Literary agents–gotta love ’em

Literary agents come in all shapes and sizes and tastes in reading material.

For example . . .

Many years ago when I first started writing, I completed a novel (Admittedly, not a very good one.) and began submitting it to literary agents. On probably about my twentieth attempt, I received a request from a well-known agency asking to see the full manuscript. Lord, was I ever excited. Then excitement reached a whole new level, moving on to ecstasy when queried agent called to say he loved my manuscript and wished to work with me on bringing it to publication.
He made several suggestions on improving the story, which I incorporated, then sent the edited version back to him. And it was at this point he informed me he was a junior agent and had to get approval from his higher-ups on my manuscript before he could take it on, and well . . . that didn’t happen.

To his credit, when this agent delivered the bad news, he did tell me he wished he was in a position to make decisions because he thought I had a wonderful voice—at the time, I didn’t even know what “voice” was—and that together, he though we could have turned out a great book.

I told said agent on this disheartening phone call that I had another manuscript, nearly finished, if he was interested in seeing it. I received an enthusiastic, “Hell, yes!” So I sent him my almost-completed second novel. And again, though he loved it, his superiors did not.
I wished he had told me up front he wasn’t a decision maker, his job was separating the wheat from the chaff. It would have saved me from crashing and burning. To have been lifted so high into the heavens, then dropped thrashing and screaming until I slammed onto solid ground was a horrible experience.

Another example . . .

On my third novel, one literary agency said they loved my story, but it needed work. They recommended I send it to a certain editor for a critique and line-by-line edit, then resubmit it to them. In a roundabout way, I was assured they would then take it on.
So out it went out to the editor (for a pretty steep price) back to me, then back to the literary agency that sweetly declined to represent it. I’m almost certain the whole thing was a set up. From that point forward, I ran in the opposite direction of any literary agent who suggested a specific editor or asked for money for any reason whatsoever. Lesson learned.
When searching for representation for my next novel, one agent liked it, but said I was using too many points of view, and suggested I drop the antagonist’s POV and resubmit. Well, you guessed it: I revised and was rejected. Then on down the road, another agent told me–regarding the same manuscript–I needed to incorporate the villain’s voice into the story. Jeeze, one can’t win for losing.

Another example . . .

On yet another submission, one agent liked my manuscript, but informed me more books were sold written in third person than first, and if I would consider changing my story to third person–up until then, everything I’d written was told in first person–she’d take another look. (At least she didn’t practically guarantee acceptance if I rewrote my entire novel.) A few months of hard work later, I resubmitted and was rejected.

All this took place before my lengthy hiatus from writing. Now it seems as if the pendulum has swung the other way, at least when it comes to young adult and children’s writing. Browsing the book stores, I see a lot more fiction written in first person than third in the two genres mentioned above. I think young people–maybe all of us–feel more engaged with the protagonist when the story is written directly in her/his POV. I know I do.

Some things I’ve learned . . .

Don’t get your hopes up too high. It’s all well and good to aim for the top of the mountain, but be aware you’re going to fall numerous times, get scraped and bloody, and maybe break a few bones along the way. Grow skin as thick as an elephant’s; it’ll help cushion those inevitable falls. Develop a mindset of persistence, enabling your fingers to grasp and claw for a handhold and drag yourself upward inch by slow inch. Tell your story how it speaks to you to be told–first or third POV, one main character or a cast of them. And don’t let anyone else dictate the right approach. Learn from constructive criticism, but don’t let it kill the writer in you. Sometimes criticism hides behind personal opinion, and in case you haven’t already heard this, (and please, those among you with delicate sensibilities, don’t take offense) opinions are like assholes–we all have one.

But above all, just write what you love to write. When all is said and done, the road to publication is a long and sometimes never-ending process. One must find joy in the journey.

25 thoughts on “Literary agents–gotta love ’em

  1. Wow … Not only was I happy to see you back and read about your experiences, ‘tell your story how it speaks to you’ …. you have no idea how much I needed to hear this today! Bee 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I’m back, Bee. I had planned not to blog for awhile, but missed the interaction with other writers and readers. So I decided to go with this blog for the foreseeable future for a few reasons, one being the novel I’m currently working on. When I finish (someday) and start pitching it to literary agents, I want to start with a clean slate. Also, I think I’ve gone about as far as I can go with my first blog…I’m ready for a change. I made a handful of good friends there who have followed me over to this blog, and I’m so glad they did. And I’ve made a few here too–you chief among them–that I never would have met otherwise.
      I’m happy my post gave you a lift, my friend. 🙂 I’ll have to get over to your blog and see what you’ve been up to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ll love this … when I took my break to write my novel, I was gone two months. I thought the best thing to do would be to move all my posts to ‘trash’ so they weren’t public. Then I wouldn’t need to keep checking to respond to any comments. I thought I’d put them back on when I returned. Long story short … WordPress only stores trashed items for 30 days … (I’m thinking I’ve already told you this as I’m writing?!) So … bye bye all posts 😦 When I came back I started writing and posting about anything and everything. Pre-break I generally only posted once a week! I got up to two a day?! LOL! So … after reassessing …. new blog. Short stories only! When no short stories …. novel 🙂 I’m glad you’re back girl … and I can’t wait to see what your latest creations are! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • So sorry you lost your stories . . . That really sucks. Do you have a copy of them on your computer? I have a folder I save mine in. After I publish, I copy and paste the completed post into the folder. I save all my writing in one form of another–or multiple forms. When I wrote my first novel, lord-knows how many years ago, I did it in longhand, flat on my back on the couch. (I had herniated a disk and couldn’t sit without being in pain.) Bee, I still have that original hand-written manuscript, plus it’s on a floppy disc, thumb drive, the hard drive on two computers, PLUS stored on three different clouds. Talk about overkill . . . lol.
          I’ve been pondering doing a serial story here. What do you think? Do you think it would keep readers interest over an extended period of time?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. It is for the love of writing I write down words. I write and am happy if a few take the trouble to read those words on WP. Getting a book published is well beyond my expectations or even desires. One is dealing in a totally different world. Publishers need to see a return on the risk they take.

    Liked by 1 person

    • With me, it’s also the love of writing . . . getting published would just be icing on the cake. I’ve had quite a few short stories published in magazines, for which I have been paid, so it gives me hope that perhaps I can secure an agent. But if I don’t, as I stated on my “about” page, it’s really all about the journey. 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It has to be love. We just keep slogging away whether or not we receive any recognition for it. Many times, I’ve thought about quitting, (and have a few times) but I just can’t. Writing is so much a part of who I am . . . I’m sure you can relate. 🙂
      So happy to see you here, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry to hear that so many times you’ve been thrown back when you were two feet short of goal. The writers’ imperative need to develop a thick skin is something I’ve heard a l0t from published writers. I’m not sure what steps I can take to develop that protective mechanism, but I’m sure going to try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That thick skin is important. In an interview with Stephen King I read years ago, he stated that he could literally paper his walls with the rejection slips he received before “Carrie” became a bestseller. He preserved, and it paid off.


    • It’ll be a while before my WIP will be ready to submit. And as I mentioned in my post, the submissions I wrote about happened quite some time ago ago before personal reasons put a halt to my writing for a few years. I’m sure it’ll be even harder now to get one’s foot in the door.
      I wish you the best of luck . . . and thick skin. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Above all, be true to ourselves and our stories. What a great blog post here. I don’t know if I could have the perseverance you have shown. But yes, I’ve had agents woo me, then ask for revisions (I did the ones I agreed with) then the agent not commit. I’ve been asked to send the entire ms, then been told my story didn’t ‘sell them,’ even after dozens of alpha readers assured me how much they love the story. That’s why I decided on self-publishing. Work, write, work, be edited and critiqued, believe in yourself, then publish. That’s my way now, and I LOVE being independent and … lo and behold.. read by many.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for sharing this. The frustrating process of finding representation can be overwhelming, disheartening, and outright gut wrenching. I have my own tales, similar to yours. John Grisham’s agent almost took me on. You need to have super thick skin. The willingness to plow ahead no matter how much you see the deck stacked against you. Collect the rejections and wear them like badges of honor. Persistence and resolve. In my case, I expanded my efforts into different areas. This year I will do the following 1- query literary agents 2- query Hollywood for my screenplays 3- enter my screenplays in contests 4- attend writers conferences where I will meet agents face to face 5- send my work directly to publishing houses. And if all this fails, I will take a deep breath, rest a little. Then, on to plan B. RELOAD and RESUME. I will not quit. Don’t you ever quit. Your agent is out there. If you have received those responses as opposed to the cordial rejection letter than is an indication you have something special in your hands. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, YOUR ABILITY, AND YOUR WORK.. By the way – great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the read and comment, Andrew.
      Like you, I’m a firm believer in persistence; I’ve been persisting for years now. 🙂 And like you, on my current project, I intend to query agents and publishers when I call it finished. I have self-published a few things on Amazon under another name, but have become disillusioned with the process. There are so many mediocre works published there that I’m beginning to not want to be associated with self-publishing. I think if I’m not good enough for a literary agent to represent, I would just as soon not be published at all. More than likely, my alter ego will soon disappear.
      I wish you the best of luck on finding representation. And you know, I think you probably will. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for saying that. I may hang & frame your reply on my wall. There are good self published works, but too often they are mediocre works and some are filled with typos! I don’t want to see my novels associated with
        “run-of-the-mill.” Too many self published authors push me to self publish, thankfully, I have resisted. Meanwhile they spend their days complaining about poor sales and/or pushing novels. I want to WRITE. I want my days consumed in words and creativity. Please, let me know if I can be of any assistance in your journey. Again, thanks so much. This will be my favorite all time post. Best of luck in your literary endeavors. I expect to FOREVER stay in contact with you, so we can serve as pillars in the time of need. Toodles.

        Liked by 1 person

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