Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is finding an agent like finding a job?

My wife and I are both well educated. Job searching is frustrating. I'm at the point where I feel you need to know someone to get anywhere.

A friend of mine in Quebec was recently put through a hiring process. He knew someone in the company and got the pre-screening test questions in advance. There were several situational questions. He had thirty minutes to answer all of them, and he raced through his prepared answers, barely finishing on time.

It was a job he was overqualified for, but needed something in hopes it would lead to something better.

"There was almost no way someone could have finished the test in the allotted time unless they'd read and prepared the questions well in advance," he told me.

One of the dozen applicants scored higher than him on the test. The only plausible answer could be that he wasn't the only person who got the test in advance.

The same thing happened in the interview. He finished second again and just missed getting the job. His friend that provided him with the test and interview questions wasn't on the selection committee unfortunately.

He was sure that the person who got hired had a friend on the selection committee or had some sway with it.

But you can't complain that someone else cheated when you cheated too. It's like going to the cops when someone ripped off your stolen merchandise.

It got me wondering though. How many jobs have I wasted my time pursuing because someone else had an in? How often was I just another chump sitting in front of a group of insincere interviewers to make the process look legit?

Now, as I search for an agent, I'm wondering if my efforts aren't the same on some level. It's much better if you know someone. Many agents say that outright, others publish scary statistics.

Let me say that a good agent won't represent crap just as a respectable publisher won't publish it. That's a given. Even if JK Rowling herself recommended a friend as a writer, an agent could quickly pick up if the writer was good or terrible.

But having someone, an editor, an established writer, a publisher, someone whose opinion means something, introduce you and push your work, is probably worth a hundred query letters and partial submissions.

It puts the agent or publisher in a positive mood, someone they respect is giving a good word. In essence, they are reading something they assume will be good, which may be the opposite to their expectation with a random submission.

I don't have the wit of Bill Bryson, nor the descriptive and literary flair of Paul Theroux. Like every writer, I have my own voice, honed and practiced and edited for years. I have a story I believe in, and writing that I feel finally makes the grade after years of the critiquing and editing learning curve.

I've sent off nine queries. I've been rejected by three agents. That's just the query stage, so it says a few things.

Sometimes, no matter how well a letter is written, if an agent isn't taking clients, or representing your genre, they'll fire off a letter saying they're not interested.

It also says tweak the query letter. So I have. I've run it past other writers, and come up with something that I feel is quite good now.

I'm sending two or three queries a week. I'm also working on my second book, which I'll announce in the next two weeks whether I'll pursue the story or not. Several third book ideas are in the works as well. All are non-fiction at this point.

If I do ever come out with a fiction, it will be something that builds and builds over years, with scenes drawn from different inspirations and gelled together over time. Which reminds me, I should get a notebook just for scene ideas and character building that I might one day use.

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