Literary agents are like horses. The horse knows. He knows if you know. He also knows if you dont know. Ray Hunt. I know what youre thinking this is just another excuse for this horse-crazy writer to talk about horses. Well, youre half right. Bear with me while I describe some of my experiences with agents and horses. Then you can be the judge.
About two years ago I began to focus on writing picture book manuscripts. I had so many ideas in my head. I couldnt wait to get them down on paper and send them out to agents. Never mind that I had not yet studied the art of picture book writing. My stories were way too long, I had not taken any writing classes, I did not know the difference between showing and telling, I did not belong to any writing or critique groups, and most of my plots involved a parent swooping in at the last minute to save the day. My query letters were even worse. I asked a lot of rhetorical questions, talked about how much my kids loved my stories, and pretended like I knew what the heck I was doing. Of course, none of the agents who were unlucky enough to receive my early manuscripts were fooled. Im sure they could smell my lack of knowledge and preparation from a mile away. Even as I improved my writing, gained more knowledge of the industry, and began to build my writers platform, I still wasnt ready to be represented by an agent. I wanted to be ready, but deep down I knew I wasnt. No matter how you try to fool them, agents know.
My attempts at trying to fool horses have always led to similar outcomes. I cant count the number of times Ive cantered a horse toward a scary-looking jump thinking, were not going to make it over this jump. Sure enough, the horse refuses. The horse knows. He knows if youre unsure. He knows if youre second-guessing. My first time riding my former lease-horse, Edoras, is another example. I was nervous. Really nervous. I was used to riding a gentle and forgiving lesson horse, not a fiery Chestnut mare who gained speed after every jump. Ill just fake it til I make it, I thought to myself. Wrong again. Edoras dragged me around the ring at an alarming pace for what seemed like an eternity before I could convince her to come to a halt. Horses, like agents, dont allow you to fake it til you make it. You need to be prepared. You have to put in the work. You need to be confident that you know what you are doing. Only then will you succeed as a writer or a rider.
I am now at the point in my writing where I feel genuinely prepared, knowledgeable, and confident. Julie Hedlunds blog series, How I Got My Agent, has been extremely helpful in guiding me through this process. Im active in several writing groups and critique groups, Ive completed picture book writing classes and attended seminars. Ive revised, revised, and revised. My search for an agent is officially beginning. I have three (almost four) completely polished manuscripts ready to send out and many more in the works. I am doing my research on agents and agencies. I am drafting short, yet effective, query letters. I believe I am finally ready. But I guess the agents themselves will be the judge of that. After all, they know.