Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You Really Gotta Know the Agent by Lorca Damon

Considering that I have recently been querying my dark humor novel And They Call Me Crazy, the following emeralds of wisdom from Lorca Damon are not only funny, but very timely.  Thank you for this one, Lorca!

Lorca Damon
I am an unloved writer. I’m one of the hordes of would-be novelists who is still trying to break through the Great Wall of Publishing, one brick at a time. The first brick: finding an agent.

I have to admit that I queried about one hundred agents with my first novel. I got only a handful of requests for the full, and then nothing. I put that book in a drawer, so to speak, when my life got busy with some super cool projects and changes. I actually pulled it out of said proverbial drawer last week and oh my god the writing is a bunch of shit. I sounded like I was trying to use every 25-point word I knew. And this was supposedly young adult. I wanted to beat me up for being such a nerd, and I wasn’t even a teenager.

Luckily, my writing got way better (See? I can talk like a teenager) and I wrote a book that an agent actually adored. Here’s how the timeline went:

Late April 2011: queried agent

Late August 2011: she requested the full

Late September 2011: the book won a contest that I forgot I had entered and the prize was a greenlight to submit to a major publisher; emailed the agent to let her know, we Skyped about it on video chat for an hour, we emailed a million more times; then nothing happened.

Late January 2012: heard from the publisher, they loved it but couldn’t publish it after their lawyers said the estate of J D Salinger will eat us all for breakfast; emailed the news to the agent, who said she finally decided the she loved it and wanted to represent it IF I made some revisions and we began another 50 back-and-forth email conversations.

Late February 2012: gently nudged the agent in an email to see if she liked those revisions; she said she did, but she still had some thinking to do.

Early May 2012 (more than a year after I queried her): gently nudged the agent in another gently nudging email; she responded with her concerns and said she would make a final decision by the end of the month.

Late June 2012: I still haven’t heard a peep
Now, this is where authors (especially successfully self-published authors) start to roll their eyes and talk about everything that is wrong with the industry. Yes, it moves at a snail’s pace. No, it may not be any more lucrative to traditionally publish than to self-publish. But I have to point the finger of blame once and for all:

This fell through because of me.

What? How is this possibly your fault, Lorca? You did everything you could! You entered contests! You kept in contact while still giving the agent her space? You made the revisions she asked for even though it was YOUR book! How could this possibly be your fault??? (I know what you’re thinking because I thought those same things for a while)

This is how it’s my fault: all my contact with the agent had been because of a referral, then through email and Skype. When I finally wandered over to her agency website one day to see if there was any news of her actually dying, I was horrified.

There were kittens all over it. Yes, pictures of kittens as the motif. She was a children’s book agent. She reps books (presumably) about kittens. I don’t write about kittens unless someone is having to eat feral cats to survive.

Despite learning that she wanted to branch out into YA fiction, I chose the wrong agent for the job. She had told me she was “having trouble getting behind my other projects,” which is industry lingo for “I may not be the right agent for your work.”

So? Suck it up and rep my book, right? Wrong.

I read an interview with an agent who had rejected the Harry Potter series when J K Rowling was just a lowly querying-stage author like the rest of us. The interviewer asked this agent if he was kicking himself now for not taking on the boy-wizard and the agent immediately and firmly said, “No.” His reason? He said those books never would have BECOME the Harry Potter series if he had taken the project, because that’s not what he represents. And that takes guts to admit.

People die in my books. Whole towns full of people. Dogs even die in my books, and not from old age or a rabies bite that he got while protecting the little kid. A teenager pulls out a gun and shoots the dog in my book. It was important to the story (I don’t just have a thing against dogs) but it was too disturbing for her. She wasn’t the right agent for my kind of books, and God bless her for even trying. She likes my writing, just not my subject matter. And that doesn’t make her unprofessional or a lousy agent. It makes her one of the best, in my opinion, because she’s willing to say, “I can’t take this book as far as it should go because it’s not what I do.”

Lorca Damon is a teacher in a juvenile correctional facility and staff writer for GoodEReader.com. Her first non-fiction title, Autism By Hand, is an Amazon bestseller and her first fiction title, The Earth is for Dancing, was recently published as well. She is also one of the funniest people I know.  You should stalk her at

Her website:  lorcadamon.com
Twitter: @LorcaDamon
Good E-Reader goodereader.com


Lorca Damon said...

Thanks for letting me vent! It was a blast!

Andy H said...

fantastic, as always, lorca makes me laugh out loud, thanks for the post

Rob Greene said...

It's always good to get a refresher course on the "honesty is the best policy" thing. Thanks.

MaryAnn said...

Sure, but it shouldn't have taken her months to tell you she wasn't right for your book. She had to have known right from the start that you two weren't a good fit. She wasted your time. I think you're being too easy on this agent.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Any time. :)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

And thus the reason for always, ALWAYS, checking an agent's website before querying! It is very important to make sure the agent is in your space first. thanks for this timely reminder, Lorca - I'm hoping to start querying by year end.

Anonymous said...

Great reminder. Thanks for this post ladies.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Grrrreat post! Thanks.

JustinBog said...

Sorry, Lorca. You'll get the right agent. Your perseverance is key. I love your writing and adore your humor too.

Melanie Conklin said...

You know, I go back and forth on this issue. I've been very careful about who I've queried on my novel, making sure to read interviews and craft pleasant communications. I should be able to expect the same from an agent. Yes, they receive a billion emails per day, but they are human, and I am human, and we should each put in the effort to communicate professionally.

That sounds tough, I know. But the reality is: I don't want to work with someone who does not think the same way. We will not get along. I recently had an agent contact ME via twitter, and after reading and gushing, and even asking me to keep on her, she has gone radio silent. I am left wondering how long is too long to chase after her. I am left wondering why on earth she sought me out when she doesn't rep my genre.

Publishing is a tough industry. Timelines are both slow and explosive. What I have learned through my experience is that spending energy on communications that will not benefit your work is a waste of time, and you should examine everyone carefully before you work with them. But I will always, no matter what, be professional and courteous in my emails--and never leave someone hanging.