Don’t get down if you’re querying with a debut. Agents love finding and working with undiscovered gems.
Yes, a fantastic track record is great, but an inconsistent track record can muddle editors’ decisions, while debuts have such fresh market appeal. A debut has potential you can carve out of it and start a new brand. It’s exciting for authors, agents and editors.
Yes, debuts are the most difficult to query an agent with, but have faith if you have a fresh concept and terrific writing–you will be found.
Yes, you have a lot against you in order to stand out from the pack, but a lot of the ‘big books’ from the past couple years have been stand out debuts that have found their way.
Yes, you will get shot down by beta readers and some agents if the concept is new and no one knows what to do with it. But rest assured that someone recognize this. Agents and editors often pass on good writing only because they don’t think they’re the person to bring it to the market and know what to do with it–consider this a favour because you’re waiting for the team that does believe.
Yes, larger agencies have full lists and take longer to get back to you. So, why not try agents that are building their list? They’ll get back to you quicker and have more time to devote to your manuscript and you if they take you on.
Yes, the market is tough right now and it’s hard for anyone to get a deal, published authors included, but it’s times like this that electrifying debuts are looked upon to breathe new life.
I ask this question of my authors from time to time.
Not to duplicate someone else’s path, but to emulate their successful trajectory and get a good idea of where they think their own career is going–and to make sure this matches my vision for their career.
Margaret Atwood: Writer of serious nonfiction, fiction, literary advocate and champion of libraries.
Jeffrey Eugenidies: Write one book every ten years.
Have you wondered what the difference is between ‘associate agents’ and ‘agents’–well I’m sure you can guess. Associates are newbie agents that benefit from the mentorship of principal agents at their agency.
Associate agents are more actively building a list a looking for new clients.
Associate agents are more often working with debut writers.
Agenting, like most of publishing, is an apprenticeship career. Agents either come from a background in publishing houses (often in the editorial or rights departments), come up through the agent ranks as interns, are readers for agents (who read slush and give reports on mss that agents need a second read on), or are agency assistants. My foray into agenting was the latter: agency assistant at Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency in London from a connection through my masters degree program.
Starting my career on the agenting side of the industry (with a brief stint at a large independent publisher, Bloomsbury UK) has given me the framework to always think in ‘agent’ terms:
Best interests of the author
Familiarity with contracts and contract negotiation
Always being able to question procedures and processes with hopes to improve them, which is a benefit of working for smaller companies
Agency/client relationships and communication
Constantly reading industry news, blog posts and Twitter feeds