Thursday, March 4, 2010


Behind every successful published author stands a good agent. Securing that partnership is the most important hurdle in this wild, wonderful world of publishing. However, it’s no easy feat.

I first began looking for an agent in 1986. I had a novel written but was clueless how to go about the business of getting published. During those early years, I felt I had to achieve the title of “published author” to view myself as a “real writer.” That accomplishment-- that crossing of some line I’d drawn in my mind--would be a validation. Only then would I consider myself on an equal footing with my published author friends.

Back in the day, from time to time we heard stories about fellow writers who landed book deals after their novel was plucked out of the mysterious slush pile by an editor. Yes, it really happened! That kind of good fortune is almost unheard of now. There is an old saying that literary agents are the first line of defense for editors. Today more than ever, agents and editors are deluged with submissions. The best weapon for getting your novel pushed to the top of the stack in an editor’s office is your agent.

Choosing the right agent is critical for the author. It can be a mistake for an author to accept any literary agent who says “yes.” Take your time doing research. Attend conferences where agents are speaking. Find out which agent represents books in your genre. Who are his/her clients? Does she demand a fee for reading your manuscript? You want an agent who believes in your work. If your agent doesn’t fight for your work, you could waste years.

Every relationship between author and agent is unique. But the common denominator is respect: an author’s for her agent’s time and effort, and the agent’s respect for the author’s work. Because in the end, it always boils down to the novel.

Choosing your agent, the right agent for you, is one of the most important business decisions you’ll ever make. There is a mountain of rejection in the world of publishing, and sometimes, getting published is a matter of your idea being at the right place at the right time. So believe in your talent, go to conferences, submit your work, and keep writing. Let me share with you one important thing I learned in the past twenty some years. You are a writer whether you are published or unpublished.

Mary Alice Monroe is a NYT Bestselling author and has written more than a dozen books, including Last Light over Carolina, Time is a River, and The Beach House. Her books have achieved several best seller lists, including SIBA and USA Today. Her latest novel, The Butterfly’s Daughter, will be out in spring 2011. You can follow Monroe on Facebook, Twitter and her weekly blog.


JLC said...

Having begun the quest for an agent in about 1985, and having gone through a bad experience owing to my own ignorance and the fact that he took me on after I was discouraged after about five years of looking, I can attest to the wisdom of your every word. Thirty years later I still have not been able to find an agent who would represent me. I wish I thought the choice of an agent were up to a new or unknown writer. The shoe really is on the other foot.

My sad history is part of the reason I now am investing funds I truly should not spend in this way for professional editing. I have attended all the conferences I can afford, and as time goes by, I see more than ever that to succeed as a fiction writer without even a desire for blockbuster status or the ambition for mass market credentials, one needs money. Apart from the obvious supplies and postage and time without recompense, a writer needs plenty of discretionary funds available. Every time I read a gem from what used to be called "midlist" ranks, I wonder how the book came to be represented and published unless the agent had plenty of other properties sure to earn well. It is implied in your article, but I think it would be fair to state outright that just to get a book out there takes MONEY.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! No matter how many times anyone conveys all that wisdom, it's still true. Even after getting my novel published (without a literary agent - yes, over the transom, with a name-brand Manhattan house), I'm now told I need an agent. And STILL can't get one, even though I've earned out, etc. etc. Alas, troublesome, certainly, but your thoughts are still so thorough(ly) valid. Thanks!