Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thoughts on Agents and Odds

This afternoon I did an online search for agents in my area.  I'm not done with my novels but need to get my head wrapped around the idea of doing the work it will take to get published.  I have the idea that having a list of agents to choose from will motivate me to write more - even though the stress of it tends to stop me in my tracks. 

Looking for an agent (as opposed to a publisher) seems like a good idea to me, not too scary or intimidating.  To me it is like looking for a wedding planner, someone to manage the details of work that I want to have done but don't have time or energy to do myself.  My second wedding was small but perfect.  A planner was thrown in to the cost of the venue along with the food and cake.  All we had to handle on our own was music, flowers, minister and clothing.  This wonderful woman even told me how to walk and arranged for hotel rooms for our families.  It was beautiful and simultaneously low-stress.  I didn't want to deal with the details of pulling off a wedding - I just wanted to get married.

Same with writing - I want to write.  I want to see my writing published, but I really don't enjoy the idea of marketing it or doing book signings or whatever it is that authors do to help promote themselves.  Honestly, I rarely get dressed in anything fancier than gardening clothes.  I spend a lot of time in pajamas.  The last time I put on make-up was about a year ago.  My eyes got really itchy, so I threw it away.  I want to sit in my house or my garden and write.  (Yes, I know that's not going to work out for me, but that is my dream.)

So I did a preliminary search for agents near my home.  If I get an agent, I would want to be able to sit in that person's office or maybe a local coffee shop and talk to them face to face without having to board an airplane first.  I live maybe 20 miles from a large city and an hour from another.  In my mind, there should be literary agents in every large-ish city.  I personally know a dozen writers that live near me - writers that intend to be published and will in theory have use for an agent.  It seems reasonable and realistic to me that there should be at least a handful of literary agents to handle people that live within a 50 mile radius of where I live. 

None.  Not one.  Zero results.  I loosened my criteria to only search for literary agents in Ohio.  None.

So what's the point?  Is an agent that works a thousand miles away really going to help a writer out?  Are they going to be a part of your team, the part that actually gets the publishing part done for you?  Would you hire a wedding planner that works in New York to handle your wedding in Ohio?  I would not. 

So query I will.  Publishers that is.  Small, indie publishers sound comfortable to me.  I have worked for two large companies and one large non-profit for sixteen years - I can handle the stress of it (yes, non-profit is still stressful) - I just don't want to anymore.  I wash my hands of large business.  The hippie in me wants to go small. 

I say this as if my novels were done and polished and people were begging to read them.  It's the mindset I have to put myself into to be able to endure the stress of the amazing potential of failure...which brings me to my next realization - the odds.

After giving up on the agent search, I searched for publishers.  I don't care where the publishers are located since my expectation is that working with a publishing company will involve limited interaction, hopefully zero travel.  Just in case, I will look for publishing companies near places I would enjoy visiting, places I can drive to while I boycott air travel due to my ongoing frustration with the TSA and that airline that ruined my Hawaiian vacation a few years back. 

One publisher looked OK to me.  They only publish authors without agents.  They accept simultaneous submissions.  They publish the kind of stuff I write (hopefully).  They receive 3,500 queries a year.  And only read 13 manuscripts of the 3,500 queries.  That is a 0.37% chance that they will ask to read my manuscript.  I laughed out loud and told my husband.  He thought that was good.  "That's 3 in 1000.  Not that bad," he said like a cheerleader.  I laughed again.  The odds are horrible.  And they pay 7% royalty, which means 70 cents for a ten dollar paperback if my math is correct.  But it is what it is, and I am not going to let it stop me.  It is comforting to know that self-publishing is an option now and that I have writing friends that are trying out that route.

Happily, after all the aggravation with agent searches, I still feel like writing.  My house is quiet, which means something is wrong or a very small person is sleeping.  Tonight I may be able to work on my novel....

I would love to know your thoughts, especially those of you who are sitting where I am working on your novel in pajamas.


  1. Hmmm...I may go with a small press. I may not. I may do it all myself. I love marketing. That probably should've been my day job.

  2. There is much debate to all that you have said. I think you're doing the right thing by doing the research now. Planning is practice and practice makes the real thing easier when the time comes. However, I think you might want to rethink the concept of not having to do self-promotion. I think it is rare to find an author (or anyone else in a self-employed situation)who has become successful sitting at home in pajamas while someone else does the work. It's a nice fantasy, but I think it's unlikely that it will happen unless you come upon a truly extraordinary situation.
    Good luck with the novel and don't stop doing the research.

    Tossing It Out

  3. Shelly - It's never too late, right? (I know, easier said than done.) It sounds like you will have a lot of fun with it.

    Arlee - I appreciate your honesty. I actually left out the thing where I have a disability (and a toddler) that currently has me tied to my house. The irony is it gives me time to write (the disability not the toddler) but would certainly be an ordeal to travel that would not be worth 70 cents a book. For now I write. Not for the money.

  4. Well, most times you never meet an agent face-to-face. Everything is done electronic. It's good to know what you're aiming for.

    There are a lot of epublishers, too. That could be an option.

    Or self-publishing with Amazon and the like. There are a lot of options these days.