Writing Tip #6

January 9th, 2012

How to (try to) get an agent.

Kate Casey, who writes a very funny and smart blog of her own, asked me to talk a little bit about getting an agent.

I’ve had three agents in my writing career.  The first two represented my first two novels, neither of which got published.  I left one and one left me (well, not so much left me as refused to take my calls and pretended she’d never even heard of me in the first place).  I don’t think about them much though, because I’ve had such a long and successful relationship with my current agent, who so far has sold nine books of mine–and counting. (I hope.  I hope we’re still counting.)

Full disclosure: I got my agent through connections.  My husband has a TV agent who passed my manuscript onto a literary agent who got it to a book agent, who took something like five months to read it–and then took me on as a client.  But since I did get two previous agents other ways, I still figure I’m somewhat qualified to give advice.

Actually, having connections is the best advice I can give, come to think of it–do that!  Have connections!  Or at least spend a minute or two thinking about whether you do.  Do you know someone who has a book agent?  If so, ask that person if you could use his name in a query email to that agent–people respond much more quickly if there’s a familiar name in the subject line.  This also works if you know someone who’s just friends with a book agent.  And obviously if it’s someone who’s read and liked your book and can actually recommend it–that’s even more powerful.

Remember to always be gracious and grateful when asking people to help you make connections.  Most authors have been where you are and if they’re your friends, they’ll want to give you a helping hand–but they are using up some favors to get you a read, so do make it clear you appreciate it.

But say you don’t know a soul connected to the publishing world in any way.  What do you do then?

My advice is to figure out which published authors are doing work that’s vaguely similar to yours.  Obviously, no one’s writing the exact same thing (or at least I hope not, because if someone is, you just lost originality points) but usually you have some sense of what books would be paired with yours on a bookshelf.  So figure out who those authors might be and then do a little research to find out who their agents are.  Used to be you’d have to go to the bookstore or library to get that information, but guess what?  These new Interwebs thingies take the hard work out of larning.  Within just a few minutes, you can find out who’s representing whom.  And then you’re ready to write a query email.

Here’s what you should include in a query email:

1. A brief description of your book.

2. Your name and contact info.

3. An attachment with the first thirty pages of the book or so.

4. A thank you for the time you’ve already taken up.

5. An offer to send the rest of the manuscript if they find the first few pages appealing.

Here’s what you should NOT include in your query email:

1.  A sob story about how hard it is to get published and how you really really need this because all you’ve ever wanted to be is a writer.

2. A sob story about your recent illness.

3. A sob story about how mean a previous agent was to you.

4. Any sob story whatsoever or any rant about the publishing industry.

5. A hilarious anecdote. (PS: Hilarious anecdotes are rarely hilarious.)

6. Any attempt at whimsy, adorableness, cleverness, or coyness.

7. An entire manuscript.

In other words, be professional.  Don’t waste anyone’s time.  This person is being gracious enough to read your email in the first place.  Keep it brief and informative so he can make a quick decision about whether the subject matter is up his alley or not.  And make it easy for him to read the first few pages by attaching them.  He may not bother, but if he’s the slightest bit intrigued, they’re there for the sampling.

And be prepared for rejection.  A lot of rejection.  When that rejection comes, don’t immediately leap to the assumption that everything that particular agent said is right and you should rewrite the whole thing according to his or her notes.  I’ve known people who’ve done a major rewrite after every rejection and lost sight of what they wanted their books to be in the first place.

If, however, you’ve had several reads and they’ve all come back with similar criticisms, then you should really stop and think about whether those might be valid.  Usually if there’s a majority agreement, there’s something there that needs to be changed.  (I’ll be writing more on processing readers’ notes in the future.)

Anyway, don’t lose hope or heart but, as I mentioned in a previous post, if you’ve sent the manuscript out and are now stuck playing the waiting game, turn your attention to your next project.  It’ll keep your spirits up and remind you why you’re doing this is the first place: because writing books is fun.

And don’t forget to join me on Book Candy TV, live at 6 pm PST and 9 pm EST on Thursday night with the lovely Marla Miller whose website I’ve been getting wrong in my last few posts: this is the right one.

Hope to hear from you then!

If only he could help with descriptions.

  • Neti says:

    Hi Claire,

    I am a fan of your work and especially your story ‘Epic Fail’. I was wondering if I can post this story up on Wattpad. I am not going to claim the work as mine. If you do say yes, I will tell my readers that this is all your work and people should totally check out your work. If your wondering why I want to post your story up on Wattpad, well I am such a fan of that book (in fact it’s my all time favorite story). I just wanted teenage readers like myself on Wattpad to read Epic Fail as it’s a hilarious, romantic and just awesome book. Please email me your answer.

    Thanks,
    Neti

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