Last week’s comment by Pam and my own recent exchanges with literary agents have got me to thinking.

The question I used to ask myself about agents was “Do I want one?” That’s now easy for me to answer — yes. The question that’s replaced it — “Why do I want one?” — is trickier, but this week I’m going to try my best to answer it. Tonight’s installment is:

My publishers database is both overgrown and underfed

I used to pride myself on the database I’d set up for keeping track of publishers, the editors who work there, the books they’ve produced, etc. As these things go, I thought it was pretty comprehensive, well organized, and useful.

Now, it just strikes me as a necessary evil, drudgery, and something I’d dearly love to not have to keep up with anymore. When I take a look at the file, my lack of enthusiasm shows. Here’s a sample:

Ms. Jamie Michalak Associate Editor at 2002 SCBWI Spring Thing — SHE’S GONE (PC 7/04);; 10 others listed; sent Day-Glo MS to Hilary Cameron; Executive Editor Mary Lee Donovan (CW 8/02); Sarah Ketchersid, Editor, coming to Austin 10/04; Deborah Wayshak, editor of PB and YA (also a writer of YA fantasies; likes picture books with longer texts and more sophisticated plots, says xxxxxxxx after DFW conference 9/04); Marc Aronson is buying young-adult novels, PW 7/8/04; Monica Perez has left for Houghton, PC 5.05

Clearly, some pruning is in order. But the problem is not just that I need to clear out some old contact names. What I notice most is the limited usefulness of this document. I have information that might help me get a manuscript to a receptive editor, but all the database fields in the world won’t allow me to know these people the way a good agent knows them.

Keeping this database helped me learn the business a few years back. Now, I’ve learned it well enough to know that there are limits on the insight I’ll be able to glean from Publisher’s Weekly, the Purple Crayon, and the occasional conference. And so I’m looking for an agent who inhabits the same world as the editors I want to read my manuscripts, and who can help me retire from the publishers-database business.

Next: It’s about the time, not the money