(Warning: the following lesson may not be appropriate for those who want to self-publish or send excerpts and short stories to magazines or publishing books. For everyone else: enjoy.)
So picture this:
Many moons ago you had an idea, nay, an urge to write. For weeks you slaved over details, world building, character creation, and crafting. You’ve received good and bad advice. You’ve struggled with writer’s block. You’ve neglected the dirty dishes in the sink. After an undefined period of time, you’ve finally done it! You’ve written a novel. Now all that’s left is to send it in to a publisher right? After that the big bucks come flowing in… right?
Wait… Why am I not getting any feedback? (I sent it to like… seven Publishing houses)
Why is my story being ignored? (I worked so hard on it. I even bought books on writing)
Why won’t anyone take me seriously? (I swear I showered last night!)
If the above sounds like an exaggerated version of you, do not lose hope. It’s not that your story is bad, or that you’re unlikeable. It’s that you have no representation.
Now you might be wondering: What the heck is this nut talking about? Representation? Isn’t my skill enough?
It’s a fair question, but have you ever heard of Nikolai Tesla? The man was a genius, crafting marvels of scientific wonder and shattering the per-conceived notions of his time. He’s the reason electricity works the way it does, and is partially responsible for the name of an amazing 80’s heavy metal band.
“I’m on the highway to that one place full of bad people.”
-Heavily paraphrased by me.
Unfortunately, the man died broke and shamed. It wasn’t that his talent wasn’t enough, but that no one wanted to vouch for his brilliance. In fact, the man had most of his inventions stolen by a dude who crafted the lightbulb. The ones that weren’t stolen were disavowed or made infamous by a man with way more money and influence.
So what went wrong? Well it wasn’t that the man wasn’t talented, that’s for certain. Instead it’s that he wasn’t very well represented in his life. Had he the lauding and background we give him today things might have been different for good ‘ol Tesla.
Fortunately for you, dear writer, you don’t need to pass on to gain representation. The States are a much more forgiving place nowadays, and anyone with an iota of brilliance can gain the representation they need to help make their dreams a reality. How, you ask?
Why, with an Agent of course!
Actually, the kind of agent i’m talking about is a Publishing Agent. Should one choose to go the traditional route, these people are your first step to getting your story published. Paid by commission, these men and women work tirelessly to make your manuscript as perfect a possible. All the while they act as a liaison between you and the Publishing company, ensuring you come out of the bargain with the best possible rewards and rights.
“But wait!” you might say, “What if this agent is no help at all? What if they try to steal my work I so lovingly crafted?”
Again another fair question. As writers we often feel wary with sharing with other people our works. It’s the ultimate paradox really, for we are careful with disclosure, but we want people to see and love our works. Thus I say to you, aspiring writers, if you wish to let others see your work, why not start with one who’s life goal is to help those like you?
See, in a previous article I talked about people who work by commission. Like a freelance editor, an agent works the same way. The difference: rather than be paid up front, the agent is paid when you are paid by the publishing company. In essence their entire livelihood exists solely because writer’s like you need representation. Thus many agents are more than happy to give that, should time or skill permit.
In addition to that, the very word “Agent” has quite the history in and of itself. It’s origin, agere, is the Latin word for “to set in motion, drive, lead, or conduct.” Seems fitting for one who tries to get your work noticed, no? Well wait, it gets better! In the 1550’s, the decade before Shakespeare himself was born, the term had a much more powerful meaning. According to the Online Etymology “Agent” meant “Any natural force or substance which produces a phenomenon,” a fitting definition for one who wishes to help stories succeed. Four decades later it meant “the representative,” again another fitting definition. It wasn’t until the 1910’s that the word became synonymous with “spies,” but I digress.
“Well they sound great and all, but where can I find one?” you may ask. Fortunately the answer is quite simple.
Take a novel you like, preferably one you’re novel resembles in tone or genre, and look at the dedications. Often times authors will acknowledge their agent in the dedications of their books. While this is a good start, there is also no harm in searching for agents online. Agents’ webpages and blogs pepper the internet far and wide. Oftentimes they’ll list what they’ve worked on and what they want to endorse. All it takes is one email.
Or,you could use this website: http://publishersmarketplace.com/
I mean… I guess you could look up your favorite books. Maybe the agent will be listed. I suppose you could pay for the full service, i’m told it might be totally worth it.
Like the picture above, an agent is like a bridge. They serve to connect what is naturally separate, in this case the writer and publishers. In addition they support those who wish to cross, as they will do for your manuscript as it goes to the publisher. If things pan out the bridge will help make it to the other side, and will even support you on the way back. That’s what bridges do, and I feel agents do that just as well.
And if your bridge is bad then you could always find another one.
So that’s my word on bri- I mean agents. I know I said I’d talk about editors this time around but I felt this needed to be said first. I promise the next one will talk about the various kinds of editors that help shape your books to excellence.
In the meantime, does anyone have a personal experience with an agents? Have you ever found a good one? Are there any you find particularly exciting?
If you want, leave a comment below. Until next time.