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My Agent Search Adventure/Failure Update

Valerie Biel is the author of the young adult Circle of Nine series. You can find out more about her on her website, www.valeriebiel.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

Last fall, I let you all in on my agent search adventures in an effort to be transparent about this process for other authors and for any readers who were curious about how this all works. I created a series of YouTube short 1-minute videos – one each week. You can catch up with those videos here.

We all tend to share the pretty, shiny things – the “wow—look what cool thing happened” moments.  And in all fairness, my agent search could have ended with one of those types of posts. I had no way of knowing which way this was going to go when I started, but I wanted to show the hard parts, the ugly bits where we get beaten down by the rejections and start questioning whether we are good writers or perhaps after a particularly bad week, whether we know how to write at all. 

In that previous post, I explained how I’d parted ways with my agent after that partnership proved unsuccessful, and with three unpublished middle grade manuscripts, one unpublished middle grade nonfiction book proposal, and a recently completed young adult murder mystery /suspense novel, I was yet again endeavoring to find an agent. With my main reason being that it is so dang hard to market middle grade books as an independently published author . . . not impossible . . . just harder. Why? Because the children’s market is geared toward traditional publishing with most of the gatekeepers for that age reader (parents/teachers/librarians) focused more fully on lists of traditionally published books. 

But now, after 81 queries, I’ve completed that process . . . there are 15 agents who haven’t responded nor aged out (that’s when an agent says if there’s no response from me in “x” weeks, consider it a no.) I do not anticipate getting a yes from the 15 remaining agents who have not responded. 

Q – Now, if you know anything about agent querying, you often hear of authors querying hundreds of agents to find one to take on their project. Why stop at 81? 

That’s a great question! I was only willing to query the middle grade and young adult agents who were at the top of their game—meaning those with the most deals in those two categories in the past 12 months (as listed on Publishers’ Marketplace.) I wasn’t willing to expand beyond that group (much) because I either was going to go big with an agent who could get me a stellar deal, or I would indie publish. That’s because, even though I know that marketing middle grade on my own is tough, I find that to be a better option than sharing royalties with a small publisher with a limited marketing budget.

Q – So, are you going to indie publish your YA murder mystery? 

Probably. This week I’m weighing whether or not I will submit that manuscript to a couple of top publishers who take unagented manuscripts. I am still confident in this story and know that I will find a readership for it. 

Q – Why do you think it is so hard to get an agent? 

It’s a tight market out there, and agents only have so much bandwidth. Even they have trouble (at times) selling something that think is really great, because don’t forget that finding an agent is only half of the equation. That agent then submits your manuscript for consideration by editors at publishing houses in a query effort that is remarkably similar to the initial querying an author does to find an agent. It’s tough to gain that contract for publication with the big traditional publishing houses—there’s only so much space on those lists. 

Q – So are you feeling defeated by this process and how it turned out for you?

Yes and no. On the one hand, I wanted to be able to say I gave it a shot. On the other hand, I really hoped that I would find someone who liked this manuscript a lot. There’s validation in that. So I’m a little sad, but definitely not defeated. At least not today. There were a couple of weeks during this query process where I might have answered that differently. It’s hard to take a barrage of rejections in your email inbox. BUT I’m happy to move forward now in a different way—on a different path. Indie publishing was ALWAYS an option. I’ve done it before with good results. And my main goal always is to put my stories in the hands of readers. That’s the primary validation for a writer!

Q – What are your next steps?

I will make the decision yet this week whether I’m sending queries for my YA manuscript to a small number of publishing houses. Even if I decide to do that, I will proceed with writing my marketing plan for this book. However, I am definitely indie publishing one of my middle grade novels that my previous agent couldn’t place. (Check out the book description below.)That publishing process will be a little more complicated because I plan to include some chapter art. Soon I’ll be fully into the production of that book and making sure it’s ready for readers. (And I need to get writing my next book, too.) There’s always something to work on! 

Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel is the author of the award-winning Circle of Nine series (stories inspired by Celtic mythology and the stone circles of Ireland). Learn more about her on her website valeriebiel.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Val, I applaud your courage and perseverance in the agent/publisher search. I won’t bore you with my tales of woe that led me to indie publishing. But it’s a fabulous alternative! As you mentioned, you get control over your royalties. And especially with a series, you can ensure the steady, important flow of books to your readers. We’ll have to share strategies for reaching our MG audience via the gatekeepers!

  2. Valerie Biel
    Valerie Biel

    Thanks, Sherrill. You’ve done a great job reaching the MG audience with your mysteries. I’ll take any help I can get!! I do see more and more authors doing a super job with their indie-published Middle Grade! It IS definitely possible. Thanks, Val

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Valerie — I love what you said, “And my main goal always is to put my stories in the hands of readers. That’s the primary validation for a writer!”

    YES, YES, YES. Hurrah for YOU!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Right!!?? Readers do not care how a book is published — most don’t even notice if it is traditional or indie. They just want to read a good story.

  4. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    Thanks for being so vulnerable…..and informative.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      It felt right to share a side of the agent search that we don’t typically see . . . and unfortunately, it is a typical experience for most authors these days (or worse — with writers sending off hundreds of queries.) Hopefully, it helped some authors in the same spot to not feel so alone in the process. 🙂

  5. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    Thanks for really telling how it is, Valerie. I feel for you. For my first thriller I had an agent who loved the book. His twenty-something readers would remit feedback to me every three months. After a year he told me he wasn’t the agent for me. He had never submitted the book to anyone. I feel fortunate to have an agent now. Does hybrid publishing consider middle grade? One of the people in my writer’s group is very happy with the hybrid publisher she’s working with,.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Yes, it’s not enough to have an agent — you have to have the ‘right’ agent!! And, yes, depending on the hybrid publisher, I know some publish middle grade. That’s always an option, too, depending on their royalty share/contract and what kind of marketing they did (if any.) . . . but those are also important questions with ANY publisher!!

    2. Sherrill Joseph
      Sherrill Joseph

      Carl, I hybrid-published my first three middle grade books with Acorn Publishing, LLC. The owners, Jessica and Holly, were very helpful!

  6. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    I find this story inspirational, not because you wound up with an agent, but because I KNOW what a FANTASTIC writer you are, and if you can’t find an agent, well then, it’s not a reflection of talent. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Thank you, Sharon! I appreciate the vote of confidence! Some days this process truly makes one wonder if you have what it takes. 🙂

  7. Colleen winter
    Colleen winter

    Thanks for the openness and reality of your publishing experience. Being a published author of any kind is difficult these days with so many challenges. Based on my experience, the only real solution is to keep going. Onward!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Exactly!! It felt so good to work in final edits on a different manuscript today and start strategizing the chapter & cover art (as this is for middle grade readers). Progress!! Thank you!!

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