Agents | Sheryl Steines


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Monsters keep us awake at night, they haunt our dreams. That could be said of agents, those people who make or break the writer based on their judgement of not so much our work but our presentation of our work in three short paragraphs. To be fair to the agents, they receive thousands of queries a week, an insurmountable number to weed through and for us as writers, if we don't have an engaging, insightful, thrilling query letter, that agent won't see more of us than that.

It's not the part of the process that infuriates me the most, it's the after they read our work and the notes they make and give to us. I have a friend who's trying desperately to find an agent. She's had several read her work and each of them has given her various story changes that they feel she needs to make and maybe they might be interested. She's made updates and restructured the book and is less comfortable with the story than she was when she first began the process. I've suggested she stick with her original vision, because unless the agent picks her up as a client, she'll be working to please everyone and you simply can't do that.

My experience is different. I've had one agent and apparently her assistant read my book She Wulf. It's similar in that you can't please everyone so what is a writer to do? I attended a self publishing event several years ago and had an agent and an editor review my book. Needless to say my experience with the agent didn't work as I had hoped. First I was assigned to an agent who had no interest in Science Fiction or Fantasy. So after pitching my book idea, she basically told me that you can't do that. Time travel is science fiction, magic is fantasy and the two can't co-exist in the same book. I nearly cried as she told me my work was wrong. In the end she asked me to forward the manuscript to her, which I hesitantly did, and in the end, nothing came of it. If you know anything about the process of finding agents, you always send manuscripts to agents requesting your specific genre.

I must admit, I nearly walked out of the event, no longer interested, wishing the earth would open up and swallow me whole. But I stayed anyway and listened to the editor, an editor of science fiction and fantasy. She liked the few pages that I had sent to the event organizers and felt I had something there, giving me hope that maybe I do.

So agents are my Monday Monsters because they can make us feel inches tall, can twist us in knots and make the experience that much more unpleasant. But what I came away with is that for those agents resistant change, we might get a skewed view of our work. Publishing is changing. Books no longer need to be shelved and labeled in one category. Writers can bring their wildly brilliant stories to life on the pages in any manner they choose. As writers we need to trust our visions and stand up for them. Yes, agents know what sells, but we also know what we like to read, and only our persistence and strong belief in ourselves and our work can take us as far as our imagination.

I hope I remember that as I enter another year of scratching toward that goal.

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