Agents: Acquiring Them and Letting Them Go
Well how do you get an agent? Does anyone know how to get an agent? (laughs) I Googled agents and a unicorn picture came up which really shows what agents feel like to all of us who feel like they are the gateway to us making our dreams come through. As I said I published like six books before getting an agent and I got an agent because I had published something in the Believer and she liked it and she reached out to me, and I thought, "Great, let's work together." I found my second agent because I reached out to friends around me who were publishing at levels I wanted to publish at and I said, "Will you introduce me to your agents?" And one did, so that's the agent that I work with now. In general writers are very generous with each other so if you do know people who have agents and who have something, see if they'll connect you, I connect people with my agent all the time. Not all agents are taking new clients all the time. Sometimes they only look at new clients for part of the year...
and not other parts of the year, but in general you can look. If you get a personal introduction that way through one of their clients, they'll probably look at your work. If you don't have these connections what you can do is look at the writers who are doing work that are kind of like what you're doing, that sort of in the vein of the type of work you're doing. Writers you admire. You want to look and see who represents them. You can Google this, it's out there. See who's representing the writers you imagine are your peers creatively. Go to their website, see what their submission guidelines are and send in your proposal. And then follow up and follow up, and follow up until they give you a cease and desist notice. That's how we do it, be really persistent, be charming, be witty, you know. But get in there and be that squeaky wheel. There's a lot of people who want to be writers, and so if you can just push yourself a little bit ahead of the people behind you, not to be Hunger Games about it, but you know, give it your all. Kay, has anyone had their work rejected from an agent? Me too. Me too. Do you want to talk about your experience at all? Is it still too painful?
No no no. Part of a group I was in was you had to send out a mastermind group, write your proposal, send it out, and I went with just a query, because I thought I needed to get an agent first to be able to get in there. And I sent it to one person, and she was very kind she said, "This is great, it's what I'm looking for right now." But I was a little bit of a wimp in not just sending it out more broadly, I was just trying to get the task done.
Yeah. Okay, well it sounds like that wasn't a terrible experience, and ideally agent are, an agent probably knows if they don't want something it's because they don't know how to sell it. It doesn't mean necessarily that your work is good, or bad, or valuable, or not valuable, commercial, not commercial. Agents have their own channels, and if they don't think they can plug this work into their channels then they can't help you and their not gonna work with you. So yeah, it could mean that the book isn't commercial, that could be true. I definitely have had agents not work with me because the work I was giving them just wasn't commercial, and again agents' jobs are really to try to plug you into those bigger presses that are looking for more commercial work. Could also mean they don't think your work is commercial. Do you know what I mean? Maybe your work is commercial, maybe they don't see it as commercial, and again it's just not a good match. So again when you get feedback, don't let it crush you, it's not definitive, it's not like, "Oh, my book is not commercial." That agent didn't send it, didn't think that it was. Send it out to some more agents. Sometimes you just need somebody who is a little bit visionary. The literary world is filled with stories of these writers who wrote these great books that we all know now, but it took them how many shots at getting them published, they got so many rejections. So just let yourself be emboldened by that. I let myself be emboldened by that all the time. So when I'm talking about an agent's network, it's just not every agent knows every editor. You know what I mean? Agents have their own circle of editors that are interested in the same things they are. When I went to the agent I have now, it was my hope, I had a couple of fiction works in progress and that's when I came to her, I wanted her to sell that. She doesn't really do that. She does lifestyle, essay, memoir kind of stuff, so instead she worked with me to put together a proposal for how to grow up. We did that book instead. Other agents are real heavy fiction agents and they're not going to do a self-helpy memoir. You want to make sure that you're in a good fit, and again if an agent doesn't work with you it just might mean that you're not writing the kind of things that they are marketing. So that's really important to know. Did you know you can also reject an agent? It goes both ways you guys. It goes both ways. I had to let an agent go, who I loved, and had a really friendly and nurturing relationship with, and the reason I wanted to work with an agent, I do a lot of literary organizing, and so I already had a ton of personal contacts with small and medium presses. Like I said I'd already published six books on small and medium presses, so I had a lot of contacts. I wanted an agent who could connect me with people I didn't already know. So my first agent just wasn't able to do that, so I decided after giving it some tries to find a different agent. It could have been that the work I was giving her just wasn't commercial enough for those bigger publishers, it might not have been her at all, or it might have been that her network wasn't what I hoped it would be for her to connect me. So I let her go. I have a friend who is a YA author, and when I was thinking about letting my agent go I contacted him and I was like, "Have you ever fired an agent?" And he said, "Oh, I fire my agent after every book." "I get a new agent after every book." Then you're always their new fancy, special one that they want to impress, and they work really hard for. And I was like, "That sounds sociopathic." That's a commitment, what's happening there? But whatever, it works for him, he's got a lot of books out and he's very successful. So I don't do it that way, but it did make me really understand that this is a business relationship and so much can get tied up in it. I know people have really interesting relationships with their agents, their agents send them presents on their birthday, or you call your agent crying on the phone when you're stressed about something. And you can forget that they're working for you. You're not working to impress them, once you guys have that agreement there, working for you, and if it's not working you can always move on, and it needn't be this. You know, nobody likes a break up, I get it. But it's just something to remember that it's a business relationship and it goes both ways.
Those working on or about to complete their first book are likely wondering what comes next. How will you go about getting your work published? What are the various options available? And what are the steps for each pathway to publication?
Michelle Tea is an award-winning author, editor and teacher who’s published her work in every conceivable way. She’s placed works with the help of an agent and on her own, and she’s published with tiny independent presses as well as major imprints of Penguin and HarperCollins.
This class will demystify the publishing process, present the pros and cons of the different ways to publish, and help you figure out the method that’s right for you. It will also address what happens after publication, including the promotion of your book.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Create a book proposal, including the introduction, pitch, sell, bio, table of contents and sample chapters.
- Figure out if you need an agent by looking at what agents do and don’t do for you.
- Acquire an agent and let one go.
- Self-publish your work as a zine, chapbook or blog.
- Join or build a literary community.
- Choose between a small or large publisher.
- Understand book deals, including royalties, two-book deals and right of first refusal.
- Promote your book with blurbs, galleys, online content, social media, essays and tours.