In between other work, projects, and life, I spent the last few years assembling a proposal for R.E.M.F., finding an agent and then finally a publisher. My work is far from done, and in many ways just beginning; I have ahead of me about two more years of writing and drawing. That being said, I've had many friends and colleagues ask me about how I accomplished various parts of this process, so for those interested, I've decided to write about that here. In Part One, I talked about the genesis of R.E.M.F. and the process of putting together scripts and illustrated pages for submission. Here, in Part Two, I'll talk about the process of finding an agent.
By now I had what I hoped would constitute enough material to satisfy an interested literary agent, if I would be so lucky as to even find one.
It's probably best to take a step back though and explain why exactly I decided to try and find a literary agent in the first place. To be clear, no one says you have to. Now more than ever, there exist a variety of options in regards to creating and publishing comic books. Comixology is a digital platform that allows for self-publishing, while many writers and artists turn to Kickstarter or similar crowd funding platforms to raise money for print and digital versions of comics and graphic novels. Even those trying to find a home at publishers like Image or Dark Horse don't need the assistance of an agent; artists and writers can submit their projects directly.
It was obvious, though, that R.E.M.F. simply wasn't a fit for a traditional monthly comic book publisher. The structure doesn't make sense as a monthly comic, and the subject matter just isn't right for most of those publishers either. Additionally, though, I felt a project like this would be better served in the hands of a trade publisher that had experience with graphic novels. As an inexperienced writer, I also knew that editorial feedback would be invaluable, and because my following is small, the chances of this project getting noticed on a platform like Comixology seemed minuscule at best.
Once I decided I wanted to find R.E.M.F. a home with a trade publisher - a larger publishing company that produces books for general audiences - I knew I had to find an agent. If you happen to have an existing relationship with an editor or publisher, that step can sometimes be circumvented - but the bottom line is that, for most writers,
you're going to have to find an agent who can shop your book around to editors.
Too often (yet understandably), I think that the process of finding an agent is viewed as simply a hurdle on the road to getting a book published. It's important to realize that while finding an agent can feel like a roadblock or being forced to make your way past an industry gatekeeper, the right agent can be an incredibly important advocate for you and your work. So while it may seem like a barrier to your success, finding an agent who is passionate and supportive means that you have someone in your corner who can help fight for you and your book, which is especially important if you're unfamiliar with the mechanics of the trade publishing world (as I was).
In any case, once I put together a submission packet, I went about the business of finding agents to actually send it to. There are a few ways to do that. Obviously, Google can be a great tool, not just for finding the names of agents who have repped or want to rep your kind of material, but because you'll probably also stumble upon podcasts, interviews, and blogs with and by those same agents which can go a long way towards helping you decide if they're a good fit for your project.
There's also an incredibly helpful site called Publisher's Marketplace, which tracks book deals, agents, and authors, and allows you, for instance, to search for all of the deals and agents involving graphic novels within a given calendar year. The downside is that all of this is behind a paywall, so you may want to wait until you're ready to find an agent before you sign up and spend your money. If you don't want to pay anything, you can still access their daily newsletter, which will at least help you keep track of publishing news and deals.
So - once I had my submission packet ready, and a long list of agents to send it to, I went about sending e-mails and filling out submission forms on various agency websites. Plenty has been written by more experienced people about query letters and submission strategy, so I won't go into that here, but if you're curious, this e-book by Noah Lukeman is a great place to start (and it's free!). The main thing to keep in mind during this process is that you should be prepared to wait and received your fair share of rejections. I probably went through twelve or fifteen agents before I found mine. Some never even responded, some sent back form rejections, and others expressed some interest but then later lost it. It can be difficult and frustrating, although it's important to remember that if an agent doesn't feel passionate about your book, you don't want them to represent you anyway.
It certainly seemed at times like I might not find a home for R.E.M.F. One morning, I woke up to an e-mail from an agent who had expressed interest soon after I queried him, but who I hadn't heard from in several months. I took a look at his e-mail to find that not only would he pass on R.E.M.F., but that he had apparently forgotten my name and addressed his e-mail to "Craig". If that doesn't make a budding author feel small, nothing will. But sometimes it really does feel darkest before the dawn, and later that same day, I got a response from an agent who I would end up signing with a few weeks later. So like anything else, steel yourself for rejection, but have faith that the quality of your work will speak for itself.
I hope this has been helpful - part three will be the last, and cover my experience working with my agent to find a publisher.