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Author Topic: A Day in the Life of an Agent  (Read 3363 times)

Offline CameronJohnston

A Day in the Life of an Agent
« on: November 17, 2015, 11:06:54 AM »
Thought you all might enjoy seeing what a typical day in the life of a literary agent involves:
http://www.juliecrisp.co.uk/blog-1/2015/11/17/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-agent-with-juliet-mushens

Julie Crisp has interviewed Juliet Mushens and asked her what she does on a typical day - she gets 600 manuscripts submitted a month (on top of day to day work)! That's the odds you face submitting your book to agents.


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Offline xiagan

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2015, 02:05:44 PM »
Thanks for sharing! :)

Another entertaining link about the life of an agent is this one: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/
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Offline Lanko

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2015, 06:36:04 PM »
Thanks for sharing! :)

Another entertaining link about the life of an agent is this one: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/

This was amazing.

I laughed so hard on the "Deer agent," query.  ;D
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Offline JMack

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2015, 06:47:42 PM »
Thanks for sharing! :)

Another entertaining link about the life of an agent is this one: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/

This was amazing.

I laughed so hard on the "Deer agent," query.  ;D

I liked the Mexican jail response.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2015, 03:49:40 PM »
Julie Crisp has interviewed Juliet Mushens and asked her what she does on a typical day - she gets 600 manuscripts submitted a month (on top of day to day work)! That's the odds you face submitting your book to agents.

Yup, it really is quite discouraging when you realize you only have a very, very brief window to interest an agent. Ultimately, that's why the best advice is always to try to meet them in person. Find an agent who's attending a con or other event, talk to them like a reasonably intelligent human being, and pitch them your book in person. Then, they might be willing to read more than the first paragraph before they reject it.

I'm pretty much stopped doing cold queries for my current espionage SF for this reason. I'm keeping an eye out for agents to pitch in person. That said, I will likely cold query the hell out of my cyberpunk procedural when it's ready, but that's only because there's no harm in doing so. I still have a feeling I'll be serializing it and using it as a 6 month advertisement for my other work. :)

Offline zmunkz

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #5 on: November 23, 2015, 06:49:07 PM »
Julie Crisp has interviewed Juliet Mushens and asked her what she does on a typical day - she gets 600 manuscripts submitted a month (on top of day to day work)! That's the odds you face submitting your book to agents.

Yup, it really is quite discouraging when you realize you only have a very, very brief window to interest an agent. Ultimately, that's why the best advice is always to try to meet them in person. Find an agent who's attending a con or other event, talk to them like a reasonably intelligent human being, and pitch them your book in person. Then, they might be willing to read more than the first paragraph before they reject it.

I'm pretty much stopped doing cold queries for my current espionage SF for this reason. I'm keeping an eye out for agents to pitch in person. That said, I will likely cold query the hell out of my cyberpunk procedural when it's ready, but that's only because there's no harm in doing so. I still have a feeling I'll be serializing it and using it as a 6 month advertisement for my other work. :)

Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his youtube lectures... he says how you have to research the specific agents and figure out which agents signed similar books and then query them directly.... but how the hell are you supposed to do that???  Where is that information even found?  Seems like we all have to shoot in the dark and just hope.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2015, 09:21:46 PM »
Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his youtube lectures... he says how you have to research the specific agents and figure out which agents signed similar books and then query them directly.... but how the hell are you supposed to do that???  Where is that information even found?  Seems like we all have to shoot in the dark and just hope.

There are ways to get that information, but most of them cost money. For instance, the website Publisher's Marketplace keeps track of which agent sold what book to what publisher. So, say you're researching Bob Jones, agent. You can look up Bob Jones on Publisher's Marketplace (not all agents are on there, but most are) and see the last few books Bob Jones sold to various publishers.

From there, it's easy to backtrack to see who wrote the books Bob Jones sold, and thus know who Bob Jones signed recently. Then, you can (usually) read at least the first chapter or each book that Bob Jones bought on Amazon via the "Look Inside" feature to give you a feel for what Bob Jones might like.

Typically, research of this type allows you to add something like "I noticed you recently signed [author's book about dragons]. My book also has dragons and I hope it will catch your interest" to your cover letter ... assuming that's actually the case. That said, I don't think this gives you too much of an advantage in a cold query stack, given there's so much subjectivity involved, including the agent's mood and what they just had for lunch. Also, agents tend to search for stuff different from what they've already signed (since they've already got a guy or gal writing that stuff) to keep a diverse client list.

Every little bit helps, but I'm honestly not sure a Publisher's Marketplace subscription is worth the money. If you use it all, I'd say it's best to get a list of 20 or so agents you want to query, subscribe to Publisher's Marketplace, gather all the information you can, and unsubscribe before they re-bill you. But that's me. :)

Eighteen agents have thus far rejected my espionage SF novel without even a request for the manuscript (a manuscript which 25 advance readers, including published authors, have told me is their favorite thing I've ever written). I've had several published authors with publishers like Tor and Baen critique my query letters and give them a thumbs up,  so that doesn't seem to be the problem either. It's just hard to hop of out the cold query stack.

EDIT: On meeting agents in person - if they have a website or a Twitter account, they will often post upcoming convention appearances there. So, you just have to keep an eye on one you're hoping to query (cyberstalking them, essentially ;p) and then see if you can make the conference they're attending and pitch them in person.

I wish you luck, my friend!

Offline Francis Knight

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2015, 11:35:50 PM »
Julie Crisp has interviewed Juliet Mushens and asked her what she does on a typical day - she gets 600 manuscripts submitted a month (on top of day to day work)! That's the odds you face submitting your book to agents.

Yup, it really is quite discouraging when you realize you only have a very, very brief window to interest an agent. Ultimately, that's why the best advice is always to try to meet them in person. Find an agent who's attending a con or other event, talk to them like a reasonably intelligent human being, and pitch them your book in person. Then, they might be willing to read more than the first paragraph before they reject it.

I'm pretty much stopped doing cold queries for my current espionage SF for this reason. I'm keeping an eye out for agents to pitch in person. That said, I will likely cold query the hell out of my cyberpunk procedural when it's ready, but that's only because there's no harm in doing so. I still have a feeling I'll be serializing it and using it as a 6 month advertisement for my other work. :)

Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his youtube lectures... he says how you have to research the specific agents and figure out which agents signed similar books and then query them directly.... but how the hell are you supposed to do that???  Where is that information even found?  Seems like we all have to shoot in the dark and just hope.

It doesn't have to cost money. Look at their client list and see who is on there, what books they've written (this should give you a clue to what they like -- you can check on their website or places like querytracker) Most agents will give interviews that you can look at online, and/or will have preferences listed on their websites.

Pitching personally...it'll get you read quicker maybe. You still need to pitch succinctly and engagingly, as you would in a query letter. The elevator pitch (you get on a lift with dream agent, you have 30 seconds till your destination..pitch!) is good practice. Entice them in with a hook. But you don't NEED to do this. My first agent (retired now) I have never met or even talked to on the phone. It didn't matter. What matters is the book

But your query/pitch is key. A query shows you can write something engaging and make the agent think"I NEED TO READ THIS NOW!" Imagine reading 200 queries in a batch. Imagine how soon that will get very very old. Imagine your excitement when someone shows they can engage you, the jaded agent reader, enough to want to read on. More so with US queries (which differ slightly). A well written query will stand out like a lighthouse. And that is what you need. If you've got more than a dozen or so queries you've sent out with no bites, I'd say take another look at your query. Compare it the blurb on the back of a book. Does it show (show, not tell) your protag? Show the stakes of the book? Is it clear to someone who has not read the book? (This is a major problem for many peeps,they are so close to the book they assume it makes sense...been there, done that)

A US query (wqhich could easily be adapted for a UK one, but there are far less UK agents for SFF) needs to dop this:

Character A is like this (show it) and she wants B but C is stopping her. Then D happens, and she has to X or Y or ZOMG! (The stakes). It you are clever you can sneak in the worldbuilding while you do it -- no wasted words!

Writing a query is a skill you have to learn. It is not like writing a novel. But learning will stand you in good stead

I recommend Queryshark to see how it's done

I can also show you my query(s) that have had success if you pop me a DM
« Last Edit: November 23, 2015, 11:38:35 PM by Francis Knight »
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2015, 03:05:28 AM »
Writing a query is a skill you have to learn. It is not like writing a novel. But learning will stand you in good stead

I recommend Queryshark to see how it's done

I can also show you my query(s) that have had success if you pop me a DM

I really appreciate the thought and advice, and I'm sure other folks do too. You absolutely want to make your query letter as polished as possible, and practice your elevator pitch in the mirror. I suggest taking friends or loved ones hostage, and pitching your book to them as practice. Once you do that enough, you'll be able to really nail what makes it interesting quickly in conversation.

Just keep in mind there's still a number of random factors that can influence whether you interest an agent, ranging from what they've recently bought (maybe it was a book just like yours, and don't need another one!) or what they recently had turned down (maybe they're trying to sell a book similar to yours, and having trouble). There's even some agencies that employ slush readers (they work through the query pile before it even reaches the agent) and that introduces a whole new set of subjective randomness. What the agent likes may not be what the slush reader likes.

I think the important thing with queries (even cold queries) is to understand that if you're confident in your book and have a significant amount of feedback (from fellow authors and people who will tell you straight) an agent rejecting your book doesn't mean it's bad. It just means it's not what they're looking for right now.

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2015, 11:02:12 AM »

Stephen Aryan posted his (successful) query letter up on his site and it is well worth a look!
http://stephen-aryan.com/2014/07/31/how-i-found-an-agent-part-2/

I've met a few editors and agents at cons (really nice people too!) and can't see how it would hurt your chances to have a chat to them in person, maybe give them your elevator pitch if they are looking for new clients. They are always there to network and work as well as have fun (just choose your moment and not barge in). How much it helps (or hinders if you are an arrogant prat) is anybody's guess. I suspect face to face is more useful in 'high concept' pitches like "It's like Game of Thrones, but all the knights ride dinosaurs". They might remember that sort of thing when the manuscript hits their inbox, but after that you have the same chance as anybody else.

Finding suitable agents isn't terribly difficult. One of the easier ways is to identify a number of authors in the same genre and find out who represents them. It's usually as simple as looking at their website or googling: 'Jen Williams agent'...  Or you could use Querytracker https://querytracker.net/literary_agents.php sign up for free and search by genre.

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Offline cupiscent

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2015, 12:23:41 AM »
There's heaps of great advice going on here. Having just - successfully - gone through the agent-hunt myself, I thought I'd pitch in my two cents anyway. :)

On finding the right agents to query:
- QueryTracker was my starting point, but note that "fantasy" can mean everything from paranormal romance through to grimdark epic. You need to go to the agent's website, their twitter, their blog, their interviews and research-research-research to see if they're for you. (Or just query - an email costs nothing, and rejections don't hurt quite as much after the forty-third...)
- Publisher's Marketplace was a great resource for seeing who has sold books like yours recently - but that doesn't mean they will necessarily be looking for another book like that.
- Writer's Digest can be super handy if you keep an eye on it over a longer time period. For instance: 7 agents seeking fantasy now, from October 2015 (I queried four of the agents on that list).
- And if all else fails: find similar published books, read the acknowledgements, find out who the author's agent is (they'll usually thank them explicitly, sometimes all the "industry" people are bundled together, which is where google comes in handy).

I don't know anything about pitching in person - I'm in Australia, querying UK and US, so it was never an option! I sent emails. Lots of them. And I got rejections. Lots of them. I had a 25% request rate on the book that finally got me representation, and I sent thirty queries.) Query writing is a special art like any other sort of writing. Workshop, workshop, workshop your query letter, but also read and critique those of others. It helps so much with getting the hang of what a query needs to do. QueryShark is a fantastic resource. There are also critique forums for query letters at QueryTracker and AgentQueryConnect. Just bear in mind that while the "rules" for query writing can be very, very helpful, sometimes your story needs a little tweak here or there to really show itself properly.

At the end of the day, remember that you aren't looking for just any agent. You want to connect with the agent who loves your story almost more than you do. And especially as a debut author, you're at the mercy of the market. Your book can be great, but not going to work right now. Or there might be other reasons why it's not quite happening. (The first novel I queried got lots of "you write beautifully but" rejections, but I finally realised it just wasn't a "break-out" novel - it was too quiet and restrained and introspective. It's still in the drawer. Maybe it'll work for a later release.) Keep trying, but write something else as well. You were going to anyway, right?

Same as Francis Knight, I'm willing to share my successful query - along with the versions/decisions I made in shaping the final - privately if anyone wants.

Offline m3mnoch

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2015, 12:49:47 AM »
this is an amazing thread.  it desperately makes me want to finish my novel so i can start searching for an agent.

+1s for everyone!

Offline Ryan Mueller

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Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2015, 12:09:05 AM »

Stephen Aryan posted his (successful) query letter up on his site and it is well worth a look!
http://stephen-aryan.com/2014/07/31/how-i-found-an-agent-part-2/

Interesting. That query letter is incredibly vague and tells about the story rather than showing it. That's pretty much everything we're told not to do in a query.

Offline zmunkz

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #13 on: November 26, 2015, 03:36:06 AM »
I never really understood how to "show" anything in a query letter.  Showing takes a lot more exposition and requires some character context... seems like you need to tell most of it.
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: A Day in the Life of an Agent
« Reply #14 on: November 26, 2015, 10:56:22 AM »

Stephen Aryan posted his (successful) query letter up on his site and it is well worth a look!
http://stephen-aryan.com/2014/07/31/how-i-found-an-agent-part-2/

Interesting. That query letter is incredibly vague and tells about the story rather than showing it. That's pretty much everything we're told not to do in a query.

I can't say for sure ( as I don't know who Stephen's agent is) but that looks very much like a UK style query letter, which is more of a cover letter than the one most US agents look for ETA: I see that it's Juliet, so yes, a UK cover letter style, which is also a thing to be learned :)

As for showing in a query letter -- showing doesn't always need more words (or many more). But by showing you remove the need for tedious telling. You have to decide what to show, what is important. That's part of what the (US) agent is looking for in the query, to use it to showcase who well you can write.

For example, in my query for Fade to Black I could have said "Rojan is a bounty hunter, a feckless little bleep who cares about nothing but himself. Also, he uses magic powered by pain, and he he's a coward about using it, not to mention it is banned which is a problem when he needs to use it to find his niece" A ho hum 50 words

Instead I showed it thus:

Dislocating your fingers to power your magic isn’t ideal. Being convicted of using magic is worse, so Rojan prefers tracking bounties with more legal skills. But today isn’t Rojan’s day—his latest bounty almost killed him three times, his girlfriends all found out about each other and trashed his rooms, and his niece has been kidnapped. Now he’s got to use his magic to find her, and it’s going to hurt.

The addition of 21 words makes it a more interesting read while giving all the same info, or indeed more info about Rojan -- exactly how he's a feckless little bleep :)

PS: I found it really useful to try to write a query for something else as practice -- a fave book or film. You're less emotionally invested and can often see more clearly what needs to be said. Also studying back cover copy is a help -- especially if you've read the book. You can see what went into the copy, and what was left out



« Last Edit: November 26, 2015, 11:03:30 AM by Francis Knight »
My tongue has been in my cheek for so long, I've eroded a new mouth.


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