Tony Peak isn’t just a member of OWW, he’s an Active Member of the SFWA and an Affiliate Member of the HWA. His debut novel Inherit The Stars was published by Penguin Random House in November 2015. His interests include progressive thinking, music, wine, history, Transhumanism, and planetary exploration. Happily married, he resides in rural southwest Virginia with a wonderful view of New River. This month Tony tells his personal “agent story” and gives some advice. Find out more about Tony and his writing at: www.tonypeak.net
Finding an Agent
For those of us seeking to turn our writing passion into a career, having an agent is crucial. Finding one can be daunting and even intimidating. I’ll share my own experience in finding one, as well as debunk a few agent myths.
I was fortunate enough to get my first novel, INHERIT THE STARS, published by one of the Big Five without an agent. While that’s a story for another time, this small feat did give me some leverage—I’d proven myself without benefit of a middleman. It still wasn’t a guarantee of representation, though. But it did give me more confidence when querying agents, which is something everyone needs. Many writers fret over their query letters, trying to make them perfect little snapshots of literary genius so that The Agent will go bonkers and offer representation.
Some advice on queries: give agents the scoop on your project, make sure you’ve done the research (so that your book fits that agent’s tastes), and leave it at that. Most will not care if you’ve read their blog, or that you follow them on Twitter, or if you absolutely love the work of their clients. Sure, flattery might help, but you’re offering a business partnership, not selling yourself into literary serfdom in the hopes of Making It Big. Don’t come across as a desperate wannabe who still writes fan fiction — which leads into my next point.
Be professional. This means more than simply formatting your query correctly, or avoiding emoticons. It means stating your expectations, knowing your genre, and knowing what your plans are (is this book a standalone, or could it be a series?). It means being courteous, humble, and confident, without coming across as arrogant. This is very important if you speak to an agent on the phone, which is the next step.
Don’t call agents directly, unless they ask you to. Send them a query email. A fellow professional suggested that I call agencies directly, since I had a Penguin contract — I’d made it through the slush pile after all, right? Wrong. You’ll get the agent’s assistant every time, and for good reason. Follow their specified process. If the agent is interested, you’ll know, and within a few days. Sometimes within hours.
The Big Phone Call, the first time it happens, is cool, frightening, and invigorating. Mine came from a well-known New York agent, so I was nervous as hell. To my credit, I maintained my sanity long enough to answer all of his questions. The conversation went very well; he would look over my Penguin novel and let me know if he was interested in having me as a client.
That initial communication is a huge confidence booster. It shows that, hey, I might have a real chance at this after all. It means that so-and-so agent actually took the time to call ME, and talk about MY work. Writers need that boost sometimes. Don’t let it go to your head.
A few days later, the agent emailed me, turning me down. He liked the work, but wanted something else at the moment. I admit, I was a tad depressed…but not for long. I sent out more queries to other agents. The next week, I received replies from five different agents, wanting to read my other manuscripts. I spoke with another on the phone, and she sounded very intrigued. I should have been on Cloud Nine, right? Nope. It was still an exciting process, but The Big Phone Call had prepared me for this. I wasn’t nervous any longer. I could just be myself in these interactions, and let me tell you, that is golden.
Then I got a call from a third New York agent (NY is key, people) who was very interested. Best of all, he had already bought my novel and was several chapters into it—and he was enjoying it! During our first conversation, he offered representation.
I declined for the moment, stating that I had to let the other agents know that I’d received an offer. That goes back to being a professional. Plus, play your options. Weigh the pros and cons of each agent before making a choice.
This last agent represented some high-profile science fiction authors, and on top of that, he completed my novel over the weekend, and loved it. That finalized my decision. No one else had expressed that much enthusiasm, coupled with such credentials, in my work. That’s what you want in a business partner.
So I accepted his offer.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but remember: agents are not Superhuman Gatekeepers of the Literary Realm. They are real people, who love what they do. Love what you do, don’t give up, and I’m sure you’ll find an agent who is right for you.