Wednesday, June 14, 2006

THREE SUREFIRE WAYS TO FIND A LITERARY AGENT


Vonnegut Plaque, originally uploaded by ken mohnkern.

You can tell a lot about a person by locating the most dog-eared volume in their library. For some it would be the Bible or some other sublime spiritual text. Others would have worn out and marked a favorite volume of poetry, a classic novel or a work of philosophy.

Okay, I love those, too! (she says defensively.) But in my library, the most tattered ferociously annotated book---the one with the most coffee rings and wine stains, the book consulted in times of trouble, the single volume I've laughed about, shaken my fist at and wept over more than all the others is THE GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS.

If I'd applied myself to organic chemistry the way I studied the client lists and sales' rates of my Agent Gods, I would be a doctor by now. if
I studied poker manuals the way I pored over my precious GUIDE, I'd be banned from every casino in Las Vegas. But I wouldn't mind, I'd be rich as Croesus--whoever that is. (If I paid as much attention to classic mythology as I did to the names of the agents who made it to Publishers' Weekly's HOT DEALS, I suppose I'd know that, too. Well, you get the idea.

Anyway, after all these years of diligent study, I've never been awarded a degree or even a cheesy mail-order certificate. What I did get, however, was a literary agent. No,not only a literary agent--but the Right Literary Agent For Me. Not a bad deal.

I also got a title: World's Leading Authority on Finding an Agent. (She says humbly.) All right, I admit, there's plenty of other people who studied the same periodicals and guidebook, and know as much as I do. There are even some excellent websites on the subject. But here on my blog, I'm the Leading Authority.

I'm hoping the knowledge comes in handy, too. From what I've heard, the most common question asked of famous writers is "How do I get an agent?" No one's asked me yet, but if they do, I'm ready:

THE THREE SUREFIRE METHODS:

1. Write something good enough that people would pay money to read it. Then enroll in a first-class MFA program where Agent Gods actually come looking for new writers. (I never tried this one myself, but I've heard it works for a lot of people.)

2. Write something good enough that people would pay money to read it. Then ATTRACT an agent by publishing in quality journals. Amazingly enough, while writers are desperately searching for agents, agents are searching, too. Some very good ones avoid the slush piles and find their clients by trolling literary magazines for signs of promise. the years, I've been approached by some very fine agents this way. For various reasons, none of these ever translated into a contract for me, but it has for others.

3. Write something good enough that people would pay money to read it. Then use The Waitress Method of finding an agent. More on that tomorrow. (You didn't expect the World's Leading Authority to give up all her secrets in one day, did you?)

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Patry,

I've been too long out of touch with you, so I'm happy to be the first to post a comment on this entry. I'm sure glad that I know the world's authority on finding an agent, since I'll likely need advice at some point. Also, very interesting to learn which book is the most dog-eared on your shelf. Makes me want to run out and buy one.

Impatiently awaiting blueberry season here in Illinois,
your friend Susan

MB said...
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MB said...

Ah! A cliff-hanger! What a crafty writer you are! ;-) Which I say as a good humored tease that takes nothing away from my admiration for you as the Leading Authority... and nothing away from my admiration for the great writing —that people would want to pay money for — that you do so consistently! Can't wait for the next installment...

Laini Taylor said...

Okay - very curious about this waitress method!! I'll tune in. Is that how you found yours? I met my agent at a writer's conference, through a chain of referrals from other writers and illustrators, and I don't know WHAT I would do without her!

Cate said...

Yes, yes, bring on the next installment! The Waitress Method sounds intriguing!

Fabulous post!

rdl said...

Hey no fair - can't wait til tmrrw. :D love what i've read so far.

Amishlaw said...

I should "simply wait" for your next installment before commenting, but there is another way to get your book published. I have a friend whose first book just came out, and he doesn't have an agent. He was persistent in sending out his manuscript and after 200 unsuccessful tries, got lucky. But I'm eager to find out the conclusion to your tips.

Patry Francis said...

susan: For better or worse, my precious Guide may be becoming somewhat obsolute. Most of the information is readily available on line now. I'm also hoping that you will easily find success through # 2, but if not, the waitressing method is available. Not to mention the highly touted blueberry method! Hope to "talk" soon. Love, patry

mb: Yup, it's a cliffhanger. I'm not a suspense writer for nothing...thank you for your lovely words. Always a pleasure to see the bluebird.

laini: That's a very smart way to do it. Would probably fall between # 1, which would include courting impressive referrals and #2: Attract an agent with work that's already "out there." It sounds like you made the perfect connection.

Cate: Yes, see you later today for the next installment which has been spinning in my head all night. Bring friends!

r: You probably know this story by now.

amishlaw: Actually, that's part of the waitress method: Seek alternatives. I'd love to hear more about your friend, including what kind of publisher he found, and how the book did.

Natalie said...

I'm listening attentively. My method of finding an agent was none of the above. I'd go down the list of those in the latest Writers & Artists Yearbook and more or less stick a pin on whichever seemed reputable and at an address not too far from me.I found a first agent this way after I'd already got a contract from a publisher by myself and (foolishly) thought I needed someone to handle the finances. All this agent did was to relieve me of 10% while doing nothing except sending me their bill at regular intervals. The next one was introduced to me by a friend and I had high hopes. They did find a publisher for one book but then ceased to communicate and I had to quit and do my own negotiations after that. I'm now fairly convinced that my stuff is too unorthodox to attract any agent's attention and I'm better off as a DIY. But I'd love to be proved wrong, Patry!

Sky said...

This is soooo interesting, girl! :) Waiting for the next installment...

paris parfait said...

Such a great post! Can't wait to hear more about your experiences/advice vis a vis a literary agent. Sometimes it's just a matter of luck - being in the right place at the right time and meeting someone who knows someone who said good things about your work, etc. etc. :)

Kitty said...

So happy for you! I just had my first near miss with an agent, and felt so crestfallen! In the end I think it was best for everyone involved, but still, I felt so much more credible as a writer telling people that an agent was "interested in my project." You've given me hope that there's a Mr./Ms. Right-Agent out there for me, too!

Thank you!!!

floots said...

looking forward to the advice
(it'll need to contain an anti-apathy shot and a kick up the ass to get me moving though) :)

Perfect Virgo said...

I think your message is, if you want to be seen you must be out in the open (and have reasonable groundings in organic chemistry and gambling.) See, you have put me completely off the scent!

Simply Coll said...

Now you have me thinking.. just what is the most dog eared volume on my bookcase?

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Oh, you tease, you! This is why people will pay money to read YOUR book - great writing, great suspense.

Dale said...

Such a tease, you are :-)

Patry Francis said...

Natalie: You seem to have done a really great job of getting your work out there on your own. But when you do that memoir I'm always hoping to see, you might need to reconsider an agent...

sky: hope you stay tuned!

paris: Living in a fairly unliterary area, I never have that kind of luck. Thus, I devised my Method for the Unlucky.

kitty: It will happen. The first time an agent wrote to me after reading one of my stories, I carried his letter around for years. Even though I had no novel to show, I loved referring to him as "my agent."

floots: kicks in the ass available upon request.

p.v. I love your distillation in the first part of the comment, but you lost me on the organic chemistry and the gambling. Then again, I always get lost on those subjects.

Coll: When you find it, come back and let me know!

Sharon: Thank you! Hope you come back to read part 2.

Dale: I've been too serious here lately, had to have a little fun...

Sherri said...

There might be a stay-at-home-mom method, mightn't there? We don't get out much. Surely if you dig deep enough, the World's Leading Authority on Finding an Agent could find a bone to throw me.

Patry Francis said...

sherri: I think the stay-at-home mom method would be very similar to the waitress technique. It's definitely the hard way, but possible...Thanks for visiting.

Patry Francis said...
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