April 25, 2016

Why You Don’t Have an Agent

By Marcie Geffner

Many writers want to be represented by a literary agent, preferably a New York-based one, who will sell their novel or memoir to a big traditional publisher.

Chasing this dream often leads to frustration and disappointment, leaving writers mystified as to why the brass ring or holy grail—call it what you will—remains beyond their grasp.

The reasons are vary, but these three broad categories cover most of the territory:

1. Your query letter isn't effective.

Writing query letters is an art form that takes practice and skill to master. Your letter, along with your first chapter and brief synopsis, must stand out from the agent’s slush pile and entice him or her to read your work. If you’ve sent out, say, 10 or 20 query letters and not one agent has asked you to submit your manuscript, your query letter needs work.

2. Your work isn’t good enough.

If a few agents asked you to submit, but didn't offer representation, you’ve done well with your query letter, synopsis and first chapter, but the rest of your work isn't ready.

Many workshops, critique groups and contests focus on first chapters because they're the natural place to start and crucial to querying. One outcome of this focus is that many writers produce a strong first chapter beyond which their work is just not that wonderful. A professional editor might be able to help you.

3. Your work isn’t marketable.

If agents like your work, but don't offer representation, your work isn’t what agents know publishers want to purchase. Agents aren't wrong. They know what sells, and they know beautiful writing isn’t enough to make a work marketable. Write something else.

Getting an agent involves some degree of luck. But writers who have fate and talent on their side, must still produce stories that are thought-provoking, emotionally impactful and well-paced. Write something that meets those criteria, craft a strong pitch, and you’ll be better-positioned to get an agent.

Marcie Geffner is a professional editor who helps fiction, memoir and nonfiction writers improve their story-telling abilities, writing skills and works in progress. She lives, works and writes in Ventura, Calif.