Now that you have everything you need to know to properly find and address a literary agent, it’s time to buckle down on some things to look out for and facts to know in order to have a great experience with your literary agent.
1. The Truth about Fees and Finances – Fees should never be charged before your book is sold. If the agent is trying to get you to sign a contract that forces you to hand over money before anything is done, it’s most likely a scam. There is no such thing as a reader’s fee for a literary agent. Find another agent. Finances will be provided for that agent, but only after the book is sold. Instead of fees, you should have somewhere in writing how much of a cut the agent gets from your book after it’s sold. Make sure to ask if there isn’t anything in writing.
2. Read Your Contract Before Your Sign It – A contract is binding, and very important. Many people nowadays don’t hold to contracts like they used to. But, it is a very good set-up for a lawsuit, or a beneficial safety feature for you. Make sure you read through the contract carefully, so that you know exactly what the agent is going to do with your book. Talk to your agent about the contract if something seems odd to you.
3. An Agent That Lives Out-of-State is Common - Most of them are where the competition and major publishers are located. Some of them won’t live in the same state as you because it’s easier to sell something when you can meet face-to-face with your target audience (in this case, the Publishing Houses). Don’t take it too seriously if you live in Texas and get an agent that lives in New York. But make sure you can easily reach them by phone and email if possible.
4. Is Having Multiple Agents a Good Idea? – Having multiple agents will possibly hurt your book’s success rather than help. That opens the door to publishing houses getting multiple copies of your book, and all of them turning it down. You would play agents against each other, and they would feel leery for working with you again. Part of your job is to help your literary agent sell your book, not harm their efforts by going behind their backs. Plus, you signed a contract! It’s like an American spouse – hopefully you just have one for life (in this case, the life of your book), but if you do have to pull the plug, you only have one at a time.
5. Don’t Take Anything Personally - One major key to succeeding in this portion of the process is to not take anything personally. I know that your book is your baby, but even babies need doctors to grow. If an agent suggests a change to your manuscript to better engage readers or help the success of your book in the publishing houses, don’t ride it off without at least considering. Maybe you can work out a compromised agreement with them.
6. Communicate! - Even though your agent may get some of the proceeds to your book, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help them and discuss matters of your book with them. In fact, that’s one of the worst things you can do. It’s like hiring a contractor, but not talking to him or her throughout the process and just expecting they are doing their job. Then you get into the home and realize the house isn’t finished, but you already signed off on it. Converse with the literary agent, help him or her out – you’re both in this to gain something. Look at him or her more as a business partner than someone you’ve “hired” to do the work and set them loose.
7. Letting An Agent Go - None of us want to let anyone go, but as hard as that is to do, sometimes it’s necessary. If the agent isn’t pursuing the same pathway you are wanting to pursue for your book, you will just be spinning your wheels. It’s important to make sure the agent knows what you clearly want to see happen to your book. Many writers dismiss their agents because of how long it takes to get their book published. However, it takes time to get publishers interested. Give them a little time before considering taking your novel to another agent. Look over you contract you signed, and if they aren’t meeting those standards, let them know. Give them a second chance, but don’t be afraid to cut the cord if the relationship just isn’t working.
8. An Agent Isn’t Necessary, but Beneficial - An agent is not necessary to publish a work, but the work has a higher chance of being published if assisted by one. They know shortcuts and standards that you may not notice. They already have a system that works to help your story gain the most success
Remember, a literary agent is just like a sales representative when publishing an ad in a magazine. You may contact them, but once they become intrigued by your story idea, they are supposed to work with you, not drown you with financial obligations. They work for you as much as you work for them. But, if your first agent doesn’t work out or you just aren’t getting a nibble for a year or so, don’t give up! Re-look at your novel and see if there is anything that can be improved further after taking a break. Keep pressing forward, and your hard work will eventually pay off. Now, you are ready to begin the journey toward getting your book published!
A query letter is designed to help you sell your book to agents so they will become interested. Since they aren’t getting paid until the book gets sold, it’s very important that they like what they are selling. It’s important in your query letter to sound professional while selling, so you don’t want the letter to have all these “sale” tactics and never get to a point. You must give them a reason to sell your book. Below are some key points that will help you make an effective query letter:
1. Introduction: Find a connection with the agent and let them know you’ve researched their kind of work. This helps them know you have a purpose for contacting them, and you aren’t just flinging query letters in every direction. It would be smart to put this in the first sentence, introducing your work and their work, to show a relation. Then, if there are any, you can mention any achievements this novel has won.
2. 2-3 Sentence Synopsis of Your Story: Do not make this too long of a summary. I know it’s important to get every minute detail in there, but it won’t be read by most agents if it’s too long. It’s like a resume: grab their attention with professionalism on one page of information. And – please, please, please – don’t leave the agent with questions of how the story will end or what the main plot actually is. Agents despise this! Tell them a summary of the whole thing, including the main character and his/her/its mission or conflict. A story should speak for itself, so don’t add too much explanation to the story’s synopsis.
3. Some Statistics of the Work: Although agents need to understand your story, they do need some background information about your novel to gather what they would be looking at if they decided to take on your book. In this part, tell how many words your novel is, so they will know what size book they are selling. This is also where your good research comes in. Relate your book to others that have been published by them before. Let them know you’ve done your research.
The query letter is your selling point between the agent and the book (Writer’s Workshop). Make sure your letter is no more than one page. The worst thing to do is bore your agent with unnecessary details. Follow the agent’s instructions if they prefer a letter to be a certain way. If there are no rules, I’d recommend basic academic style – Times New Romans at 12-pt font size. I’v provided an example of a query letter describing the points mentioned (Disclaimer: Everything in this query letter example is made up):
[Agent’s Workplace Name]
[Agent’s Work Address]
[The Day’s Date]
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Agent’s Name (use full name if unsure of the gender)],
I recently came across your interview with [insert name of blogger/writer/whoever the interview was with], revealing that you were interested in publishing fairy tale fantasy. I wanted to share my novel with you called The Three Little Pigs. It has received two awards in the Fairy Tale World’s Organization and won the Neighbors to Neighbors Writers Guild Contest, which granted me a scholarship to Emory University.
The Three Little Pigs tells the story of three pig brothers that move out of their mother’s home to start their lives through building their own houses. The first two pigs’ houses built of straw and sticks were blown down by a hungry wolf looking for his next meal. They ran to the third brother’s house made of brick for protection. The wolf found the last brother’s house, but couldn’t blow it down, so the three brothers were saved by the third brother’s hard work on his house.
This fairy tale is intended for kindergarten-aged children, so I’ve provided illustrations to help them when reading. Much like [author’s name]’s story, The Little Red Riding Hood, which you helped publish, The Three Little Pigs helps children learn the basics elements found in a story.
This 4,200-word story, set in the wilderness, will appeal to children, not only because of the pictures, but because of the lesson learned behind the entertainment: hard work pays off.
As a graduate of Emory University in 2005, I have since won a Novella Prize on a written piece in the Hot Stake Magazine and authored two previous successful novels through Harbor Now Publishing in New Jersey.
Thank you for your time and effort in looking at the first five pages with illustrations I’ve supplied for your review. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. I look forward to hearing from you regarding your interest in my manuscript.
This is just one sample of a query letter. There are plenty to find on the internet, so take a look around and see what kinds of examples you discover. It’s important to further research literary agents in your list and see what their particular quirks are. Keep your query personal to the agent, but professional. Keep them interested in your character and main plot. Make sure you know your audience. And branch out! Your novel should be cherished by the right people, so make sure your agent is the right person for the job.
Kole, Mary. "How to Write the Perfect Query Letter - Query Letter Example." WritersDigest.com. Writer's Digest, 23 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.
Harry. "How Do You Find a Literary Agent?" The Writer's Workshop. 13 June 2011. Web. 19 May 2017.
Sambuchino, Chuck. "38 Query Letter Tips from Literary Agents." WritersDigest.com. Writer's Digest, 07 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.
An agent can help a writer by getting publishers interested in your book, so learning how agents work is not only beneficial for you but for your book too. There must be a genuine relationship between the author and the agent. Otherwise your two heads will butt and your purposes will be different. Make sure before choosing an agent that both of you clearly discuss the goals behind the work of publishing your book.
Some agents will work with the author through suggestions and changes to make the book more appealing to publishers. You should always know what is being done to your story, which is why it is important to communicate consistently with them. A literary agent, Clare Wallace, stated it best: “An author should never edit something or change something if they don’t understand why, or see how it could improve or strengthen the narrative.” They should make sure your manuscript is “right for the market,” but they should not do anything without your approval or last word (Writers & Artists).
Since we know a little more about an agent, let’s break down how to effectively find one:
Agents can help your book reach a great potential with publishers that it might not have reached otherwise. But, making smart choices before settling for an agent can save you a lot of heartache and frustration down the road.
"Literary Agents." Literary Agents. Poets & Writers, Web. 15 May 2017.
McAllister, Gilly. "10 Steps to Getting a Literary Agent." How to Find a Literary Agent. Writers & Artists, Web. 15 May 2017.
Crispin, A.C. "HOW TO FIND A (REAL!) LITERARY AGENT." SFWA. Web. 15 May 2017.
If you are trying to sell a book to publishers, agents are what you need. However, the exchange is not like a store, where you go up to them and say “sell my book,” and they do. They must believe in your work. You sell the book to them, and they’ll sell the book to publishers. The most important key to succeeding before sending your work off to agents is making sure your book is completely ready to be published – that you’ve done everything necessary to make it as perfect as it can be. Once you think the story can’t get any better, let is sit for a while. Sleep on it, think on it and pick it back up later after your mind has rested. Re-read it. Make sure it says precisely what you want it to say, and that it can be understood by those who may not have ever read it before (which is where professional editors can help the most).
Before finding an agent, you must understand how they work. Most agents primarily take on novels or larger works, so poetry, essays or short stories are not large enough to need the extra help. Most of the time, the smaller portions of writing can still be published, but usually with other works by various authors.
Although you may get a literary agent to help you out, it doesn’t hurt to do a little research of your own. Find out about other publishers that are publishing stories like yours – the same genre, style or purpose that your book is in. Then, you can find what agents have helped those authors publish those kinds of books. Lists are a writer’s best friend, so make a list and rank different publishers and agents according to the similarity between the books they’ve published and your book. That will often determine the likeliness of said publisher and/or agent taking an interest in your work.
Finding an agent is a big step in your writing career, so it’s important to know all the facts behind getting one. We will begin discussing what to look for in an agent and the proper steps to getting one that works for you rather than against you. Every step in the process matters if you’re going to get your little darling published.
Since we have an extra week in the month, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of what we will be talking about in the upcoming month. Below is a source of great information for authors looking for literary agents to sell their newest novels. This article - which is not mine - was written by author Gillie McCallister for Writers & Artists: The Insider Guide to the Media. She depicts some great examples of what precisely literary agents look for and prefer when working with writers. When getting an agent, it's important to take their preferences and personal quirks into account. So, I hope you grab something to take with you during your next journey toward getting published!
"1. What is the ideal client/author like? Particularly in the early days?
Aside from hugely talented… I suppose they would be open to making editorial revisions, with ideas beyond the one book, they would be determined to succeed and willing to work hard. The ability to be patient or to distract themselves when the book is on submission is also handy because it’s a tough time for a début author and it can take a while. Also, all the authors and illustrators I work with are genuinely lovely.
2. Have you ever regretted offering representation to somebody?
Honestly, that has happened, but if that’s the case it’s a lack of good judgement on my part rather than because someone’s book doesn’t sell immediately (reading between the lines on that one). I’ve fallen in love with a great concept before and I’ve just offered representation too early, where the writer still has a long way to go and perhaps hasn’t been ready. And I’ve ignored an instinct before, or pushed a thought away, that an author’s expectations might not be aligned with mine.
If either the agent or author is regretting entering into representation, it could just be you’re not a great match. It happens, as it does with all sorts of relationships, and if that’s the case you can try and talk about it and work it out, or you can agree, hopefully amicably, to go separate ways.
3. Do you feel emotionally invested in selling your clients’ books?
Yes. Absolutely. I shouldn’t be championing the book if I don’t. Until an author is under contract with a publisher, agents are working for free and investing a huge amount of time and energy into something without a guaranteed outcome. Editorially, this often involves working weekends and evenings because office hours are mostly taken up with the administrative side of the business. I don’t think it would be possible to work in this way without caring or being emotionally invested.
However, of course I will never have the same emotional investment as the writer. I think for agents it gets easier. I remember when I’d just started agenting, selling a manuscript felt like everything – it was the only thing that mattered - I wanted it so much. I was obsessively checking my inbox, I cried before work because I thought every editor was going to pass on a title I loved (they didn’t), and I worried about being able to prove to my colleagues, and myself, that I could spot what editors were looking for. It felt like my career hinged on those first submissions. Over time, you learn to care in a different way, and it’s easier to keep some perspective. This is a luxury agents have that authors don’t. It’s our job to submit titles over and over again, we get practiced at it. And being able to have some emotional distance is a good thing – particularly when it comes to negotiating. I’m a better agent for it.
4. Would you ever drop an author who hadn’t sold?
No. That alone would never be the reason. That’s just not how I work. I think agents are usually in it for the long-term and if the first book doesn’t sell (which does happen) you just keep going – because you believe in the author and their talent. If you have very different ideas about which path to take next though, it might be better to part ways. It’s not really a case of ‘dropping’ unceremoniously, and more that you don’t feel you can agent an author/illustrator well, or that you might not be the best agent for this author if they want to pursue a particular route. Similarly, authors might ‘drop’ their agent if they don’t feel they’re in agreement about what to try next, or they might feel they’d like a fresh approach to their career – likewise, an agent might suggest an author looks for a fresh approach to their career if they don’t feel they can offer that.
5. Do you ever doubt your own editing suggestions?
Editing suggestions should be just that – suggestions. They’re not prescriptive. And an author should never edit something or change something if they don’t understand why, or see how it could improve or strengthen the narrative. Ideally you would want an author to feel enthused and excited about tackling edits because they feel they will have a stronger novel after making them. That’s not to say they’re not difficult or painful. I don’t expect authors to just make every change I suggest. Identifying that something isn’t working in a manuscript is the first stage, and often authors have fantastic ideas, much much better than mine, about how to solve that something, and sometimes it’s really helpful to discuss different ways to solve the same something, but the final decision should rest with the author. Agents can help to identify where there are issues and help the author address how they might be resolved. We’re not perfect, and everything is subjective. If a book has gone on submission and lots of editors are giving the same feedback, then there is clearly an element that you haven’t accounted for or identified as being problematic – but that can be really helpful too because you know what you need to do to rework before doing a second round of submissions. If an author instinctively feels that the editorial suggestions they’re being given by their agent aren’t helpful, then, again, it might just be a sign you’re not a compatible match.
6. What is the hardest part of your job?
Author care, when things don’t go well. When a book has come to the end of its submission. When a publisher doesn’t want to continue with a new contract. When sales aren’t as expected. So, in short, delivering upsetting news to someone you only want the best of things for.
7. What is the best part of your job?
Ahhh, I do really love my job. Telling an author or illustrator that they have an offer, especially for the first time, is pure joy. Celebrating a deal with the author and editor. Watching a manuscript transform into a book and seeing it on the shelves. Seeing careers grow. Reading great reviews. Finding a gem in amongst the submissions. Getting an early enthusiastic response to a submission and watching a buzz start. Negotiating. And just spending time chatting with the authors and illustrators I represent (mostly about books but definitely not only or always). Unsurprisingly, I love books, and I’m lucky enough to work in publishing – there’s a lot of ‘best’ about that."
Source: Writers & Artists: The Insider Guide to the Media
FROM THE WRITER
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