Experience with my first book led me to re-think the agent question.
I had a lot of fun (albeit a lot of work) getting Embracing the Elephant published. However, when the book languished in sales, my lack of marketing expertise became abundantly clear. I didn’t know how to position and promote my novel. I didn’t have the industry connections that could get the book noticed by the likes of The New York Times Book Review (or any other well-known reviewer – a sure way to get known). Despite accolades from prominent and influential (albeit somewhat esoteric) sources such as Publishers Weekly and ForeWord, without the requisite skills, I struggled to get the news out to historical fiction lovers everywhere.
Of course, a real publisher would have those skills.
Since signing with a publisher is unlikely without the aid of an agent, however, upon completion of the second book in the series, A Veil of Fog and Flames, I again went looking.
For this iteration, I broadened my scope in some ways and narrowed it in others.
Narrowing took on a geographic aspect. Since my books have a strong California theme (California Gold Rush, early San Francisco), I searched for West Coast agents with ties to the East Coast world of publishing. My thought was that the West Coast agent would have more interest in a West Coast theme, but the East Coast publisher would have wider distribution.
The Internet helped. I was able to identify at least ten potential agencies with those characteristics. From the list, I eliminated all except those agents looking for my genre – there were seven that remained.
That’s when the “broadening” happened. I padded my list of potential agents with two from prominent East Coast agencies (one of whom was Agent #2 from my previous foray), ultimately sending out three times the number of inquiries as I had for the first book. Nine. This time I was risking nine rejections instead of the previous three. (So much for positive thinking, eh?)
As with the previous submissions, each agent wanted something different: letters only, first chapter, first ten pages, first fifty pages, first born (ahem). I complied with the varied instructions to the letter.
I received two nibbles from the West Coast list. One asked for the first 100 pages (in addition to what I had already sent), but fell out because they didn’t care for my style of plot presentation (see ‘Tis a Puzzlement on the AuthorRise.com site). The second was an agent that asked to see the manuscript a few days after the first one – but since I’d already committed to the first inquiry, for ethical reasons I declined their request. By the time the requisite review time for the first agency had passed so that I could revisit the second inquiry, the agent who first contacted me had moved onto another job.
From the East Coast agencies, I received a reply from one – if it could be called a “reply.” This agent is one of the most prominent in the business, representing world-renowned authors of historical fiction. I knew it was a long-shot to expect anything – but I had to try anyway. (Okay, there’s a little positive thinking there, right?)
However, when the “reply” turned out to be a lopsided and smudged copy of an obvious form letter, I was unimpressed. My esteem for this person sunk even further upon reading the self-serving letter, which stated that most people don’t know how to write a marketable novel and, in order for them to learn, they needed to buy the agent’s book. A brochure for the book was included, replete with an “endorsement” from this agent’s most prominent client* – which told me everything I needed to know. I won’t bother to approach this man again.
By this time, I had once again decided to go the independent-publishing route one more time, hoping that I had picked up a few tips on publicizing since the first book.
Given that I still haven’t found the secret to the world of publicity (again despite independent critical acclaim for A Veil of Fog and Flames), I will continue to write (the third installment in the 4-book series) and continue to look for that elusive agent who will find a publisher who believes in my work.
* I had a good laugh with this. The author had chosen the words of his “endorsement” for the agent carefully, rendering it meaningless. I have been a fan of this author’s novels for some time – and like him even more now, knowing he had duped the egotistical agent. Certainly having his name associated with the agent’s book might have tricked those who didn’t actually read the text – but that wasn’t the author’s fault. The book was aimed at writers – if a writer doesn’t discern the ruse, then perhaps s/he isn’t much of a writer.