Karen Brichoux

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"Draws the reader into the story and never lets go." --RT Bookclub
"Brichoux reminds the reader how powerfully the landscape of 'home' can define a person." -- High Country News
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"An exceptional novel." --Melissa Senate, author of The Solomon Sisters Wise Up
"A coup. Warm, smart, and original." --Kirkus Reviews


The Agent Hunt: Part I

November 30, 2002

Sticks, Stones, and Broken Bones (Or The Agent Hunt): Part I, Self-Evaluation

The road to representation is a bumpy one.

The first major pothole is yourself.

Sounds pretty goofy, I know, but bear with me. The shoulders of Publishing Highway 101 are littered with authors who didn't know enough about themselves before getting out on the road. Knowing who you are and what you want will help you decide what you need. Hemingway probably would have drank less and written more if he'd bothered to do a little self-analysis. (Then again, maybe not.)

Let's start at the very beginning:

A good story is merely who, what, when, where, why, and how. These are also excellent questions to ask yourself before you start to research agents.

WHO am I?
No, not your name or star sign. Who are you in the workplace? Think about the types of people you work with best. There is nothing worse than being saddled with a work partner--and your agent will be your work partner--whose creative or work vision does not match your own. If you expect a quick response to an e-mail or a phone call, but your agent thinks "quick" is synonymous with "three or four days," itís not going to be a happy relationship. If you like to write haiku poems about death, but your agent wants a book about canasta-playing canaries, it's not going to be a happy relationship.

WHAT do I like to write?
Sounds about as goofy as that pothole thing. But not enough writers stop to think what kind of book makes them the most happy during the writing process. Writing all over the genre map may seem fun, but agents (and editors) want an author who can write more books like the first book. No one wants a one-hit wonder on the ball team. And you don't want to be trapped writing three more fantasy novels when you'd rather be writing poems about death. So think ahead. Also recognize that if your best writing straddles genres or combines literary and commercial elements, it's going to take you longer to find an agent who is willing to risk her time and money to market your work. But always write what you write best. The agent hunt may take longer, but in the end you'll be happier.

WHEN do I want to sell?
Duh. Immediately, right? Maybe not. Take a hard look at your manuscript. Only you--not your critique partner or spouse--can say when you are ready to take the next step. It might not be with this book. Then again, it might.

WHERE do I want to sell?
This step may seem like something your agent should do, but knowing what publishing houses are most likely to publish a book like yours will also help you decide which agents to query. In the bookstore, find the books which are similar to your book. What publisher is shown on the spines of these books? If your book is a terrific choice for literary-minded Little, Brown and Company, for example, you probably will want to cross the agent who sells exclusively to Harlequin/Silhouette off your list.

WHY am I a writer?
This isn't a silly question. You need to know why you are writing books. It will be an important part of your decision to accept or reject an agent's offer when it happens. Let's say you have two agents who have offered to represent you. One agent talks about publicity and getting you out in front of the reading public. She talks about publishers with advertising clout and film agents and foreign rights and your picture on billboards across the country. The other agent talks about how much he loved your book and tells you what the story meant to him. He wants to get your book in front of readers because it made him feel alive for a few hours. He knows editors who will understand your book and won't insist you turn _Huckleberry Finn_ into _The Great Escape_.

Okay, these are heavy-handed examples. But if you are writing because you want to be famous, the first agent may be the wheeler-dealer you need. If you're writing because you want to share your vision of the world with readers, Agent #2 is your man. So, why are you writing?

HOW do I find the right agent for me?
By taking things step by step. Step number one is to know thyself. I know this all seems very elemental. And not the list of websites and books with profound insider knowledge you were looking for. I have some of those, too. But without inner knowledge, insider knowledge is useless. You wonít know what you need. So take a little time to think about yourself, your writing, and your goals.

Next Month: The one thing an agent should never do--what it means for you if they do it and what it means for you if they donít.

Until then, happy writing!
Karen Brichoux