Why Agents Deserve That 15%

Most of us know why it's good to have an agent around. They negotiate contracts, they have access to the editors, they sort through all the chaos that goes into having a book deal. But agents truly go above and beyond the call of duty here. Unlike most people who have day jobs, these people don't just clock out and go home. They take it with them. All the time. What else do they do, you ask, that make them so amazing?

1. They make the effort to appear sane.

Contrary to popular belief, agents are humans, too. They get discouraged, they get nervous, and they get frustrated just like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, these unearthly beings don't show it. At least, mine never has. They make the effort to always be certain in the decisions and events taking place. They are ready to reassure and reassess. Tons of rejections? They'll be unfazed and make the choice between a new round or a new revision. Can't get the numbers you want on a contract? Agents will do the best the can with what they've got.

2. They always tell the truth.

Seriously. Think about it. All those rejections, all those revision notes. They don't hold back. Yes, usually they're kind and encouraging. But ultimately, if a story needs work or something needs to be changed, we will be informed of it. Agents speak truth as easily as I eat cheese. It's so hard to see these truths when us writers are so close to our work, so ecstatically convinced it's amazing or dejectedly believing it's nothing but crap. Ask an agent a question, and you'll get the true answer. Maybe not the one you want, but that's the beauty of it.

3. They deal with e-mails from crazy clients.

I'm not proud to admit this, but we all know how insecure writers can get. Once in a while I'll send random e-mails to my poor agent without trying to stop myself, all frenzied and desperate and truly cringe-worthy. Basically they run along these lines: "Tell me I don't suck." My no-nonsense agent sets me straight pretty quickly. So... yes. She deserves that 15%. And if I'm going to be honest, she really deserves way more than that. 

Have you told your agent lately how awesome they are?

The Ending that Almost Wasn't

This post is for all the writers out there who have lost faith. Whether you're querying or submitting to editors, I hope you read this and feel encouraged, even if it's only a little.

When you read those book deal announcements, or those ecstatic blog and Facebook and Twitter updates, it seems so easy, doesn't it?


, they had an agent.


, they had an editor. Then


, their book was on a shelf. Sometimes we hear about the trials and tribulations behind the book deal. Sometimes we don't. Here is mine, for the entire world to see.

Not many people know that  

Some Quiet Place

 was on submission for over a year. I'm not sure of the exact number of editors we sent it to, but it was well over twenty. And while every editor had something encouraging and positive to say about it - there were also two very big, very close calls - there were ultimately only rejections.

We've all heard that perseverance is the key to success in this business - pretty much any business - but I'll let you in on a little secret. Starting out, I believed that all it would take was having a good story.

Don't get me wrong, that's a monumental component. But perseverance truly was what got

Some Quiet Place

to this point. If I had stopped querying agents after the discouraging results, I never would have found Beth. If we had pulled the manuscript after all the editor rejections, it wouldn't be making its appearance into the world next summer. We never would have sent it to


editor. This is such a competitive business that it takes a little more than luck and a strong story. It takes a bit of a miracle.

It's amazing to me when I think of how strong my belief was -  how strong it became - that this wouldn't happen. I was expecting Beth to e-mail me any day, saying we should start with a new project. I even had a blog post typed up on what it feels like not to sell. It kind of shames me to admit that. I lost faith. Not in my abilities or Beth's, but in the value of the story I had created.

In the beginning, there's always such high hopes. Of course there's nothing wrong with that. I think we should even cling to that feeling for as long as possible. I've also done blog posts on maintaining a firm hold on reality, and that's still true. It's a balance.

The point is this. Don't let those rejections affect how much you care about your characters, your plot, your work. Even if some of the statements in those e-mails are true. Maybe your plot is too complex. Maybe your genre is too saturated. Or whatever else they say. That's not the point. I'll say it again in a different way.

The point is to not let those rejections affect your faith.

There does come a time when you need to set something aside, or go back to the drawing board. It's also up to us if we want to revise and resubmit. But maybe that time isn't now. Maybe you haven't found the right agent, or the right editor, and all it takes is one more e-mail. One more try. One more hope.

That's what it was for me.

And I'm so glad we took that chance.

Editor Responses

Over the past year I have learned a few things about editors. Today I'm going to let you in on a secret about these mysterious beings. Why? Well, I've been sitting at my desk and wondering what kind of blog post I could write that would be helpful and somewhat unique. This seemed like something you guys might be interested in. Writers generally stay away from talking about submission on public blogs (I talked about it a little here, though). For good reason, of course, but I know that I was intensely curious about the other side of the publishing world when I was wading through the query pool. I got my hands on as much information about agents as possible, but it seemed like editors were a little more difficult to research.

So, the big secret about editors: they're nice people. I know it's hard to believe. After all, just like it is with agents, some part of your mind pictures them as higher beings, all bright lights and untouchable. Well, at least, I did. But when they respond to your submission it's usually not a form rejection. They first list what they enjoyed about the manuscript before listing the reasons for passing. It's a very human, very warm response. That pass usually looks something like this:

Dear (agent's name),

Thank you for giving me a chance to read (manuscript title) by (author).

There were many things I liked about it (hook, world, characters, etc.). That said, I found (reasons the editor can't buy the book).

I’m sorry that this didn’t work for me. The author does (lists merits of writing).


Kind Editor Who I Can't Help But Like Even Though She Passed on the Book

So, in ways, it's very similar to the responses we get from agents. It occurs to me that I'm making it sound like every e-mail is the same, but even if an editor is ultimately passing on the project, I really enjoy the feedback. Because each one is different. They're often helpful and enlightening. I find it just a little amazing that they give every manuscript that comes to them a chance. Can you imagine how much reading that is? (Pictures it and shivers with delight.) Random shout out to all agents and editors, because what they do is frankly amazing.

Maybe I shouldn't be so open about the fact that I have gotten passes on the book. Honestly, though, it happens to everyone. It's going to happen to you. I don't want to pretend that everything has been peachy and raining unicorns. There are exceptions, but success isn't something that just hits you overnight. Finding the right editor for your story is like finding the perfect man. Well, no man is perfect - fine, no woman is perfect, either - but finding the right editor is like finding your agent. Someone who's just as passionate about the story and is willing to go to bat for it. Put in hours and blood and tears. It seems impossible sometimes. The journey can be difficult. I believe in the story I've written, though, and I believe in my agent. Editors are people like you and me... looking for that next book that will entertain and astound.

Three Things You Need for the Submission/Query Process

1. A distraction.

Oh, this one should be all three. I could end the post here. Because a distraction is really the path to sanity. My first instinct after that all-important e-mail has been sent is to go back to the computer and check my inbox every four seconds. Which, okay, I pretty much do no matter what else I set about doing. But I try to focus on other tasks or projects. Piano, cleaning, exercising (I always seem to gain a few pounds duing the writing process), another project (though I really try to avoid the computer for a while). We should make a bumper out of this, guys. Distraction: the path to sanity.

2. Comfort food.

This may contradict the whole exercising distraction, but seriously. When that butterfly sensation explodes inside of you and you become consumed with what ifs, it's nice to reach for a bag of chips or a tiny piece of chocolate. Okay, a chunk. Fine, a bar. Okay, a freaking box of chocolate. There's a reason I have a gym membership. It's an investment.

3. An ear.

No, not just a random ear like in a horror movie or something. But don't you just love that imagery? Anyway, I mean a friend. Someone who will listen to you rant and fret without losing their patience. (Thank you, Bambi and Tiger!) It might be just me, but I'm an out-loud worrier. I need someone who'll turn that ear towards me and let me go on and on like an unstoppable freight train. Wait. Wait just a second. Someone in my office has been conveniently gone every time I stop by. You don't think... No. She's just busy. She loves listening to my problems.

These three things should keep us from becoming hunched-over monsters with foaming mouths. Well, it's too late for me when it comes to the hunchback... Good luck with your own waiting!

The Experience of Being on Submission

I read somewhere that it's generally frowned upon to publicly share how many rejections we've had, or how long our manuscripts have been out in the world. So I won't give you those specifics. But I do want to share my journey with you guys, and I remember wishing there had been more information about this process when I was researching.

So. Being on submission. I've gotten a good taste of the experience. This is how it works: you and your agent put together a wish list of editors. Like agents, editors have preferences of what kind of material they want to see. Your agent writes something very similar to a query and sends it off to each editor on the list. (Much finger crossing ensues.) Then, exactly like before, you wait. Only this time around you have someone on your side waiting with you.

The response time varies. It could be days, weeks, months. Every editor is different, and it could be a slow time for them or an insanely busy time. You just never know. Depending on who your agent is, whatever rejection you get may or may not be forwarded to you. Beth and I agreed that she would only send me rejections if they were more than a form response and if there was something constructive said. (Okay, I have to tell you this part. On the couple rejections I did get, Beth always has a funny little comment before the e-mail. It takes the edge off and I have to smile.)

And when an editor does love your work... I don't know exactly what happens. I'll let you know when I do, though. Obviously there are contracts and dreams coming true involved. All in all, it's very much like hunting for an agent. You need an editor who loves the work, who'll be willing to fight for it. There's even more waiting and nail-biting. Pretty simple, I think. Some say the hard part is editing the manuscript beforehand. But I think this is the hard part, knowing that your story is floating around out there, just waiting to be discovered.

The Waiting Game

When it comes to being patient, I'm not so great. When something's on my mind, it tends to stay there no matter what I do. But being a writer is all about waiting, unfortunately, so there's really no other option but to get used to it. I've come up with a few methods that distract me fairly well.

1. Write something else.

This is number one because it's so important. Maybe this project you're submitting or querying isn't going to work out. If you eventually decide that this project should be put on the back burner for a while, you'll need something else to put out there. Not to mention the fact that practice makes perfect. Even if you've written what you think is the most amazing novel to ever be written, you'll keep getting better the more your write.

2. Clean.

Do all those things you put off while you were writing The Book. Ugh. I know that after I finished mine, I turned around to face a mountain of laundry, a lonely little dog, work, and so much else. So rather than plunging head-first into a shiny new idea, I forced myself to tie up some ends that had loosened in my absence.

3. Develop your online presence.

Start a blog. Twitter. Facebook. Anything just to meet other writers out there and learn about the world of reading, publishing, writing. I met all of my betas online. Yours could be waiting. Also, it doesn't hurt to build a bit of a platform for that wonderful day when you can announce your book will be in stores, go buy it!

4. Hone another skill.

I've always wanted to learn piano. So, one day, I opened the phone book and found a teacher. I was the oldest student by far, but it turns out I have a knack for it (if I don't say so myself.) Of course, now those lessons have gone on hold since life took over, but I will begin again, soon. I hope. No, I will. Is there something you've always wanted to learn or do? No time like during the lull of a book on submission or a query in an agent's inbox.

5. Just relax!

I wouldn't recommend relaxing too long, but hey, we've earned it, right? We sat down and spat out 50,000+ amazing words. We created this incredible thing. Why not sit back for a day or two and watch reruns of Friends?

Like I said, these are only distractions. But we all need our distractions at one time or another.

Have a great week, everyone!