Find Your Agent

THE DREAM?

You write a novel. It’s perfect. You send out a half dozen query letters to agents. They’re fighting to represent you and you are finally offered a wonderful package of a substantial advance and generous royalties. The world seems to have been just waiting for your novel, for your unique voice and eloquent style. Your talent is recognized.

And that’s only the beginning. Your creativity is fueled by sales, and you continue to produce, almost effortlessly, new and ever more popular works. You’ve made it. Regardless of whether you do interviews or not, sales continue to provide the living you want.

You may place a short author biography on the back cover to support a longer About the Author piece inside the book. Beyond that, your back cover is all about marketing.

Nice dream?

The reality is that after you have finally written the next great American novel, set aside the pen and breathed a sigh of relief that yes, the work is done . . . it isn’t. If you have written a book, you have done only about 20% of the work required to get it to the marketplace. The process of editing, publishing, and marketing your work requires a completely different set of skills than the creativity of writing your piece.

Regardless of whether you pursue traditional publishing or self-publish, a good editor is essential. The agents and publishing houses out there are not interested in cleaning up your mess. An agent or publisher that offers to clean your work up for a price is usually not someone who will do you a lot of good in the long run. See:
http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/

http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/

You want to get published and you think you might stand a chance with a traditional publisher. How do you go about it?

WHO?

The first question might be, WHO do you query? There are very few direct publishers today. The days of over-the-transom submissions are long past, and there are few legitimate publishers who will accept unsolicited manuscripts.

The consolidation and merger of publishing houses has dramatically decreased the diversity of markets available. Additionally, remaining houses no longer are interested in grooming the aspiring writer with potential, they want big name celebrities with reputations that can sell books, books that quite probably are ghost-written by real, well-polished writers with less well-known names.

If you are interested in writing someone else’s story and not your own, ghost writing is a viable option.

Even a brilliant rough manuscript is unlikely to elicit anything more than a stock rejection letter, if that. A carefully edited piece, backed by a skilled writing style and intriguing content, has a greater possibility of getting a little interest, but the whole query process is a numbers game, and a rejection can be just a matter of what the company is already representing and not a judgment on the value and quality of your work.

If your query letter has typos or grammatical errors, you have probably lost the race before you are ever out of the gate. Your query letter is a writing sample – is it as clear, concise, and well written as your carefully crafted book?

There are a hundreds of ethical agents. Many are members of the Association of Author’s Representatives, which requires adherence to a code of ethics. Members of this group and those who subscribe to its strict code are probably safe. For others, there are some warning signals.

An ethical agent will not:

  • Bill monthly for submission expenses
  • Offer writers a choice of providing a large number of manuscript copies at their own expense, or paying an upfront “marketing” fee
  • Present a sliding scale of fees
  • Run a writing contest that’s a scheme for referring writers to a fee-charging agency

Repeat: PAY NO FEES

An ethical agent also will not:

  • Sell “adjunct” services
  • Make frequent referrals to a particular freelance editor or editorial service
  • Offer or require the agent’s own paid editing services
  • Offer pay-to-publish contracts

It’s advantageous for an agent to maintain membership in the Association of Authors’ Representatives (USA) or the Association of Authors’ Agents (UK). Online places to look for an agent? Try:
http://www.writersmarket.com
http://www.writer.net/agents.html
http://www.everyonewhosanyone.com/agus1.html

Literary Market Place and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents are invaluable printed books. Check your local library.

Selecting the right agents to query is critical. Review the types of books an agency is interested in representing. Scout the bookstore and find the names of agents published authors cite in their acknowledgements. If your type of book is not listed for a particular in the agent, or they don’t have representation for a similar tome in the bookstore, don’t send a query. It’s not professional, just as copyrighting your writing before it is published is also considered not professional.

WHAT?

The old formula for querying was to put together a query package, send it off to your first agent choice, enclose a SASE to make sure your material got back to you, then wait for the agent to respond. With agents taking 2 months or more, this is no longer viable.

When I query, I sent an e-mail addressed specifically to the agent at a particular agency, and never more than one agent at an agency. It actually makes a very busy four hours to send out close to 100 queries, with no attachments. If I get back a response, I send a proposal including a couple of sample chapters, all copied into the body of the e-mail. Most agencies are not ready to open attachments until they have an established relationship with you. Additionally, attachments sometimes get lost out in the ether, unstuck from the primary document somewhere between my ‘send’ button and the recipient’s desk. In any event, my message does not get through, and an agent will not take the time to tell me when I have erred.

I will admit that I submit 99% of my queries through e-mail. This method is rapidly becoming more accepted and has the advantage that you don’t go broke paying postage. The agencies are finding it advantageous because it decreases the volume of submitted paperwork, and it eliminates having to open a package, examine the contents, and return the material to the author if there is a SASE.

Responses from agents can be as quick as a few hours, and are easy to track in an e-mail list. I maintain a general word document with detailed agency information for every relevant agency I can find, and an abbreviated Excel file with the name of the agency, the name of the agent, the e-mail address, and submission status.

The query process is then merely a matter of clicking the e-mail address to send a new message, entering the date sent, copying and pasting the name of the agent and the agency from that Excel file, copying and pasting in my generic Word query, adding in any particulars for that agency, clicking to send it, and moving on to the next listing. I track responses and proposal sent dates.

Agents and publishers are in the business to sell books.

Having a ‘platform’ helps establish your market. Anything you can add to your credentials, any contacts you can make to enlarge your potential market, increases your value as a potential client. Questions that the agent or publisher will have:

  • What is the available market?
  • What is the content of the book?
  • Who is the author?
  • Do you have specific expertise?
  • Who can you connect to?
  • Are you writing columns?
  • Where else have you published?

WHEN?

If you or your agent places your work with a traditional publisher, the whole process of designing your book and cover, setting type, proofing, and finally distributing it will take close to a year. Most publishers today do little if anything to market your work. A marketing plan and a willingness to dig into the task are essential. Telling the agent/publisher what you can do for them can make the difference in making your book a financial success or failure.

Targeting the timing of your query is probably less essential than previously, because the agent adds an extra ‘layer’ between you and the market. By the time the agent says ‘yes,’ he or she still has to find a publisher, which is not a guaranteed thing. Even after a publisher says ‘yes,’ that is still not a guarantee that your book will be published. I found the greatest number of immediate responses when I sent out a query for lesbian erotica on a Sunday afternoon, some of those responses actually coming back that same Sunday.

How often to check up on the status of your queries is a question. I try to leave a query out there about 2 weeks. Some agents will never get back to you, but if I have no takes in 2 weeks, I consider taking a different tactic. I research other possible agencies for my work, and take another look at my query letter, possibly revising it.

At the time I send out my first query, I already have the piece fully edited and a proposal prepared, including a marketing plan, bio, list of similar books, and sample chapters. If I am so lucky as to get an immediate response, I can send out the proposal immediately as well, while the agent is most enthusiastic about my work. It makes little sense to get the fire going really well, then walk 3 miles to get water to boil for the tea.

WHERE?

Picking your agent is a matter of determining your market. Again a trip to the bookstore can be helpful, to decided where your book fits in. Don’t query agents that don’t represent your genre. You will tick them off and burn bridges you may need in the future. Publishing is a very ‘tight’ field, and the person you speak with one day may be at completely different agency tomorrow.

OTHER TIPS?

Before you set up a contract, talk to an agent or attorney.
Niche publishers – hang out in the niche – e-mail lists.
Create buzz for your book by promoting it through chat rooms and Yahoo groups
Bookcovers.com (interior graphics and covers)
Lightningsource.com (print on demand)
Bowkerlink.com (European )
BEWARE OF: Vanity press/Subsidy Press/Equity Press:
BEWARE! You will be investing in a publishing process that is way too expensive and way too low in quality for your dream to come true.

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