Secret Agent Man


Remember this song?

Secret agent man
Secret agent man
They’ve given you a number,
and taken away your name.


It was first sung by Johnny Rivers for the British spy series Danger Man. Since then, the song’s been covered by everyone from Mel Torme to WalMart (they changed the lyrics to Rollback Man) to cartoon renditions for Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb. It’s also my theme song for querying literary agents. And as I hum, I wonder if there isn’t some secret code that I cannot crack.The land inhabited by agents is a foreign one; the borders fiercely guarded and nearly impossible to cross. I have the proper credentials but I do not know the secret handshake.

Of the 45 queries I’ve sent, I’ve had eight requests for my entire manuscript. Responses have run the gamut; from NY: “Dear Avery, I dipped right into this and am loving it. Are other agents reading? Best, W.” and “I really enjoyed how you’ve developed all of the characters and the issues they are dealing with.” and “[Your] writing flows seamlessly from section to section and leaves me wanting to know more. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the manuscript. Regards, V.” to this rather less encouraging email from a small Southern publisher “We suggest you study your craft; read Stephen King’s On Writing.”

I count myself fortunate to have even had requests for my entire manuscript considering these recent stats posted by one NY agent:
# of queries: 7,768
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 30 (< .5%)
# of new clients signed: 2

Nicholas Sparks got lucky the first time out and according to legend, in three days had a million dollar offer for The Notebook, and within another three days a movie option. On the other hand, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected by 60 literary agents before agent Susan Ramer picked it up.

Google finding the perfect agent and you will find Jennifer Cruisie’s excellent blog post “The Impossible Dream: How To Find Your Perfect Agent.” If you’re in the same boat as I, dig a little deeper into her website and read: “It’s All About You: The First Step in Finding An Agent.” She advocates writing several lists, such as: 10 words that describe your writing; 10 worst things anyone’s ever said to you; 10 best things anyone’s ever said to you; etc. Her point is before you can connect with your perfect agent you have to understand what you really need. Armed with this information, theoretically I should be able to connect with my PERFECT agent.