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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Pleasure Of Agency Submissions--Research, Research, Research

Now that I'm submitting my novel, The Color of Safety, to literary agents, and I have begun to enjoy the process. This is because for me, the process if all about research. And I love research.

When I find a book I love, something that is similar to my own, it's fascinating to read other books represented by the same agent, to try to feel if there's a template, an area of interest, or style, and even to understand how widely flung their tastes might be.

This is also a wonderful way to stumble across books that I might not otherwise have picked up. It's almost as though the agent that I am working as become a trusted literary friend, referring me to the very books that I should be reading right now.
Yes, I know this is Martha Gelhorn. I just love the photo.

Then there's the human aspect of the research. Agents, like the rest of us, have lives pasts, ancestors, history. Their parents held different jobs, sometimes in different countries. They have spent time developing interests, and in many cases, passions. As the managing editor of a small press put it to our wonderful master class, "You should be out there stalking these editors and agents before you submit your work to them."

We have so many tools these days, so many ways to learn about people we do not know. Of course, there are interviews in literary places, but even more fun, I find, are old articles about community activism, "How We Mets," in the New York Times, blogs, and twitter feed. In one case, I found two thought-provoking academic pieces by an agent's assistant, (who is likely to become a terrific agent herself), academic writing that was fresh, interesting and funny.

Through this research, those who seemed Powerful Other have become people to me. Fascinating people. I find that far from wanting to get "an" agent, I care deeply about getting this particular agent. I want to have them in my corner for very specific reasons, but I also want to have lunch with them someday, and get to know them more.

And if any particular agent doesn't work out, well, I'll be very disappointed--I always give myself permission to be disappointed by a loss or a failure--but I'll still be richer for all I've read and learned.

What's the submission process like for you? What other tips do you have for submitting a novel to agents? My is literary historical fiction. What's yours?

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