Message in a bottle to literary agents


new ms

Swamp Rabbit broke the seal on the bottle of Wild Turkey I’d just given him. This was his reward, in advance, for his advice today. It’s a tradition here at my shack in Tinicum.

I told the rabbit I’ve been around the world and I’ve been nowhere, searching for an agent to represent my novel Good Sal/Bad Sal. “Around the world” in that I’ve accessed a ton of information about literary agents that wouldn’t have been available before the Internet. “Nowhere” in that I’ve accessed nothing really useful. Agent X is looking for young adult, self-help and psycho-killer memoirs. She lives in a yurt. Agent Y plays Gaelic football and has read Gary Shteyngart but is looking to sign the next Gillian Flynn.

It’s irrelevant, all of it. None of the agents I’ve queried — or, more realistically, the interns they hire to read unsolicited queries — have expressed interest in my novel, which is about the enmity between two brothers in casino-era Atlantic City. I’m 0 for 24.

The rabbit spat into the swamp and said, “What’s your point, Odd Man? What you’re doing is like sendin’ a message in a bottle. It’s like playin’ poker and tryin’ to fill an inside straight. You got more chance winnin’ the lottery than hookin’ up with an agent.”

The rodent was right. Information isn’t access, and too much information is just noise. A simple example: Some agents swear a snappy synopsis is the key to attracting an agent who will read your work. Others say exactly the opposite. Here’s Betsy Lerner, an influential agent/author/blogger:

I think [synopses] are as boring to read as listening to a person’s dream. And they don’t give an agent or editor a clue as to what the writing will be like. In other words, more can go wrong with a synopsis than go right.

I wonder what Lerner meant by synopsis. Maybe she meant outline.

The rabbit cussed me and jumped into the swamp. Then he hopped back onto the porch and said, “Stop bellyachin’. If you wasn’t so freakin’ odd, you’d have a referral, like them writers who get published. Somebody to separate your slush from the other slush. Ain’t nobody’s fault but your own.”

I must have looked like I might take away his bottle. “Sorry, Odd Man, just tellin’ you the truth.”

I threw a beer can at him. “Stupid rodent,” I said. “If I wanted the truth, I wouldn’t have asked for your advice.”

Footnote: I’ve mentioned Betsy Lerner before, she’s a good writer and probably a good agent. But I’ll stick with sending queries that include a synopsis.

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