LANDING A LITERARY AGENT


Well, people, fellow writers around the blogosphere, and internet trolls, I am still trying to land that ever elusive literary agent, seeking representation for my suspense novel, The Grim Room.

I will tell you: This is a tough gig. It’s no longer about how talented you are. It’s about connections, perseverance, and dumb pure luck. I have been working on this novel for about three-and-a-half years. It has gone through drastic reformations. It has been completely rewritten twice all the way through, has gone through enumerable edits (by both myself, other published writer friends, and two professional editors, one female and one male) and has been read by many people.

Also, three—count ’em three—bestselling authors have read the first chapter and have praised the book, some referring me to agents they know and one allowing me to drop his name when submitting at will. I have met agents in person, one recently at the Book Passage Mystery Writers’ Conference in Corte Madera, California. And yet, still, I have not yet landed an agent. This novel is as tight as I can get it. My writing has improved ten-fold over the past five years, and as my craft has evolved, so has this novel. I have the social media to back me up, I’m a former literary agent’s assistant and freelance book editor, I attend regular writing conferences all around the country, and I know the underworkings of the industry. Still, agents elude me.

This is one of those tough truths in the book industry where you have to gain this unlikely confluence of luck, right time right place, and “the word” from insiders. I have had about seven or eight published authors (three of them bestsellers like I said) refer me to their respective agents, which is very nice and very validating seeing as all those authors read part of the book in order to decide to refer. My father—a very cerebral, left-brained man who rarely reads fiction and is very opinionated—read the novel and loved it. That in and of itself felt very validating, to have a man who is 70 years old and who doesn’t usually take shelter in fiction to swallow the book within 72 hours and comment that he enjoyed it very much. That feels good.

But still I remain with five full-length completed novels—I am working on edits for another novel now—dozens of short stories, some nonfiction essays, (15 of the short stories published) and a book editing career, and I still am not “in the zone.”

Is it because my writing isn’t good enough? Is it because my “platform” isn’t solid? Is it because I don’t have the basic novel-plot-arc underpinnings down pat? No. Clearly that is not the case. I think it’s simply that I haven’t bumped into the right agent for me yet. Who that agent is and when I’ll meet them I do not know. But I have to believe they’re out there. Otherwise I might just go insane. It’s hard when you’ve done all the work: gotten the writing degree, interned with an agent, started successfully editing others’ books, had 15 short stories published, written five full-length novels to date, not to mention worked on a current novel for three-and-a-half years and had seven or eight published authors refer it, three of which are bestsellers, and even met an agent who loved the first chapter but who still hasn’t gotten back to me.

It’s just hard. I guess I’m allowing myself to rant and whine in a public way because I often don’t allow myself to do that and I think, to an extent, it’s appropriate and healthy. And I know other writers can relate. When you get to that spot where you feel you’ve hit “the top” of your abilities, and you have the background industry knowledge, and you’ve received all the major kudos from published authors who’ve come before you, and you still haven’t received representation, it’s difficult not to start feeling resentful about the whole process. (And by the way, when I say the “top” of my abilities, I don’t mean to suggest that I have learned all I can learn about the craft of writing. Of course I haven’t; I have a ton to learn still. I just mean that I am at a spot where I feel I’m ready for the next step, i.e. an agent.)

It’s no one’s fault; I know that. Agents—as I know well since I interned with one in 2013—are extremely selective and busy. It is a subjective industry, that is for sure, and often agents work against writers in the sense that their main goal, day to day, is to reject. Why? Because they have hundreds if not thousands of emails jettisoned at them every week. They have to be selective and they have to cut down on that ever-increasing number. Obviously all good agents want to land new writers: it’s their mainstay. If they don’t get new writers they won’t grow. But the competition is stiff, which is not the agent’s fault and in fact is no one’s fault but is simply the reality in 2015.

Ever since the 1960s proliferation of MFA writing programs and writing in general, the popularity has forced propulsion of the craft and made it so that anyone with a computer can think they’re a “writer.” Which leads to the huge amounts of email submissions agents receive throughout the year. So people like myself, and other serious, dedicated writers, have to “slush” through the decadent seas of unqualified, half-ass wannabe writers who simply inflate the literary landscape with their never-going-to-get-published pulp. That’s just the reality we have to deal with nowadays. Everything is digitized and made too easy for anyone who thinks they can write a decent story.

Anyway. I’m not bitter; I’m only ranting because this is very important to me. It’s my passion, and unfortunately I get blocked a lot of the time because an 18-year-old agent’s assistant rejects the manuscript because they’re in a hurry to move to the next manuscript to reject because of supply and demand. It’s The Biz. And I keep submitting and editing and writing because, ultimately, I love doing this thing, and that’s really the only reason to write in the first place and to keep writing: because you love it and you couldn’t stop doing it if you wanted to.

Good luck to all of you out there like me, seeking the seemingly impossible. We’ll get there.

Over and out. Write on.

“You said it. Let’s edit.”

Michael Mohr

***If you need book editing I specialize in developmental editing which focuses on plot, structure, pace, dialogue, character arc, story arc, logic-issues, etc. A former literary agent’s assistant, I have worked with bestselling authors and other published ilk. Check out my client Christian Picciolini’s memoir, “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead” at Amazon.com. He is blowing up all over the national media, a la CNN, NBC, CBS, etc. I look at adult fiction and memoir. Have a project? Email me at: michaelmohreditor@gmail.com. Currently, I am booked solid until early November, 2015.


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