This is a guest post written by Wendy Tyson, author of Killer Image.
Finding an agent
Some of the most common questions I hear from writers during writing conferences, book signings and book club meetings relate to how I found my agent. In fact, finding an agent is such a popular topic that I’ll be presenting a workshop on it during the upcoming Amelia Island Book Festival in February. I’ll share a few thoughts here.
But first you may be wondering whether you really need an agent. After all, you have to pay her part of your royalties. And it’s such a process to get an agent. Well, the answer depends on your goals. Many smaller publishers accept unagented materials, and even larger houses take submissions, although your work could sit in an editor’s “slush pile,” wallowing in a very big queue alongside other unrepresented work. On the other hand, agented work may (emphasis on may) get your book faster and more serious consideration. Not all agents are created equal, though, and you will want to consider the commission you will pay your agent against the potential benefits.
All that said, my agent is my sounding board, my business advisor, my cheerleader, my first editor and my friend. She responds to whiny emails at six in the morning with funny comments that make me laugh, and she shows up at my launch parties despite the trek across three states. I adore her. But it took me several months and many query letters to find her.
So what can you do to increase your odds of finding an agent?
Have a completed manuscript. You just finished your first draft of Novel X and you can’t wait to get it out there. You run Spellchecker, put your name and address on the front page and start sending it out, right? No! Don’t do it. Make sure it’s truly finished. And by finished, I mean beta-read, revised, polished, line edited, formatted and dipped in gold. Okay, maybe not the last bit, but you get the point. The biggest mistake I made with my first novel (the one sitting, alone and abandoned, on a shelf in my office) was to start submitting it before it was really finished. It makes a bad first impression. You’re better off waiting until that novel is ready.
Do your homework. Another common mistake: querying agents who don’t represent the genre in which you write. Do your research. There are plenty of free and for-a-fee online websites that offer agent lists and provide information on agents’ interests and backgrounds. You can also read the Acknowledgements of books that are similar to yours for references to those writers’ agents. Make a list of agents that could be a good fit for your work. Go to their professional websites and read their requirements. And make sure they are legitimate agents. Sadly, there are some bad eggs out there–so-called agents who prey on aspiring writers. A professional agent generally won’t charge you upfront fees; they get paid when you get paid.
Write an awesome query letter. Ask a dozen agented writers to see their queries and you will see twelve different approaches. But all will be well-written and designed to catch a busy agent’s attention. What worked best for me was a pretty simple formula. I started by stating the reason for my letter (“I am seeking representation for my 85,000-word mystery, KILLER IMAGE”). Then I provided a hook. For my other mystery series, I used the following: “How are the murder of an eccentric novelist, a sordid sex tape, a successful venture capital firm and a Catholic nun connected? In The Seduction of Miriam Cross, private investigator Delilah Percy Powers must figure that out before she becomes a killer’s next target.” I followed that up with a short, concise paragraph about the book. At the end, I included a short paragraph about my writing experience. Don’t have any? In my opinion, you’re better off saying nothing than adding material that’s not relevant. We all start somewhere. Agents know that. They’re looking for talent.
Personalize. This is worth its own mention. I can’t tell you how many agents have told me they instantly reject anything that looks like a mass-emailed form letter. It’s important to show you did your homework. Personalize the query–don’t just address it to “Agent.”
Follow directions. Okay, maybe you could buck the system and still get an agent’s attention. But most agents have guidelines for a reason–and if you’ve done your homework, have a polished manuscript and have written a great query letter, then you have no need for attention-grabbing shenanigans. My advice? Read an agent’s guidelines and query in the manner they request. This goes for partial and full manuscripts, too. Some agents want to see part of your work right away. Others just want the query.
Develop patience. Remember potty training your kid? Don’t have a kid–remember house training your dog? Or watching paint dry? Yeah, querying agents can test your patience. Be prepared to wait. Whatever you do, resist the urge to pepper potential agents with follow-up emails and/or phone calls. Some kind-hearted agents will list their typical wait time on their website. For others, no response means rejection. The one exception relates to requested manuscripts. If an agent asks to see your work and you have not heard back after several months, it’s probably okay to send a polite follow-up email.
Rejoice if you get an acceptance! But what if you get two? Or three? Or what if the agent you really want hasn’t responded yet? This happened to me. Pull up your big-kid pants and send each of the other agents a note. Explain that you’ve received an offer and ask if they require more time to make a decision. Give them a finite period–say a week–to let you know. And tell the agent who offered you representation that you need some time to give an answer. Even if the agent who makes the offer is your dream agent, you should reach out to all agents considering your full manuscript and let them know you’re now represented. And then go celebrate. You deserve it.
About Killer Image:
As Philadelphia’s premier image consultant, Allison Campbell helps others reinvent themselves, but her most successful transformation was her own after a scandal nearly ruined her. Now she moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives and twisted ethics.
When Allison’s latest Main Line client, the fifteen-year-old Goth daughter of a White House hopeful, is accused of the ritualistic murder of a local divorce attorney, Allison fights to prove her client’s innocence when no one else will. But unraveling the truth brings specters from her own past. And in a place where image is everything, the ability to distinguish what’s real from the facade may be the only thing that keeps Allison alive.
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Learn more about the author and her books, pleas visit www.WATyson.com.