Friday, May 21, 2010

Opinionated me: Five Reasons You Don't Need an Agent

Sometimes I answer an email to a writing group and what I wrote seems worth saving in case my kids decide to become kids' book writers.
I'm going to start pasting some of them here. They're 100% opinion which means you may not agree at all. And they're tweaked to make sense in the context of this blog.
Here is the first.

The precipitating event:
Harold Underdown wrote Five Reasons Why You Don't Need an Agent.

My response:
Very interesting article, Harold! (As usual)

I remember at my first SCBWI regional conference, wayyyy back in 2003, an agent stood on stage and told us all the reasons we didn't need an agent. Her talk was much like what Harold wrote, only a little more pessimistic. ;)

I thanked her personally, took it to heart and resolved to not waste her time, but to come up with something so great that an agent couldn't resist it. (I figured it would take five years)

Two years later I signed with an agent because of a referral by a writer I'd never talked with or met.
At the time I had a work in progress inspired by
promptings from fellow writers to write something in my sketchbook style -- which they'd become familiar with because I'd shared my 2005 SCBWI National NYC Conference sketchbook on my website (And it's still there).
I'd never heard of Marissa Moss's Amelia series nor Jeff Kinney's soon-to-debut Diary of a Wimpy Kid
-- I'd been working in picturebooks, and knew very little about middle-grade novels.
I worked hard to make
the new idea work and was alternately excited and defeatist, until I met my new agent. Other writers also played a huge role in my happy publication story, and most of them I met on the CW (Yahoo Groups: childrens-writers) list.

What this whole learning process has taught me:
- When it's a good idea to have an agent, it'll probably be very easy to get one.
It's a lot easier to get an agent if you have a contract in hand, a very marketable manuscript or a body of strong work (several manuscripts) ready for minimal tweaking and submitting.
If you have all these things and agents still decline representation then I don't know what's wrong.
How do you know if your manuscript is highly marketable? Show it to a few established writers. If their eyes pop while reading it and they encourage you to finish it and SUBMIT!!, it's probably very marketable.
- Just because someone stands on stage and says everyone needs an agent doesn't make it true.
They might be interested more in self-
preservation than in you -- a couple editors-turned-agents are guilty of this and I dislike their calculating insincerity.
We all know writers who sell novels without agents. Agents are very helpful but not an absolute necessity. Though I can't speak to where the industry is headed, this is true today.

- If you write picturebooks and agents only want novelists, don't switch to novels.
Write what's best for you. The world doesn't need more
copies of greatness, it needs more original greatness. I don't know about your work, but when people look at my work they seem to be able to tell if I labored over it or if I enjoyed doing it. Surprisingly, it matters.
- Fellow writers often have more to do with shaping our decisions and helping us get to our goals than editors, agents or paid consultants.
It's funny to see writers fawning over editors and agents at conferences, hoping for a mentorship. They're overlooking many who possess the skills, time and inclination to help them hone their skills: their fellow writers.
- Desperation is ugly, awkward and hard to watch, and it detracts from the true goal.
It's better to
be desperate to do excellent work than to be desperate to be published or desperate to have an agent. The only shortcut in this industry is self-publication or lowering your standards and signing with a sub-par publisher. Though there's a respected place for self-publishing, I don't recommend it for non-niche children's fiction.
- Be patient.
Every facet of publishing demands patience so it's a good
idea to cultivate it early -- because whether you want it or not, you'll develop patience.
- Work very, very hard. If you build it, they will come. Things might not turn out like you'd planned (they sure didn't for me -- I thought I'd be doing daily comic strips for newspapers right now), but if you're doing the work you have passion for and you're putting lots and lots of time into it and you're pushing yourself hard to improve, you will get something amazingly good out of it. Everything else here might be opinion, but to me this last part is fact.


Lori Van Hoesen said...

Good advice, Ruth. :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog post Ruth. Thanks for sharing.