Give me an uncharted island any day!

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I’ve been navigating through the traditional publishing world, and it’s not a friendly sea. It’s filled with confusing directions, few lighthouses, unintelligible code words and radio silence.

I swear navigating to an uncharted island in the middle of the Atlantic would be easier –and faster.

In the search for an agent to represent me, I’ve culled through Writer’s Digest annual list of agents specifically looking for new writers. I’ve dog-eared my copy of Jeff Herman’s Literary Agents Guide. I’ve trolled #MSWL, aka Manuscript Wish List, where agents post what kind of books they wish for. This morning one posted they wanted a “literary (un)cozy mystery.” What does that mean?

For more than a year I’ve weeded through what seems like thousands of possibilities. I’ve learned more jargon than I thought possible. (Who knew steampunk was a genre?) When I find a potential match, I add them to my list, research the agency and become familiar with the other writers they represent to ensure a good fit before I contact them.

The next time-consuming task: finding and following each agent’s submission guidelines. Some want just a letter. Some ask for a sample chapter. Others want a synopsis. Send your materials via super-secret email address with a specifically coded subject line or you won’t get through the spam filter. Some agencies make it easy to find their guidelines, others lead you on a treasure hunt through poorly-constructed websites.

I’m a rules-follower at heart, so it frustrates me that each agency’s rules are so varied and I have to get it right. No simultaneous submissions. Don’t query more than one agent at the same agency. Or go ahead and query another if one rejects. And response times: some say they’ll respond in 6-8 weeks, which turns into 12. Some say they won’t respond unless they’re interested. Some say Nothing. At. All. How long does one wait?

I have to say some agents have been great about sending actionable feedback and encouraging words. I’ve had a few interested nibbles, but no bites yet. I still have more than a dozen queries floating out there, waiting, but this journey needs a new direction. I’m setting my compass for the New England Crime Bake Conference in November to pitch agents directly.