Getting an agent: What are the odds?  (Eek!)

I just got my new issue of POETS & WRITERS, a pretty good writing mag that has a large section in the back full of writing contests, retreats, etc.  Anyway, the latest issue has a story about a day in the life of a literary agency.  Take a gander at these words:

Folioroughly a hundred thousand queries a year, or slightly more than two hundred queries every week for each of the nine Folio agents currently accepting unsolicited queries. ...Hoffman, for his part, took on four new clients in the past year, only one of whom came to his attention via an unsolicited query -- meaning that, in an average year, the odds of an author without connections finding representation with Hoffman are one in 11,111.

Holy mackerel.  I figured maybe an agency gets 200 queries per week (I heard that number years ago), not 200 for each of nine agents. 

I think a lot of this has to do with the relatively recent trend in being able to find and contact agents via e-mail, which is pretty much how everyone does it these days.  Several agents have blogs, too, making them more visible easy to find than in the old days.  It used to be that you had to go to the library, pull a hulking director of agents and publishers off the reference shelf, sit at a table, and make notes on what their preferences were (and the book was often a year or more out of date anyway).  Maybe you'd start with a few agencies to contact.  Then, of course, you had to print out your manuscript (or a few chapters) and mail it with a self-addressed stamped envelope.  Then you'd wait months and get the whole thing back with a three-line form letter.

Now, you can spend a few minutes on the internet and shoot your query off to a bunch of agents if you want to do it that way.  It's no longer a process that weeds out the less-than-dedicated.

I'm glad I managed to get published before things got this way -- I don't know if I'd have ever gotten an agent if my chance was 1 in 11,111.

(If anyone is reading this and seems daunted, good writing will always catch someone's attention, so don't give up.  Also, if you lack "connections," attending a writing conference is a good way to meet agents.  Then you can say in your query letter that you met the person at such-and-such a conference, and it helps.)
Grade A Baby Eggs

I recently went to the Book Expo of America.  It's held in New York every year for three days, and it's a wonderful place to bump into your writing/publishing friends, see what the hot new books are, talk shop, and pick up free goodies.  There was a lot more energy this year than last year and many more interesting books, so despite the economy, seems to me that there is still a real enthusiasm out there for publishing.  Perhaps it is electronic publishing and self-publishing that's fueling some of the excitement.  In any case, people are still excited about books.

One of the books that caught my eye was called Grade A Baby Eggs.  It's an infertility memoir, and the author was there giving out free plastic eggs with silly putty in them as well (hey, you do what you can for publicity!)  I chatted with her for a few seconds about baby-making in your 40s and I told her I'd mention her book on my blog.  It's about the least I can do when I snag a free book that's of interest.

Her book really is interesting -- optimistic but not sugar coated.  She got remarried around the age of 44 to a guy who'd been a lifelong bachelor.  His parents were in their 90s and waiting forever for him to continue the family legacy with grandchildren.  She already had two daughters, but the couple wanted a child together.  The book takes us through every step of her journey, and it 's very realistic rather than having an ending in which a baby pops out suddenly with no work or mishaps.  There are hormone injections, disappointments, scientific trials, etc.  I'm not going to give away what happens.  The couple has to make some hard choices.

Here's the author's website, which has some fun links:  http://gradeababyeggs.com/2012/05/grade-a-baby-eggs-wins-book-award/


Turning literary rejection into success

Sometimes you write a manuscript, it gets rejected by agents and publishers, and eventually you realize it wasn't as good as you thought, but you were too close to it to see the flaws.  And then there are other manuscripts that kick around inside your head and tell you they deserve life someday, even if you need to take time off and eventually rewrite.

Here is a wonderful blog entry: http://indiereader.com/2012/06/how-amazon-saved-my-life by a woman who wrote a young-adult book that drew some great feedback from publishers.  But no houses were willing to take it on.  She had so much faith in it that she decided to self-publish it...and it actually has done well!

The truth is, most self published books won't find much of an audience.  And sometimes books get rejected because they're simply hard to get through.  They may mean a lot to the writer, but they're not interesting or readable to anyone else.

But there have been a few success stories, and nowadays, thanks to the new trend in electronic publishing, even semi-successful, agented authors are turning to self publishing.  This way, they get more input into their cover art, their design, their marketing.  The essay is interesting reading for anyone who's ever had a manuscript he or she just didn't want to give up on:  http://indiereader.com/2012/06/how-amazon-saved-my-life/


I had a bunch of stuff I wanted to write about.  Like having a baby.  But I haven't had time.  And I still don't.



Congratulations to all my teacher friends who are getting to the end of the year.  I have such respect for teachers - and not just because they perform such an important role in society.  It's because they always have to be on the ball.

Most of us, if we are having a rough day and still have to go into work, can at least hide in our office or cubicle.  You can't hide if you're a teacher.  Who wants to break up with their boyfriend and then spend six hours in front of 100 12-year-olds, pretending to care about Farewell to Manzanar.  I'd rather have a job where I can duck behind my computer if I need time to myself.

So, to teachers everywhere:  Thanks for what you do.