Goodreads Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

The Search for an Agent

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I've been putting rather a lot of work of late into researching agents to which I can submit Hedge Witch, my first completed novel. I've also been putting quite a lot of work into the relevant query letters and covering letters. I've had something of an epiphany about the whole process. This is probably completely obvious to everyone else, but I've only recently grasped that a submission to an agent or a publisher should be a piece of creative writing.

I don't mean that it should be made up. I mean that it needs to be carefully worked to achieve a desired literary effect. Just as, say, some dialogue in a novel needs to be honed to engage and inform the reader, so a submission should be crafted with its intended audience in mind. It needs to be given the same care and attention as the novel it is attempting to promote. Because, if it isn't, the agent might never even get round to reading the actual deathless prose.

One problem I've had is that there's a lot of contradictory advice out there as to what makes the perfect submission. Some want simple statements of fact, whereas others want something a bit more blurb-like for instance. This is where you need to research individual agents and find out what each wants. But how do you do that? How do you get to know their tastes and preferences if meeting them all isn't an option? This is where the internet is invaluable, of course. Most agents have some sort of web presence, and often this will contain a profile of each individual and what they look for. This information is golddust. Some agents are very switched on and use Twitter and blogs and the like, so you have the chance to really find out about them. It does seem that agents in the USA are much more likely to be blogging and tweeting, but there are UK agents doing so too.

At the other end of the scale, I should say, there are agents who don't even have a web site. They obviously know what they're doing but I don't begin to understand the thinking behind that. No web site? In 2009? Nope, can't grasp it.

I've also been having trouble with the descriptions agents provide about themselves. Hedge Witch is, if anything, a fantasy novel. Partly high fantasy and partly urban fantasy (and partly other things), but predominantly fantasy. I mean, I hate pigeonholing it like that because it's so restrictive, but I accept that's the way the world works. But it often isn't clear whether an agent would be interested in seeing it. Does "general fiction" cover fantasy? Does "commercial fiction"? Some agents will say "no SF" but not mention fantasy, and my guess is that they are including fantasy under the umbrella of SF (which is fairly weird). Some, by the way, even say "no Sci-Fi". Don't they know no-one has seriously used that term for, I don't know, decades?

Some agents, meanwhile, talk in terms of age groups. They say "children's books only" without any explanation of what that means. Pre-schoolers? Teenagers? Perhaps Hedge Witch is "young adult" (YA) because it's, you know, got magic and stuff in it. But lots of YA fiction is purely real-world and lots of "old adults" read fantastic fiction. Such as, well, me!

Ah, 'tis all very confusing. Still, with careful research and carefully crafted submissions, I'm hoping to get somewhere. Wish me luck!


  1. I've also found myself wondering if "No SF" means, "And we can't stand Fantasy either." Primarly because the two seem to go together. They're always in the same section of bookstores etc. etc. But Fantasy ISN'T SF...

  2. Hi Amanda,

    Absolutely; they are two different things. I just have this sneaking suspicion "SF" is used in a lazy way to mean "you know, all that made up stuff".

  3. Simon, I know how you feel! Best of luck. Keep us up to date on your progress. I'm sure its only a matter of time.

  4. Tina,

    Thanks. I shall continue to bore you with my progress!

  5. Oops. I still write 'sci-fi'. Is that wrong then? I get a bit confused by the distinctions agents and editors make between SF (see how I learn:)and fantasy, though I have to laugh when 'magic realism' is used to describe something that is both fantastical and literary.

    Good luck with the hunt for an agent. It's a mine field, but from the little I've read, your writing certainly deserves attention -- your big break may be nearer than you think.

  6. Thomas,

    Thanks for the encouragement, it's much appreciated.

    I'm not sure that sci-fi is really "wrong", it just tends to carry disparaging overtones of, you know, rockets and ray-guns and space opera. Not that there's anything wrong with any of that! SF is a wider term, generally used to mean "speculative fiction" (but not, I think, fantasy). SF suggests to me something more literary and mature (or pretentious, if you like) than SciFi.

  7. A thousand good wishes, Simon. An editor aquaintance of mine said that she doesn't necessarily want writer's to explicitly state the genre of their novel. As long as they are querying the correct agent, then let them find the exact genre if they like it.

  8. Donna,

    Many thanks. I just need to track down that correct agent!

  9. Oh, and another thing. A number of agents are saying "literary fiction, no fantasy or SF". Thanks. That's not patronising at all. I mean, obviously fantastic/speculative fiction can't have literary merit can it?


I'd love to know what you think.