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To agent or not to agent. Yes, that was the question. I never thought I would need an agent. Pshaw, I thought. I can send out submissions myself--I'm not helpless--so why would I need an agent to do that? Like, some writers are soooo lazy.
Yet after reading more about agents online, stalking Nathan Bransford's informative blog while he was still an agent, and attending an SCBWI-Oregon session given by a live agent--Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary--I began to see things differently.
Imagine, agents do other things than submit! How about that. They negotiate contracts, help shape and fix your manuscript for editor submissions, act as mediator between you and your editor, submit to publishing houses that are closed to unsolicited manuscripts, etc, etc. Okay, I thought. That is worth the 15% or thereabouts that they get, especially since more and more publishing houses are closing their submissions to unsolicited manuscripts. I do need help with all that gnarly business stuff.
I know, writers CAN get published without an agent. They do so all the time. But the publishing market is tight these days, and why knock myself out if I don't have to? Why spend time submitting endlessly and standing in line at the post office when I could be writing? Another delightful benefit is that agents take email submissions. Yay. Because getting rejected via email is a lot cheaper than printing up and sending my manuscript via ye olde postal service.
So here comes the bigger mistake, besides the misconception that I didn't need an agent.
I started out sending out my queries ONE at a time, on 3-4 novels. Weeks and weeks went by. A rejection. The very same day one came back, I would zing it out to a new agent. I felt so efficient. An additional week would pass…or many weeks until I'd get another rejection. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Okay, except for Nathan; he broke my rejection record and boomeranged one back to me in an HOUR. Mumble, grumble.)
Yes, I'd heard that some writers sent out scads and oodles of queries at one time, but I somehow thought that was just wrong or unethical. Like agents should be given exclusives, because well, they're special. And, because a few agents actually ask for an exclusive, or at least want writers to let them know if the query is a multiple one. So I thought that focusing on one agent at a time was their preferred way of being contacted, even if they claimed to be okay with multiple querying. Besides, it's hard work to research agents and find a "fit"; sending out one query at a time was easier and less time-consuming.
Months later, I finally read some things online that made me rethink my query policy. Everyone seemed to be doing multiple querying. Agents really didn't seem to mind. I amped up my submission process, and altered my submission log document accordingly. Lately, I've sent out--gasp!--six whole queries at a time. I'm still a little appalled at hearing how some writers send out batches of fifteen or twenty at a time.
Hey, don't laugh. I'm working my way up!
Great post, Carol! I must admit I made all these mistakes, too. I'm still only sending out five at a time (at most). Sure it may take forever, but at least you don't risk burning through a bunch of agents if you find your query still needs work.