Any writer who’s made it to the finish line with their first novel (or second, third, fourth…) knows that the job’s only half-finished when they type “the end.” Whether you take the path to self-publication or vie for a literary agent, there’s still a long road ahead that can take you through as many twists, turns, and Godforsaken valleys as the journey you took to write your book.
I’ve taken the latter path a few times and though I didn’t find an agent, I did stumble on a shortcut that led to publication by an imprint of one of the “Big Five.” A few years ago, HarperCollins’ “Harper Legend” line offered a rare chance for authors to submit manuscripts for direct review by their editors. My novel, Autumn Imago, was one of the three they picked to launch that line.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, including experimental imprints that some publishers float to vet new ideas for sales. I sold about 3,500 copies of Imago, before Harper pulled the plug, and the editor who helped me polish my manuscript left for a non-fiction imprint that had no interest in the kind of tales of family and natural drama I penned at the time.
That turn of events led to my dubious distinction as an “orphaned author,” a title that feels especially appropriate to a scribe with a history like mine. After worming my way through the online obstacle course towards publication I felt completely abandoned by the professional peers I’d come to trust and rely on and dispirited at having to start the search for a readership for my work all over again.
But, boo-hoo. Book publication is a business, so I decided to get down to it and start pecking the keys again. But after just completing my new medical thriller, I spent some time digging deeper into the science-and-art of the agent search and found a couple of tools that have me feeling much better prepared for the road ahead.
I wish I could remember the link to the writer who first alerted me to the magic of this pair, but after I read her post I dug deeper into the combined power of QueryTracker and Publisher’s Marketplace. Together they provide powerful search functionality (QT) and records of agents’ sales histories (PM) to provide a system for screening the best prospects for placing your work’s particular genre with someone who stands a chance of catching an editor’s eye.
Still, I have no illusions about the uphill climb ahead. But if you’re as crazy as the rest of us who believe that we’ve reached the point in our novelistic efforts where we have a story worth sharing, feel free to download the Agent Cheat Sheet I created to outline how these two programs can help your search. And when the odds of scoring an agent get you down, I suggest Googling for the agent stories of the big-name authors you love best. They reveal the simple lesson that, out of the sea of writers who’ve sharpened their stories to the point where they can move hearts and minds, the ones who find those targets are those just too stubborn to quit.