September 22nd, 2006


notes on an author's view of hunting for an agent

Time works differently for agents and writers, much as it does for humans and dogs. If one human year translates to seven dog years, one normal-human week for a writer equals roughly one weekend for an agent. This is because an agent is unlikely to get to the reading of your manuscript during actual work hours. They are busy. They are working, and their official duties do not yet include the reading of you. While they go about the course of an already-busy normal workday, manuscripts pile up on their desk and on their floor. That kind of reading gets squeezed in on their own time: their lunch hour, or after hours, or on the weekend. So when an agent has had your manuscript for six or eight weeks, that means he’s actually had it for whatever fragments of time he’s scraped together during the week…plus the weekends. So what the writer regards as forty nine days might translate, roughly, to fourteen days of the agent’s actual reading time, during which the agent is also dealing with whatever manuscripts got on that stack before yours.

This is from an entry that Justine Musk posted called "I Really Hated Writing Query Letters" which is mostly about her perspective on hunting for an agent and how valuable (or not) connections are in that process. It's on Storytellers Unplugged. The entry as a whole has a number of interesting points, but it was the paragraph above that caught my attention as I am currently looking at a significant reading backlog (which really tends to cut into my time to post online I've noticed).

As for connections.... what are they worth? I suspect that might vary to some degree from agent to agent. It's true that a referral from someone that I respect (editors particularly) will get my attention. But you can network yourself to death and if the book doesn't have what it takes to win me over, it just doesn't leave me much to work with. I think connections - the right ones - can assist. But talent and mad writing skills are so much more valuable in the long run. Once you get your foot in the door, you still need to have something with which to prop it open.

By the way, her first article on the topic of hunting agents also has some gems. Including I can’t write about anyone else’s route to publication except my own. So, true. Not only is every author different, but every book is different. Therefore, the routes can never be the same even if there are some common truths. It adds to the challenge, but it also adds to the diversity, and from my perspective, those are two things that make this a most interesting journey.

In any case, I recommend you read both of these posts if you are currently searching for an agent. And I'd be intrigued to know which thoughts, themes, and sentences resonate with your own experience and feelings.
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