from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Random #20: Waiting by the Phone

with 2 comments

In a lot of ways, finding an agent is almost like finding a girlfriend.* As I’m just (re-)starting my search for an agent, most of what I know is hearsay, but it seems like an apt comparison. For myself, I got rejected early on in the process, got depressed, and am just now getting back on the horse for another attempt.

Unfortunately for writers, the agent-writer ratio is stacked against them. In such a situation, the power is in the agent’s hands and often they keep a stable** of writers. It’s socially unacceptable (and usually unrealistic) for the opposite situation, for a writer to have multiple agents. While this may not seem like the reality of dating relationships in most of the world, it certainly feels like the truth in Seoul.

So you’re hunting*** for an agent. There are several options to achieve this, but there is one commonality: the agents put themselves out there and it’s up to you to make the first move.

Where do you look?

I have heard that a good place to find an agent is at a writing workshop. It’s like a singles bar—the agents are more open to finding potentials and it’s a better environment to be able to put yourself on display. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t heard of any writing workshops in Korea and don’t go home to Seattle very often.

If this is the case, the only option left is the Internet. One site I have found myself frequenting is the Guide to Literary Agents blog. It’s not so much a dating site as an online reference site or the classifieds, but not like Craigslist. If only there was a Craigslist where you could find “easy” agents.

There really is no “dating” site. Instead, you look at the profiles on the agents’ homepages and contact them according to their rules. Life is not fair.

It is possible to get introduced to an agent, but writers tend to be hesitant to share their agents with other writers.

Who do you contact?

Because most men are deluded and shallow, they go straight for the drop-dead gorgeous girls—big-name agents at large, prominent agencies. (I am extremely shallow, which hasn’t really worked out for me.) The thing with those agents is that they hand out rejections left and right and even if you get anywhere, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the attention that you might need.

The question you should be asking yourself is “Is this person the best fit for me?” Will they provide you with what you need and are they enthusiastic about your prospects? Agents look for someone they can build a future with and likewise, writers need to look for someone who can help them build their futures. It’s not something to be taken lightly because the writer-agent relationship requires a commitment, a scary thing for any American male. Sure, you can “divorce” your agent if things don’t work out, but it’s nicer to make a right decision the first time around.

Another important point is knowing how you rate in the agent’s eyes. Are you as attractive a candidate as you think you are? Attractiveness (i.e., how well you can write) may be in the eye of the beholder but there’s a big difference between beautiful and ugly. In addition, most agents don’t like to take chances and appreciate someone with a good background—someone who has won a literary prize or contest, has an MFA in writing, and/or has been published before.

How do you contact an agent?

Every agent has different rules and knowing them is important for your success. Research and reading your target is important. To streamline the process, agents post guidelines on their websites and you can sometimes find interviews online. These days, it seems the standard is to send a query letter via e-mail.

Most often you build up the courage to contact the person only to get rejected. And unfortunately, the Korean saying, “There is no tree that does not fall after being struck ten times,” does not apply here. Agents request that you do not make another query if you’ve already been rejected. There’s no such thing as pretending to be friends until the agent’s defenses are down so that you can swoop in for the kill. No means no.

Sometimes, the agent shows a little interest and asks for a little sampling of your work, like a first date. Of the three agents I queried last week, two have completely ignored me and the last has yet to contact me after the first date. Here is another way in which the analogy falters; there is no chance to attempt a goodnight kiss and because the ball is in the agent’s court, it is not etiquette to contact the agent first. I have heard that a little reminder if the agent has expressed interest but has not contacted you in a while is acceptable, but you can’t push the envelope. No drunk phone calls or texts and no stalking allowed.

So here I am. I sent off my first forty pages to the agent last Friday and still no word. All I can do is to sit next to the phone and hope that she calls.

* There may be better ways to frame this analogy (e.g., the female perspective), but I can only write what I know.

** Koreans use the term aquarium (eo-jang). It feels so much more demeaning and so maybe it’s a better term for this analogy.

*** Koreans also use the term “hunting” (heon-ting) to mean “picking up women” or “cruising for chicks.”


2 Responses

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  1. hello from the Korean Army to being published , i look your blog , that a nice blog and greatly. Best for me. bulk Random and holden beck content. i going to often to read and review your website.

    thai seo

    November 12, 2010 at 2:00 am

  2. I don’t know if the above is spam or a genuine comment, but if it is genuine, thank you. If it’s not, thank you, spambot. Your words are kind.


    November 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm

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