Agent Anonymous #3

One moment, I'm in my American Flag speedo, snorkling in choppy waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic in an effort to try and find something Nemo-ish, or at least some peace of mind.


The next, I'm drowning.


Air is refusing to plunge down the–uh–snorkle bong thingamajig. White sparks ignite in my vision; my brain goes foggier than a hot-boxed Dory. I rocket to the surface and sputter, treading water over the rolling waves, gasping for breath. It's then I see the shark fin slicing through the water–


But it's zooming away from me!


It's a slow, panicked crawl over the water's surface and back to my boat, but when I clamber aboard and strip my gear off I find…


A wad of paper dunked deep into–I really should know the name for this–my umbilical mouth air tube snout. 


"Questions questions all these questions," it reads. "Well here are answers answers answers muahahahahaha–"


Welcome to Agent Anonymous #3–where I ask real questions to real agents who give real blunt answers to the point where they must hide behind the troll-sized invisibility cloak that is internet anonymity. Enjoy! (And as always, if you're interested in asking agents questions and getting no-nonsense answers, post them in the comments or DM me on twitter @toddedillard!)




This “market” confuses me. On the one hand, you could say a “saturated” market reflects a high demand. On the other, I suppose agents possess some insight into a “futures” like market for publishing. Agents, when speaking of this market, are they also referring to the anticipated catalogue of books that will be published in the coming years? Or just what is out now?


The market refers to basically everything: what has just been published and is getting rave reviews; what has just been sold by which agent and to which editor and for how much; and what is anticipated to be the next "big thing." For instance, and I'm going to be very non-PC right now, but currently there seems to be a time for Asian-American writers. They're super hip and in at the moment. Maybe Tao Lin started the trend a few years back. I don't know. I do know that novels about India are also getting snatched up. So basically, the "market" is kind of like a unicorn: it exists really really really powerfully in people's (agents/publishers/readers) imaginations, but it doesn't exist as one thing. Also, the market is pretty phallic, like unicorns. NYT Bestsellers, #amiright?

I’ve heard agents befriend editors at publishing houses, and then more or less ferry manuscripts of that editor’s taste to them, and rarely venture out with different material. Is this true?

Friendships between agents and editors are… well. I wouldn't quite say manufactured, but I think there's a lot more of the business-related sort of friendship (OMG, SO good to see you! *air-cheek-kisses*) than actual friendships, thought those definitely exist. That being said, good agents befriend or get to know lots of editors who like a variety of things. That way the agent – who may have a wide or narrow taste themselves, and this really changes from agent to agent – can send a non-fiction about goats to an editor who really loves goats and a novel about Edison's best friend's lover's ghost to an editor who's into historical-paranormal-romance.

What, exactly, happens when you’ve decided to acquire a manuscript/work with an agent and you begin trying to sell it? Seriously, the whole shebang would be fantastic, from asking to rep a writer through publication, including departmental/office meetings and battles with dragons.

Let's stick with more mythology metaphor, like the dragons. So, the agent is the dragon. You and your MS are the princess in the tower. The valiant prince can't save the princess by fighting the dragon because he'll get burned to a crisp and his penis will get chewed off because it's a little known fact that dragons consider penises a delicacy. The prince, instead, must bribe the dragon with enough gold for the dragon to say, Okay, here's the bloody princess, only you know, I've kind of fallen in love with her so she's going to stay here because she loves me too and you'll get visitation rights and I'll let her go out with you every once in a while but only if I get some money for every time you take her out on the town.

Did any of that make sense?

If not, here's the boring version. You and an agent agree, basically on a handshake, that the agent will try to sell your book. The agent may work with you on editing or not, depending on the agent and the shape your MS is in. Then the agent will compile a list of editors to send the MS to. They'll send, they'll follow up, and hopefully one of the editors will bite and say, I WANT THIS MS. Sometimes, that doesn't work, and then the agent goes through a secondary list and even a tertiary list of people to submit to. It always (almost always) starts with editors at the various imprints in the Big Five. Let's say the agent doesn't sell your MS – maybe you'll write another and she'll manage to sell another, or you'll part ways and try to find another agent. Now, let's say you DO get editor interested, that's when the agent is there to fight for you – they help negotiate the advance you'll get, and will help with all communications with the publishers and editors. The agent is the intermediary once the publishing process begins. If several editors are interested, you may have what's called a bidding war (where several princes try to bribe the dragon for you) and go with the editor and publisher who's willing to pay you most.

Poetry novels are dumb, right?

Sure, except, you know, Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award Winner, Young People's Literature and all that.

The wait times for hearing back from an agent are based on what exactly? I assume it’s a strange gestation period.

It depends on the agent's inbox, the number of fucks they give about slush (vs. personal recommendations), and the idea that most likely if you don't hear from an agent, it's a no. It sucks. It's reality. Agents are busy and important and many have decided that even in the era of super easy autoresponsee configurations, they don't deign to send out rejections. 

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