On Getting an Agent. Or Not. (It's Gonna Be Not.)
is is mostly a navel gazing post, but I thought some people might find the process and thoughts on it interesting. Or not.
I recently sent my fourth completed novel out on query in hopes of attracting an agent. This is the second novel I have attempted to get representation for. The first, got one request for a full manuscript and otherwise sank like a stone. This novel is a sarcastic little book about killing monsters and burning down capitalism. The story is a DaVinci era steampunk fantasy set in a magical Hanseatic League/ Republic of Venice, where a revolution is brewing against the controlling wealthy guild masters who rule with an iron fist. The protagonist is a woman who tries at first to selfishly buy her own way out of poverty but then learns that no one is free until everyone is free and in the end joins the revolution. Think Money Heist meets Les Miz, but no one has to pretend Russell Crowe can sing. Here are some random thoughts about the process so far.
I don't have a Publisher Marketplace subscription, so I cannot prove this, but I think that fantasy is not an especially popular genre. Looking at the bookshelves, it seems to occupy a large section of the adult fiction space in the store, but as I was researching agents, that did not seem to be true. Many agencies had a very small percentage of agents that accepted fantasy, and a lot of them accepted only certain sub-genres.
It could also be that the market is saturated. A significant percentage of agents that accepted fantasy were closed to queries.
Most agencies are still in NYC. Almost none accepted mailed submissions, but the majority still feel the need to be physically present in the same city where the majority of publishers reside.
There don't seem to be medium sized agencies. Agencies seemed to be either large with a bunch of agents or one, two, or three person shops. I suspect, but again, cannot prove, that this mirrors the publishing industry in general. Either you are a huge blockbuster, or you are scrapping by at the back. If you are an agency, you either have a list with enough millionaire authors to make you a huge winner, or you are desperately searching for the next such author.
Most agents emphasized "own voices". In this case, though, "own voices" was expressed almost exclusively in terms of identity -- race, sexual identity, etc. Lower/working class was not considered to be an underrepresented category (I believe I saw one person mention class in their discussion of own voices). I wonder if that is because agents consider working class synonymous with political conservatism (not a true statement necessarily)?
The above might also be a function of the nature of publishing. The publishers don't pay a living wage for most of their employees, as witnessed by the Harper Collins strike. As a result, publishing tends to attract people who have a support system, usually meaning spouses or parents who can provide financial support. And then tends to be people who are whiter and richer. And our national mythology tends to disappear class in a way that it does not identity.
I sent the query out in two waves. In the first wave, I got one on form rejection that told me the work was too short. I revised and fleshed out a couple of subplots to push the book to a more acceptable to length and resent. So far, I have gotten two basically form rejections.
Outside of the longshot of getting representation, the goal would be to see some indication of improvement. More full requests and/or some indication in the rejections of why the writing sucks. So far, nothing, but hope springs eternal. As I get rejections in, I may update this with some numbers about time of response, the number of responses, etc. If others are trying this, it might be interesting.
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