It helps to have a pre-determined amount of rungs to climb on the Writer’s Ladder. You know, the wooden one that’s up against the wall? You’ve been standing on it for some time with your manuscript in hand, clutching the rails with the other and hanging on for dear life. All you want to do is get to the top, or at least another rung toward safety and security.
Well, my friend, no matter how much you lift your foot and perch it above the next step, there will be… yet another step! The publishing game never ends, you see, and the ladder keeps elongating as you travel upward. Some people bypass all the rungs because they’ve got magical wings (or sparkly vampires, ahem). But most of us are on regular ladders sans wings, striving to pull ourselves upward.
A big part of all this climbing involves snagging a literary agent. He or she is the destination toward destiny. The one who will deliver you from the bottom rungs and send your story sailing into the welcoming arms of editors. By golly, once you’ve got an agent, you’re as good as there!
Agents are real people, doing real business in a really DIFFICULT business world. They are definitely something you want and need on the road toward publication, particularly if you want to bypass the super-duper unsolicited manuscript slush piles found in every single publishing house (why the image of grayish-brown snow and ice pops into my head I will never know). They are not easy to snag, being that most agents are discerning readers who know what sells and to whom it does. Agents will not take you on if your story is lukewarm, or even if it’s hot. There might be several rewrites, such as what my friend Trisha went through, before receiving the coronet of Representation upon her head for Cedar. Same for another friend, Erin, whose story, Butter, is one of the best things I’ve beta read in a long, long time. Utter frustration and uncertainty could have kept both of these girls from going up the ladder. However, in the end it is their tenacity toward perfecting their stories that is taking them up to the top.
Once you have an agent, it’s just like working with any other person. You hopefully get along and have a nice rapport. Or you get along somewhat. If you do not get along, then you should not be together in a business relationship. That aside, your agent may be available when you need them, responding to your calls, emails and text messages. This is one of the many things I like about my own agent, Christine Witthohn. She is very responsive and helpful, while we both respect our busy lives and make sure we aren’t bogged down with unnecessary chatter (uh, Christine is way, way more busy than me!). When your agent is there for you, standing in front of those editors and selling your story, you should know you are one lucky ducky.
Even with the agent ace up your sleeve, the climb is not over. Once the magical honeymoon that revolves around representation ends, you will find yourself editing your story and having it submitted to editors. There will be a long wait, in particular if you write YA like I do. I have two stories on submission and it has been a few months, but with this saturated market I am not too worried as to why it takes so long. Sometimes I forget the stories are out there (which is probably best, just in case I get a phone call from Christine. I love good surprises!).
Don’t get me wrong… having an agent is an awesome accomplishment that, with a great story, you can realize in this lifetime. Just remember that the gap between dreams and reality is vast. Sometimes you get to take a zipline to the other side. Other times you’re left hanging in your harness, waiting for the instructor to come out and get you going again. Take it all in stride… you won’t be on that bottom rung forever.