Literary agents only get paid when a publisher writes a check. So that suggests if an agent signs with you, she must believe she can sell your manuscript.
Believing isn’t always enough.
In perusing Alexis Grant’s latest Writer’s Round-Up I came across a blog post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner titled “Difficult Conversations II: I Shopped Till I Dropped, But Nobody’s Buying.” Rachelle shares the difficulty of telling a client that she simply can’t sell that manuscript.
She says it’s hard for her to initiate that conversation. I know firsthand it’s hard to receive it.
In the summer of 2009 I developed a non-fiction book proposal and was surprised when I found an interested agent almost immediately. This proposal, he said, would sell itself.
He knew exactly which editors to pitch, and as he expected they liked the proposal, liked the platform, liked the writing.
Ultimately, the answer was the same every time. “It’s not quite right for us. Good luck placing it elsewhere.”
Now it’s 2011. I have a new book proposal and a new agent. We’re still in the early stages of pitching editors, but now I know that it’s quite likely I could find myself in the same place, positive feedback resulting in wishes of good luck.
When I was at the AWP writer’s conference in February, a non-fiction author said it took he and his agent six years to find that magical combination of book proposal and publishing house. My goodness, I thought, that must have been grueling, knowing you’re the exception to the usual story of sign-with-an-agent-and-get-a-contract, the data outlier well off the curve.
But what if today’s publishing curve bisects this author’s x and y axis point?
For 25 years I’ve been a professional writer in varying capacities, and I will be one for another 25 years. To date, “author” has not been on my business card. Someday it will be, alongside my many other writing pursuits. I believe it isn’t a matter of if, but when.
As Rachelle Gardner likely tells her clients, the key is patience.