As many writers can attest, not least the likes of JK Rowling and her original struggle, the quest for an agent can be an ongoing and uphill battle. Not because you can’t write very well (although I expect this was the case for me about five years ago…), and not because you can’t string together a good query letter, or even because every time you write a synopsis it sounds like your book is terrible and you hate yourself for even considering sending it to people, but because finding the right one is the key.
Pre-MA I’d considered it plausible that a fantasy agent would probably like any fantasy, a sci-fi author would like any sci-fi (I’ll draw a line there, because you get the idea), so logically, by sending off your query to a fantasy agent, and them saying no, it means your writing is terrible, you’re a horrible human being, and your mere existence causes revulsion. I’d tried a few places with A Heist too far before I self-published it, and figured that it just wasn’t very good. It was funny, and had many good points, but the writing wasn’t the best. I could string a sentence together, but they were long-winded and bandy. The basics, however, were there. The story was good, but the characters needed expanding. The humour was there, but as one review said, the humour can become tiresome over an exceptionally long novel. That said, it was good enough to get favourable reviews, and I figured I was doing something right.
During the MA, we were lucky enough to have agents and other writers come in and speak to us about agents, and how to try and snare one (I swear that term was used, although now looking at it, it seems like you’re trying to physically capture one, which I suspect, would be far easier). The talks were incredibly informative and also gave out something pretty obvious when I thought long and hard about it.
The agents themselves have particular tastes, and would only represent books that they are passionate about.
While it may make it a lot more difficult to find that one agent who adores your work and wants to push it to every publisher they can, it means that when you do get an agent, you’ll have confidence in the knowledge that they will push it, and they do want it to succeed. Would you want an agent who isn’t passionate about your work trying to sell it to a publisher?
‘I’ve got this book, and, it’s alright, it’s sci-fi, and it’s got a few nob jokes, and a character who succeeds by accident. I think you might like it. No? Oh, okay.’
Imagine talking about your favourite novel to someone. You’d love it, and talk about it in a way that made people want to read it. Now imagine talking to someone about a novel you didn’t enjoy. Well, it’s like that.
Personally, I’d take a passionate agent over one that wasn’t wholly behind a project. It may take longer to find the agent who wants to back your novel, but when they do, you know they’ll be right behind it.
As it stands, I’m currently pushing two novels out to agents, one comic sci-fi (Slip Jevans, the second novel or which I’m planning and researching at the moment) and one comic fantasy (A Game of Two Halves – The Torso and Legs; I’m currently writing a second comic fantasy novel set in the same world, which is the same world as my previous self-published novels). The rejections keep coming, but somewhere out there is the right agent for the novels. It’s just a case of whittling down the others* until I find them.
The game is afoot.
* – I don’t mean this literally.