I spent yesterday afternoon at an agent panel.  I’ve been to many agent panels at AWP and other conferences, and there was the fabulous panel during my Yale workshop this summer, but I went to this one specifically because there were 2 agents I’d researched and hoped to meet in person.  Local San Francisco-based agents.  One woman.  One man.

I pretty much wrote-off the woman the minute she arrived.  She breezed in late; she smelled like smoke when she passed; she looked bothered; she was reluctant to take the microphone; she hesitated to give an opinion.  She chewed gum.  She chewed gum the entire time.  And in the end — in opposition to what her website stated about the books she’s looking for — she was not the least bit interested in narrative nonfiction, memoir.

Then there was the man.  Happy to be there, steadfast in his opinions about writing and publishing and marketing, a focus on nonfiction, ready to grab the mic, a sense of humor (imagine!), clear about how he works with his writers, happy to explain in detail what really happens when he works with editors and publishers.  He talked about how he’s dedicated to spend the time it takes to work with his writers to edit the work, to make sure it’s as perfect as it can be before trying to sell it.  His job, he said, is to work not only on this one project, but to work with the writer on their career.  And as if that wasn’t enough to charm the workhorse in me, he later told me exactly, without equivocation, what turned him off about my book.

I’m getting close to the query process.  I’ve been writing this book for 4 years and finally, finally, I’m this close.  Over these 4 years, I’ve also been researching the industry, following the blogs, making contacts, becoming clear about who I’m looking for.  I’ve made my short list (and a long list, too, because that’s the realistic me) of the agents I’ll be querying.

What can I say.  I’m clear.  I’m organized.  I’m the woman who has already ordered, and received, this year’s Christmas cards.

What are you looking for in an agent?  What’s on your wish list?


18 thoughts on “Paneling

  1. Pamela

    This past June, I got my dream agent exactly 13 minutes after I queried him. Now he is working hard to find the right publisher. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll know my book had the best shot possible. And I’ll still be thankful to him for being supportive, encouraging, and focused.

    1. Teri Post author

      This is so great to hear, Pamela! But jaysus, not so long as 13 minutes!?!? 😉

      All of my fingers are crossed for you. Let me know what happens!

  2. Josephine

    How great does this feel???

    (This is only slightly a rhetorical question–I’m so far from where you are right now, I want to know exactly how it feels. I imagine good, like when you’ve done everything you know you can and feel ready in the gut of your soul. Your complete and utter devotion to finishing your memoir makes me happy.)

    I still feel like I’m falling backward. (I was going to finish that sentence “with my writing” but that’s only a sliver.) I do believe that this is where I am supposed to be. And that the feeling is only that–a feeling and not what is actually happening. At least there is movement–forever I thought I was done.

    1. Teri Post author

      I don’t know about the finishing or the querying, but it was good to see these agents in person and see the stark differences I was not seeing on a computer screen.

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh I’m not celebrating yet. I know I’m not finished enough for that. But we are going to celebrate you, my dear!

  3. jpon

    I’ve been looking for a while with zero success. A good friend and writer recently told me my query letter was the problem. I sure hope she’s right. Best to you in your search.

    1. Teri Post author

      Good luck to you, too, Joe. I have no fantasies about this agent-shopping process. The thing I left out of this post are the numbers they gave us. The incredible number of queries that arrive in their email boxes, the few they find interesting, and the two they might take on in a year.

      The other thing I left out, however, was the audience for this panel. I’m guessing there were 60 writers there, and from the conversations I overheard and the questions asked, only a few of them are writing literary fiction, and even those didn’t seem ready for the business part of things.

  4. Erika Marks

    I will always remember that moment when my first agent (not the brilliant lady I am fortunate to call my agent now) said, after we weren’t able to sell my project, that our partnership had come to an end. I was stunned, having never imagined that some agents work on a per-project basis and not with the writer. It was a good learning experience and certainly eye-opening. We want to know someone is there to help us in this career, not just THIS book. This guy you met sounds like a gem, Teri. Is it safe to say he’s at the top of your list when the query goes out?

  5. Deb

    I’m getting excited for you! I have a list of wants and requirements, but the whole thing will probably come down to my gut, who I click with (credentials taken into consideration). After querying over the summer, I formed impressions based on response times and the thoughtfulness of comments. I was surprised that some of the superstars, the ones I would think the most busy were the ones who took the time to answer. I revamped my list based on that input because I figure the credentials are easy to check, but seeing how someone treats a nobody seems important somehow.

  6. Catherine

    Great work! I really think it is essential to know your onions. Also to get a good vibe. I had one American agent approach me at a conference and we hit it off well. I’m now thinking of engaging with her for the US market. There’s such an abyss between the UK and US models. Being an outsider to both, I can see advantages and differences and it’s so important to know how to play ball. Good luck Teri!

    1. Teri Post author

      The good vibe. Yes. And the bad. As disappointed as I was in the gum-chewing woman, I was glad to see it for myself. One more off the list.

  7. Sarah W

    My MS is almost ready to query, I think, and my synopses. Not sure about the letter, but I guess we’ll see.

    I’m not naive enough to think this is going to be an easy or quick process, but learning experiences are invaluable, too, right?

    1. Teri Post author

      I’m like you, Sarah. I have no fantasies about the querying process. As depressing as the news can be when I go to these panels, it’s invaluable information and realistic.

  8. LauraMaylene

    Yes, meeting an agent in person can definitely change your entire perspective of him or her — the person who once was your “dream” agent might reveal herself to be someone you couldn’t imagine working with.

    I’m feeling disillusioned about agents at the moment, but I do know there are still so many good ones out there. I want one who focuses on my career, too, and not just one book. Like that other agent from your panel…I have my suspicions about who he might be, by the way.

    1. Teri Post author

      It was interesting. On-line, the woman looked like a superstar. Backed by a reputable agency, several published interviews, a decent website, etc…. In person, however, I kept listening to her talk and thinking, “how in the world do you do this job?”

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