The search for an agent was harder than we thought. Previously, the fact that we had successfully published many books and were good writers was enough to interest an agent. Since we had found our last agent, we had been nominated twice for an Edgar, won the Edgar once, and written a book that was excerpted in Vanity Fair. Our books had numerous starred reviews, and one of them had been optioned by a British movie company.
But agents were looking for more than good writers. (Actually, they weren't looking for good writers at all; they were seeking would-be writers whose books would come pre-sold.) Agents--and, I presume, publishers--first of all wanted to know if you had a "platform." That means something that had already made you famous. If you were a celebrity, and you decided you wanted to write a book, that was easy. Even if you couldn't write, the publisher could find someone to write it for you. You could also make yourself famous by writing a blog that thousands (preferably millions) of people read regularly. And of course, you might have self-published one or more books that sold well. Amazingly, even though this would seem to have demonstrated that you didn't NEED a conventional publisher, there were self-published authors who jumped at the chance to have an agent take 15% of their earnings, and to have a "real" publisher who would screw them in ways they never dreamed of.
Another new feature of the publishing business was that when you submitted a proposal for a book, agents--and publishers--now wanted you to list all (or most) of the books like yours that had already been published. When I first ran into this requirement, I thought that they wanted to make sure your book WASN'T like any others. Quite the opposite. Publishers wanted to know if there were books JUST LIKE YOURS that had already sold well. Thus, they could feel safe about publishing yet another one. We had seen an earlier version of this phenomenon in the me-too attitude of publishers who tried to imitate the success of another publisher's book by coming out with one like it. Case in point: After Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series became a major best-seller, every YA publisher had to have a vampire book (or series) too. Of course, none of the imitation vampire books were ever as successful as the original. Dare I suggest that the reason was that the writers of the imitation books were not as skilled AT WRITING as Stephenie Meyer? But since editors and agents no longer know good writing from bad (or care), they didn't figure that out. Same thing happened with the Hunger Games series. Publishers then wanted "dystopia" books, preferably with a girl heroine who was skilled at killing.
Well, we discovered that if you were merely good writers who were writing original books, there was another way of attracting an agent: find a friend of yours who was also friends with an agent. We did so, had a brief lunch with the agent, and she convinced us that she was talented, energetic, enthsiastic, and--most importantly--would take us on as clients. I'll tell you about our experience with her in the next post.