Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The wrong way to find an agent

While browsing through job ads on a popular ad site (which I won’t name here but you can guess what it is by this clue: It’s one word that starts with a “C”), I came across an ad from someone who was searching for a literary agent. This being the first time I have ever seen someone post an ad for a lit agent on this site, I was intrigued. I wanted to know what the ad said. So I clicked on it and started reading.

We all know that this kind of thing is really a shot in the dark. Literary agents just don’t have the time to hunt for writers/authors posting ads for them on non-agent-related sites. Sure, they may check out QueryTracker or AgentQuery, but they really don’t have the time to seek out more clients. They are busy enough with the clients they already have. Also, they’re attending meetings, negotiating deals and reading, reading, reading.

Also, an agent usually does not seek clients; the writers contact them. They use a query letter or proposal to make contact with literary agents. Another way a writer gets in touch with agents is by meeting them at conventions, workshops and retreats. They don’t contact you; you contact them. Very rarely it happens that an agent will hear good things about an aspiring author’s work or see astronimical sales numbers on a self-published book, then go through the motions of seeking out that author. However, this is not common. It’s better to go with a query letter.

All that said, there were certain items in the ad which I must comment on here:

Experienced/reputable agent required….

Just a note that a reputable and/or experienced literary agent usually doesn’t scour popular ad sites looking for clients. It’s usually the scammers who do.

Also, "required"?

“…to take a potential best seller….”

Potential? Aw, nuts. Why not an actual best seller? Seriously, though. Who is the judge of whether or not your book is going to be a best seller? It’s not a good idea to say to an agent, “My book is going to be a best seller!” Because, really, says who?

“…self-published book…”

It’s already published? Then what do you need the agent for? If you think your self-published book is going to be picked up by an agent to land a contract with a traditional publisher willing to pay big bucks for it thanks to an ad, it’s time to come back down to earth. Yes, self-published books landing big contracts with reputable publishers has happened, but only after the book has sold hundreds or even thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of copies. And after it has gained media recognition. Everybody’s talking about it! Everybody’s reading it! That’s when the magic happens. And only then, it’s the agent who contacts the author, not the other way around.

The ad goes on to request that only “reputable” agents need apply – er, get in line – er, respond to the ad, and not self-publishing companies.

Well, good luck with that. Posting something like this on a site that is not about literary agents and, therefore, not even scanned by literary agents hungry for new clients (let alone reputable agents) only sets the author up for being contacted by the less-reputable ilk.

As a side note, I would strongly recommend the ad writer learn how to put together a query letter or proposal for their book. That is what gets an agent's attention. It is also what tells us what kind of book it is (fiction? Nonfiction?) and what it's about. These things were lacking in the ad, and if the writer is serious about signing with an agent, it's a good idea to include those things -- in a query letter.

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