Finding An Agent (And What’s Joshua Bell Got to do With it?)

Have you seen that email circulating about Joshua Bell and the subway experiment? The one conducted a few years back by the Washington Post?

It’s a true story, that in a nutshell, goes something like this: Joshua Bell, acclaimed violinist, played six intricate Bach pieces, lasting about 45 minutes, in the subway. He wasn’t dressed in tails; in fact, he wore street clothes and a stocking cap on his head. About 7 or 8 people stopped for a moment to listen; he earned about 40 bucks from the approximate 2,000 people rushing by. The night before, Joshua Bell had played in a sold out venue where tickets went for $100.

The social experiment asked if people would recognize talent in an unexpected context, and I suppose the answer to that was pretty obvious. The Washington Post piece won a Pulitzer award for its in-depth look at the arts and perspective. Fascinating reporting, but the whole story made me think of writing.

It’s a fact that more than the occasional big-name author hasn’t exactly found the direct route to publication. Sometimes, the big-name author masterpeice lingered in the slushpile, unrecognized for its worth, because an editor overlooked it. Perhaps because editors don’t really expect to find a lot of talent in that context.

Of course, happily, writers sometimes get lucky, and talent wins out, even in a slushpile. Sometimes, talent gets plucked out of a conference meet-up, or shines through in a mega-contest.  But it seems to me that the odds of finding talent in the occasional, happenstance hook-up, are diminishing.  I’ve reached the conclusion that context is integral in getting published. Mostly, I’ve concluded that an agent is necessary. An agent provides a better context to get your talent out there.

I could keep going the slushpile subway route, or hoping for serendipity to give me a shout-out,  but I’d like to earn more than 40 bucks for all my hard work and hard-earned talent.  So I’m leaving the station (and taking Joshua Bell and lots of agent research with me).

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6 thoughts on “Finding An Agent (And What’s Joshua Bell Got to do With it?)

  1. I’ve been thinking about that too. I think I’d prefer to have an agent when I complete my book and am ready to start looking for a publisher.

  2. I did the agent search this year. My way of figuring was that with an agent you will get an editor to look at your stuff sooner and you will have a better chance of having more than one editor interested.

    Also, if you can’t get an agent, you can always send to editors after the agent search. But if you send to the editors first and they all turn you down, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find an agent who will want to take you on. Where would he send the manuscript when it’s already been turned down by all the editors?

    I still don’t have an agent, but I am working with one on revisions. If she likes my revisions and we think we’ll work well together, then we’ll work together. So I’m happy with where I am in the process. It feels like I’m moving forward steadily.

    Cathy, I’ve read your stuff and know you’re good. I think you’d do wonderful funny mid-grade boy stuff. I think you’ll be snapped up soon even if you do girl stuff, though.

    I just read a great mid-grade boy book, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas. It may be the best mid-grade book I’ve read in a year. I loved it. Give it a read. Not hugely funny, but definitely the writer has a sense of humor, and she deals with a serious topic in a wonderfully lighthearted way. I was totally taken with the book.

    • Sally, thanks so much for the mid-grade rec-I’m always looking for good books to read. And thanks, too, for the props-I have a feeling I’m gonna need propping up after I start sending those agent queries out into the world. 🙂

      Oh, and EXCELLENT point about the process-I hadn’t thought of that aspect, but it certainly makes great sense. And best of luck to you with your agent. I promise to attend your first book-signing, wherever and whenever!

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