Claire Lyman has found an Agent!
I’m so glad for her, and her story is sobering as well as enlightening. Thank you for sharing, Claire. Your tenacity and dedication are awesome – and the very best of luck for your onward journey.
It’s been a little over two months since I got The Call, and I haven’t quite come down off my cloud. I’ve been writing for six years, churned out three novels and one slightly strange memoir/novel hybrid thingy, done an MFA in Creative Writing, been to more writing conferences than I can shake a stick at, read the magazines, read the books, done NaNoWriMo twice, been active on Authonomy back in its heyday, and finally, finally I have an agent for my novel, Unscripted.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way.
Four ways to get an agent
A disclaimer: while I have heard of people getting agents in all four of these ways, only one of them has worked for me.
- Pitch, pitch, pitch. Go through your Writers and Artists’ Yearbook or your Writer’s Market or your Twitter list of agents, check the agents in question represent your genre, and follow their submission guidelines. Do a lot of these. For both of the novels I pitched, I told myself I would get to 100 agents before I re-assessed whether I would be better served by a small indie publisher or self-publishing. For the latest round, I decided I would do one a day so that the task wouldn’t seem overwhelming, and also so that when the inevitable rejections started trickling, I would always know there were lots more potentially catchable fish in the sea.
- Speed pitching events. At many writers’ conferences, there are opportunities to spend six or eight or ten minutes one-to-one with agents and editors, telling them about your novel. In the end, though, even if they say yes, you still basically have to pitch them by email, just with the added advantage of their having met you and possibly already requested a partial or a full.
- Follow the hashtag #mswl on Twitter. (I recommend typing in #mswl lang:en into search, to filter out any weird stuff that sometimes comes up under this hashtag.) MSWL stands for manuscript wish list, and agents will sometimes be very specific about what they are looking for (“a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Mexico!” “A gender-flipped YA adaptation of Snow White!” “Historical fiction with a magical realism twist!”) When you then pitch them (by email, as normal, not on Twitter) put #mswl in the subject line: this will whet their appetites and possibly bump you higher up their email queue.
- Go to every writers’ event that you can. Conferences, summer schools, everything. Sometimes, if you’re going to a workshop, don’t take the manuscript that needs the most work, even though that may seem counterintuitive. Take something that is ready, or almost ready, to be pitched. It is possible that the person leading your workshop may know an agent and may recommend you to them. I don’t know if this works as a strategy or if I was just incredibly fortunate. It certainly wasn’t a calculated thing on my part – nobody had told me my manuscript was ready. And I still had to pitch the agent in the usual way – but I presumably got bumped to somewhere near the head of the queue, and the agent possibly read my work with an eye to liking it, not to rejecting it.
- It helps me believe in myself.
- My friends are so excited for me!
- No more query letters
- I’m not alone!
So, basically: getting an agent isn’t easy. It sometimes takes years. But it is worth waiting for. So worth waiting for.