I’d rather be here…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m on the hunt for an agent. A young woman I know is attempting to do the same and she asked my advice on where to start. Not that I’m an expert on getting an agent (obviously), but I’ve been doing this long enough to learn a few things. So I put together this little guide for her and decided to share it with the world.

So here goes…

1.  Be sure the first 50 pages of your completed manuscript (fiction) are as perfect as you can get them since agents typically don’t ask for more than that when you query them (of course your whole manuscript should be fabulous, but those 50 pages should really shine). Some agents want 20 pages, some want the first 3 chapters, some only 5 pages. Make sure you watch for this. Also, most agents want you to include your letter/synopsis/sample in the body of the email, but some want some parts (like the sample and synopsis) included as an attachment. Nowadays many agents only do email queries, which is great since it saves a lot of time and money on everyone’s part. Not to mention trees. [I might have to take this back. I’m currently using AgentQuery and lots of the agents I’m finding don’t do email queries at all. I wonder if this is to keep the submissions manageable? Seems a bit 1990s to me.]

2.  Write a one-page query letter. There are a lot of sites on the internet to help you with that process. Once written, ask a couple of your peeps to read it and give you feedback. Tell them to be hard on you, like if you can’t get this right you will die. You’ll also want to write up one sentence that sums up your book. This is your tagline. Use it in your query, or in case an agent asks you for it. In the query, you will need to write a brief summary of your book (like what you’d read on the back of a book or inside jacket cover), include your genre and word count, title, and any relevant writing accolades you might have (e.g., you won a poetry contest for Poets R Us) or experience (e.g., you’re a medical doctor writing about DIY brain surgery).

3.  Write a synopsis. Some agents want one of these. Most want one for the whole book, but I came across an agent who asked for a synopsis of the first 3 chapters. You can decide if you want to take the time to do that. Again, you will find a lot of sites that can help you with this process. Mainly they’ll say that you’ll want to sum up each chapter in a sentence or two, hitting the relevant points/characters, and to try to keep it to 2-3 pages. One site mentioned capitalizing the names of each character the first time you mention them in your synopsis, which is not a bad idea. Also, agents generally do want the ending included. I know…I don’t like giving away the farm, either, but they’re the ones you need to impress so bite the bullet and include the ending. One last thing…writing a synopsis can be hard, but it is useful as it forces you to really think about your book and make any necessary changes before you send it out.

4.  Make sure you only send to agents who are interested in your genre (e.g. if they only like YA Fantasy don’t send them an adult thriller). Most agencies display a profile of the agent on their website stating what they’re interested in. Oftentimes the agent will also tell you what they DON’T want. Pay attention to that.

5.  Follow the agency’s submission rules to the letter. Agencies should have a page devoted to telling you what they want. Some are very picky and will post a long list of things you shouldn’t do, like annoy them with your existence. Read the list and learn from it, but maybe think twice about querying an agency that lectures you on their website. They do not sound like fun, happy people. They sound mad.

6.  There are numerous agent finders out there. I am currently working with Query Tracker. Set up an account with this one, since it keeps track of where you left off, which is great if you’re often getting interrupted by children/aliens/pretty lights/random explosions. There’s also Publishers Marketplace, which I plan to try next. This particular site might be the better bet, but we’ll see.

7.  This next site, Predators and Editors, lets you check up on an agent (are they legit? any complaints filed against them? do they make promises they don’t fulfill? etc.). It might also work as a search engine for agents, though I haven’t tried that option yet.

8.  You should never pay money to an agent. If they offer their editing services for a fee, they are not for you. Agents only make money when your book sells.

9.  Keep a list of all the agents you’ve contacted (and maybe bookmark their websites into a special folder). I would also write down the date you sent out your query, along with when they might get back to you (if ever – some say, If I’m not interested, you won’t hear from me – which, honestly, feels a bit brutal). I would keep all emails you get back from agents…this helps you keep track of the agents who had the gall to reject you. This way you can reply to their rejection email with a list of all your accolades when you become rich and famous off your book.

10.  Be prepared to wait up to 8-12 weeks. These days agents aren’t asking you to submit to them exclusively (however, some will want exclusivity if they ask to see your whole book), so send out queries to numerous agents at once. Some get back to you more quickly, so that’s good, unless it’s a rejection, which rather sours the good.

11.  Store up on chocolate/ice cream/wine for those rejections. I once received a rejection 22 minutes after I submitted my query. It felt like a kick in the teeth.

12.  Remember…if you can’t find an agent, there’s always self-publishing. It doesn’t carry the taint it once did and can actually be quite fun.

13.  Check, double-check, and triple-check your email before sending it out. It is frightfully easy to make a mistake. Frightfully eesy.

14.  And finally…good luck and may the force be with you!