mean an agent I fantasize about having fall in love with my manuscript, well, yes, I have more than one dream agent. For me, my dream agent is the one who loves my books and wants to help me in my bid to take over the world (with great stories).
Helpful qualifications*: an excellent editorial eye, straight talking, professional connections, an abundance of humor (preferably black like my heart), the ability to play halo a plus but not a deal breaker.  But truthfully, I don't know enough about publishing to know what I should want in an agent (other than previous sales in my genre). I suspect that most of us unagented writers are sitting in the same boat.

But Rena, some of those qualifications perfectly match my one and true dream agent. How can you say there's no such thing until I meet them over the phone and then work with them? What about my psychic powers of intuition?

Ah, my sweetlings, let me tell you about that intuition.

For some people it is very right. For others it is very, very wrong. And now it's story time.

There was this actor. I won't say his name because I'm sure the experience was a complete fluke, but let's just say he played  a popular character on a popular television show.

It would be silly to say that he changed my life with his role, but he did. I based many of my dreams off of things I saw him do on TV (wow, where was my guidance counselor in all of this?? ). I spent thousands of dollars chasing a dream life molded by the character he played. I had spent so much time thinking about him and the character that he had played that it was hard to separate the two.

And then I got to meet him.

I was so nervous standing in line to meet the guy who had literally changed the shape of my life.

He was a robot. An autograph signing machine. I think he wrote something like Peace on the picture. He misspelled my name--well, maybe, it's illegible.

My whole life I thought I would have some deep connection with this person whose life choices (to act and be an activist) had changed my life so profoundly. But there was nothing. I was just another fan in a long line of fans, paying my money for an autograph. I got the same I-can't-believe-you-people-are-still-here-the-show-ended-years-ago-get-on-with-your-life-so-I-can-get-on-with-mine smile that he gave the lady in front of me.

I won't say that it broke my heart. I'd experienced something similar with Stephen Hawking (I don't think he's mean on purpose, I think he's mean because life is a lot harder for him than for able bodied people) (and oh yeah, it's hard for me to really hate people so I often make up excuses for them to be hateful).

My point is, the person in my head was much bigger than the one signing autographs, probably desperate for a break (can you imagine how his hand must have hurt, and the barrage of people "I'm your biggest fan!!!!"). Don't do this to yourself with an agent.

When you get an agent, you have to become partners in the whole publishing gig (and you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy--okay, it's nicer than that, but it's not shooting womp rats back home). Partnerships don't work out if you start on uneven ground. So don't go all moon-eyed in the query trenches. It's a dangerous place.

Also, you might want to go see Fizzy about oversharing. Zang, you don't want that problem. 

*helpful qualifications may change without notice as writer gains experience


  1. I absolutely have an image in my head of my dream agent, of the faith he/she will have in my writing, of the open channels of communication between us and how we work together for success. I don't want to settle for less -- but at the same time I'm a little desperate. So, in reality, when I finally get someone (and I only query people I think would be a good fit) interested, it will come down to crossing my fingers and jumping in.
    Great post.

  2. These are all good points. There are so many wonderful agents out there who aren't all over Twitter and other social media sites. And not all the ones on those sites are great. It's so hard to know if you've found the right one. (You know, assuming you find one who wants you at all. I'm still working on that part.) ;)

  3. Another thing that hurts is when you're SO sure an agent wants your book because of something you read either on Twitter or on their website and you send them a query, they can't wait to read a partial, and then they shoot you down in flames. Not only that but they target the one thing about your MS that you thought you did well. That's a moment when you rethink your impression of them, rethink your MS (in case they are right), and try not to get so invested in Twitter impressions.

    What also helps me decide not to query an agent is how often they curse on Twitter. Is it just me, or does that seem unprofessional?

    My dream agent is someone who has successfully sold books similar to mine and knows how to work with a YA author/illustrator. Great post!

  4. I understand what you're saying about reality of a person versus a dream. I've often thought how cool it would be to meet J.K. Rowling in person, what with her sense of humor and all. But what if she turned out to be a jerk in person? My dreams would be shattered. Sometimes it's better to stay with the dream.

  5. Okay, first off, you play Halo? Cuz i play Halo! *High five*!
    Second, i really want to know who your autographer was.
    Third, yeah it took me a bit of time to figure this out. Not long, but there's definitely a part of me that is always terrified of being left out. So at the start of querying (years ago. Sigh) my dream agents were the ones who could bring me into the fold, so to speak.
    Now my dream agent is one who can sell my books and can communicate effectively with me.


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