Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Best Literary Agents

(I was sick, so pardon the long break between posts. But I'm feeling better. Now, where was I?)

Jeff Kleinman isn't one of the true gentlemen in the literary agent business just because he asked for more of my manuscript to review ... but maybe it didn't hurt. He eventually decided not to take me on, but I was impressed by Jeff's commitment to searching out new authors who suddenly show up in his e-mail file. I sent to Jeff one day and got a reply the next. In the world of agents, that's megaspeed. Every agent should appreciate what it means to an author to get that kind of response time. I had done lots of research on Jeff before I filed with him, and he has built an impressive background. He's one of the agent/lawyer combinations, the head of Folio Literary Management. In one interview, he said his day often consists of checking his e-mail at home, going to the office and checking e-mail, getting home and checking e-mail, etc. That kind of commitment to authors without the necessary publishing street cred is laudable.

Kristin Nelson reportedly gets the most queries of any agent, and she takes on a precious few new authors. She rejected my project ... in a form letter no less ... but I put her up near the top of my list for one reason. She writes the best blog in the business. It's called PubRants, and I highly recommend it. Kristin tells a lot in her short postings ... just the kind of stuff we First-Timers need to understand the publishing world a little better. She's witty and professional, informative and entertaining. I really hoped we could establish some kind of Denver connection ... her office is just a few blocks from where I work in downtown Denver ... but I still hold out hope.

Three agents earn honorable mention. Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank writes an almost lyrical rejection letter, and some of her interviews contain vital information for any aspiring author. She is a true professional. Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger did a one-day turnaround on replying to my query, and that was much appreciated. Molly Friedrich just sent out a letter to every author who has filed with her, bemoaning the fact that her agency had to abandon its long-time policy of replying directly to each author because the flood of queries has become so much. I appreciate her contact, just because I know the situation she and her agency faces.

I have empathy for all the agents I have contacted. Judging by Friedrich's letter, the number of queries has increased greatly. I can't isolate a reason, but I can imagine being on the receiving end of hundreds of queries a week. Help!!!!

One of these days, that first date of query letter-to-agent will work out for me. I am a patient man. Good things take time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Gate to the Gatekeepers?

I wish I could talk about literary agents with some degree of certainty. I can't, simply because of limited contact. But that isn't going to stop me from commenting.

Oh, there are some things I know. They are overburdened, getting an avalanche of contacts every week from aspiring writers like myself. They have their areas of interest regarding genres with which they will work. They are writers, editors and lawyers all rolled into one (or at least they know good lawyers) and guide their clients through the tricky world of publishing. Ah yes, there is the most important fact for someone such as myself: They are absolutely vital to my future, because they hold the first set of keys to getting published. But that is a mighty tough first step to take.

Here is a quick statistic: I have contacted 23 agents since mid-December; I have heard back from six of them. All were rejections. I'm not shaken by that fact, for two reasons. First, I don't have a big ego, so rejection doesn't hit one of my more vulnerable spots. Second, one agent posted on her blog that contacting an agent is a little like a first date. Some first dates work out, a lot don't. (I have to dig back into my memory banks to comment on that, since I've been married for a long, long time.) OK, I'm fine with that fact.

But remember, I'm that guy looking for that wedding night experience. First dates that end with a polite goodbye at the door aren't exactly what I was looking for. And what about all those agents who haven't contacted me yet? Is my work under review, or have I been kicked to the curb? (It was a bit disconcerting to see that two of the agents I've sent to are on the list of the top 10 agents least likely to reply. Marvelous.) Where is that agent who believes in me as much as I believe in myself?

Of course, I have definite impressions from my contact with the few agents I've heard from. There are two of them I absolutely love, and I will talk about them in my next post. (I'll give a couple of honorable mentions as well.) And later I will deal with the query letter, that first contact with an agent that is one of the most difficult writing assignments imaginable. (Hint: Take a manuscript of more than 200 pages and boil it down to 250 words or less ... and make it good enough to sell that agent who is wading through hundreds of similar works. And for added weight, those words could determine your future in this business.)

Keep writing, keep creating, keep believing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

I have written enough during a 35-year career on newspapers to fill a small library. I have been part of several departments that have been ranked among the 10 best in America. I know how to be a manager. I know how to write for journalism. I know how to edit other writers. But nothing ... absolutely nothing ... in all that experience prepared me for the world of publishing ... the agent-and-publishing house side of creativity.

I know I'm not alone. This blog is designed for all the first-timers to get together and commiserate.

Good agents get hundreds of queries (the name of the short pitch an aspiring writer sends) a week. Very, very few of those aspiring writers are invited into the select circle of published authors. Hence, I know there is a crowded world of first-timers out there, so let's share some of our stories.

I believe there is one thing that unites all of us: We believe intensely in our work. I spent a year of my life carving out time to write and edit my novel, all while working a fulltime job and handling the duties of spouse/son/father/grandfather/etc. I would arm myself with a few cups of coffee to shake off the early morning cobwebs, head to my computer and compose. If the creative spirit was really moving, I would bury myself in this world I was creating until a glance at the clock showed it was midafternoon and I had to get ready to go to my other job (which has a much smaller window for creativity). But I would emerge from that writing session feeling so energized. I counted the hours until the next splashes of coffee and immersion into the world I was building.

Now comes the hard part ... getting this labor of love sold. I don't want to go the self-publishing route, which means I have to find an agent. Easier said than done. There are hundreds of them, but an individual agent is pummeled by authors who are just as committed to their works as I am to mine. I called this blog The First-Timers knowing that there was a bit of a sexual context to the title. Getting an agent and getting published is a little like a single person imagining a wedding night. You know it probably will be great. If you are realistic, you also know the ensuing marriage will take lots of hard work and a fair bit of sacrifice. But reaching the wedding night and getting an agent have a similar dilemma ... you have to find someone who believes in you as much as you believe in yourself.

I'll touch on that agent part of this world in my next post. In the meantime, keep writing, keep creating, keep believing.