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Agent standard

Over the past weeks – in the lull between rewriting the third book and receiving penciled pages from Colacitti – I’ve been soliciting agents.  I’m not sure what they can do for me except make some deals that I simply don’t want to make on my own (they could, for instance, get Barnes & Noble to sell my book; don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Tiny Life in a national book store chain, but that seems like a lot of hassle to get a deal like that accomplished.  A lot of meetings.  I despise meetings.  More than I despise 80s cover bands).  But even these solicitations have been a pain in the ass.

The way it works is that you find companies on the internet (Colleen Doran has a wonderful list) and then look each and every one of them up.  This can take hours because many of them don’t have websites, have crappy websites, or have websites so stripped down it’s basically an online business card.

Then you have to see which agent in the company handles what kind of topic.  This is bizarre.  I remember one said something like, “I handle travel guides, children’s picture books, and narrative historical nonfiction set during the Victorian era.”  I remember another said, “If you have a book dealing with vampires, erotica, or modern governmental procedures in Eastern African countries, then contact me.”

Once you’ve found the agent that happens to represent whatever you’re trying to sell them, then it’s a crapshoot on how they want to proceed.  Some say, “Contact the information line and we will get back to you within one business day.”  But others have a ten-step procedure – “Write one page on your project then write one page on any awards you’ve received then write one page on yourself then send the first 5 pages of your manuscript” – and they end every line with, “If this step is not followed, your project will not be considered.”

Some want mail only.  Some want email only.  Some want links.  Some want attachments.  Some only will take pdf while others will only discuss things over the phone.

As with most ridiculously complicated things, I have a solution:

Step one: Send a query to anyone in the agency saying which genre your project is most easily identified.  Mine is a graphic novel; however, yours might be a how-to book on cinnamon beer or a slice-of-life book about bestiality.  They should be able to read the first line and go, “Oh.  This is Julie’s department.” And send it on.  We all get email we don’t want to deal with and we all deal with it in the most efficient way possible: “Oh.  That’s someone else’s problem.”

Step 2: Once the correct agent receives the email, they respond by stating either “We’re not taking that type of book now,” or “Please send a sample when you are able.”  This way, I’m not sitting around thinking that I might have a shot when I don’t, and I’m able to send them any part of the book I want.  I’ve spent hours putting together “the first 15 pages” and “the first chapter” and “the first three chapters” and “a low-resolution scan of the book”.  If I send them what I think is best and they don’t like it, then this isn’t the book for them.

Step 3: Once they review the sample, they say either, “This isn’t want I’m looking for” or “Looks good.  We should talk.”  There doesn’t need to be any in between stuff like, “I’ll talk to my manager” or “This sounds interesting.  Any reviews?” or “Your super-gay shutup.”

The whole thing should be a series of simple question and answers.  After all, they’re in the business of selling other peoples’ ideas.  Shouldn’t the whole thing be a simple, “Can I sell your idea to people who don’t know you?”

I say, “Yes.”

They say, “Please send us a copy of your work ONLY once the query has been accepted through US mail ONLY to the following address ONLY and attach a sticker that says ONLY ‘requested material’.  Do NOT send a self-addressed stamped envelope as we WILL be keeping any manuscript given.  If any direction is not followed we will not even look at your book.”


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