Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…
They say that having a publisher is like dating. Having an agent is like marriage. It’s a good analogy. Not only is one a shorter-term relationship and the other more permanent, but there’s that whole layer of “Is a long-term relationship right for me?” and “Is this the right one for me?” It is possible to be successful without an agent. It’s just a hell of a lot more difficult, time-consuming and worrying. Like Kameron, I wanted to focus on writing and not the business of writing. However, one should be aware of what contracts say and how they work — adult relationships work best as partnerships, not as dependencies. Agents are one part lawyer, one part devoted promoter and support system, and (in my case) one part editor. All of this is bundled into one very special person who wears armour to work every day and battles the big bad for you and other writers like you. Agents are amazing people. Good agents are rarer. And that one in a million agent who is just right for you? Even more so.
That said, how did I get a great agent?It’s a long story. It started in 2006 when I’d finished my first novel. As said before, an editor at Del Rey asked for a full, and I’d sent it in. At the same time, a game company wanted a novel tie-in for a children’s game. Suddenly, I was faced with a big fat contract with a big scary entertainment lawyer holding the other end. First, I did what everyone tells you to do. I picked names off of online agent listings who handled SF and F and children’s books. Ended up chatting with an agent. That didn’t work out. However, I was very, very lucky to know Chris Brown, a wonderful writer whose evil twin is a lawyer. He helped me negotiate the game contract without an agent. (A hair-raising experience but a priceless one, nonetheless.) World Fantasy Con was in Austin that year, and I was (again) lucky to meet Charlaine Harris and Elizabeth Moon. Both introduced me to their agent, Joshua Bilmes at JABerwocky. And so it was that I started a try-out period with Joshua. Well, that novel didn’t sell, and the try-out with Joshua (who is amazing, I might add) lasted a year and a half before I understood that things weren’t going to work out. Needless to say, I was depressed for a while.
For the record, I didn’t depend on one method to make my way. I tried multiple avenues all at once: workshops, SF and F literary conventions, crit groups, the bookstore, and networking. I was a sponge. I soaked up information anywhere I could get it. I focused. I learned. I never stopped refining my writing skills. This is how I met so many well-connected people.
Anyway, through encouragement from Sharon Shinn, Charles de Lint, and my close friend Melissa Tyler I pulled myself out of that funk and started a completely different project. I spent two years writing it and researching it. In the fall of 2008, I finished it and started the agent hunt again. This time I knew I didn’t want to use the phone book method. It’s too easy to end up with a bad agent that way. So, I wanted recommendations. I asked my contacts for advice.* The first recommendation was not a good fit at all. Then I asked Holly Black for her advice. She introduced me to Joe Monti at BGLiterary in February of 2009. As it happened, the timing was right, and Joe was just starting out as an agent. We went through the try-out period. He asked me to re-write Of Blood and Honey, and I did. He liked my work, and in October of 2009 he became my agent. In January of 2010, Joe sold my novel to Jeremy at Night Shade Books.
Please note that while networking and luck played a big role in how I got where I am, they aren’t the only reasons. I worked hard — really hard — on my writing. I was persistent. It took ten years to get here. That translates into quite a lot of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the right place at the wrong time, and the wrong place at the right time. Also, who you know won’t matter a hill of beans if you can’t write well. Agent searches are (like much of the publishing process) disheartening and soul-killing. But worthwhile dreams have a price. Networking isn’t an instant return. Someone you met six years ago might be key six months from now. So, be nice. Don’t be rude. Don’t use people. Vent your frustrations in private. Publishing is a small, small world.
Above all, there is no instant return in this business. Get that right out of your head. People who tell you there is are selling something.
My advice is, try as many avenues as you feel comfortable with. You don’t know which one will work for you. (There are many, many different paths to becoming a pro — as hopefully you see from our group’s blog.) Never stop working on becoming the best writer you can. Don’t worry about luck. Luck, like love, is not something you’ll ever control. Luck, like love, will come to you when the time is right — at the perfect time when you are ready for it, and it is ready for you. Most of all…
Never give up. Never surrender.
*Note: I asked for their advice. I did not ask for their agents. Nor did I ask them to introduce me to their agents. This is an important distinction.