Authors Helping Authors · Publishing

“Why Can’t I Find An Agent? Everyone Says My Book Is Really Good!” ~ by Mercy Pilkington

Copies of The Writer's Handbook
Copies of The Writer’s Handbook (Photo credit:

I’ve seen a number of articles on querying agents and receiving rejections, and readers often ask the same question: how does an agent determine whether or not she wants to request a full manuscript based on a first glance of a one-page query letter and a sample chapter of your book?

Your writing ability.

Wow, if only it were that simple, right? If only that was all it took to make an agent grab the phone and give you a personal phone call, demanding that you accept her offer of a free plane ticket to New York so you could sign a contract right now. Don’t let me fool you for even a second into thinking that you don’t need incredible writing talent to find an agent, I just want you to understand that it’s not the only thing you need.

The truth is, there are an endless number of variables that determine your ability to land an agent. NOTE: I would be an evil, evil person if I didn’t point out to you that landing an agent does NOT mean landing a publishing deal. I can’t even count how many authors I’ve met in my years in “the biz” who were ready to go buy that beach house because they signed with an agent, only to have that agent work her ass off for two years trying to sell the book to a publisher and then ultimately have to sever the contract after she couldn’t sell the book.

One thing that a lot of people on the outside of publishing don’t realize is that your agent doesn’t eat unless your book sells. MOST (not all) publishers pay out royalties on a quarterly basis, AND they often pay those royalties out one quarter behind. We’re talking large publishing houses with hundreds of titles published per year. So essentially, YOU get paid for the book sales that happened between January and March at the end of the following quarter (June).

Guess when your agent gets her fifteen percent? After your royalties are determined by the publisher.

She can’t eat if your book won’t sell. And if you’re querying agents who know their stuff, they’ve gotten a pretty good feel for the pulse of the publishing industry and know what sells to the publishers they have relationships with.

Your book might be the most stellar, grammatically correct book she’s ever read. But if it’s about sparkly vampires fighting with werewolves for the fragile, falls-down-a-lot girl (why yes, I do have anger issues with paranormal romance, why do you ask?), the agent can’t sell that to a publisher. It’s been done. And even if it’s a great story, she’s going to have to reject it with those lovely words: “Thank you for letting me read your submission of DUSK. While it has merit, it’s not right for my needs at this time. Best of luck finding a home for your book elsewhere.”

Does that mean no one on the planet wants to read your book? Of course not. It just means an agent doesn’t feel like a major publisher will take it on and that she won’t waste her time and your hopes on pushing it to publishers. That’s when you have to explore all of your options in publishing and determine the right course of action for you and your book.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Mercy Pilkington is the CEO of Author Options, a full-service solutions provider for authors and publishers. Her sense of humor leans a bit to the sarcastic side, hence her overuse of the word crap. She is looking for romance titles that do not involved chiseled men with giant penises, and no more vampires unless there is something stunningly different about them that doesn’t involve sparkling.


11 thoughts on ““Why Can’t I Find An Agent? Everyone Says My Book Is Really Good!” ~ by Mercy Pilkington

  1. Great help… Thank you for that! Just finished my novel that involves paunchy males and women without any silicone and some of these leads are right up my alley!


  2. I agree with most of what you said, but your timeline for payment is short. I sold in December and my first book will not be relased until September, AND that is fast. Fortunately or not, my editor didn’t think I needed anything other than copy editing.

    What my agent did for me was amazing. She sold my Regencies in a down market, and convinced the publisher (a large NY one) to release the books two months apart.


    1. Oh, I see what you meant. I was only talking about the actual payment to the author off of book sales. I think you actually mean sold it to a publishing house in December and didn’t release until September? Right? YOUR situation is actually faster than most! Take a look at Twitter, where we’re already seeing authors’ profiles that state: “My first book, Ride That Bull, coming June 2014.” We’re even seeing a few into 2015 at this point.

      Interestingly, it was Amazon who shook the payment model up when it announced that it would no longer hold onto royalties for its Amazon Publishing division. They actually made the very good case that self-published and KDP authors earn their royalties the following month, so why are traditionally published authors having to wait quarterly? I think it’s brilliant on their part to recognize that traditionally pubbed authors are still being held to a standard that was created when bookstores mailed their reports to publishers and everything was kept track of in a ledger book!

      Thanks so much for shedding light on that, too!


        1. Right. That’s in line with the quarter royalty system that a lot of publishers still use. Amazon was really one of the bigger ones to hop up and say, “This is silly.” They have an instant dashboard of sales feedback now, so why should authors have to wait for this pay? Or agents, for that matter?


    2. Nope, timeline remains the same. Article isn’t talking about time of submission to first payment, it’s only saying that some publishers pay out the first quarter royalties (regardless of how long the book has been on the shelves) at the end of the second quarter.


  3. Stop telling people their writing has to be great to get an agent. You know that’s not true. Is Lee Child a great writer? Is Hunger Games or Game of Drones great writing? Is James Patterson a great writer? Those are bestselling “writers” and bestselling books and they are pure crap.
    Even the Harry Potter hysteria is pathetic. Rowling merged Tolkien, Graves, Chaucer, some obscure fairy tales and regurgitated watered down pap for a world of semi-literates who wouldn’t know The White Goddess from White Linen.
    Bestsellers are pap for the semi-literate masses. That is the market agents want to tap because that’s how they make a living. Very few people are interested in reading beautifully crafted, highly nuanced, emotionally valid work. And that’s because most people have very limited comprehension skills. I’ve given seminars to high school and college students and they struggle to understand something that was once a grade school study book, Of Mice And Men.
    The vast majority of readers want simple, direct, uncomplicated stories they can relate to an infantile level.
    ie: Lee Child’s hugely popular socially impotent white male revenge fantasy figure, Jack Reacher. He goes around avenging unpunished bad guys. He’s huge, he’s tough, he’s super smart, he unequivocal. It’s Bronson in Death Wish, it’s the old lone cowboy idea, taking justice into his own hands. It’s a huge and pathetic cliche.
    Face it, 99% of the reading public are ciphers more than readers. They’re the same dimwits who fill theaters to make Michael Bay’s garbage hugely profitable. This is the Age of the Informed Idiot. Stop pretending there is some major audience out there dying to read incredibly well written books. There isn’t. Those readers are very few and far between.
    And check out a few high school or college level English classes to see the quality of reader coming soon. I have and it is scary.

    Liked by 1 person

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