Today we have a great guest blogger!
Scott Eagan is an agent with the Greyhaus Agency. He represents romance and women's fiction. If you want to see what he's currently looking for check out this link to his submissions page:
Is it all about the writing?
The submission process to an agent is always a weird and bizarre process. When you stop and think about it, the relationship you have with an agent is about personalities. It is all about teamwork and how the two of you will work together to get those books of yours on the NY Times Best Seller list and for you to have a long and fruitful career. And yet…
The submission process begins not with the personalities but with the writing. You submit a partial or a query and we work from there. This is an interesting dilemma because frankly, you might be just the person an agent would want to work with, but if you really mess up that submission, that chance is lost forever. Ugh. Not what you wanted to hear.
Today I wanted to take some time to talk about some of the things that we look at, as agents, when we are selecting clients to join our line-up. Remember that this is just one agent’s approach. Other agents may do things differently, but I do have to say, we all start from the same place.
STEP 1 – The Initial Submission – So this is where we start. You have hopefully done your research and have fired off the required submission packet to the agent. It arrives on our desk and we log it into our computers and then will eventually read the submission. At this point, we are simply looking for 2 things:
1. The quality and marketability of the writing.
2. The professionalism of the writer in the submission.
Now, obviously, if the story is not something we are interested in, for what ever reason, the process will stop here. In the case of Greyhaus Literary Agency, I am specifically looking for romance and women’s fiction and the stories must be in specific sub-genres. Along the same lines, unless the writer is specifically targeting the category houses, I am interested in only 75,000 word manuscripts.
As we look at the stories, we consider a lot of different things. Is this a story that will sell? Is this a story that I love so much that I have to push it to the top of my “to do” stack? Is this a story that I know a specific editor is looking for? We even consider if this is a story that, although might not be there now, will be something that we can do something with after a little work. The key is, we are still simply looking at the story by itself. At this point, we are examining the story from a FORMAL CRITICISM point of view. As Eugene Nassar points out that the success of a piece of writing is “in its uniqueness, its contextual pattern, its complex of attitudes which is like no other." In other words, we are looking for that story that stands out amid the piles of other submissions we are working our way through, as well as the authors we already have in our agency and those already in print.
Assuming you make it past this point and we request more from you. It is at this point that agents start to move from the writing to the writer. It is now that we start to examine whether you have what it takes to move to the professional realm of writing.
Before we move any further, I should note that we do start this process when we receive your manuscript in the mail. The cover letter, the submission packet are all representative of you as the writer. As the Head and Shoulders ® commercial states, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you fail to follow the guidelines we have set for the submission process, or you fail to show you can be professional, I don’t care how good you are as a writer, you will be rejected. If you come across as egotistical, or difficult to work with, you have shown us a lot. Remember, we are looking for the team player and that is seen so well in the submission process.
Some examples I have seen of writers really blowing it at this step have included:
· “I’m sending you the full manuscript even though you only wanted the partial.”
· “I decided to send you another project that is really better than this one.”
· Sending an email or note stating, “I want to hear back from a couple of other agents before I send this to you.”
· Sending a project that really isn’t what you pitched in the query.
· Sending an email or note stating, “Really my project isn’t finished yet but I should have it done in the next several months.”
I have a ton more I could throw at you here but for the sake of the conversation, we can keep it to this, just so you can get a feel of the problems we see. The point is, the message you sent to the agent at that point is not one that will lead you to “the call.”
STEP 2 – MOVING ON – So, let’s say you make it past the first cut. We love your story and now it is time to talk. At this point, many agents will take some time to call you and discuss what they are looking for in a writer. Although this may sound like an informational interview, this is a time to see how you react to the questions and the discussion we are having.
For myself, I am looking to see if this person is in it for the long haul. I have said this before but agents are not making money off of your first book sales (with the exception of some rare cases.). We make money from your later sales when we have numbers to show an editor. So, in my case, I will be seeing if you are a writer that has a vision (and a reasonable vision) of where he or she wants to be in the next 5 years. I have actually turned a few people down after I have really fallen in love with their story when I hear they plan on retiring after this first book. Really? In which reality?
Another thing we look for is someone that we can shape and mold. We are not looking for someone that has already reached, what I refer to as “DIVA STATUS”. You know the type – they already walk on water? We are looking for someone that can adjust to the demands of the climate, the editors, and the needs of the writing audience. This is when personality comes into play. Do you know your place in the food chain? Look, until you reach the top of the food chain, you still have to play the game.
At this point, we are really looking at the writer from a psychological perspective. Yes, this becomes subjective but it is crucial. Simply put, we have to work together.
Now, I should note that listening to pitches at conferences moves us directly to that phase. From the moment you walk in that room, we are watching you. We see how you approach the table. We see how you act before and after the pitch. And yes, we do watch throughout the conference. For example, when I am at a conference, I spend a lot of time “people watching.” I see the people that I think are giving off a bad impression as a writer. Unfortunately, if they end up pitching to me, that first impression has already been locked into my head.
Now the question, “Are there writers you would never want to work with?” You better believe there are. But before this comes across as sounding too harsh, for writers there better be agents that you wouldn’t want to work for. I have had the chance to meet a lot of writers since opening Greyhaus Literary Agency. For the most part, I like them all, but there are many that have made career and professional choices that I do not believe are part of the Greyhaus Literary Agency Philosophy. If those were to come to me with a 6 and 7 figure contract, yes, I would actually consider passing on those people, despite the fact that I may be passing on a lot of money. This is someone I just don’t want to work with, although I may like their writing. Again, we are back to the agent-writer relationship. We have to trust one another.
Remember though, this question should also be something that you as a writer considers. There should be agents and editors that you wouldn’t want to work for. It always comes across as a shock to writers when I state that really, there are probably only 3 agents out there that match your personalities. The same goes for publishers. Your story just doesn’t fit at every house. The voice has to match.
I think I have talked a lot now and hopefully have given you something to chew on. What questions do you have for me?
Greyhaus Literary Agency
 Nassar, E. (1970). Lycidas as Pastique found in The rape of Cinderella: Essays in literary
continuity. Indiana: Indiana University Press pgs. 16-27
Scott will be checking in today to answer questions throughout the day so post your comments and questions.