By Stephanie Bearce
Do you have an agent?
Those five little words used to strike fear in my heart. I would be teaching a writing class or attending a lit conference and invariably someone would utter those five horrible words.
Do you have an agent?
I would shuffle my feet in embarrassment and say, uh – well, no, I don’t.
Never mind that I have 28 published books, I’ve won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and I’ve presented at major conferences. None of that seemed to matter the instant I admitted I didn’t have an agent. The person asking would pat me on the shoulder and say, don’t worry. I’m sure there’s an agent out there for you. I felt like I was some sort of pariah. Writers who had never published a book had agents, but I didn’t. What was wrong with me?
For a long time, I really didn’t feel the need to have an agent. I had sold 14 trade books on my own and had writing contracts with other companies that I liked working with. Like most nonfiction authors, I was able to send my book proposals directly to editors. Why would I need an agent?
But a few years ago, the market began to change. Big publishing houses gobbled up smaller houses. Everybody decided they needed to be lean and mean to survive. The publishers reduced their staff numbers. Editors started wearing so many hats they needed extra heads. And because their desktops were piled to the ceiling, they slammed the transoms shut. More and more editors closed to unsolicited submissions. Having an agent started to seem much more appealing.
So, I started researching agents who were looking for nonfiction kidlit writers.
This seemed like an easy task. Go through Manuscript Wish List, read the Publishers Market Place, check out Writer’s Digest new agent alerts. No problem.
BIG PROBLEM – nobody wanted kidlit nonfiction. Okay – it wasn’t really nobody, but it was a very very small list of agents who would look at nonfiction. The majority of the agents specifically said, NO nonfiction. What was a nonfiction writer to do?
That’s what I did.
One party size bag of Cheetos and two Dr. Peppers later, I decided to put on my big girl panties and start querying agents.
I’d like to say that it was a simple task of finding the right person. We magically clicked and are making book babies to this day. It was not that simple.
My ego took a lot of hits during this process. I got some kind responses – “Lovely writing, but not for me.”
I got a few – “I might be taking on some nonfiction people in the future – please check back.”
But mostly I got crickets. Not even the old-fashioned standard rejection letter. Just dead silence.
I ate more Cheetos. Downed more Dr. Pepper. Sent out more queries.
Eventually after many, many, many, ups and downs, I found a lovely agent who not only reps my nonfiction, she is willing to look at my fiction work, too. We do hope to make many book babies together.
After this experience, I think about that dreaded question differently. When people ask – Do you have an agent?
I answer a happy yes, but I also want to stop and have a conversation. I want writers to think about why they want an agent. Many nonfiction authors still sell their work without representation. They stay in control of their marketing and writing. They make all the decisions and do their own negotiations. Some writers prefer doing business this way. YOU may be one of these authors.
I took an informal survey of the Nonfiction Ninjas. Two the Ninjas represent themselves and do all their own negotiations. They have sold over 30 books on their own.
Eight of the Ninjas work with agents, but most of them have also sold numerous books on their own. (a total of over 200) I asked why they decided to seek representation when they have had publishing success without an agent. These were some of the responses:
Do you want an agent?
If your answer is yes – please join us next month for Agents of August! We will be featuring some amazing agents who are looking for NONFICTION authors. This will be a great opportunity to get some insight into who wants your work and how you can submit.
See you soon with our first August agent – Heather Cashman of Storm Literary
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.