Jennifer Hillier

Blurry eyes

Aug 13, 2009 | Uncategorized

I forgot how much I hate spreadsheets.  They make my eyes dry.  To think I used to work with them all day… no wonder my vision’s regressed, even after having laser eye surgery in 2002.

I’ve spent the last few days working on a list of literary agents and staring at columns and rows that instantly blur together if I forget to blink.  I’ve got 180 names so far.   Gee, and I was hoping for 50.  Who knew so many agents represented – or are interested in representing – thrillers?  Obviously this is good news for me – the more agents I have to query, the better my chances of signing with someone.  I’m now sorting them into categories called (most originally, I might add) “A”, “B”, and “C”.   This is not as easy as it sounds.  It requires a lot of research.  Very loosely:

A‘s are the agents I’d kill for.  Those with lots of experience, tons of publishing contacts, and a long list of bestsellers under their belts.

B‘s are the agents I’d be happy with, but maybe don’t have the exact right background.

C‘s are the agents I’d still be glad to work with, but am not sure would be great fit.  But still worth querying, because you never know.

Note that the above categories have nothing to do with competence.  Obviously I wouldn’t put anybody on any of my lists who wasn’t competent.   But to decide whether an agent is right for me, it requires a very thorough background check.

First I check their profiles in AgentQuery and Writer’s Market to see what types of books they’re looking for.  No point in querying someone who doesn’t represent thrillers.   Most agents are very specific about the projects they’re willing to market.

I also need to know what their submission guidelines are.  Some agents just want a brief (250-word) query letter via email only.  Others want a query, a detailed synopsis, a resumé, and the first 50 pages double-spaced with one-inch margins in 12-point Courier font with your name and book title in every page header, snail mailed.  Don’t forget to include the self-addressed stamped envelope for when they reject you.  And, of course, everything in between.

Then I’m checking their individual websites for their biographies.  What’s their background?   How are they qualified to be literary agents?   Which authors do they currently represent?

Publisher’s Marketplace (a site I pay $20/month to use) tells me all about their publishing deals dating back to the year 2000.  Which editors at which publishing houses they’ve sold to.  And, of course, for how much. $10,000? $100,000?  This stuff is good to know.

Finally, I read third party reviews to see what other writers think.  AbsoluteWrite (the writer’s forum I belong to) has long discussion threads on almost every agent, and thank God for that.  I’ve dropped agents from A’s to B’s because of reports of terrible communication skills and even rudeness (the fact that they’re even on my list attests to my hope that they’ll be better with me).  Preditors & Editors and Writers Beware are excellent sites dedicated to exposing scammers and fraudulent behaviour, so I check those, too.

Totally exhausting and mind-numbing work, but there’s no way around it.  I really do want to find the perfect agent.  This is my book, my career, my dream.  Don’t I have the right to want someone amazing?  Because if by some miracle I find that perfect agent, hopefully I’ll never have to look for one again.

So what am I looking for in a literary agent, anyway?

Ideally, I want someone with a lot of experience, who has a strong sales record in my genre and who has a genuine interest in helping me become a career writer.  It’s also important that he/she is genuinely excited to work with a new author.  I’m surprised at how many agents seem to only want to work with published authors.  (And my question is:  Where do they expect to find these published authors?  Wouldn’t most of them already have agents?  Are they hoping to snag someone who’s not happy with their current agent?)

Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be glad to work with someone newer.  Someone who’s young and ambitious with lots of energy can be a good thing, too.  Never underestimate hunger.

Above all, I want someone I click with.  Publishing is a business, but writing is personal to me.  I couldn’t imagine going through this process (also known as Query Hell amongst writers) if I wasn’t passionate about writing.   And you can’t be passionate about something that isn’t personal.

High hopes, I know.  But not high expectations.  There is a difference.