Should You Tell People You’re Approaching Agents?

It’s nearly time to put my neck on the line.

I have received some feedback on my novel, which included helpful comments and suggestions. Nobody said, as I had genuinely feared they might, that none of it made any sense. I’m hoping they weren’t just being polite.

I will read it through again myself and then, all being well, the next logical step is to send out those first three chapters to agents.

Should I be admitting to this, or should I conduct this part of the process behind closed doors? It is, after all, bound to involve rejection and do I really want to broadcast my failures? On the other hand, what’s the point of pretending otherwise? If I keep quiet until I’m in a position to triumphantly announce that precious offer of representation, I could remain quiet for a very long time, quite probably for ever.

So, this is the phase I’m entering now. Wish me luck.

Luck is when your novel appears before the eyes of an agent who really likes what you’ve written. If the writing is rubbish, that’s probably not going to happen (you’d think, anyway). And if it’s really good, the odds are still against you. A visiting agent on my MA course told us she received about eight hundred manuscripts a week and took on one or two new authors a year, if that.

Agents, as we all know, aren’t objective discerners of quality and marketability. They are readers with their own tastes and predilections and contrary judgements. The last novel I sent off (there have been others) was rejected by one agent on the grounds that, though the writing was great, the story wasn’t strong enough.  Another said the story was great, but she didn’t sufficiently admire the writing. So there you go. They’re no better than that bloody writers’ group I tried to join a few months ago.

And what about the covering letter and the synopsis? Summarise your story in a few pithy paragraphs, say what kind of book it is, the kind of audience to whom it would appeal, list your credentials as a writer, make yourself sound professional and articulate and make your book sound original and, at the same time, a dead ringer for some other extremely successful book.

And don’t forget that title thingy you have to come up with. Make it memorable: funny, quirky, poetic, shocking, subversive, evocative… Bollocks. This is harder than writing the book in the first place.

And finally, you need to know what you’re working on next. Remember, it has to be in a similar vein to the book you’ve already written so that you can be marketed as a particular kind of writer. What kind of writer am I? Based on this book, I am someone who writes very dark things. Very dark. But I’m not sure I can write another book like that. I’m not sure how much more darkness is left inside me, or if it’s even healthy for me to try to find out.

Oh well, it’ll probably never come to that anyway. One step at a time.


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4 Responses to Should You Tell People You’re Approaching Agents?

  1. Claudia,
    I’m working on a blog post about the first steps I’ve taken this week in the Agent Quest and a notification of this post pops into my e-mail. Wow. I feel like I’ve just had tea and sympathy with a fellow writer. Thank you.

    I won’t begin querying until the autumn- my MS is with an editor now-but I’m in the agonizing throes of compiling the list of agents I will query.

    One piece of advice I’ve taken to heart is to be very circumspect when discussing your query experiences on social media. Agents may well check out your Twitter/FB/blog and any discussion of rejections could extinguish those licking flames of interest.

    I know the query process is likely to take months, a year, who knows, so I’ll be throwing myself into other projects while I wait (and those rejection notices mount, right?) and continue to blog about the rest of my writing life.

    Claudia, I wish you so much success. I’m terribly excited for you, for this next part of your journey. If you need to vent, rage, despair or celebrate in private, feel free to contact me via email. I’m not too far behind you in this particular journey. I’ll be putting out my “agent quest” blog post on Monday.



    • claudia says:

      Thanks Julie. It’s always nice to know you’re not alone. That’s a good point you make about announcing rejections on social media and how it looks to potential agents. I’m not planning to go into any details of who I’ve sent to/heard from. Just to say, this is the stage I’m at now.
      Compiling that list of agents is a hard one. Especially when you stop to think that your work is probably going to be read by an intern anyway. 🙁
      But I wish you lots of luck too with your MS and I’m looking forward to reading your blog post about it all on Monday.

  2. Jan Hopper says:

    Well done on getting this far Claudia. I don’t see a problem with admitting you are submitting your novel to agents………….. we all kinda know the process and wish you well. You have chosen a particularly difficult and competitive field so foregone conclusions are not an option for anyone. I will finish by saying good luck, my fingers are crossed for you and I wish you every success. Jan x

    • claudia says:

      Thanks Jan. The thing is I enjoy writing so I’ll carry on doing it anyway, but keep your fingers crossed please!

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