by Brooke McIntyre
Literary agent Quressa Robinson emphasized grit and endurance as top skills needed by writers throughout their careers, as she gave the Professional Series lecture for January. Robinson came to agenting after five years as an editor at Macmillan, where she acquired adult fiction titles. Now at Nelson Literary Agency, she represents authors of young adult and adult fiction. Working with writers as both editor and agent has taught Robinson that “publishing is 99 percent rejection.”
Sending out queries is a writer’s first opportunity to build endurance. “The querying process is make-or-break for many writers,” said Robinson. She told the story of a writer who sent out queries for five years before receiving multiple offers of representation. Robinson described the agent’s role and advised that in the event of an offer, writers should ask about the agent’s communication style and how common author-agent issues will be handled. She urged writers to ask the hard questions, even if they do not have multiple offers, and not to fear turning down an agent if the fit is not there.
Endurance continues to be important after the author has landed an agent as well. Manuscripts can be out on submission for as little as one or two months or as long as two years. Robinson advises her clients to work on their next book while their manuscript is out on submission. Rejection happens at all stages, and some work will never be acquired by a publishing house. Clients who are always writing are prepared with something fresh despite the outcome.
And finally, to thrive in their careers, authors must adapt. Individual manuscripts, queries, and pitches will have to be tweaked, revised, redirected, or even shelved, Robinson said. The writer who is open to revisions or new directions is constantly learning and more likely to achieve success.
Brooke McIntyre is the founder of the online writing groups platform Inked Voices, which helps people find writing partners, and runs online agent events and small workshops. She’s passionate about using technology to facilitate peer learning and about connecting with people on a human level online. Find her at www.inkedvoices.com and on Twitter @InkedVoices.