Help Wanted

It’s not a whale of a tail (or tale) I’m gonna tell you. I was just hoping for a little (or a lot) of professional help.

No. Not a psychiatrist.

I’m in love with novelist Colum McCann. Go ahead, tell John. Snitch. Colum writes words that dance on paper, but even with the cha-cha-cha, you never lose the flow of his story. This is an awesome skill.

In his new nonfiction book, Letters to a Young Writer, he has a chapter on literary agents. In it, he writes, “The most important thing you should know about an agent is that you employ them, they don’t employ you.”

Did you get that? The agent works for you. You pay her/him a percentage of your income, so select your agent carefully. He or she is your employee.

I want to hire one!

But what if you send out your ad (query letter) to half a dozen agents, and no one applies for the job? What then? Colum McCann has more suggestions, and they make sense if you’re twenty-two, or thirty, or maybe even forty.

But, I’m seventy-three. I watch my compatriots drooping or dropping like magnolia blossoms in a thunderstorm, and I’m very aware of time limits. Can I spend years sending this book to agents, and then more years waiting while the elusive agent sends the book out to publishers?And then more years of editing. I could be dead before the book is a book.

But without an agent, my book could disappear, unread—swallowed up into the belly of a whale, out to sea. Never a real book.

Agents have thousands of writers wanting to hire them. Seriously. No joke. Thousands. Competition is ferocious. It’s a sellers market. Or a buyers market? I’m not sure which it would be.

The norm now is that you email your stuff—queries, synopsis, outlines, and the beginning of your book (ten pages up to three chapters)—and within minutes you get an auto-confirmation.

Here’s one of the nicer auto-responses: Ten weeks have past…I didn’t shine.

I’ve been through all of this before. You wait for months, and if you don’t hear anything, it’s a rejection. When they read your email, instead to just deleting it, maybe they could hit the reply button and just type “nope,” or “sorry” or “this is a piece of shit.” At least you’d know. You wouldn’t be hanging out in limbo for months.

Here’s another auto-response:When I was looking for an agent for Intentional, the above agency said they’d let you know in three months, after six months they emailed—they were interested and wanted to see the whole book, another three months later they rejected it. “Although we liked the book, we didn’t love it enough to represent it.” Nine months waiting—no baby, no cigar.

This time one agent didn’t send an auto-response, she sent an email apologizing for the delay in responding (it was only two weeks). And, my god, she actually responded. She actually typed my name. I sent her a thank-you email.

Okay, so you roll with the punches.

With Intentional, I had to become my own agent. Which meant I had to find a publisher. Guess what. Publishers only look at work that comes to them through an agent. A real one, not me.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll give those agents I sent my query to a couple more weeks…or maybe another month.

Note to agents: You have until August 5th to apply for my job.

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