Agent Secrets: Want to Land an Agent? Follow These Guidelines
By Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett,
Use the Internet to find agents who are right for you. Six helpful sites are:
1. Agent Query bills itself as "the internet's largest and most current database of literary agents." Click on Full Search, then specify details such as genre and whether the agent is seeking new clients. Search results include not only basic contact information but also specifics on what the agent is looking for and, often, examples of recent deals. The site also offers articles on working with agents and resources such as writing websites and conferences.
2. QueryTracker.net boasts a database of more than 1,300 agents and offers a detailed advanced search feature including specific genres.
3. The Association of Authors' Representatives requires members to adhere to a strict Canon of Ethics, so you know any member is legitimate (some perfectly legitimate agents do not belong). Click on Find an Agent to see which agents accept email submissions and which accept submissions via regular mail. Keyword Search and Advanced Search features are also available.
4. A $20 month-to-month subscription to Publishers Marketplace gives you access to an extensive searchable database of agents and their deals. A feature called Top Dealmakers tells you which agents make the most sales in a given genre. Another feature, Who Represents, allows you to find out who represents writers of books like yours.
5. Check an agent's reputation at Preditors & Editors, a website that keeps an updated list of agents according to whether they're reputable or not. Click on Agents & Attorneys, then look up the name alphabetically.
6. Finally, stop off at the Agents page of Writer Beware, which has helpful articles on how to spot and avoid dishonest agents.
Google agents you're interested in to see if they have their own websites. You'll usually find submission guidelines.
Now it's time to approach agents. Have these items ready before you begin:
Complete manuscript. If you haven't published a novel, submit a complete manuscript rather than a "proposal" (synopsis and sample chapters). If you have had a novel published by a commercial publisher, it's OK to send a proposal.
Synopsis. The synopsis is a condensed overview of your novel which helps agents, editors and other publishing personnel evaluate it. Use the present tense and write one page for every 25 pages of manuscript. Tell the entire story, including the ending.
Query letter. A query letter is a one-page business letter. It briefly describes your novel (one paragraph) and specifies genre, title and word length. Provide relevant information about yourself: publishing credits, writers' organizations you belong to, writing awards or citations, and any pertinent background (for example, you're a surgeon and your novel is a medical thriller). Be professional, never cutesy. Ask if the agent would like to read your manuscript.
Follow all the agent's specifications and instructions exactly (query, self-addressed stamped envelope, etc.).
If an agent bites, include your original query letter with your manuscript, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for a reply.
If the agent takes you on, yipee!
And if the agent rejects you?
Don't take it personally. It may have nothing to do with your material. The agent may not be accepting unpublished writers or new clients unless they are exceptional, but may not have said so because if he did, submissions would drop off. Another possibility is that she may already represent a novel too similar to yours but does not want to divulge that.
The "no," however, may have everything to do with your material. Here are five of the most common situations you must avoid:
1. Derivative story idea. You must come up with something fresh within the expectations of your chosen genre.
2. No recognizable genre. Your book must have a genre, an obvious place on a shelf in the bookstores, and a clear comparison to books in the genre.
3. Wrong word length. Picking the wrong word length is a novice's mistake. A 50,000-word mainstream novel is an immediate reject. So is a 175,000-word romantic comedy. Do your homework. Find the appropriate word length for your novel.
4. Grammatical and other problems. These are sudden-death errors: spelling, grammar, punctuation, improper manuscript formatting.
5. Writing that tells rather than shows. Novels today are mostly "show." If you're not sure what "show" and "tell" mean, consult any novel-writing guide or take a fiction course.
Follow these guidelines and eventually you will find an agent who understands and appreciates your work -- and who will be able to sell it.
All you need is one.
© 2010 Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett, creators of The Marshall Plan ® Novel Writing Software
Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett are the creators of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, an adaptation of the bestselling Marshall Plan® series of writing guides. Evan is an internationally recognized expert on fiction writing and author of the Hidden Manhattan and Jane Stuart and Winky mystery series. A former book editor, for 27 years he has been a leading literary agent specializing in fiction. He is the president of The Evan Marshall Agency, a leading literary management firm that represents a number of New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Martha is a former award-winning business book editor at McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, and HarperBusiness. She is currently a literary agent and editorial consultant specializing in business books. An avid memoirist, she blogs at http://www.writeyourmemoir.com/.
For more information, please visit writeanovelfast.com and follow the authors on Facebook and Twitter.