A few months back, I parted ways with my long-time agent. I hadn’t written anything in a while and the new novel I’d just finished—a police procedural based on my 15-years of volunteer service for the LAPD—was a departure from the four books in my Tucker series. There was no drama. My agent and I just realized it was time for each of us to move on. Still, breaking up is hard to do, especially when I didn’t know if I could find somebody else. A friend tried to reassure me. She’d recently had a conversation with an editor who said agents were desperate to find new clients because so many of their old clients were self-publishing. I took that information with a grain of salt.
Initially, I targeted four agents who were my dream team. One of them I considered out of my reach, but since my dad had always taught me it was just as easy to dream big as it was to dream small, I queried her anyway.
Five months and counting and none of those four has responded.
That surprised me. On my first foray into the agent search in 2001, every agent I queried (by snail-mail back then) wrote back. I saved all the letters because some of them were hilarious. Many were dictated-but-not-read form letters. However, some of the biggest agents sent personal, typewritten notes with real signatures, saying no in various polite ways:
“I can’t take on any new projects at the moment.”
“As you know, this is a subjective business and I could be wrong.”
Some merely jotted a personal not-for-me note on my query letter and returned it in the self addressed stamped envelope.
This time around, all submissions were transmitted by email. Two of the agents sent automated responses, acknowledging receipt of my submission. Of the agents who used that method, both said it would take them from six to eight weeks to respond. One agent stated if I didn’t hear from her after six weeks, I could assume she wasn’t interested. That was not encouraging but I appreciated her honesty. The other submissions simply disappeared into the ether.
Of course, I didn’t sit around waiting for those agents to call. I kept sending queries, ten in total, three of them because of author friends who had volunteered to contact their agents on my behalf. All three had read my book and loved it. Based on my friends' recommendations, each of their agents agreed to read my manuscript. Each took about two months to respond. Two said no thanks. One loved my book and offered representation.
I realize this is a somewhat small sample from which to draw conclusions, but here they are nonetheless:
- Finding an agent is still difficult
- Agents don’t seem desperate for clients
- Having a friend recommend you to his/her agent is no guarantee of success
- The search is still long and frustrating
- Having a track record in publishing doesn’t necessarily mean anything
- Not responding to queries is a crappy business model, especially when busy agents could set up an automated email response that advises writers about the process
- It only takes one agent who loves your book