Friday, July 24, 2015

Finding a Literary Agent: Four Things I Learned

Literary agents are fantastic creatures. They get your manuscript into the hands of top editors, which is important since a lot of publishers don’t accept unagented work, and the ones that do can take a long (really long) time to respond. Agents negotiate contracts, not just the dollar amount, but rights issues and other clauses that you may not know much about. Agents have the connections needed to sell foreign rights and to make sure you’re actually paid for these rights. Getting an agent might be hard—they work on commission, so they’ll only take on manuscripts they think they can sell—but becoming a successfully published writer without one is even harder.

If you’re a writer in search of a book deal, it makes sense to look for an agent first. Here are four things I’ve learned from my own agent quest.

1.      Research queries. For those of you who don’t know, a query is a letter you send to agents in an attempt to pique their interest in representing your manuscript. A bad query can ruin your chances of ever getting to the next stage. Luckily, there are websites devoted to helping you. I like Query Shark and the Query Letter Hell section at Absolute Write. I’d like to point out that the names here are rather telling. I’ve never heard of a query puppy or a query letter heaven.

2.      Research agents. There are a lot of fabulous agents out there, but there are also some dishonest and incompetent ones. Look for agents with a solid sales record. If you’re going with a new agent, look for one with publishing experience or connections at an established agency. Also, make sure the agents you query actually represent the genre you write; otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Once again, Absolute Write has a great section—Bewares, Recommendation, & Background Check—to help you. Literary Rambles is a blog that does informative spotlights on children’s agents. Query Tracker makes it easy to find agents who represent your genre.

3.      Pace yourself. If you query all the agents on your list at once, you won’t be able to tweak a letter that doesn’t get a good response. On the other hand, querying one agent at a time could take you the rest of your life, especially since some agents never reply. I suggest sending your query out in small batches of about five to ten.

4.      Don’t be desperate. For many unpublished writers, getting an agent can seem like a daunting obstacle, and it’s easy to settle for anyone willing to offer representation. The truth, though, is that a bad agent is worse than no agent. Don’t query anyone who looks shady. Don’t sign anything you’re not comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

©Trent Black

Laurel Gale lives in the desert with her husband and a band of furry monsters that might actually be ferrets. She enjoys reading novels, playing board games, and learning about everything from history to science to grammar. Her debut middle grade novel, Dead Boy, comes out September 29, 2015, from Random House/Crown Books for Young Readers. 

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