The Great Agent Hunt

30181u2k6i9nm8bIt’s no secret that I’m actively looking for an agent to represent me and this past week I’ve spent a bit of time submitting picture book manuscripts to a couple of overseas agents. Of course, that’s followed by the swirling-tummy hopefulness that maybe this time I’ll hit the jackpot and the dropping-tummy fear that I’ll get another ‘thanks, but no thanks’. I didn’t hit the big one this time around, but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts surrounding The Great Agent Hunt.

1. Agents are really lovely people who really love books.

I know this sounds like I’m crawling, but honestly, I’m not. I’ve had cause to deal with a dozen or more agents over the past few years and without fail, they have been absolutely lovely. They may not have liked my work enough to take me on as a client, but they were encouraging and kind in their rejection. And while the rejections are of course disappointing for me, I think that agents find them a bit disappointing too. After all, they are taking the time to read my work in the hope it will scream, “Pick me! I’m a best-seller!” It must be hard to have to wade through lots of manuscripts day after day, just waiting to find the one that sings for you. My experience with agents has given me confidence to keep submitting and putting my work out there while simultaneously learning more about the craft of picture book writing and improving my skills across the board.

2. The submission process makes me a better writer

I know some people almost resent the fact they have to pitch their work to agents, but for me it’s been a very beneficial experience. I’ve learned how to capture the essence and heart of my picture book and write a query that is also indicative of the style of my writing. I feel like my queries have developed to a point where they are true reflections of me as a writer and that’s a good thing. Sure, it’s disappointing to get a rejection but I knew that was part of the deal before I started. There are some people who got the big YES! first time around, but the vast majority of writers I know have submitted many manuscripts before they found an agent. As my sister-in-law is fond of saying, “Suck it up, Buttercup.” I know the deal, I’m choosing to be part of the industry therefore I’m not going to whinge about the process. Writing is hard, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I’m not going to start now.

3. Picture book agents are hard to find.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the base reason – as always – is money. As a non-artistically gifted writer, I usually get 5% royalties as opposed to an author/illustrator who would get 10%. An agent usually takes 15% of the income earned on books sales/advances so therefore it makes perfect economic sense for agents to prefer author/illustrators or authors who write middle-grade or YA novels to picture book authors. The amount of work involved in representing a picture book author would no doubt be the same as every other client and yet the return is effectively halved for the agent. I can understand why many agents choose not to rep PBs at all. And add to that situation the fact that picture books are the most expensive books in the market and the market is very, very flat (worldwide, it seems) and you have publishers not taking on many new PBs which results in agents not taking anything but the very, very best. I believe picture books will always be around as they are something magical, divine and oh so beautiful, but I know if I want to play with the Big Kids on the agented side of town, I’m going to have write amazing picture books. Believe me, I’m working on it…

4. Progress is progress.

When I first started submitting a few years ago I used to get a standard response along the lines of, “We have read your work with interest but have decided not to offer representation at this time.” In recent times I’ve noticed a significant shift in the sort of rejections I’m getting. They’re still rejections, but they contain the first glimpses of hope. I’m now receiving rejections that include phrases like, “Your work shows great promise,” or “It is clear that you can write.” I’m not sure if these are just the new ’standard’ rejections, but they do give me hope. Hope that my work is progressing. Hope that I’m getting better at what I do. Hope that one day, someone will feel that extra spark when they read my work that makes them desperately want me as a client.

And in the meantime, I will write :) Ooh! What’s that I hear? A new picture book idea is calling my name…

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13 Responses to “The Great Agent Hunt”

  • It’s fun being ‘on the hunt’ with you Karen. I guess the thing that’s equally important to remember is that not just any agent is the right agent for you. So whilst agents are obviously discerning – you as a writer need to be equally discerning. You need to connect as a professional, and a person – and you have to be sure they share your vision for your writing career. You want your agent to be proactive on your behalf, because when you get an agent, you step back, and s/he steps up.

    Patricia Wrede gives more good insights on the Agent Hunt here; http://pcwrede.com/blog/the-great-wall-of-publishing

    Good hunting, my friend. :P

    • Karen

      Kat, that is so very true (and remiss of me not to mention it in my post!). I don’t just want any agent, I want the right agent for me. And thanks for the link to Patricia’s blog. Am off to have a read right now. Much love xx

  • All true, Karen – good luck with your hunt. However…

    Some agents say ‘no picturebooks’ because it prevents them from being inundated with dreadful submissions. But if they get to know you through meeting you at a conference or event, and particularly if you write in other genres, too, or are already published as you are, you may well find that they will rep your picturebooks and they do have contacts. It doesn’t matter if your ms is submitted to a publisher by an agent or by you as an individual, it will make no difference to the publisher’s decision. If you get offered a contract from a private submission, it’s a great oportunity to then urgently ask an agent or two of your choice if they will negotiate it for you (which can lead to a better deal and acceptance in a permanent relationship). When a contract is offered, you don’t have to accept it on the spot – just say ‘Thank you, I’ll forward it to my people’. If they ask who your agent is, you can say that you are deep in negotiation at present, and will let them know the outcome. Agents can sometimes get mss through doors that are locked to non-agented writers, and they can sometimes get a faster reply, but that’s not guaranteed, which I know from experiance. My agent says that the deal she gets, against what you will be offered as an individual, will always more than cover her fees. With limited experience, I have certainly found that to be true.

    …But as you know, you never submit a ms to both publishers and agents.

    I see Mary Kole has a paid webinar and appraisal at present (on July 28th):
    http://www.writersdigestshop.com/product/picture-book-craft-intensive-webinar?r=kole

    Best wishes

    Peter

    • Karen

      Peter, you make some excellent points and I’m all for finding little avenues around otherwise closed doors. And funnily enough, I’m already registered for the Mary Kole webinar. It will mean setting the alarm for 3am, but I figure it will be worth it :)

  • I’m enjoying sharing the journey with you too, Karen,

    What you say is true about agents being lovely people. What’s also true is that you are a lovely and talented person and I’m sure your perfect agent is out there.

    And I totally agree with what Kat says; it’s as much about you making the right choice as the agent:)

    Good luck in your ‘quest’. You know we’re beside you all the way, just waiting to celebrate with you when the good news comes:)

    Dee

    • Karen

      Dee, it’s friends like you who make this journey extra wonderful. Thanks so much for the support and encouragement and I look forward to sharing many exciting celebrations in the years to come :)

  • Best of luck, Karen, on your quest. I know there’s an agent out there who is perfect for you!
    And I hear you on making progress. It is slow, but I feel I’m moving in the right direction. That is a good thing.

    • Karen

      Hi Kristin. So glad you’re moving in the right direction too. I know these things take time, but patience sometimes isn’t my strong point :P Good luck with your writing!

  • Hi Karen,
    I too am on the quest to find an agent for my multi-genre works.
    But above all I’m concentrating on Publishers.

    Karen, you’ve done everything you could possibly do to procure an agent.
    It WILL happen very soon and we’ll all celebrate your victory.

    • Karen

      Thanks so much, Karen. I do think that timing plays a huge part in all of this process and that’s really something I have no control over. One day (I hope!) an agent will read my work at just the right time and it will resonate with them. In the meantime, it’s my job to keep getting better at what I do! Good luck with your quest too.

  • HOpe you find one soon…. Hope I find one soon… Hope we all find one soon. ;)

  • Vanessa

    It sure is a journey isn’t it! Wishing you the best of luck! Hope it happens for you soon.

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