GUEST POST: ON (NOT) QUERYING AGENTS

SONY DSCI’d like to thank writer Annabel Smith for contributing this guest post about agents. She is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. In 2012, she was selected by the Australia Council as one of 5 inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists, for the creation of an interactive app to accompany her experimental speculative fiction The Ark, to be published in 2014. She is currently working on Monkey See, an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis. To find out more about Annabel click here. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook. Annabel and fellow writer Kirsten Krauth will be my Stories on Stage guests in October.

Hi, I’m Annabel Smith and it’s been three months since my last agent query. After relentlessly seeking an agent for almost six years, I recently decided to quit. But I am getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should begin with why I wanted one in the first place.

Why Writers Need Agents
Agents are gatekeepers. They hold the key to getting your manuscript seen by the major international publishers (think Penguin, Random House, Pan MacMillan). If they are successful in getting a publisher interested in your work, they are also the people who help you through the minefield of signing a contract, and may also assist you with marketing and promoting your book, as well as finding new markets for your work (overseas rights, film rights, translations etc.).

My first novel, A New Map of the Universe, was published in 2007 by University of Western Australia Publishing, aka UWAP. The novel sold respectably, for a debut from a small independent publisher. However, I hoped to grow my audience substantially with my second novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and to that end, I sought an agent to represent my work. Using the Australian Literary Agents Association website, I carefully researched each of the listed agents, identifying which I thought might be the best fit for my work, and over the next two years, submitted to them one by one, assiduously following their guidelines.

I waited, on average, three months to hear back from each agent. Many sent boilerplate rejections; a few sent encouraging but still devastating personalised rejections. A couple of agents didn’t bother to respond at all which was, in some ways, even more demoralising. On one occasion, I came extremely close to securing representation, but ultimately, I reached the end of the list without having managed to find an agent to represent me.

Why Writers Don’t Need Agents
Back to the drawing board. I sent Whisky Charlie Foxtrot to the handful of small, independent Australian publishers who accept unsolicited (i.e. un-agented) submissions and eventually found a home for it at Fremantle Press. Though sales have again been modest, Fremantle Press unexpectedly sold the rights to a US edition, which will hopefully bring my work to a much larger audience.

Though I had managed to get my first two novels published without an agent, I still hoped to find an agent who might help me to take my career to the next level. After signing with Fremantle Press, I began to seek an agent for my third novel, The Ark. In the space of a year I submitted to nine agents, and received nine rejections.

Rejection is part of the writing life. At the same time, you have to know when to cut your losses. After my experience with Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, I made the decision that I would never again wait three years to find a publisher. This time around, I’m taking a leap of faith and self-publishing The Ark. If all goes to plan, the agents will be chasing me!