The Problem with Agent Blogs

I have a new obsession: literary agent blogs. Now that I'm in the final stages of novel revision, I'm hard-core researching agents and compiling a back-up list in case my target agent says no. Through all this research and reading, I've learned so much that will be helpful no matter whom I query, and I'm learning a lot about how the business works. But there's a problem here, and that is that writers (including this one) are prone to fantasizing and conjuring up dream outcomes. We're also prone to paranoia.

Case in point: Literary agent A says something about word count in her blog, so then I'm up late trying to figure out if I've miscalculated my word count. Then I go into "ohmygodmybook'stooshort, noagentwilleverwanttoreaditImightaswelljustdie" mode. Then Literary agent B says something about noticing the misuse of repetition, and I think about the use of repetition in my third chapter and how people in my workshop liked it, but then I think "wait, but is that too literary? Am I being too lyrical? Is Agent B going to stop reading the book and put it down right there?"

And then there's another problem, a sort of authorial fallacy problem. If an agent reveals too much about him or herself on a blog, a writer may start to feel a kinship with that agent that doesn't really exist. There are a couple of agents right now that I'm not sure I want to query any more because they've revealed so much of themselves that now if they reject me, I think I'll feel weird about continuing to read their blogs. I mean, it's one thing to be rejected by some name in a directory or on a list online, but to be rejected by someone whose blog you've come to enjoy, well, that would be a particularly personal ouch.

Except that it's not personal at all, at least not for that agent, and therein lies the rub. We may be reading their blogs, but to them, we're still just that wannabe writer, kind of like the geek in Sixteen Candles who suddenly finds himself alone with Molly Ringwald. I think the reason that I'm fifteen in that recurring agent dream is that this whole thing makes me feel like that again, like I'm back in high school trying to get the attention of the cute boy across the room. And I try to look at it as a business, but in what other business are professional relationships so fraught with these kinds of tensions? In what other business can a life's ambition turn on one small decision by just one person?

It's heady stuff, but ultimately, we have to remember that it is a business, and that it's still not personal. And we don't know these agents, no matter how thoroughly we research them and no matter how regularly we read their blogs. They are not our friends. And while an agent may make a pronouncement one day about not wanting x or y in a query or not wanting to see z in a first chapter, that doesn't mean the advice is universal. We have to be savvy about how we handle all this information, and we can't let it make us paranoid. If I compiled a list of every rule I've read in every blog lately, I'd probably just give up in despair and never send anyone anything, because it would all just seem too hard. Above all, we still have to be true to our own visions, and we still have to place our writing first. This means putting our vision above any literary agent's, and putting the biggest percentage of our time into our own writing. Reading industry blogs isn't bad, but we can't let it substitute for our own hard work.

And remember--the geek did end up with the prom queen. ;)


Vicky said…
Prior to reading this post, I'd concluded that writers get way too angsty after reading agent blogs. In truth, I was oblivious to agent blogs when I finished revisions on the book I eventually sold (last June). However, I did eventually learn about them & still read them occassionally if there's a topic that interests me.

I had plenty of angsty moments after getting agent requests. One thing that may help you is to consider attending a regional conference where agents who interest you will be. The smaller conferences often provide opportunities for actually talking to editors & agents. The NOLA conference that Colleen just returned from is a good example. In these settings, you realize agents & editors are people, too. Also, while I know authors who get agents via queries, you might consider a variety of methods. I got interest primarily from contests, in-person meetings or pitches, and one author recommendation to her agent. The really interesting thing is I sent out only one query where I didn't have some sort of previous connection. That was the only form rejection I got. Just some things to consider. May the Magic Romance Fairies be with You!
I'm definitely using author recommendations--I have several friends who are willing to recommend me. I doubt contests will be very successful, because my stuff is more literary/mainstream, although I am entering some in short fiction. But I'm not against the traditional querying method either, because in the end, it's the work that counts and it's the writing that has to catch someone. I don't want just any agent--I want the right agent for my book. I may try regional conferences after the first round of queries, but to be honest, I'm not thinking too far ahead with this.

Right now my focus has to be on getting the book ready to send. I've already been in the position of having two of two request the full when I was nowhere NEAR ready to send, and I will not make that mistake again. Before I query, before I attend any conferences, I have to make sure the manuscript WORKS.
Oh, and I don't know about the Magic Romance fairies, but if the Gothic Vampire fairies can help, we're on! ;)