Claire Lyman has found an Agent! I’m so glad for her, and her story is sobering as well as enlightening. Thank you for sharing, Claire. Your tenacity and dedication are awesome – and the very best of luck for your onward journey.
It’s been a little over two months since I got The Call, and I haven’t quite come down off my cloud. I’ve been writing for six years, churned out three novels and one slightly strange memoir/novel hybrid thingy, done an MFA in Creative Writing, been to more writing conferences than I can shake a stick at, read the magazines, read the books, done NaNoWriMo twice, been active on Authonomy back in its heyday, and finally, finally I have an agent for my novel, Unscripted.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way.
Four ways to get an agent
A disclaimer: while I have heard of people getting agents in all four of these ways, only one of them has worked for me.
- Pitch, pitch, pitch. Go through your Writers and Artists’ Yearbook or your Writer’s Market or your Twitter list of agents, check the agents in question represent your genre, and follow their submission guidelines. Do a lot of these. For both of the novels I pitched, I told myself I would get to 100 agents before I re-assessed whether I would be better served by a small indie publisher or self-publishing. For the latest round, I decided I would do one a day so that the task wouldn’t seem overwhelming, and also so that when the inevitable rejections started trickling, I would always know there were lots more potentially catchable fish in the sea.
- Speed pitching events. At many writers’ conferences, there are opportunities to spend six or eight or ten minutes one-to-one with agents and editors, telling them about your novel. In the end, though, even if they say yes, you still basically have to pitch them by email, just with the added advantage of their having met you and possibly already requested a partial or a full.
- Follow the hashtag #mswl on Twitter. (I recommend typing in #mswl lang:en into search, to filter out any weird stuff that sometimes comes up under this hashtag.) MSWL stands for manuscript wish list, and agents will sometimes be very specific about what they are looking for (“a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Mexico!” “A gender-flipped YA adaptation of Snow White!” “Historical fiction with a magical realism twist!”) When you then pitch them (by email, as normal, not on Twitter) put #mswl in the subject line: this will whet their appetites and possibly bump you higher up their email queue.
- Go to every writers’ event that you can. Conferences, summer schools, everything. Sometimes, if you’re going to a workshop, don’t take the manuscript that needs the most work, even though that may seem counterintuitive. Take something that is ready, or almost ready, to be pitched. It is possible that the person leading your workshop may know an agent and may recommend you to them. I don’t know if this works as a strategy or if I was just incredibly fortunate. It certainly wasn’t a calculated thing on my part – nobody had told me my manuscript was ready. And I still had to pitch the agent in the usual way – but I presumably got bumped to somewhere near the head of the queue, and the agent possibly read my work with an eye to liking it, not to rejecting it.
Four things I love about having an agent
- It helps me believe in myself.
Rightly or wrongly, I think of myself as a Legit Writer now. When people ask me what I do, I say that I’m a novelist. I hold my head a little higher and make eye contact as I do. I’m almost certain that the magical “rep’ed by…” line in my Twitter bio has made other authors on Twitter take me more seriously. After years of sitting in workshops having people say what is wrong with my writing, someone – someone who knows what she is talking about, someone who knows what sells – has fallen in love with my book, gets it, is championing it. It’s a bit of a rush, to be honest.
- My friends are so excited for me!
Most of them don’t really understand what an agent does – which is fair enough; I don’t have much of a clue as to most of their various industries entail either – but when I posted on Facebook that I had one, I got the most likes I’ve possibly ever had, including from people I was sure had long since unfollowed me. They ask me often now what’s next with my book and when they’re going to get to read it. (Patience, I want to say to them. Patience. It’s going to be, like, forever.) They are excited for me and that keeps me excited too, including through the whole editing process, which has been tougher on the emotions than I expected and is only just beginning.
- No more query letters
From now on, my agent will be the one to send out the letters, or emails, or make the phone calls. She is the one who will champion my book and tell others how great it is. And where I feel like I have to be restrained, and where perhaps I see the flaws in my book or have insecurities about it, she can shout from the rooftops how great she thinks it is, in the way that you can when a novel is not yours but somebody else’s. (It probably also helps that she is American, rather than British and can therefore unironically use words like “awesome”.) I have the choice as to how much or how little I want to know about the process, whether I want to see the rejections. I can protect myself if I decide to. Yay.
- I’m not alone!
My agent has some very definite ideas about my book – certain plot points, character traits, word choices. Sometimes those are hard to hear, but sometimes they have been incredibly helpful, wise, and insightful. She has saved me from myself a number of times already: the Lower West Side of New York, for example, is apparently not a thing. Oops. And it’s great to have someone to bat ideas around with, to talk through changes I want to make. It’s not that I didn’t have anyone before – but now I have someone with an actual investment in my novel. Someone who is not just guessing what agents might like or editors might like but someone who actually knows. That doesn’t mean I have to do – or even want to do – everything she suggests, but it’s a great safety net, and so I feel more secure.
So, basically: getting an agent isn’t easy. It sometimes takes years. But it is worth waiting for. So worth waiting for.
Claire’s links: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ClaireLymanWrites