Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Never Give Up

The statement, "A bad agent is worse than none" is true. It happened to me. I didn't sell a book until after we parted company. Now, I have 4 published books and I'm writing for two small but good quality publishers, YA fantasy for one, adult suspense for the other. I've been trying, in vain, to sign with a good agent. Nobody is interested. Shall I give up?

Never, ever give up. Remember that when it comes to publishing persistence is part of the game, and if you want to build a publishing career then you need to keep at it. You need to continue querying agents and writing books, and this isn’t just advice for the unpublished: staying published can be more difficult than finding that agent. You need just as much persistence to stay in the game as you do to get into the game.

It sounds like you’re starting off right. You’ve found a home for your work that you’re happy with and are now querying agents for new and fresh work. The smart thing is that you know when it comes to finding an agent you’ll have more success with a new project than you will with something that’s already been published. In your case, the case of the published author, the agent hopes to bring you to the next level in your career and wants to see what you have that will do that.

What I think most unpublished authors will find shocking about this is the fact that you are published and yet still struggling to find an agent. There’s a misconception that agents will snap up anyone with a publishing background or deal, and that’s just not true. I know that at BookEnds we have turned down a number of authors with careers or deals in hand. The truth is that we can’t take on every author that comes our way, and frankly, that works to your advantage. It means that when we do offer a contract we are really excited to be working with you and not just doing it because we see dollar signs.

Keep plugging away and writing books, continue to hone your craft and improve, and remind yourself that if you really want a career as a published author then giving up isn’t an option.



Kimber Li said...

Give up? Geez, sounds like she's doing fine without an agent. What's the big deal?

Anonymous said...

From the original question, I got the impression she meant give up looking for an agent, not give up on writing.

Elise Hepner said...

Yay, no giving up! I certainly needed that for my days work. It was very invigorating to wake up to that message. Thanks, it's going to be a long day.

Kimber Li said...

True, but why should she still be worried about getting an agent if she's doing fine without one?

Anonymous said...

If agents don't want her, perhaps it's their loss.

I was in the same position until I got taken on by a friend's agent, after I had given up looking for one. Funny, I didn't have to "know somebody" to get published, but did to get an agent.

Anonymous said...

Had an agent. Didn't work out. Will it be harder for me to get an agent now that I'm of the FA (formerly-agented)?

I do have four pubbed books under my belt, two of which I sold without the help of my agent.

I'm happy with my current publisher. My career plan, however, includes eventually selling to houses that require submission through agents. Ergo, I need an agent.

And something else -- being pubbed can actually be a strike AGAINST you.

When you're a debut author, an agent can succumb to the fantasy that you will be The One to launch them to Binky Urban heights.

The bloom is off the rose a bit once you have data from Bookscan and royalty statements trailing you.

Still, I'm taking Jessica's advice: I'm going to complete the fresh, new MS I'm working on, revise it to an inch of its life, and then query, query, query.

Christina said...

It's probably a good thing that most writers have never thought about being published and still having a hard time finding agents/editors. If we knew it was a never ending mountain range, instead of the one hill we're climbing, we might've decided to stay home. It's nice to imagine a time when a query letter is no longer needed and a quick pitch over the phone is all it would take. Alas, the mists fades and the light from my computer screen brings me back to reality.

Rosemary said...

The point about how hard it is to stay pubbed was driven home for me very recently.

An author I love, whose work crosses over nicely from literary to commercial and who has worked with some pretty big editors, actually entered her WIP in Amazon's Breakthrough contest. On her website, she asks "interested agents and editors" to contact her regarding her new novel.

I was floored by this. And humbled. And yes, terrified.

It's tough out there.

Robena Grant said...

Kimber, I think she's looking at the big picture. How to grow her career, how to get her work seen by the big NY pubs, etc. Without an agent that would be hard to do.
So, she has to write something new, awesome, and get it to an agent just like a beginner. These are tough times for everyone.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hillsy said...

This post would've been sooo much much better if Jessica had answered like this.

Questioner: I'm struggling along not quite achieving what I hoped to and my meteoric rise aboard a literary starship turned out to be nothing more than a cross country chugg on a rickety 1930's steam train. My confidence is shot and I'm blistered by dispair; in my vanity and wretchedness I'm asking you this question in the foreknowledge you will tell me exactly what I want to hear! Jessica! Should I give up?

Jessica: Yep!

Could've been beautifu, *sniff*. Of course the liklihood of that answer is about the same as me inventing non-carcenogenic, odourless, fat-dissolving cigarettes.

Word Verification - Sputt: an arse that looks like a potato

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

(Hate typos!!)

I'm a true believer in the "never say die" mentality. This past year I've completed two novels and am in the middle of two more. I'll keep writing until the end of (my) time. Hopefully, I'll be published (long) before then. ;-)

Vivi Anna said...

It's true I had a harder time getting an agent the second time around, with 8 books under my belt, and an open option with one of my publishers, then I did when I first started and had nothing.

Never give up is right.

If this is what you want to do, what you're meant to do, then keep on keeping on. It will happen.

Lily D said...

I'm in a similar situation to the writer of the letter--formerly agented and with eight published books to my name, one sold by the agent and the others myself. The book that the agent sold, a popular reference title for which I was the wordsmith and my co-author the expert, bombed for reasons beyond our control (mostly bad timing), but the result was that the agent wouldn't handle anything else by my co-author and me. Three fiction titles later (2 YA, one adult) from a respected but struggling small press, I'm trying to get an agent again to get a better contract and more recognition. I'm finding that there's a glass ceiling when one is published by a small press--glowing reviews but no starred reviews and less serious consideration for awards. I don't want to feel like I'm throwing away my best work.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to volunteer as the poster child for today's topic. After 3 published books and a prestigious award, my line closed and I was orphaned. I wrote several more books, none of which my agent could sell, and the last book I wrote while with her, she didn't like at all. I loved it, and realized we just weren't on the same page. I decided it was time to move on, thinking I'd have no problem finding a new agent.


I'm coming up on 2 years, have written 2 more manuscripts, rewritten the one my old agent hated, and have been searching for new representation off and on with zero luck. Lots of requests - no cigar.

I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to give up the search, crawl in my cave and call myself a has-been, an also-ran, a talentless hack who got lucky. My ego is now nonexistent. But after licking my wounds, revising and tweaking my work, starting a new project, I get back out there for another round. I've lost count, but I think I'm up to at least 50 queries. I have full mss. with 6 agents from back in the spring - no word, no R - nothing. I have 8 fulls and partials with a new batch, going on 2 months now. I've decided never responding after requesting a manuscript is the new black.

But you know what? I'm never giving up. If the current project doesn't land an agent and sell, the next one will. Or the one after that. I'm way too hard-headed to give up now. I have way too much time and effort invested to let it go at this point.

Someone once told me, if you CAN quit, then you should. I've tried to quit, and failed. In between the frustration and hurt of rejection after rejection, and that killer silence, I write, and will always write. It's what I do, where I can find my center, what makes every day exciting. I love the process and it brings me joy. I'm not going to let my failures color what made me start writing to begin with. I know there's an agent out there who'll like my work, who'll see potential and share my excitement. She/He will also be fun, and funny, and have no problem telling me something sucks, but then back it up with editorial guidance. I discovered that's crucial for me. If you're looking for an agent, think about what you need, what someone can bring to the table that will make you the best you can be. Don't settle, or be blinded by a name.

Remember, it's ALL about the work - your past successes might get your foot in the door - though for sure that's not a guarantee - but it's what you've got to offer right NOW that counts.

And listen to Jessica and Winston Churchill - Never, never, never give up.

ETA: Apologies for posting this as Anonymous. Since I'm still looking, I hate to tag myself as One Who's Been Rejected A Lot. May as well tattoo a ginormous 'L' on my forehead.

Robena Grant said...

Anon 11:32
I loved what you had to say. There is no "L" on your forehead, and good for you for not giving up. Wishing you every possible success.

Buffy Andrews said...

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keep the faith fellow writers.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:32:
I SOOO know how you feel, and I always write anonymously. In fact, let me take this opportunity to thank you, Jessica, for allowing us to do that. There are other blogs that don't allow it. I so often say something that I fear would prevent me from interesting a publisher or agent, e.g. my age or how long it's been since I've been published, the fact that I've had writers' block, the fact that I am also tempted so often to just give up. But like you, 11:32, I can't seem to help myself. I love to write and am miserable when I'm not doing it, so happy when I am (and have managed to convince myself that there's a good chance I'll be published again).
I wish you the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 11:32

I know what you mean. I so know. But anyone who got an award for his or her writing ... well, you don't have an L anywhere in sight. Good luck!

Anonymous 9:35.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the Anonymi posters for sharing their stories. I feel a little depressed but definitely inspired.

I can't help but wonder if a writer's end goal is to be published by a large house if they're better off staying away from smaller publishers. (Meaning, a small press may not be the best stepping stone.) Jessica, what are your thoughts?

Mira said...

I love this post, Jessica! And I found alot of the posts very touching, especially Anon 11:32 - thank you.

However, I do want to add that I'm okay if someone takes me on basically out of an interest to make money. They don't have to be excited to be working with me - I just need them to be excited about working with my book.

In fact, I'd prefer it not be so personal. This is business, right? Let's go make books together.

Anonymous said...

@ Mira

No, no, no, Mira. You want an agent who LOVES you, who BELIEVES in you, who wonders why those dang, stupid, nitwit editors don't see in you what she sees in you.

Trust me. I'm like Anon 9:35 and Anon 11:32. Only, I sold the book first, then sent out ONE (kickmekickmekickme) have-offer-need-agent e-mail to my so-called dream agent.

She just took me for the money, not because she saw something in me.

I won't say yes to any agent who isn't absolutely jumping for joy at my work BEFORE I wave money in his or her face. I'm in it for the love.

So I'm impressed very much by Jessica saying that they turn down in-hand offers if they don't love the writing.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I don't know if I'm "shocked", but I was pretty surprised at this writer's lack of luck in getting an agent, only because she has FOUR published books as opposed to one or two. I've read multiple agents say they don't take on every published writer, but you'd think somebody would snap this one up somewhere! In fact, I'm sure it'll happen--just keep trying, as everyone else says. This writer is obviously producing work someone sees as publishable!

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show ya, it doesn't matter what you've done before (although it might if what you did before sold poorly), it only matters what you've got RIGHT NOW!

Anonymous said...

It's just words on paper/screen, people! It's not that difficult!

T. M. Hunter said...

I was going to say something pithy about being honest with your opinions and the publishers who went around the internet finding comments to use against the writer later not being the publishers I'd want to deal with anyway...

But then I realized I'm sort-of anonymous myself, and my credibility just went right out the window.

Anonymous said...

As an Anon poster myself (for good reason, i.e. my ms. is out on sub), I prefer the Anon comments cuz they seem to be the most truthful and honest. Nothing against using names, of course, but we Anons feel more free to speak the truth. Enjoyed the Anon comments but I'm so confident (cocky?) that I only want my future agent/s to submit to the big houses for the prestige and publicity and yes, the advance.

If only we could all be agents for each other...Why not? Who better to rep a writer than another writer? lol

Jemi Fraser said...

Awesome post and responses. It's always interesting to hear the stories of more veteran writers. Thanks to you all for taking the time to share your experiences.

Marilee Brothers said...

Decided to chime in since I asked the question. Yes, I'm published. No, I can't get an agent interested. Very frustrating. Sound like there's lots of people in the same boat. Part of the problem is I have 4 more books to write in the YA urban fantasy series for a small publisher. I know the series has "legs" and could attract a bigger publisher but I don't have the chops to do it and I don't have a lot of time to work up another series. I do have a proposal written for another book in the romantic suspense series I'm writing for another mid-sized publishing company. My question is this: if they want it, would this be a good time to query agents?

Anonymous said...

Maybe a Bookends agent will be interested? After all, like J said, it's not all about the money.

Mira said...

Anon 5:09

Okay. You're more experienced...I'll think about what you're saying.....

Good luck, btw. I'm rooting for you! :)