Yeah, brace yourself. It’s another self-indulgent post about me. It’s all about me.
In a previous life segment, my work responsibilities included facilitating teams, team-building, and teaching others how to facilitate teams. An entertaining experience, I applied much of what I learned and observed to my personal efforts. First among these that I often apply to my efforts are the four stages of team dynamics: forming, storming, norming, and performing.
Sure, it’s about a team, and I’m just a singular individual, but I have a lot of people inside me.
I’m not kidding.
There’s the husband, son, brother, friend, the guy retired from military and business, a beer drinker, reader, writer, walker, U.S. citizen, liberal, rock fan, animal lover, cat slave, and aging white U.S. male with a crooked sense of humor. I need to shut most of them up when I sit down to write, if I want to get anything done. I also often need to silence the muses, as they’re eager to pursue other fiction projects.
Part of what team dynamics are about is getting together, surveying the situation, putting yourself into it and focusing, working out differences, assessing the others, and then, working toward a goal. Goal is a large and nebulous term in this context. It can be about working toward actual stated goals, objectives to support those goals, coming up with a plan, or creating a vision. In my case, it’s usually about sitting down and writing like crazy. Today, though, like the past several days, it’s about finding a literary agent.
Those of you who have ever searched for agent will understand.
I don’t mean to disrespect agents. I admire them and appreciate their role. They’re a lot like writers, and not just because they work with words and books. Writers are often searching for the secrets. What are the secrets to conceiving a plot and then writing a book? How do you cope with writer’s block, and how do you push through, sustaining your efforts until a novel, play, screen play, what-have-you, is completed? Are you a pantser, an outliner, or some twisted hybrid in between? Do you write everyday? Where do you write?
What fiction writing is about is finding what works for you. That’s true with just about every damn effort on Earth. Find out what works for you. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you need to do something. If you don’t do something, nothing will get done. Your dream will remain fallow.
That’s hard for many to understand, but that’s the secret. Suck it up, start somewhere, keep trying, and keep learning and adjusting. Thinking about those lessons, and applying them to agents, I see how and why their approaches vary.
I’ve often lamented (read: whine, complained, or growled and ranted about) the lack of standardization about what agents want and how they express it. Their wants are often vague and not infrequently contradictory. Demands for outlines, summaries, synopsis, the number of sample pages widely range.
And it all makes perfect sense.
See, just like writing, they’ve honed their own approach. This is what works for them; that’s why each often makes a unique demand. It’s just like writing.
Returning to my original premise here, my daily approach is like team efforts because of my stages. First, I set out to arrive at my work location and decide what I’m going to do. That’s forming. Next, I complain and whine to myself about how difficult, frustrating, and depressing the agent search is: storming. From them comes norming as I establish objectives for myself, a daily schedule (including breaks and eating), and methodology. Finally, emerging from the rest, I at last begin performing, the final stage.
I’d not perfected my agent search methodology, but I do have something that works (so far). I use several primary tools:
- MS Word
- Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) (free)
- Publishers Marketplace (25 USD per month)
- Query tracker (free)
- Duotrope (5 USD per mont)
- Literary Agency websites (naturally) and blogs (free)
I begin by creating a Word document to establish a list of potential agents. At the top of that, I write a one sentence blurb that summarizes the entire novel. This helps me frame and focus my thinking as I search for an agent.
I’ve done this same thing using Excel, Access, and various tools that are out there. I use Word because I’m intimate with Word and want to keep it simple. I don’t want tracking my queries to be a larger burden than necessary.
- Agents name & agency
- Date submitted
- Remarks or comments.
Next, I start going through MWL. I can begin with anything but I like MSWL’s speed and simplicity. I don’t use its search function, though. Essentially, I prowl the database from A to Z, looking for agents interested in my type of writing (science-fiction infused speculative literary alternative history, anyone?). When I find one, I look at their specific MSWL page.
- I’m looking for what they say they’re looking for and gauging their interest in my novel’s genre;
- I’m checking what literary agency they’re with;
- I’m confirming that they’re open for queries and submissions.
Next, I go to their websites and read their submission guidelines, and again confirm that they’re accepting queries for my genre, that they’re open for submissions, and that they’re still with that agency.
After that, I search for them in the Publishers Marketplace, look for them in Duotrope and QueryTracker, and then do a general net search to see what I find on them. I check out their Twitter account and Facebook page. Gathering all of this information helps me weigh them.
When I find a potential agent, I add them to my Submission Wish List. I rank them, too. I establish a Hot List (that’s the header in the doc) of twenty agents whose information sparks the greatest optimism. In keeping with their guidance, only one agent from each agency should be on that list. I also only include agents based in the U.S., as a personal choice.
Besides the Hot List, I have the Short List and the Long List. Yes, it’s a lot of lists, isn’t it? It’s stems from my natural reluctance to do this sort of thing, my innate habit of over-analyzing information, an urge to be systematic, and my need to organize things to help me think.
I only begin with MSWL, though. I do the same thing, searching for agents, in the Publishers Marketplace, Duotrope, and general net searches. I’m casting a wide net.
Yes, it’s a load of effort, hence, my need to go through the stages. (By the way, regressing to a previous stage isn’t unusual and shouldn’t be taken as anything except a change in the moment.)
Yesterday, I finished all of that. My Hot List has twenty names on it. My Short List has another thirty-nine names.
I then began the next stage: I’ve written a query, summary, ten page synopsis, bio, and elevator pitch, and then established a sample doc of the first fifty pages. I’ve used advice, suggestions, and insights that Jane Friedman has on her blog for query basics and synopsis writing. Included in bio is my social media presence so they can look me up just as I looked them up. I’ll use, cull, and modify these basic documents to meet each agent’s requirements. Then I’ll begin submitting.
And that’s where I’m at today. Today’s goal: submit to ten agents on the Hot List.
Got my coffee. Here we go. Time to perform.