As an unpublished writer, I’ve been (quite obviously) looking forward to seeing my writing in print, whether it’s just a story in a magazine or a full novel on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. Toward that end, I’ve read magazines and attended meetings where agents and publishers and others in the publishing world give all sorts of advice on how to get published. All of it has been essential, and I take their admonitions seriously, especially the part on how to get an agent to notice my novels and entice them to take me on as a client.
Articles like that occur almost regularly in the writing magazines and frequently in talks at meetings. But over the years, I’ve noticed one singular shortcoming of these articles and talks. The “shortcoming” is not a shortage of specific information nor a deficiency of any particular topic, it is, rather, a deficiency of completeness. Most of the articles I’ve read give a lot of good information, but rarely, if ever, does the author wrap it all up and tie a nice ribbon on it to indicate that everything is there. Getting an agent (remember, I’m speaking as an unagented novice writer here) requires several factors. Your letter must be perfect–you can’t insult the agent–you have to do your research–meet the agent ahead of time–get an introduction through someone else–etc., etc., all these things and more must fall in line before the agent is going to take you on as a client. Trouble is, no one tells you that all at one time.
Most articles I’ve read just dwell on one aspect of landing an agent. Writing the query letter is especially common as a topic for an article. Don’t get me wrong here, that’s very important. But so often the author writes the article so that it sounds as though all you have to do is follow their advice about the query letter and bingo-presto! you have an agent. Ridiculous. You can write the best letter in the world and still not get an agent.
I’ve done all that. I’ve followed the advice of so many agents I can’t count them all. Just writing a good letter won’t necessarily get you an agent. There are other factors, such as meeting an agent at a meeting, or knowing someone who can introduce you, as well as writing a good book, and having previous publications or an MFA on your resume. You’ve got to have it all. You have to do everything. The letter is only one step, and even then you may not get an agent. The process is very subjective–you and the agent have to click together.
For good or for bad, that’s how I see it, and I think agents are doing a disservice to new writers by not emphasizing the completeness of the process in their articles. I wish someone would write a good article that emphasizes that fact.