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.
So, as many of my dreams have taken me in the past, there I am, back in the military after being out for several decades. It’s not a surprising dream sanctuary, and makes sense in many practical ways.
Once again, I’m there, in a command center or command post such as the ones that I spent much of my time. This one has windows, though. That rarely happened. We were often in secure buildings or underground. As with other dreams, I’m trying to put together a uniform, and it’s all messed up, because I’ve been retired from the military for so long. With much joking and laughing, I get it together and get a semblance of an Air Force uniform on. There are others in this situation, so I’m not overly concerned with the bit. We’ve been called up…enough said on that, right? Yeah, my mind’s workings can be pretty transparent.
I’m worried about my shoes, though. They’re on, but they’re not in great shape. Meanwhile, the situation is developing. I’m senior enlisted there, and the experienced command post guy. The commander, a colonel, has arrived. He’s concerned about the sit. I share his concerns. Beyond the windows is a swollen gray ocean active with slow, heavy waves. We’re walking along the command post, looking out the windows, searching for an impending attack from across the water. Lights draw our attention. We watch, and watch, hoping that they’ll resolve into something more than blurry lights in the distance, ready to act if they do.
We begin walking toward the other end of the command post. I’ve been thinking as the commander and I scanned the sea, and I’d developed a sense that something wasn’t right. Maybe we were looking at the problem the wrong way.
Just as I formulate this to myself, I turned to look through another window and see a huge wave. Rising like a movie scene, it’s rushing toward us. As I see it, a young airman shouts a warning about the wave.
I spring into action, giving orders and directions about what to do as people begin running in panic. As they’re panicking and only a few are doing as I say, I take it upon myself to act.
It’s too late. As I realize that the wave is about to hit, I tell everyone to find cover and find cover myself. The wave slams into the building. Coming through windows, the powerful water wrecks the interior.
It’s over in a flash. I survive in good condition because I’d protected myself. My biggest concern is my…shoe.
Yes, I’m upset because my right shoe is coming apart. It’s not shiny and black, as I kept it throughout my mil career, as trained to do, as we all did; it is dull and white. Man, am I exasperated.
But we need to take care of things. It’s clear that we can’t continue operations in the current location. I and two others, a male and female, take off walking for the alternate command post location. We’re walking alongside a parade ground. I’m lamenting about my shoe as I go.
While walking to the alternate location, we start moving faster. The two I’m with cross to the other side of the parade grounds. We engage in an unspoken pseudo-race at fast walking speed. They become distracted with conversation. Seeing that, grinning, I surreptitiously speed ahead. They notice, and start walking faster, almost catching up. The guy starts running, so I do, too. Laughing, we reach the alt at the same time, and wrestle to get through the door first. I win.
Inside the small, old places, we find things that were left behind, like candy, gum, toys, and clothes. I’m amused as I go through some of the stuff and think about how to make it operational as a new operating location.
Holding up a piece of old candy in a weathered wrapper, I say, “I remember leaving this here.”
The dream ends.