Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Stalking that Elusive Prey -- THE LITERARY AGENT!

You know, there are plenty of great posts out there about finding a literary agent.  And, to be honest, they all say pretty much the same things.  Which leads me to think that YOU PEOPLE OUT THERE IN THE INTERNET AREN'T LISTENING!  And do you know what I do when you aren't listening?  I say it a different way.  So.  Here are some tips on how to find a literary agent said in a way that you've never, never heard before.

It goes like this: You, the hungry young author, are the lion (or lioness).  The literary agent is the tasty gazelle who can sate your hunger.

And now, tips for the predator seeking its prey:

1) Study your prey carefully.  Don't just jump out at them the first chance you get and scream I HAVE A 500,000 WORD FANTASY EPIC ABOUT ELVES PRETENDING TO BE SKINNY HUMAN MODELS!  Be honest... this would startle anyone.  Take your time.  Watch them from the bushes.  Read their blog.  Read their submission guidelines.  Make sure, for instance, that they represent fantasy books.  And if they don't, they're going to get away if you give it a try.  But don't be too disappointed...there are plenty of gazelle on the savannah. 

2) Thin the herd to the most promising prey.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of tasty gazelle out there, and you can't chase a whole herd.  You want to get it down to a list of, say, twenty favorites.  Don't go after the weakest animals in the herd, either, go after your best shots.  Make sure the antelope both reads and represents the type of book you are selling.  Go online and see if they represent other lions you respect.  Make sure they aren't big cheaters (if, for instance, it turns out they are actually hunters disguised as antelope... run away) and they have a good reputation.  You may have to be ruthless to get your list down to twenty.  Then go after them in groups of, let's say, three to five at a time.  Be sure to tell them, "Hey, no offense but you're not the only prey I'm stalking.  No guarantees that you're the one I'm going to catch."  Or something along those lines.

3) Query them politely.  It should sound something like this: "If I were to chase after you, would you run so fast that I would have dust in my mouth, or do you think I would have a chance to capture you with my sharp, sharp claws?"  You will be surprised at how honestly the gazelle will reply to such a polite inquiry.

4) Give them your best work.  Gazelles and antelope are embarrassed to be caught by slow-running predators.  If an antelope is going to go down, it doesn't want to go out like a punk.  It wants it to be a glorious fight, like this, "I didn't want to represent Matt Mikalatos, but his query was so well written... and the stunning prose of his sample chapters slowed me down because I wanted to look at it in awe.  And then, well, I tried to escape but it was too late. I felt his sharp little teeth on my neck and I knew... I was going to be his agent."

5) Don't give up.  As the old saying goes, it's the hard working lioness who captures the antelope and is ushered into the presence of many publishers.  Or something like that.

6) Use other, more successful predators to set it up for you.  There's no shame in using a larger predator to get your dirty work done.  Let's say, for instance, that you are a hyena and you happen to be close friends with a great big lion.  There's no harm in asking the lion, "Hey, could you introduce me around and maybe catch some prey and just hold onto it for a while so I can talk to it?"  For me, as a matter of fact, an established author who I knew from a seminary class offered to let me use his name to approach a few agents who were "out of my league."  And it worked!

7) Make yourself look good... be a professional.  While agents may be the big prize around the campfire, the fact is that it's helpful to show off your hunting skills.  Maybe you've been published in a national magazine, or a famous blog, or a little startup magazine that pays professional rates. If you can show that you can make money of some sort as a writer, all the better.  Sometimes you have to kill a few monkeys, rabbits and mice before you move up to the antelope.  And sometimes a few professional magazine articles could get you moved to the front of the "promising predators" file.

8) Remember that the hippopotamus kills more people each year than the lion.  I think the meaning of this statement will be clear to all of you given the context of this post.

9) Stop annoying the antelope with all your jibber-jabber.  A predator must be patient.  It's bad form to keep saying over and over to the antelope, "What do you think?  Am I going to catch you?  Do you see how fast I run?  Can you tell I'm a sleek and svelte lioness?"  If you haven't heard from the antelope in six weeks or so just drop it a line that says, "I just wanted to make sure you knew that I was chasing after you, that's all.  Love, the Lion."

10) Yes, yes, you may savor a victory roar.  When a lion successfully captures an antelope, it is perfectly acceptable to roar all about it on your blog, via twitter, or in personal phone calls to everyone you know. Or you can drop it in casual conversation around the water hole.  Be sure to say "my agent" all the time.  You deserve it, you beautiful animal, you.

And that concludes today's ten tips for catching an antelope.  Feel free to leave your comments and questions in this post.  For bonus points to make sure you were paying attention, feel free to explain point eight at length.

FINAL NOTE TO THE ANTELOPE: I know you might think this simple how-to guide is a little creepy.  But let's be honest, you want to get caught.  And this just might work.  Please be patient with queries and proposals in the next few weeks that use a predator metaphor.