Do you have an agent?
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
7/27/2020 10:02:48 am
Great insights, thanks!
7/30/2020 07:47:28 am
Thanks for reading. I think you will enjoy the agent interviews.
7/27/2020 01:08:07 pm
I am really looking forward to this month and learning about agents who love nonfiction!
7/30/2020 07:48:33 am
I was really excited to get to interview the SIX great agents. See you in August!!!
7/27/2020 02:38:29 pm
Thank you! I’ve been through this discussion with myself!
7/30/2020 07:50:57 am
The business of writing is tough. I do have to say that the right agent makes it easier.
7/27/2020 05:00:09 pm
Thank you for sharing your publishing journey before and after getting an agent. I'm looking forward to "Agents for August." This sounds great, Stephanie! I'm writing more nonfiction now than fiction.
7/30/2020 07:54:29 am
So glad you will be joining us in August! We've got six great agents who are acquiring - PLUS you can win query critiques from the Ninjas!!
7/27/2020 07:04:23 pm
This is great. Thanks for making the effort to pull this together!
7/30/2020 07:57:33 am
We've got six amazing agents! Please come back in August!!
7/27/2020 08:12:00 pm
Good to know this and looking forward to Agents of August. And, yes, I want an agent!
7/30/2020 07:58:54 am
I have to say that having the RIGHT agent makes the writing life much easier. It's worth the search. See you in August!
7/27/2020 11:06:12 pm
Great post. I really appreciate the opposing viewpoints of having an agent. I am looking forward to August. Thanks Stephanie.
7/30/2020 08:00:56 am
Thanks for reading! I think you will enjoy learning about the six amazing agents who are actively seeking nonfiction!!
7/28/2020 04:59:47 am
Isn't it amazing how bad we can make ourselves feel "not worthy" w/those 5 words? I can't wait for August and agents. Thank you for your honsesty.
7/30/2020 08:02:16 am
The writing world is not for the faint of heart! That's why we writers have to stick together and support each other. I hope Agent August will give you some good leads and information.
7/28/2020 09:00:09 am
Looking forward to this!!
7/30/2020 08:03:55 am
We've got six great agents who are actively seeking nonfiction. Maybe you will find your perfect match!
7/28/2020 07:09:42 pm
This was the perfect blog post to read today! But really, I think it is the perfect post for anyone in the querying trenches, planning on querying, or waiting for responses...so basically, it is the perfect post on any/every single day!
7/30/2020 08:06:29 am
Thanks, Karen. The writing business is rough, but rewarding. Seems like writers who survive in this business need to grow a protective turtle shell. (Tough skin is not enough!)
7/28/2020 08:09:31 pm
Constant rejection letters can get the best of us down! Thanks for sharing your story! Makes me push up the tata’s and keep pressing on!
7/30/2020 08:11:10 am
JP - Big girl panties and tough tatas should be a requirement for the writing biz!
7/30/2020 08:15:32 am
Thanks for reading! August is almost here!!
8/4/2020 07:47:40 am
I love the focus on nonfiction, which still seems to have somewhat different rules from the rest of the market. Thanks!
8/9/2020 11:32:11 am
I would love to find an agent to work with! Thanks for putting this together.
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We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.