I am told there are such beings as literary agents. I’ve even seen their footprints and heard their apparent calls in the great wilds of the internet. But man, they are wary creatures and so far I have no firm physical evidence of their existence. Much like Sasquatch, all the sightings come from other folks, and even though I believe many of those folks are generally reliable witnesses, there is always the chance of a misidentification. Perhaps it was a wandering minstrel. Or a politician.
Let me tell you about my own hunt for the legendary agent. It began in 1994. I was in a writing group with a fellow who had one. He recommended me and one of my friends, who was also in the group, to his “connection.” We both sent query letters at the same time concerning our newly finished manuscripts. Both of us had PhDs, and both of us had published before, although I had many more short story sales under my belt than my friend. After 3 weeks my friend got a personal phone call from the agent asking to see his whole manuscript. After 3 months I got a form rejection saying, thanks for your manuscript but it’s not right for us. Uhm, I only sent a query there. Did you even read the letter?
I then sent a query and sample to a local New Orleans agent who I’d met at a book signing for one of her authors. She was quite gracious in saying “no,” and that she didn’t represent Science Fiction, although this was for Cold in the Light and the SF elements are pretty minor. I think it might have been the gore. Still, it was refreshing to find someone who’d actually read the thing and I was gratified at my progress.
Then I got a call from an agent who was interested in my work. I was quite enthusiastic, until I found from a quick internet search that the fellow was being sued by several of his clients for stealing their money and was generally considered scum by many writers. I turned him down, although in truth it was kind of hard to do.
Well, remember my friend from the writing group who got the personal call from an agent? That agent ended up not signing him, but my friend soon got another agent to represent his work. And now, he recommends me to this agent. Eagerly, I send off my query. Months pass. I email. Nothing. I email again. Nothing. Finally, I hear through my friend that the agent has decided to get out of representing fiction. Perhaps a gentle line in my direction would have been appreciated. I never heard a thing.
Over a year passed before I tried again to acquire an agent. And I got one. She seemed enthusiastic about my work. I went around with a smile on my face for a couple of months. Then came the morning I opened my email and found a note from her saying that, because of health reasons, she was retiring from the literary biz. Turns out, she’d never sent my manuscript out to anyone. Or, was she only another of those UFO sightings that turn out to be weather ballons?
I immediately began querying other agents, or at least those who "claimed" to be agents. One wrote me concerning a partial of Cold in the Light and she also seemed very enthusiastic. I sent her the whole manuscript at her request, and at least she read it and paid attention. But in the end she decided it had too much horror in it for her. Alas, she had obviously never experienced the horror of searching for an agent or she would have thought “CITL” was pretty tame by comparison.
After that, I gave up on agents and started submitting “CITL” to small publishers myself and sold it to The Invisible College Press. Several years later, when I was starting work on a new thriller, another friend from a writing group recommended me to her agent. I got a personal phone call from that agent and we seemed to hit it off pretty well. I thought. I sent her a copy of “CITL,” a copy of an anthology that had a story in it by me that had won an award, and information on the other thriller project, as well as stuff about the first two Taleran books, which by that time had been published as magazine serials. I also included some ideas that I had concerning nonfiction, primarily because I wanted the agent to know that I’d made quite a bit of money over the years from NF. I’d heard that agents like writers who might make them some money.
That was over three years ago now and I still haven’t heard another peep. Well, as all Bigfoot hunters know, you set up your recording devices in the forest and you listen and listen, and once in a while you hear a "cry" you can't clearly identify. But then everything is silence and you wonder, was it really Bigfoot? Or maybe just a mocking bird?
So there you have it. Literary agent? Reality or myth? Perhaps what I heard on the phone those times was only a ghost. Or a mimic. Perhaps the footprints I think I’ve seen are really cardboard cutouts constructed by some clever and creative writer.
To heck with those shows where they try to find Hogzilla or Nessie. Why don’t they track down something really elusive, like the literary agent? I’ll believe in them when the evidence is right in front of me. Until then, they remain a fascinating possibility, but I’m not quite ready to buy their existence. I certainly wouldn't bet on it.
Shazbot, Nanu Nanu