The Great Agent Hunt
It’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…