Finding an Agent: An Ugly Step-Sister Story

Trying to find a literary agent is a lot like dating when you are thirty-five and childless.

I was thirty-four when I met my husband. I was not desperate. I was not willing to settle. But, I wasn’t wasting any time either. I told him early on, I was interested in getting married and having children in the near future. If he was not, could he please move along and make room for the next guy.

Twelve years and three kids later, we still laugh about it. “I can’t believe you gave me an ultimatum. Most guys would have left.”

Yes. Most guys would have. That was the point.

Whenever I get a rejection letter from an agent I’ve queried, I think of it as just one less matrimonially-challenged bachelor in my way. NEXT!

The letters themselves have the tone of a break-up. My first rejection was very long, though vague — and most likely a form letter — that tried to let me down easy. “Thank you for allowing me to consider your manuscript…the publishing industry changes swiftly…not a right fit at this time.” This is the “It’s not you, it’s me” break-up.

Oh, okay. Thanks. NEXT!

Then there is “Your manuscript is not right for my list.” Full stop. The end. The “I’m just not that into you” rejection. Great. Glad you didn’t keep me hanging on.

NEXT!

I did have one rejection in under six hours, and most of those were the sleeping hours. That stung a bit, but again, I appreciate them not wasting my time.

NEXT!

I try to be businesslike about it. Publishing is a business. Agents want books they can sell to publishers who want to sell books. You have to write a good book of course, but much of the rest of it seems to be luck — getting the right words in front of the right person at the right time, or in the right mood. And just as with a husband, luck only needs to strike once.

There are Cinderella stories — writers who get picked up on their third query or have a publisher call their agent before they have even finished reading the manuscript. But most agent relationships don’t come tied with a bow and wrapped in a patina of fairy dust, and I’m okay with that. I’m sure at least one of those ugly step-sisters made a good marriage too.

Many people have asked why I bother. Why don’t I just self-publish? Self-publishing is the single-motherhood in this metaphor. It’s a choice. Some people’s first choice. But so much more work. For now, this girl still has a few more invitations to the ball.

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