Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In the Life of an Agent: Writing of Value

Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

I want to win. I want to make money. I want to be successful. But more than anything I want to be of value. How does one become of value? I can’t give you, reader, an answer. I can only give myself an answer. Only you can give yourself an answer.

This might seem like foggy, pre-coffee rambling but there’s actually a point here. What the hell is that magic that makes an agent offer you representation? Aspiring authors live on forums asking each other how they find representation. They fine tune queries. They fine tune synopses. They compare notes on agents and agencies. Some complain and lament the woes of querying or “only formulaic crap sells.”

Griping about rejection after rejection after rejection makes sense. We all need to vent. It’s healthy to expel all those nasty feeling before they burn your insides. Truth be told, your lamentations are warranted.

I offer representation to less than 1% of writers who pitch me. Typing it out makes me feel like a bone-crunching ogre, but c’est la vie. This isn’t to say of all the material I receive only 1% is of value: amazing writing, poignant, etc. No, I receive a lot of “needs work” projects. But, I also receive a lot of kick-ass projects. So why do I offer representation so rarely?

I want to be of value by championing projects I think have value — to me. There have been a number of manuscripts I knew would sell, would fly off the shelves, but they weren’t right for me. Aspiring authors hear that phrase all too often. It’s a go-to rejection. “This isn’t for me.” They pine over what the heck it means. Again, I can’t answer that, because when I say it, it may mean something else than Agent X.

For me, I not only need to fall in love with a project, but need to feel the fire to see that baby on the shelves. Some projects need to be on shelves — or should — but just don’t provide a deep enough connection for an agent to grab hold of.

Some material is too important to pass up. It is of value. I’ve offered representation on projects that haven’t sold. That may never. And maybe I knew that deep inside the halls of my pea-sized brain? But I couldn’t let them slip through my grubby fingers. They felt too valuable to pass up. People need to read this project, I tell myself. If it doesn’t sell? Well, at least I know I hit the pavement hard. Fought to get this beauty out there. To let others experience it.

Think about this: you may feel dejected if a manuscript doesn’t sell. Fall into the pits of hopelessness no one will ever read your project or see it on the shelves. But agents have read it. If you have an agent, editors read it. Those are people — who knows how many — who have read your project.

Sometimes we pass on a manuscript, but it stays with us. We remember it. Maybe we related to a character. To a plot point. Felt the sting of some poignant moment no on will ever realize but us.

Maybe this post is all disjointed, rambling nonsense, but the written word has value. Where would we be without the existence of the Royal Library of Alexandria? Or those first Sumerian texts? Certainly not every word in those long lost stone tablets or papyrus were literary gold? Perhaps your writing needs work, or you need a few more years to hone your craft, but the written word — the continuation of the written word — is far more valuable than any barrel of oil or bitcoin.

If anything, your words have value to you.

So, please, write on…

Okay, I think that’s enough sentimental rambling for today. Happy Tuesday and remember to subscribe to Pub Hub for future posts from myself and other butt-kicking authors/agents.

Lane Heymont is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency, representing science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction, and attempts to write his own stuff under a wonderful pseudonym. You can follow him on Twitter at @LaneHeymont


  1. I'm not an agent, but I've talked to a lot of writers about agents, especially about any criticism given. This one comes up a lot, and I do hear people say "What does that mean?" all the time. I tell them, don't you ever have a book that you think, "Wow, this is really well written. I don't think I could do anything like this. I still don't care."

    On the other hand, I've also read a lot of books that were actually terribly written, but I loved them anyway.

    When someone says, "It just wasn't for me," I know exactly what they're talking about. Though, I will say that it is something that was hard to come to terms with when I secretly didn't believe in subjectivity - even though I thought I did.

  2. "Sometimes we pass on a manuscript, but it stays with us. We remember it. Maybe we related to a character. To a plot point. Felt the sting of some poignant moment no on will ever realize but us." These are some of the most encouraging lines of the post. It's hard to hear rejection, especially when an agent admits he/she enjoyed your manuscript. "But what's wrong with it?" the writer wants to ask. Or, "If you really liked it, why do I still not have an agent?"

    But the more I read, like a writer, the more I understand the role of subjectivity in this industry. There are books I like, that are good. I'm glad to have read them. But if I was an agent or editor, I wouldn't want to read the book 4, 5, 6 times and make edits and suggestions each time.

    There are books I love, but if I had to offer feedback or champion the project, I would be at a loss of how to start.

    Then there are the books that stick with me, that I remember months and years after I first picked them up, that I never get tired of rereading, that I tell friends, family, acquaintances that they ALL must read. If I was an agent, those are the manuscripts I represent.

    And the funny thing? Some of those books I love ... other people don't like them so much. It can be downright strange to me. But stories and art are subjective, and we can all see it in our own preferences and tastes.

    But if the stories you write touch someone and stick with them--or if they will someday--I think that is a big part of what all we writers want to achieve.

    --Sam Taylor, AYAP Team

  3. How does one become of value? I guess we need to value ourselves first. It's hard to accept rejection and to recognise that books may not be what the publisher/ agent want, but then the great novels were turned down atleast once, which I try to keep in mind!