I recently attended a relatively small book festival (small compared to, say, the National Book Festival). It was community-based, and the proceeds went to area charities and scholarships. Included in the schedule of events was the opportunity to reserve a one-on-one appointment with an editor, publisher, or agent. The appointments lasted for ten minutes, and during that time individuals could ask questions about publishing or even pitch an idea.
I had two appointments: one with an editor, the second an agent. Agent-Man was patronizing and condescending. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t taking any submissions from anyone (which I could respect, despite the tone in which he expressed himself). When I asked his advice on what steps I should take to find an agent (once the manuscript is finished), he... well, he basically told me I needed to “read more.” I needed to eschew Austen and James and Bronte and Wilde and read more modern fiction so that I would have a better idea of what’s marketable. He made a point to ask me “who” I was reading, and grew even more patronizing at my reply (Sayers, Gaiman, Pratchett). I’m also reading McCullough and a few others, but I blanked – it was a question I wasn’t prepared for. He recommended researching who represented the authors who write in the same genre as I do (but this seems to me to be vague advice, since I’m fairly certain the authors I read belong to agents who probably aren’t looking for new writers to represent). I then asked him about the question of nomenclature and genre and was told “to visit bookstores more often.” (I hold an MA in English; bookstores are my Mecca. I love to read. It was hard not to be insulted by Agent-Man.)
I don’t know if this gentleman is the norm or not. I also don’t know if it was simply a case of not knowing the right questions to ask. I was as polite and professional as I know how to be and was met with an indulgent (metaphorical) pat on the head and got told to read more and visit more bookstores. Is this common?
Miss Snark hopes not!
Miss Snark would like to poke that guy's presentation skills with her parasol. What a turkey.
Too bad he made some good points.
One. You can and should read all the classics but I'm not sure Agatha Christie could be published today. Nancy Drew sure couldn't. Times and tastes to change. Reading the books that are front list is a good idea. I do NOT advise trying to write for the market, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of it.
Second. It is a good idea to query agent who represent books you like. Even big time agents are looking for good material. Those that don't have room on their list may refer you to someone who does. I've gotten and given clients that way.
His attitude makes his advice difficult to take. It was good advice. His attitude sucked. Majorly. However, Miss Snark says the same thing but she says it with much more élan and only after she's bought you a gin so it sounds nicer.