My Publishing Journey: Calling All Agents

c9e8ea3d13fa854db3956e9c6879a5c5In My Publishing Journey: The First Cut is the Deepest, I wrote about my experience of meeting with an enthusiastic agent at a writer’s conference, and putting all my publishing dreams in her hands.

While that turned out to be a rookie mistake, I wasn’t about to give up on my pursuit of finding an agent. I’ve since learned (thanks to a Publishing 101 course put on by the Writers Union of Canada) that approximately 1% of unpublished writers land an agent. But in the summer of 2013, I didn’t know that. And so, my search began in earnest.

I’d like to tell you that I had instant success, with big city agents clamoring for the rights to represent me. Such was not the case, although sometimes the wait was mercifully short, anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. This might mean good news for some authors, but for me it simply meant that I hadn’t even made it past the agent’s intern. For those of you who have yet to experience a form letter rejection, here’s a typical example:

Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. After careful evaluation, I have decided that I am not the right agent to represent your work.  Since this is such a subjective business, I am sure another agent will feel quite differently.

As devastating as these speedy rejections were, nothing is worse than not hearing anything, and by not hearing anything I mean not so much as an acknowledgment that your email has been received. Sadly, that’s not as uncommon as you might think. That’s where Querytracker.net really is invaluable. While the basic agent and publisher database is free, the Premium service ($25 US for one year) gives access to statistics such as agent response time to queries, partial requests and full requests, comments from other users, as well as acceptance/rejection statistics. If an agent has received 100 queries in the past six months, and not responded to (or accepted) a single one, chances are you will NOT be the exception to the rule. For this reason alone I cannot recommend Querytracker.net enough, at least when it comes to agents. Their “publisher” database is far less extensive.

Using QueryTracker to zone in on my best bet for success, by late fall 2013 I had queried roughly 30 agents, with better than average results. I’d netted a few partial requests (the first so many chapters or pages), which in turn led to three full manuscript requests, and one offer to write a cozy mystery under the name of another author. It was an existing series, last published in the early 2000s, and the agent thought there might be a market for a new e-book. (Sadly, the agent had no interest in representing my novel.)

I sent in the partials and full requests, and after reading the earlier books in the cozy mystery series, turned down the offer. As much as I was honored by, and appreciated, the offer (and I did), I’d never been to the State, let alone the city, where it was set, and I couldn’t seem to connect with the characters. Besides, I didn’t want to write someone else’s story, under someone else’s name. I wanted MY book to get published. Under my name. I’ve never regretted that decision.

As for the three full requests, one agent wrote to say she was swamped and it would be several months to a full year before she even had a chance to read my manuscript. The other two agents ultimately rejected it, albeit kindly. They loved my writing, they said, and my premise, but the story had two protagonists, and too many points of view. I’d already heard much the same from other agents who’d reviewed and rejected my partial submissions. As stubborn as I am (and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m very stubborn), it was time to accept the inevitable: a complete rewrite. One protagonist, one sidekick.

I spent the remainder of 2013 consulting with a professional editor, and then rewriting the story, start to finish. As much as I hated to let go of my two-protagonist, multiple POV premise, I had to admit the story was much stronger without it. I’d also given up on finding an agent. The process was too slow (I’d already invested a year) and too one-sided. It was time to find a publisher who would accept unagented submissions.

This time, I knew, luck would be on my side.

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31 responses to “My Publishing Journey: Calling All Agents

  1. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Susan, Yes, the odds are so daunting, but I had no idea. However, you found a wonderful publisher in Five Star Mysteries and your debut mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, is doing well and getting great reviews. So kudos to you for your perseverance.

  2. Susan Van Kirk

    Interesting post, Judy. Your experience with trying to find an agent was much like mine. 60 query letters, 8 generic replies, one interested in the manuscript but then, not so much. It’s not an easy business to get into.

  3. Judy Penz Sheluk

    In hindsight, I wish I’d done what you are doing, Melissa. I always thought the agent route was the only route — until I took the Publishing 101 course, I had no idea there were some publishers (not the Big 5 — who would likely never be interested in an unknown anyway) who accepted unagented submissions. Thankfully, I belong to a great group – Sisters in Crime Guppies – and some of its members led me on the right track.Good luck on your journey! Please keep me posted.

  4. Thank you for sharing your journey. I haven’t ever tried for an agent. It seems just hard to get and not worth it. I’ve gone straight to publishing houses at this time.

  5. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Kathleen, I hope more people find QueryTracker after this post. It’s such a valuable service and so inexpensive (there’s even a free option). I really learned to value it when I read a post by one agent on Chuck S. who claimed to respond to all queries in a week. The QT stats showed she had not replied to one query in a year! And there were plenty of folks who tried. She out and out lied in the interview. That’s just not fair. But thanks to QT I knew that, and took her off my list.

    And yes, you must keep going and keep trying!

  6. Thanks for reminding me about QueryTracker. I’ve used it in the past, but not lately. It’s probably time to give it another shot. I’m still trying to sell a series in which I have three mysteries finished. It’s not easy, but my new motto is “Just Keep Going.”

  7. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Hi Jacqueline. Absolutely. Feedback is so important and I really tried to take what anyone said and work with it.

    The hardest thing is when you don’t hear a word, not even a received acknowledgment. Some agents do have an auto reply, which is great. It will say something like “Rec’d and you’ll hear within 6 weeks” or something like that. But I was surprised at how many don’t. That, to me, was the hardest part because you’re not sure if you went into someone’s junk folder.

    Of course, writing IS subjective. When I read Kathryn Stockett’s account of her experience (no market for a book about black maids during the 60s, for example), it really gave me comfort. Misery loves company!

    http://www.more.com/kathryn-stockett-help-best-seller

  8. Judy,

    It’s always good when agents will give you feedback. Constructive criticism is the best.

  9. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Carol. Yes, I was shocked at that agent statistic as well. Makes you understand why 60 agents turned down The Help. And that has to be one of the finest novels of the last 10 years. Certainly on my top 10 of all time.

  10. “Approximately 1% of unpublished writers land an agent.” That’s a lot of people unsuccessfully trying.
    You left me in suspense! That’s a good thing, for any genre of writer.
    Great post, Judy. 🙂

  11. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Hi Madeline. Thanks for commenting. I’ve written some short stories, but honestly, I find them really hard work. I’m such a pantser and that approach does not work with short stories. I think Mark Twain said, “I’d write a shorter story if I had more time.” Or something like that…but good for you for finding liberation in your writing. That’s what it’s all about.

  12. I [sadly] reached similar conclusions. However, someone said, ‘why not try shorts and demonstrate a track record?’ So I did that instead and I’ve found that liberating.

    I’ll tackle the novels later [in life] when I have more time and less commitments. I sympathize with the multi POV issue. I imagine I’ll have to take the same road.

    Thanks so much.

  13. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Diane! Yes, QueryTracker is a must.

  14. Great blog! I agree; QueryTracker.net is invaluable. I still return to check stats on some of my projects. Good luck!

  15. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for reading, Kelly. I know a number of successful indie authors. I really wanted to try for a traditional publisher for this series. Who knows what I’ll do for others in the future? I know to be successful as an indie author, you really have to have the promo down (or write 50 Shades of Grey!)

  16. I know it must have been difficult to make the decision to do a complete rewrite! I only sent out 10 queries which is almost like sending out none. I agree the process is slow, which is why I ultimately went the indie route. But, I still see the benefit of the traditional route forother works I have planned so thanks for the link to the query tracking site!

  17. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Hi Donna, I’m so happy you found this helpful. You will find QueryTracker an invaluable resource.

    As for POV, there were 2 common critiques: One, that the story was told by 2 protagonists. I have seen this done (Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries, for example), but I was told it’s more of a UK thing. But I also had POV from the antagonist (still do, in a couple of chapters) and other characters. Certainly more talented writers than I pull off multiple POV. John Sandford’s Prey series comes to mind. But, even though he shifts POV, we still know it’s Lucas Davenport’s story. What I had to do was rewrite the book so the reader knew, this was Emily Garland’s story. It was good advice. The book is much stronger for it.

    But rewriting…I think I had 7 or 8 drafts, and even after acceptance, I worked with an editor (assigned and paid for by the publisher) to polish the mss. some more. And she’s been incredible at helping me to fine tune it even more. I plan to blog about the editing process down the road, and also get some interviews with editors.

    Thanks for asking!

  18. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks, C.K. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  19. Judy what a great post thank you for sharing your journey with us. 🙂

  20. Another question, Judy, if I may. You mentioned you were told you had “too many points of view.” Just curious how many you had? (Mostly because I have several, too!)

  21. Thanks, Judy. This is so helpful to me, as an unpublished author, to read about your experiences and lessons learned. I will definitely check out Querytracker as I draw up my list of agents to query. –Donna Gough

  22. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thank you Maryvonne. It’s been great fun to write about this as well, and I’m happy if it is helping others.

  23. Thanks for throwing some light on the industry and helping us avoid possible pitfalls… Can’t wait to read what happened next to your book!
    Maryvonne

  24. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Grace! My hope is that by sharing my experience, it helps others. So thank you for saying so.

  25. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Carrie. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

  26. Hi, Judy —

    Your blog is not only entertaining but educational. You are also a great example of how writers eventually get published–they keep working at it.

    Good luck!
    Grace

  27. Thank you for sharing this, Judy. And I’m excited to read what happens next!

  28. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Gillian! That one will have a happy ending!

  29. So interesting, Judy! I’m looking forward to your next instalment!

  30. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks S.K. for reading it!

  31. Great quick insight into the industry. Thanks for sharing your experience, Judy.

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