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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Step Into an Agent's Shoes

While shopping last week, I had an epiphany. You see I had this blank spot on my living room wall that needed some type of art. I was hosting a baby shower that weekend, and the white space was visually troublesome to me. As I browsed the isles trying to choose something that spoke to me, I found myself relating my experience to what agents and editors must go through when choosing stories.



It isn’t as much of a stretch as you might think. Every art form is a balance of creativity and skill, right? While I studied the different inks, watercolors, oils, photographs and etchings, there were some that I could clearly acknowledge the artist’s mastery of their craft, but I just didn’t like it for me.


Suddenly, I felt a lot less insulted by the responses I’ve received from agents stating my work just didn’t feel right for them. Some have sent letters complimenting my skills, but they still passed on it. I think we authors have difficulty understanding why someone would reject work when there are obvious strengths and no technical problems. Well, now I understand a little better since placing myself in the position of the one deciding which art I wanted to acquire.



Another complicating factor in my decision was that I had to pick something my husband would also like. Put yourself in the shoes of agents, who know the trends and what is selling to publishers, and having only so much time to devote to selling manuscripts. Wouldn’t you take on the ones you felt passionate about selling and the types of stories publishers want? Is that frustrating for writers? Yes! Is the agent’s position understandable? Another yes!

Allow me to use a nonsensical example to illustrate the challenges agents must face. Selling Speedos at a nude beach. It’s risky. Innovative. Fresh. I bet no one else is doing it. But would you take on the job? Probably not. Okay. Maybe if you’re an environmentalist intent on beautifying the world. But if that were true, you wouldn’t be selling Speedos, now would you? I’m not comparing anyone’s work to Speedos. I’m just saying demand is a powerful force.

Being a social worker in my parallel life, I had a hard time with the concept of choosing clients based on how I felt about what they had to offer. I don’t choose my clients. I simply inherit them and their needs, and I devote my energy to representing them. I’ve never had to feel passionately about their goals in order to advocate for them. I don’t even have to like them, although I will work a little harder for nice people. But, I believe in a person’s right to self-determination. Upholding this value feels right for me, which brings me back to my original point.


If your work doesn’t speak to an agent or editor, move on in your search to find that one who is going to love it. After all, maybe that agent or editor who rejects you likes velvet Elvis art or has that picture of dogs playing poker hanging in their living room. I want someone who shares a similar sense of style working for me, don’t you? 

12 comments:

  1. Great blog, Samantha! You're right. When suffering the sting of rejection, it helps to remember it's really all about finding a good match.

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  2. Excellent post. I think we all needed that reminder. It cannot be an easy job when faced with well written stories day after day and trying to decide who to represent and who to pass on, while trying to predict the future of what will appeal to the readers in the future.

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  3. Samantha, you crack me up with your analogies! I love it! And I totally agree. In my other life as a performer, rejection became MUCH easier for me after I started directing and having to cast actors myself. We would see some really talented people, but they just didn't fit the role. We hated to pass on them, but we had to. That's made my life easier as a writer, too. When an agent/editor rejects a project, they aren't rejecting me, they are rejecting the project because it's not right for them. I think it's important to respect and understand that.

    Great post!

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  4. Very, very good post. As with your reader above, the first time I cast a show, it hurt horribly to turn someone down, but it was necessary for the final goal. Writing is much the same and we have to keep at it until we find the right script, the right director, and the right actors all in one person-our agent.

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  5. Excellent post, Samantha. I think sometimes, as writers, it is so easy to get caught up in our own woes as rejection after rejection comes in, that we often think it is an agent rejecting US as people, or at least US as writers. Instead, they are rejecting our current writing, because it doesn't suit what they are passionate about spending countless hours trying to sell. That's often a difficult thing to grasp, but also very necessary.

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  6. I wonder which is harder, being the rejector or rejectee? I cry when people are kicked off Project Runway, because that is their dream. I would hate to be in the position of deciding if someone's dream is going to come true at that time or not.

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  7. Great post Samatha, and I have to say I love your analogies as well lol. It's so true we do so often forget what its like to be on the other side of things. I want someone who shares a sense of style with me as well. I'm hoping there is someone out there, I'm not exactly an easy person to like lol.

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  8. What??? Melissa! So not true. There are lots of people out there who like tough heroines.

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  9. LMAO Not one comment about Elvis?? Wow. Thought you'd be razed for sure.

    The good thing about the internet is that writers can discover more about an agent they query than ever before. Twitter, facebook, blog and even just a simple website can clue us in on their approach to life, the universe and everything. Researching an agent, short or long term, is never wasted time.

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  10. very good post, Samantha. This is such a great way to think about this. I had never taken the time to stop and consider the emotional reaction that really goes into accepting a new client.

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  11. Wonderful post, Samantha. Love your humor, as always.

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  12. I love this, Samantha! It sure helps me understand why I get rejected, as well. And...I still love Elvis. (grins)

    ~Phyllis~

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