Friday, March 23, 2007

Agent Hunting

Walk softly and carry a big query...

So here I am, hunting the elusive agent again. Shy creatures, they must be approached with care as the sound of a cliché will send them scurrying.

Every hunter knows there are several techniques you can use, and here are the best known:

Stalking. The agent is a herd beast, and during the convention season, will congregate in places known as 'the bar', or can be approached during a 'pitch'. Both bars and pitches have their drawbacks and their advantages. The bar is dimly lit, and you can often move in quite close before the agent realizes he's been stalked. Since there are usually many people around, if you take care with your camoflage, you can fit in with the crowd. Do not carry a large shoulder bag, as this can signal an alarm "Warning, Manuscript!" and will make the agent flee. Instead, carry two drinks and walk slowly, holding one out toward the agent with a non-threatening smile.
The drawback of the bar is that the agent may have been approached by too many hunters, and therefore not completely lucid when you finally get around to cornering him at a table.
A pitch session is the second method used at the conference season, here you can sit facing the agent for almost a minute, and you have a minute to impress him and make him want to repersent you and your book. Use this minute wisely. Do not whip out your index cards, do not stutter madly, don't knock over the agent's glass of water or pull your seven hundred page manuscript out of your shoulder bag and plop it on the table between you. All these methods will make capture impossible. First, send a reassuring message to the agent. Non threatening smile again, then say 'Hello'. Bonus points are awarded for getting the agent's name right and not mispronouncing it. More bonus points are awarded if you introduce yourself without forgetting your name or mispronouncing it.

Antother method for finding an agent is the 'Query' method, often compared to 'fishing for an agent'. This consists of shrinking your seven hundred page novel into one paragraph and then casting it out to a slew of unsuspecting agents. Agents, in their own waters, (offices) are more sure of themselves and have a secret weapon at hand - 'The Form Rejection Letter'. They use this to fend off the agent hunter's queries. Don't be discouraged. A real fisherman does not let a couple missed casts stop his quest. Instead, the fisherman will hone his hook until it cuts like a diamond and will send it out to at least fifty agents. If his bait is not take, the form rejection letter is all the hunter will get.
Sometomes form rejection letters will have a handwritten note tagged on. This, to the agent hunter-fisherman, is like a nibble.
Whatever you do, don't jerk on the line! Calmly, you reassess your options. The handwritten note says, "This wasn't right for me, but I'd like to see something else. Send me your next project." You definitely have a nibble. The worm you sent wasn't to the fish's, your query didn't quite hook the agent, but you have an opening to resubmit.
First, wait until the other agents have replied. Don't rush another project off while your first one is still at forty nine other agents. One of them might bite. Be patient. An agent fisherman must be willing to wait.
Sitting patiently by the lakeside, the fisherman casts his hook into the water, waiting for the right fish to bite. Sitting at his desk, the writer sends out his query and waits for the agent to become interested.

There are other methods. One agent can probably be bought by giftwrapping George Clooney and presenting him to her, but catching George might prove to be harder than landing an agent. But only one thing really works, and that's a great query and a good hook. (and good writing) So, while I'm dreaming up ways to stalk the elusive agent, I'm working on another book - because a real hunter never gives up.


Gabriele C. said...

So, taking a club, knock one over the head, drag him to your cave and feed him grass soup only until he signs you on doesn't work?

And I have such a nice cave. :)

Wynn Bexton said...

Excellent post, Sam. I've tried the 5 min. pitch a couple of times and generated a lot of interest so it was 'successful' in as much as they were 'impressed' by my enthusiasm and, if I really had had the novel ready to send out they might have bit the hook. It was good practice for the 'real' thing.

Bernita said...

"More bonus points are awarded if you introduce yourself without forgetting your name or mispronouncing it."

Hee, Sam! Can just see myself doing precisely that - forgetting my own name.

Sam said...

OK Gabriele - I'll have to remember that method. I bet it works best when the agent is running away, lol.

And Wynn, I bet you'll have no problems charming the wild beastie, er, agent.

Bernita - you better not!!
"Hi, I'm Bertina. Er, Binerter, uh, Nitiber...Argh!!!"

John Nez said...

Yes, you've found the exact right metaphor for selling anything in publishing I think.... fishing.

One must first of all present the 'bait' in the correct manner... enticing, stealthy, alluring... yet not too obvious.

Then one must excercise patience... feigning indifference almost. Being too forward will surely frighten off a skittish fish. Being pursued is better than pursuing.

And then, at the slightest nibble, the practiced fisherperson knows the correct tactic is to slightly draw back the lure, to entice a sudden strike, and hopefully a hooked fish.

But then again... it might be the idle angler asleep on the bank who has the best method of all. Snoozing in the sunshine, oblivious to the chase... just waiting for the fish to come to him.

It's all in the fishing... good luck!