I thought about titling this “On the Hunt,” but then I thought that perhaps agents wouldn’t really want to be hunted. They are people, you know. Regardless, when you first start looking for an agent, it can feel like you are wading into a dense jungle, watching for tiny flickers of movement that indicate you’re getting close to what you’re looking for.
So when you first set out to search for an agent, it can feel like you’re back in the days where you got to wear funky hats and khakis and a bushy mustache, off to find some large prey. In spite of the hunting metaphor, worry not that I aim to have a head on my wall. I’m not aiming for macabre in this case, and I think (hope) you all agree that agents are worth much more as long term friends than trophies.
Way, way back at the beginning of the month, I wrote the post entitled Canoeing Through A Hurricane, in which we explored the plan to navigate the tumultuous waters of New York. Step Two in that journey was something I am beginning to set out on now, and in that step, we secure our canoe to a sturdy base and wade into that jungle above — if that jungle is in Wonderland, and you never know exactly what bottle to drink from because they all say, “Drink Me!” Searching for the right agent can be a journey fraught with strange critters and all manner of things that hunt you.
There is a poem by Lewis Carroll about the hunting of Snarks — they are elusive creatures, and some of them are actually Boojums. Those hunt you. Searching for an agent can be akin to hunting for Snarks. Pick the wrong one, and you end up prey.
In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
As this blog is about my writing, and a big part of that is dragging you with me while I navigate the process of getting published, I thought I would walk through my first little toddling steps. I promise not to put you on a choker chain. You can hold my hand if you want.
For any journey, you need the right tools. We’ll assume for now that you and I both have a great manuscript as our main weapon as we head into the jungle. Searching for the right agent is less like trying to skin an endangered tiger (shudder) and more like getting the cryptic Cheshire cat to tell you where to find that wise blue caterpillar who can tell us what we need to do and point us to our Snark and avoid the Boojums. To find this elusive Snark, we need some tools.
Tool #1: A Great Manuscript. This is your masterpiece! Full of tingly suspense and pages so stocked with tension they almost turn themselves, this will draw your Snark if you can just get it within range! It almost glows in the dark for being so magical! It hums when you touch it! Freedom from plot holes and cliches and boring bits, this is your ticket to find your Snark!
Tool #2: Survival kit! This kit includes your maps, your canteen, your hunting guide (which tells you what bottles are safe to drink from), and a handy array of tools to help you make sure you set your snares where they should be in order to catch your Snark without scaring her off or hurting him in the process. Remember, burning the eyes out of your Snark with terrible prose or query letters is not a good basis for friendship.
Seriously though, these things will become your best friends and help you navigate that forest of momeraths and jabberwocks. Imagine for a moment trying to figure out if the snark you are searching for is a boojum or not just by looking at its name? Good luck.
In Wonderland, one has to be prepared as well as careful, with a healthy dose of intelligence.
Tool #3: Query letter. I’ll admit that this is where my little Snark metaphor falls apart a wee bit. I highly doubt a weasely little Boojum would confess itself if you sent it a letter, but for the sake of fun, let’s pretend. The query letter is a magical element. It is your first and most tremulous advance of writing to extend to your Snark. It is there the Snark may choose you. Or blow up in your face. You might think of your query letter as bait.
Don’t write this: “Dear Mr. Susie Agent: Look no further. You have just found the next J.K. Rowling, so prepare the Scottish castle! My book is such a glowing tube of neon gas that I can’t even describe it, because you might steal it for yourself. Suffice it to say that it’s awesome, and I’m awesome. Make my advance out to me. Sincerely, Emmie ‘The Next Big Thing’ Mears”
Some agents get letters like that. Aside from inducing gales of laughter or migraines from excessive head-to-desk contact, it won’t have any other effect. We’ll go into queries a bit later, so for today I’ll leave you with that little gem to ponder. Although it’s a wee bit exaggerated, if you paw through it, you’ll find some errors that are all too easy to make.
After that, your job is to set up your campsite and wait in the jungle. If you’ve used your tools right, you should be pretty confident that you’re hunting a Snark and not a Boojum. If you ignore the sage advice of tools, you might find yourself querying an agent who charges for services (the occasional legitimate agent charges a nominal reading fee, but no more than that) and makes his or her money by scamming new writers. That, my gentle viewers, is a Boojum, which will make you softly and suddenly vanish away, along with your money. The real Snarks of agents (as funny as that sounds) get paid when they sell work, not when they read it for the first time. That’s what you want.
There will be more perhaps tomorrow on this subject as I explain my early tracking of my own personal future Snark, but for today, ponder for yourself what type of Snark you want. Some are fledgling Snarks and difficult to distinguish from a Boojum, but can be just as valuable as the older Snarks. Other Snarks have been around for a long while and know ever in and out of the jungle and hurricane. Decide which would be best for you, and then get prowling.
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