The Agent Waiting Game

By Corie Howell via Flickr cc.

I'm in the middle of a lot of waiting games right now. My husband is waiting to hear back about out-of-state jobs, we're waiting to get buyers for our house, and I'm waiting to hear back from literary agents as I’ve been shopping The Binding of Saint Barbara around. It’s been an interesting process when I compare it to how it went with my first novel A White Room.

With that one I wrote dozens of queries and sent them out to hundreds of agents and all I ever got back were rejections. Each time when I got nothing back, I’d return to my novel and ask myself if it was really ready yet and if there was a way to make it better. Then I’d do another round of editing, and I did this for two years, from 2010 to 2012.

By the end of that two years, I felt like I had queried every single possible agent there was who represented my type of book. Finally, I had a lucky break when a top agent from a top house gave me actual feedback about the book—the first agent to ever give feedback—but at the same time he also rejected me. This told me that it was good enough to get his attention, so I took his suggestions and made the changes. Then another lucky break! I was attending my very first writer’s conference, the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and it just so happened he was one of the agents that was participating in the pitch sessions.
This was during the conference.
Can you believe my hair? I was trying to look responsible. ;)

So I went to the conference and pitched him, a very nerve-racking two minutes. They had speed dating style pitch sessions where authors get to pitch a bunch of agents with only two minutes and thirty seconds to do so; however, you have even less time than that because you are supposed to leave time to let them ask questions.

The particular agent who I was interested in did things differently. He just asked to read your first couple of pages. It turns out sitting there silently while an agent reads your first page is more uncomfortable and frightening than trying to sell them your book in one sentence. Then he looked up and said, “I’ve read this before.” To which I responded gleefully, “Yes.” Then with a suspicious tone, he asked “What, did you think I wouldn’t remember?” My eyes bulged. “No. No, I hoped you would remember. I hoped you would think it got better.” Heart thudding, nails digging into palms. “All right,” he said. “Send me the manuscript.”

A job interview by Pulpolux !!! via Flickr cc.

I wasn’t as confident after that suspicious look he gave me, but still more confident about him than the others I’d met. I sent the book to him and he responded with interest, explaining that he and his assistant read the manuscript and liked it but wanted to see a few changes. He made sure it was clear that even if changes were made, it wouldn’t guarantee that he’d take me on as a client. I knew he had to say that just to be safe, but with all the attention and time he gave my book, of course he would take me on ... right? He sent me a word document with a list of requested changes, a list that was three pages long! So I made the changes in about two months and sent it back. This was it. After two long years of hunting agents and after four years of writing and editing my novel, I was going to have representation.


He passed. Just like that. It was pretty devastating, but I also saw the positive. This told me that the novel had potential, and I had just gotten free content editing from a big New York City agent.

At that time, the indie publishing revolution was gaining momentum, and I had done some research on it before the conference. After that final rejection, I decided it was time to move forward on my own. It turned out to be the best decision I could have made because after trying to acquire an agent for so long, I was just desperate, and I was willing to give up just about anything to see my book in print. If I had gotten an agent and a publishing contract at that time, I would have agreed to terrible terms and terrible royalties and rights. I would have regretted it.

My very first signed book.
This time around, I’m approaching the process in very much the same manner as before, doing my research, writing the best query I can, but this time I don’t have that desperation. I feel confident that if I don’t interest an agent or publisher, I can always just do it myself. I feel confident that I’m familiar with the industry, the process of getting agents and publishers, and the important parts of negotiating contracts. I actually have a negotiating advantage because of that confidence.

As of right now, I’ve had three requests to see the manuscript, and all within either a day or a week of sending a query. Still, if I get an agent but can’t stand the publishing contract terms I have to choose from, I can still walk away and do it myself.

A couple of disclaimers ...

If you have a first book and are getting nothing but rejections, this is not a thumbs up to just self-publishing. I spent years editing my book, I put it through beta readers on multiple occasions, got the agent feedback, and I hired an editor to give me feedback on the concept and general writing, and that was all before I got into copy editors and whatnot.

A lot of industry types suggest that if you are getting nothing but rejections to move on and write your next book. This is still fantastic advise. By the time you get that second book done, you will have a higher quality of product to sell, and you will know a lot more about the industry just from general research. Then whether you go indie or traditional, having multiple books to start with means a higher chance of making better profits.

Why even bother with the agent process when I had such a positive experience with self-publishing? Well, even though I wouldn’t give up my indie experience, I would prefer a situation where I didn’t have to do as much of the production work so that I could focus on the writing work. This is something that has become especially clear to me recently. I’m really good at doing things myself and making sure they are done right, but I have to put myself into it almost 100 percent, and I have found it difficult to do that and give as much time to writing as I would like.

So where am I on writing books? Check out my Working on a New Series post on that very topic!


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