What If I Don’t Get An Agent?

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > What If I Don’t Get An Agent?

But what if I don’t get an agent? Don’t despair. Write on. Keep your arse in the seat. Get the words down on the page. Do what you love. Fight. Persevere. Find the magazines and journals you like. Go to the contributors list. Find the name of the editor. Then find his or her e-mail. Write a letter, a personal letter, a heartfelt letter, something with personality and style. Keep it short and sharp. Ask if they would like to read your work. Don’t be afraid. Be polite. Be humble. Be kind. And yet triumph yourself at the same time. The only thing you can lose here is a few words or a few minutes of an e-mail. Send it out and then forget it. Get on with the next thing. Don’t sit around, don’t close the curtains, don’t obsess, don’t shadow the phone, don’t hover over the mouse. Don’t even hope. You’ve already done the big thing by finishing. Guess what? Nothing wrong with being rejected. Everyone has. (I once wallpapered a bathroom with rejections slips). Try it again a few months later. Remind them that they once sent you a fabulously-written rejection letter. And to hell with simultaneous submissions! Pepper spray the magazines you love! Send, send, send! Whoever accepts you first wins the prize. But don’t play magazines off one another. Don’t bargain or trade. Don’t get wounded. Don’t be temperamental. Go to the postbox every day and accept that the bad news will eventually make the good news better. An agent will eventually come knocking. Or a publisher will come knocking. (They do read even the smallest magazines by the way). And even if they don’t come knocking, so what? You can get yourself published. You can be your own agent. Nothing is ever achieved through predictability. Be daring. Be original. Vonnegut said that we should be continually jumping off of cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. Go. Try it. You might fall, but only part of the way — that’s how the wings develop.