Adventures in agent hunting

Full disclosure – Please read the following for what it is: an author who knows nothing about the publishing world and jumps eagerly into his research online. This is not a criticism of the industry. I’m far too new to publishing to presume an opinion. Rather, the following is my experience trying to decipher legitimate online advice from bunkum, which is difficult for a novice who can’t recognize credentials and gets thousands of results with a simple search engine question. I can only imagine what seasoned agents think of some of the stuff online. Please read to the end for my epilogue. That’s my preamble. Here’s my article:

My search for a literary agent is enlightening, to say the least. Cyberspace is bloated with heaps and mounds of “expert” advice on how to format a submission and how to find the right agent. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that expert advice should, by definition, come from an expert. Apparently, that is an egregious assumption. Online “publishing expertise” is a big, faceless, foggy swamp of quicksand that swallows hopeful new authors whole, and drags them to a bottomless pit of blind contradiction and wrongy-wrongness.

People who know me think I’m a calm and happy person. I am. Normally. But something about my experience spelunking the depths of publishing has sprouted a Lewis Black persona with the outrage knob turned to 11. 

What I was hoping for when I started this journey was to find an industry standard that I could use as a template to fashion my own professional approach. After some dedicated research, I found the standard I was looking for. I was so relieved. Now I could speak the language of publishing and meet industry-seasoned agents as peers. I thought publishy thoughts, like drafting a “query”, and formatting a relevant author bio. Boy, was I happy.

Then I found another standard and it was really different. But that couldn’t be right, could it? Oh yeah, it was. This other standard had things under the “DON’T” header that were in the other expert’s “DO” list. One expert’s standard practice was another’s amateur misstep. And then I found more standards written by other experts.

I have a theory for all this contradiction. I think there are two enormous forces that publishing has spawned. Think of the forces as two raging storm fronts barreling through the sky towards each other at a frightening velocity. One storm front is made of a billion clouds of mediocre talent, each dressed in a clown suit and screaming bloody murder in the hopes of standing out from the crowd of other mediocre screaming clown clouds. The other storm is made of a billion hoops made by agents who use past success to find future success. Each hoop swirls in a frantic, unpredictable pattern and constantly changes shape and size and sometimes disappears. When the two storm fronts meet, the clowns try desperately to jump through the hoops, and the hoops are doing everything to avoid the clowns, and the noise and the hurricane winds whip the clowns and hoops into a thunderous tumult that cracks the earth and rains sadness and rejection on wounded egos. Then these wounded egos cry and write dumb advice online.

It’s a theory. At least the outrage is out of my system now.

I haven’t found an agent yet, but I’m not giving up. My new book must find a home.

Epilogue – While it’s hard for the novice author to verify the legitimacy of certain expert advice online, I have managed to find truly helpful instruction. All legitimate agent sites have specific and easy to understand instruction on unsolicited submissions. It’s a matter of spotting and discarding the other skewed information. While it sounds obvious, it seems the best approach is patient research with a critical mind. The comments and suggestions I have read from working agents have been the most helpful. They sometimes contradict each other, but it makes sense when you consider the fact that a gardening book specialist has requirements that are very different from an infant picture book specialist.

Page from Dan Holst Soelberg's upcoming book

Sample illustration from my new book. I hope to find an agent soon so this can be published!