I was talking with a non-writer friend of mine the other day and we were discussing literary agents.
I was trying to explain how it works:
- how you know you have a good agent
- how they make the contacts in places an author can't
- how slow the industry is as a whole
- how a new author is walking in new territory
- how everything with an agent your still getting to know is risky
- how much there is to learn
- how many things can go wrong
He said something that really boiled it all down to a digestible size morsel: "Sounds like literary agents are a lot like Realtors. You've got some who are go-getter's and walk neighborhoods knocking on doors and others who sit in the office filing their nails waiting for the phone to ring."
There are so many agents out there. The chances of a new author landing one of the big-names is very small. It happens, and when it does, it's great. But when you look at the numbers...well, they're less than encouraging.
Still, I think there is a lot to be said for younger, hungrier agents. But the big caveat there is that you don't know until you try them, until you put your book in their hands, until you work with them on edits and ideas, until you receive emails and phone calls in a timely manner, until you've gotten thorough and satisfying answers to your questions.
Bottom line, unless your agent is uber-agent, you won't really know how the business relationship will work out for both of you until you've spent some time working with them. Unfortunately, that time could be wasted time, depending on the agent, the author, the market, a million different factors. Even top agents don't always fit with your ideas or your personality.
I guess you just have to gather that experience, tuck it away, keep writing, keep learning, keep your ears open and your fingers on the keyboard. At the risk of offending, I don't think a prayer now and then would hurt either.
I often feel like this industry is a big, old crap shoot.
Any advice on agents?