Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Signing With an Agent--Is it the Magic Key?

In recent months several of my writing friends have signed on with agents. They are in approximately the same stage of writing and "publishability" as I. We've critiqued each other's mss. We laughed together, prayed together, written together and cried together. I'm happy for them because signing with a reputable agent is a giant step toward book contracts I've been told. Especially because many houses are closed to unagented mss. That's to keep their staffs from drowning in a sea of sludge, I suppose.

I've been praying about finding an agent for about two years now. I read their blogs. I follow them on Linkedin and JacketFlap. I tweet them. I check out their websites and submission guidelines. And I do a lot of praying for God to direct me to the best agent for me at the best time for me. I'm at peace with the stage I am in at this time--the waiting stage.

At Write2Ignite! 2011 two weekends ago I met two terrific agents. I seldom get the privilege of attending workshops at Write2Ignite! because I'm covering a lot of details. I love it when things run smoothly, so I make sure they do. This year I was determined to at least meet with the agents and editors who were with us. I did. 15 glorious minutes with each one.

I went armed with my One Sheets, my Themes, my Elevator Pitches, my YA Summary and my professional business cards. I was surprised at myself for not feeling nervous. I suppose I felt relaxed and "prepared."

With each appointment I found that my paperwork was handy and preparing it had prepared me to simply chat with both editors and agents. They asked me about my WIPs and I was prepared to explain where I am and where I am heading with my mss.

Then I had the opportunity to ask them about their criteria for signing new writers. I asked them about their services and their firms' philosophies. They were all gracious and kind enough to answer my questions. All of the meetings were relaxed and cordial. I didn't feel pressured or nervous. They didn't make me feel like I was in a job interview. Every meeting was terrific. And I walked away from each meeting with new information or a new insight, or a new respect for the people on the other side of the table.

After hearing my pitch for my YA one agent asked me one simple and pointed question. It was a light-bulb moment. That one question completely changed my focus for that work. That one insightful question literally answered concerns I had been hiding in the back of my mind the entire time I've been working on that YA.

That one pointed question gave me a rush of oxygen so I can now breathe as I finish the first draft.

I was tremendously impressed. In my casual chatter about my YA that agent identified a sticky point and helped me get unstuck in an instant.

That's what I think an agent is supposed to do. In my idealistic musings on the writer/agent relationship I see those light-bulb moments as a key element in the best of them.

I know agents are supposed to represent me and my mss to all those big, scary editors out there. And agents protect writers by going over contracts and asking the right questions of publishers. Some agents go beyond that and edit my mss to make them shine.
But I think the best agents see things I can't see in my mss and in myself. The best agents probe until they hit pay-dirt in my imagination. The best agents push me to make me shine as an author. The best agents add quality to my work by drawing quality stuff out of that writing well within me.

Maybe I'm right. Maybe I'm wrong. After all, I am infinitely close to having zero experience with agents.

However, I think that's the kind of agent I want to find. A partner. A co-imaginer. A lift under my wings, or a shove out onto the stage.

So, I'm watching and waiting for God to push me through that one right agent's door and whisper, "Here she is! Here he is! Now, go get him."


Jenni Burke said...

Jean, I'm glad to read that you found your agent meetings so helpful. It was fun to meet with you, too, and thanks so much for all the work you put into making W2I such a success!

Kristi Butler said...

Praying with you, my friend!!

Keep writing!!

Janice D Green said...

That's an interesting perspective. One of the agents at Write2Ignite gave me an idea of something to write about that I wouldn't have even thought of. I totally didn't expect that.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I hope you find the kind of agent you're looking for. Keep trying!

JJ said...

I know how you feel I've been at this for over 20 years and yet to find an agent. My schooling consist of writing for a newspaper for twelve years and three years with the Institute of Children's literature. I have so many educational books pertaining to the studies of writing, its mind boggling. And boy have I studied. I read all the time and am loaded with story books. I even have a website, but to no avail. I'm not one that likes to travel all over and try to get someones attention, I just want to write and sell my books.I've sent then off to publishing houses, but to no avail. With publishers your dealing with different personalities...while one may like my book [ the same book ]another may not.So, it does come down to God opening that door for you.I feel that one day someone will buy a book of mine, like it and want to publish it. And again it truly is up to God. I've done all I can do...all the right things and it's in Gods hands.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

I agree with your sentiments. Finding an agent who is a co-imaginer and leaves the editing to you seems ideal!

Here's hoping when the time is right there person will be too.

Bonita said...

Enjoyed hearing your perspective. You really tapped into the person behind the title. I agree with your thoughts about the best kind of agent and wish you well on your quest for publication.

janparys@blogspot.com said...

Janice, So fascinating that at the Write2Ignite conference, an agent also gave me an idea for a story that I never would have thought of myself also! He was so kind and I pray God truly blesses him for his kindness.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Jean,
Insightful information about the agent that gave you light bulb ideas for your manuscript. You had done your homework and had all your information. That was good. I'm proud of you. Good luck with getting an agent who will inspire you and bring your best to light in your writing.
Joan Y. Edwards

Christina Parker Brown said...

great post

Mary Ellen Dukes said...

Wonderful post, Jean! God certainly has His timing for us, doesn't He?

Linda A. said...


I am so glad that you took the time to do this for yourself. I will pray that you follow the right path toward publication.

Congratulations on a conference that was very well done!

wordwranglernc said...

You are on fire with your posts, my friend. Finding an agent isn't easy, I'm still looking for one myself. I don't know if I'll ever get one. But I do know that there is a ton of things I can learn on the journey there...even if I never arrive at "agent-city". :)