Sunday, 19 June 2011

What Next? . . . Time for An Agent

When was the last time you saw something that took your breath away?

A week before my trip to New Zealand, I drove a friend to the ocean, which she hadn't seen in years.  The day was perfect.  The water's surface dimpled by a steady breeze, frothy white curls crashed against one another.  I pulled my car off the road overlooking the view, and opened my sunroof to listen to its rhythm.  

Suddenly I notice three, massive brown pelicans gliding in formation over the road coming toward us.  Their seven-foot wing span cast shadows on the mountain wall.  Strong necks stretch to conceal their pouches, purple feet are tucked against their belly.  I am spellbound.  Then I see another formation off to the right.  I count eleven huge birds gliding along the ocean's edge . . . then another group of eight . . . and then three.  They keep coming until I lose count.  These mammoth birds fly over my car like small airplanes.  I feel like we're in Jurassic Park . . . expecting to see an Allosaurus lumbering down the road after us.  It takes my breath away!!! 

Literature is like any other trade; you will never sell anything unless you go to the right shop.    - George Bernard Shaw

Searching for an agent can be overwhelming, whether you just finished your first book, or have several publishing credits on your resume.  The question is . . . do you need a literary agent, or can you submit the work directly to publishers on your own?

Research suggests the following . . .
  • Large publishing houses like Simon & Schuster, Random House, etc. require literary agent representation.  They lack the time and manpower to go through a plethora of queries in search of the next best seller.  However, an agent will dive in looking for the biggest fish.  His/or her reputation is at stake, as well as his income.
  • Medium and small  presses may accept query letters, but you must do your research.
I found two main sources for literary agents . . . the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents by Writers Digest (20th Anniversary Edition) and the 2011 Writers Market (90th Annual Edition).  Armed with a strip of stick-on page markers, one of these references could keep you busy until your next birthday.
Genres are listed in the back of the book.  Mine are Memoir, Military, Creative-Nonfiction & Christian.  The literary agencies in your genres will list their requirements.  Mark the ones that show promise.  Next . . . go to their website for more detailed information.  Does your work still fit within their guidelines?  If so, highlight the specific agent handling your genre . . . then start your list of Submissions.

A query letter can be sent to as many agents and publishers as you desire.  I normally work with two to three at one time.  Each query letter is personalized, then noted on a Submission Ledger . . . which lists the date sent, agent/agency/publisher, comments and the date returned.

Queries that are concise and compelling are the most intriguing. 
                                  - Regina Brooks, founder, Serendipity Literary Agency
An Agent:
  • Gets 15% of whatever you get
  • Monies go directly to your agent, they send the balance to you
  • Sells an idea and your ability to write
  • Handles paperwork for the IRS
  • Do not pay an agent for anything - including a reading fee

I started to submit query letters the middle of November 2010.  Some wanted a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), while others stated "email only."  An interesting experience!  I checked my emails constantly, as I nervously waited for the mailman.  I was out of control.  But I'm getting better.

Polite rejections are status quo for queries mailed . . . most are form letters.  One was handwritten . . . Not for me, but thank you.  I'm so sorry for your loss.  And of all the emails . . . only one replied!  Possibly the fastest rejection in history!  Sent at 5:01 p.m., the rejection arrived at 5:50 p.m., but it was polite.  I guess it's a lot easier to hit the delete key, then take a minute to say, "No Thank You."

My plan has been to give the "traditional way" one year . . . then consider self-publishing.  In this round, small publishers will be my target with some agents sprinkled throughout.  I'll never know unless I try!

Death leaves a memory that no one can heal, love leaves a memory that no one can steal.                 Anonymous

The demons of war continue to rage out of control.  Throughout the world brave men and women are engulfed in fear, death and destruction as they pray for strength and protection  Others long for the way it use to be, knowing it will never be again.

We must never forget the price these brave men and women are paying for their country . . .

My story is only one of millions.  A family shattered by the horrors of war dwelling in the man I loved with no understanding of what was happening.  Caught in a maze, I couldn't find my way out.  I want to touch others who know this heartache.  They're not alone.

I have a vision to find someone who knew my husband.  Someone willing to share what happened in Vietnam.  Someone who can give me a reason why.  And how do I find this person?  One day I will post the return address information off of letters received from Vietnam . . . letters yellow and faded by the hands of time.    

Lesson learned . . . my two cents

Each new day is a gift . . . cherish it . . . for this day will never come again.


  1. Good luck with your querying. It took me a little over a year to find my agent. You should check out Agent Query online. It's a database where you can enter what you write and it generates a list of possible agents with their guidelines (though you should double check them) and their agency websites.

  2. Great post. Love your pelicans. The incidental things that stop us in our tracks are such gifts. Good luck with your quest. Keep at it.

  3. Nancy, hang in there and keep at it! The information you've provided is quite helpful. Call me ignorant but I had not idea that some publishers only go through agents! I've heard good things about self publishing. Keep us posted, please!

  4. ARGH!! I can relate.. I am mid process too, maybe we can share wine and email dialogues. :-) Like Bella and Kelly had said, we gotta keep plugging.

  5. I think I hold the record for the quickest rejection... and if I remember right, it was 9 minutes... chapter example unseen and the publisher publishes my genre!

  6. Hi. I was looking for your query letter - you said it was posted on your blog - but wasn't sure if it was the last part of this post or not ...