Thursday, June 15, 2006

THE TIME TESTED WAITRESS METHOD OF FINDING A LITERARY AGENT


that saucy waitress at the diner
Originally uploaded by the dark.

First of all, a warning: The official definition of The Waitress Method is The Hard Way. It means entering ignominiously by the back door or the service gate. In publishing circles, it's known as the Slush Pile.

It's also, for many of us, who have no Literary Connections or pedigree, the ONLY way. So here goes:

1. You're probably bored with this dictum already, but I have to repeat it, because if you miss this one, nothing else you do will really matter: Write something good enough that people will pay money for it.
In other words, write for love. See vividly, listen intently, feel deeply, store it all up, and when it's ready to explode inside you, give it up. All of it.

I know it's a paradox, but that's how it works. Write because you want to give everything you have, and maybe the world will give back to you. That "maybe" probably sounds unfair. It is. File it under "working conditions."

2. Research like a mad scientist. There are virtually hundreds, maybe even thousands of literary agents out there. Some of them aren't even real bookselling agents. They're unscrupulous fee-charging sharks, whose business is making money off lazy writers' dreams. And yes, I mean lazy! With the abundance of warnings about these predators in print and on the web, I'm amazed that people still fall for their scams. Would you send your child out after dark in an unknown neighborhood? Of course not. Then why would you consider putting the work of your mind and heart into the hands of someone you know nothing about?

The literary guides advise that once you make contact with an agent, you ask him or her for a client list, and inquire about recent sales. But I never queried an agent before I had answered those questions for myself. The information is out there. An on-line subscription to Publisher's Lunch is free, and will tell you on a daily basis, which agents are selling what, and who their clients are. The acknowledgment pages of your favorite books are also great resources.

3. No pressure here, but if you have any hope of being lifted from the slush pile and actually read, nothing short of a fabulous query letter will do. You've got one page to convince a harried agent that you can write something that people will pay money for.

4. Iron your uniform and comb your hair. Remember, you're coming in by the back gate here. You can be kicked to the curb at any moment and don't forget it. Know the rules of professional manuscript preparation and follow them to the letter. If someone has to remind you to include an SASE, you haven't done your homework. Come to work with a hot pink bra showing through your tuxedo shirt, chipped nails, or no bow tie, and you'll be out of there before you have time to mutter an excuse. A busy literary agent will 86 an unpolished manuscript even quicker.

5. We're getting to the heart of the Waitress Method here, so pay attention. (It's also the method that agents themselves frequently use when submitting to editors so there has to be something to it.

Through your research, find twenty agents who seem like good matches for your work. Then query ten of them. Like kids applying for college, mix a few "stretch" or dream agents with some newer ones who work for respectable agencies, but who might be accepting new clients. (Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a "safety" agent in this game.)

6. Expect rejection. Lots of it. So moan, get drunk, do what you have to do, then get up the next morning and prepare queries for the next 10 agents on the list. You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you? It's the Waitress Method, for god's sake!

When those ten go out, start compiling another twenty. The good news is there's a lot of agents out there, even a lot of GOOD agents, so sending out packets of tens, you can stay in the game for quite some time.

7. In the query game, good news usually comes by email, bad news by mail and great news by phone. If things go according to plan, you will get a few emails inviting you to submit your manuscript.

8. Give the agent exactly what they request, no more, no less. Consult rule #4. No hot pink bras or chipped nails.

9. You get an offer of representation! Okay, you want to scream, cry, drink champagne, offer her your first born child. But don't. In fact, don't even accept. Not right away.

10. Take some time to get to know the agent. Talk to them. Is this someone who truly understands your work? Is it someone you feel comfortable enough to talk to about something as personal as your characters and their obsessions. (Believe me, there is nothing more intimate than that.) Is the agent willing to work with you to make your novel, or memoir or whatever the best that it can be before it goes out?

11. Notify any other agents who might have your manuscript that you've received an offer. Chances are their interest will be piqued. You may even get the opportunity to make a choice.

12. So how do you choose? Do you go with the most prestigious house? The most impressive sales list? Those are certainly valid considerations, but at this point, you've also got to trust your instincts. I chose the one whose voice crackled with enthusiasm when she spoke about my novel, the one who I could talk to like a friend, the one who was brainstorming suggestions to strengthen the manuscript even before I said yes.

13. Thirteen is bad luck; there is no thirteen.

14. This is where we talk about what happens if you DON'T get that call, if you don't even get the email. Then you're faced with three choices.
a) You write another book and make it even better than the last one. (I did that my first time out.)
b) Submit your book yourself! As Amishlaw pointed out, a tenacious writer can achieve publication without an agent. Some excellent presses still consider unagented manuscripts. Find out who they are and start making your lists of ten.
c) POD. With low costs, and lots of fine writers jumping on board, POD has become a respectable alternative to traditional publishing. But once again, some publishers are more reputable than others. Refer to #2.

27 comments:

iamnasra said...

Good Luck with the search of AGENT why not self publication

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iamnasra said...

Good Luck with the search of AGENT why not self publication

Im having a tribute to Gulnaz and your blog was in her list of friends...spread the word to those who you think were inspired by Gulnaz...Pls visit my blog to know more

marja-leena said...

Great stuff here. Your previous post is a gem with the mantra - write something people want to pay money to read. Makes me want to write a book now! If I was looking for an artist's agent, these rules would be good ones. Thanks Patry.

rdl said...

You're right I do remember most of this...but great post!!!

Sky said...

Hard, hard work! And, congrats for figuring it out and doing it well! What good tips. You must be so thrilled meeting with your success! It is so exciting to live your dreams. :)

Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, I'm in the middle of this process for my second book and your advice is right on! I'd add that www.agentquery.com is a terrific resource for researching agents. K.

robin andrea said...

This list makes me glad I'm not a writer. Kudos to all those who actually manage to have their work published.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Yep, this was well worth waiting for. Now...if I just had that first part (Write something good enough that people will pay money for it) down, I'd be set. I better get busy and practice some more. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with us!

Brenda said...

The comment I want to leave is:

You scamp. Thanks for the tips.

But it sounds odd; though, oh ho, you're the waitress who leaves tips. :o)

Solid advice here!

lucky said...

marvelous

The Curmudgeon said...

I guess I wasn't really expecting a sure-fire, can't miss, really easy way of finding someone to sell what I write....

Or -- maybe I was: I mean, can't you find simply everything on the Internet if you only create the right search argument?

Ah, well.

On the other hand, I truly liked the story about the man hoping to hear "Shine on Harvest Moon."

Thanks.

The Curmudgeon said...

I guess I wasn't really expecting a sure-fire, can't miss, really easy way of finding someone to sell what I write....

Or -- maybe I was: I mean, can't you find simply everything on the Internet if you only create the right search argument?

Ah, well.

On the other hand, I truly liked the story about the man hoping to hear "Shine on Harvest Moon."

Thanks.

colleen said...

This is wonderful! I hope you'll submit it to a writer's magazine. You won't even need an agent for that!

I'd like to print this out and read it to my writer's workshop, if that's okay...giving you credit and passing your link along.

Mark Gamon said...

Great post, Patry. I'm taking your advice...

zhoen said...

So, I am right on schedule for a post retirement writing career. I have one shabby novel under my belt, another brewing in my brain, and 21 years to do the rest. Yeah.

Thanks.

floots said...

thank you
i'm going to act on this
just as soon as
i've had some more coffee
cut the grass
written a poem or two
remembered some stuff
had a walk
played a few riffs
then ..........

(see my problem) :)

Carmen said...

Loose Leaf Notes sent me over. Congrats on your book deal. I'm still working on mine, and yours gave me a bit of hope.

Sherri said...

You were right, Patry, the waitress method IS the SAH mom method :) I like having it all laid out in front of me, 1-2-3

Thanks for the great post!

Debra said...

Great advice Patry.

Sometimes you can get your agent, but if you didn't pay attention to #9 you can end up at #14a without a sale.

Marilyn said...

I hope you're copyrighting this...(is that possible). FABULOUS advice.

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Jennifer said...

Great post! Not so great for the battle ax-less type of writer, for sure. Writing is a daily discipline and writing well means staying UP on things. The darnedest things can spark a next chapter or segment for me, like the right word of the day in my inbox. Or leaving the house. Or just sitting and doing the darned thing. I have not made any attempts but one in terms of submitting a manuscript of my writing, but this is because it takes time to write something that I would pay to read. Um...yes, that IS what I just said. If I would read it it is good enough. I don't like to be bored and don't like to be told everything up front. Agents? I have had two rejections, but plenty of encouragement, it is akin to finding the right-sized brassiere. Um...or just a great therapist or something. I think.

Anonymous said...

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