I was feeling desperate, getting older by the minute, and so I resorted to the Web. My advice is to watch out if you do that too. I have some recommendations for where to put bookmarks. I wish I'd known then....
Please take notes:
P & E Literary Agents: there is more here than just the names of agents. Markets, publishers and more. Not always up-to-the minute, but THE No. 1 source to check for ripoffs!
Writer Beware: self explanatory.
AgentQuery.com. Next to the print publications like Writer's Digest Market Guides, or Jeff Hermans Guide or CD's listing agents and markets, the best place I've found to look. Just don't expect much in the way of replies unless you really have the exact thing they want at the moment you send your query.
So now to what I did wrong:
I went to a website that lists agents, publishers, et al. with brief descriptions (supplied by the clients who appear there.) I found an several seemingly hopeful agents, rejected 2 for various reasons after contacting them, and settled on another "agent." He snapped up my book. I asked him why, after I found out his expertise was in automotive matters and scholarly dissertations. He said he wanted to branch out and swore I had a "best seller." The next thing I knew, he had submitted the book to PublishAmerica. I didn't know anything about them then, and was thrilled.
It was all downhill from there. First, they don't require an agent to submit; second, they are just the next thing to self-publishing; third, when royalties arrived they sent them to the "agent!" and he never let me know until I e-mailed him to say I was trying to find out what I owed him in commission. He didn't reply. PA admitted sending the check to him (contrary to their contract.) It was a pittance, but that really wasn't the point. No, you don't have to pay, but you don't get much for nothing--duh. The "editor" promised in the conract proved to be a worse proofreader than I am, which is pretty bad. No editing, no promotion, and a horrible rep if you want a book store to stock your baby. DON'T go there!
After I got my rights back, I went for an e-book publisher. Sold. Eventually, she also put the book into print, as you see it now. Unfortunately, after that contract was signed, it turns out her printing contract is with Amazon's subsidiary, and I'm having a hard time getting the book stocked anywhere but Amazon. And, like most small independent publishers, the discount is smaller than book sellers like. The local one won't even take copies from me on consignment! Not only will you not get rich that way, you'll be mighty lucky to recoup your computer costs for ink and paper and ISP fees.
So if this makes you think you can go only with the major and well-known houses, that's pretty much what I think too. Unfortunately, the reality is that few will give you a look except from an agent. I've tried for over 20 years to land one without success. That's probably in part because I'm not good enough to attract one. Those people have to make a living. Which is why, if the second book comes out, it probably will be from Cambridge Books, which took Settling.
In the meantime, as if I had all the time in the world, I'm sending agent queries fairly regularly and with fading hopes. (As I type this, I've just received the rejection to the query sent only yesterday--for a third novel.)
You've heard it all before, maybe not as often as I have because I've been doing it for so long, but the only thing to do is to keep at it, I guess. Just don't waste time and energy on what's a lose-lose proposition. Try to do research, which I didn't in time.
And don't forget that if you happen on someone like my cyber-pal Glenda Beall, you may have a chance after all. At the very least, you'll be given suggestions and encouragement (it was she who said I needed a blog). Oh, how I wish that old-fashioned publishing standby, the "midlist" were still in existence! In the meantime, we all need to network!