My Pretend Agent
A while back, when I was dragging my feet on sending out more queries, I turned to my Ravelry friends for motivation. I’m a member of a pretty close-knit (pun not intended) group on the site, and they’re some of the most supportive people I know.
“I need somebody to do me a favor,” I posted. “Tell me to stop dragging my feet about queries and send some out.”
A relatively new member of the group named Janalee responded: “Send lots of queries! Query the world! Send me a query! I’m not an agent, but I’ll send you a happy response anyway.” And then she made bee noises at me. Obviously, this was someone I needed to associate with. She PM’ed me her address, and I sent mailed her a personalized version of my query letter, along with sample pages. It went like this:
V. Important Literary Agent Janalee
Totally Legitimate Literary Agency
Dear Ms. Janalee,
I hear you have excellent taste in novels, and so I think you might like to represent my excellent novel. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty great. It’s like if JK Rowling and Shakespeare had a baby, only that baby was a novel by me, and also it pooped royalty checks.
Sebastian is the man of Bella’s dreams – literally – but when her friend has him brought to life by The Dream Doctor, he finds himself an unwelcome surprise birthday gift. Sent back to the shop for a refund, Sebastian goes to work as The Dream Doctor’s new assistant. He bonds with some of the dreams on his monthly house call list and realizes that he wants more than just the day job and hand-me-down shoes that his employer has given him. He wants friends, his own life, and maybe even someone to love – say, a neglected dream on his house call route who’s becoming a little more than a friend. But at The Dream Doctor, all dreams are merely merchandise, and Sebastian will have to fight against his employer and his own self-destructive programming before he can become a real boy.
Or Your Money Back is an urban fantasy novel complete at 82,000 words. This novel will wow every possible demographic, including Twilight fans, elderly billionaires, and literate dogs. You’ll have to buy a lot of suitcases to hold all the money you make from representing this book. Or maybe you could take multiple trips to the bank and just use one suitcase at a time, I guess. An SASE and the first five pages are attached. I am working toward my MFA in fiction at Hamline University, and I have one short story published (Kazka Press, July 2010).
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your eager response. Please be advised: several other agents are currently reviewing this project, and you may have to defeat them in armed combat to get a shot at representing me.
I waited. A short while later, a response came in the mail:
Enclosed was a hand-made “check” with a photo of a puppy on it, made out to me, for $100,000 and no cents. Now, lemme tell you having someone give you a huge check with a puppy on it for the advance on a novel of yours that they sold based on sample pages feels pretty goddamn great, even if it is fake. That check and that acceptance letter are tacked up over my desk right along with my roommate’s bee quote, because every time I see them I grin.
I sent Janalee back my letter accepting her as my agent along with my manuscript. Sadly, I’ve lost the text of that letter, but I did remember to get a scan of the packaging job I did on the manuscript. For most agents, I’d just put the letter and manuscript in a box or envelope, but this? This was for Janalee. It had to be special. It had to be used-folder-from-work-tied-with-a-bow special.
Yeah. You’re jealous that you don’t get packages this fancy.
So I waited.
Janalee’s reply to my manuscript package didn’t come in the mail. It came via a PM on Ravelry, and instead of hyperbole it was genuine. She told me she’d loved the book, and then she laid out her reasons why. She signed off with “Keep writing, please? I need to be able to buy all your stuff.” I hadn’t expected sincerity – hell, I hadn’t even counted on her liking the book! – so that response bowled me over. I’m keeping it in my Saved folder on Ravelry, and every time I need cheering up on the writing front, I pull it up, reread it, and smile.
Since then, my totally legitimate literary agent Janalee has been one of my best cheerleaders. When I talk about writing, she encourages me. When I lament yet another rejection letter, she tells me the agent was clearly out of their mind to pass on this – or reminds me that I’ve already got an agent who is clearly superior. When I mention a new novel project I might want beta readers for in the future, she waves her arm frantically in the air and yells, “OOH! ME! PICK ME!” (One of the reasons I’m most looking forward to finishing my current WIP is so I can send it to her.)
And one time she sent me cookies. YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT. My pretend agent sent me homemade cookies. And they were butterlicious chocolate chip cookies, too. Best agent ever, Y/Y?
If you’re stuck in the middle of a long query process and need a break from the rejection, maybe consider querying a pretend agent – ideally a sympathetic bookworm internet friend. Bask in the hyperbole for awhile. Allow yourself to have a totally ridiculous penpal relationship with someone, including grandiose titles on the envelopes that might befuddle your mail carrier. It makes the querying process seem a lot more fun, and it lessens the blow of a rejection a little to be able to say, “Well, this agent doesn’t want me, but he probably wouldn’t write me a check with a puppy dog on it, anyway.”
And if you happen to land a pretend agent who sends you cookies in the mail? Well, that’s just a bonus.