This Business of Writing

Tips on How to Find an Agent for Your Novel

In The Craft of Writing on January 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

Can a novel writer achieve success without an agent?  Of course. All you require are strong marketing skills, a firm grasp of specific technologies, appropriate contacts, a few bucks, a bit of luck, time and perseverance. As you might expect, most of us mere mortals don’t have more than one or two of these, let alone all of them. So, it remains true for most of us, the best route toward success as an author is to place our novel in the capable hands of an agent.

So, how does one go about finding one of these elusive beings? Truth be told? Its difficult. It’s very difficult. However, if you can find that bit of luck, or better yet create your own, there are some things you can do to enhance your prospects.

First and foremost, write that saleable, excellent manuscript to its completion. No exceptions, no excuses. Without a marketable product, the agent has nothing to sell for you and everything else is mute. You may have a magnificent product, but if there is no market to buy it, agents can’t help you. You may have the perfect market, but a substandard novel will never sell. Writing is a business, so deliver a quality product first.

Next, understand two things. Agents are looking for new authors. Every agent wants to land the next Tolstoy or King or Koontz. If you’re not up to the status of these authors, agents will work with you, if you can help make them a living. (No, it’s not all about you and your book.) An agent’s goal is to sell books and they’ll sell your book if you have that marketable product.

The next concept to understand is agents are people too. They’re real people like you and I with children, bosses, vacations, illnesses, bills and all the rest. They’re not horned wild-eyed creatures looking for souls to crush. They actually want you to thrive, for your success breeds their success.

Next, narrow your search to those agents looking for your genre of writing. Consider this. If you’re looking to purchase a new automobile and some guy tries to sell you a table, what are the odds you’ll bite? They’re about the same as an agent who sells children’s books buying your horror story. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

There are any number of avenues by which you might filter the agents to find those who are receptive to your genre.  You can start, of course, with the current “Guide to Literary Agents” at your local bookstore or on the web. You might also consider the Association of Authors’ Representatives Web site at aar-online.org. There is no limit to the resources available to determine which agent will consider your work. Jump on the Internet and get to work.

Next, research the books the appropriate agents have published. This secret just might be one of your most important aspects to landing an agent, by the way. By knowing the agent’s published works, you can compare your manuscript to those they’ve already sold. When you query them later, compare your work to one or more of theirs. As an example, if your novel has exceptionally strong characters, then compare your characters to one or more books the agent has already represented that also have similar characterizations. This gives the agent a handle on what you have to offer and two additional pieces of information. One, you’ve done your research and are knowledgeable about the industry, and two, they already know how to sell your book to their publishers.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll continue with this idea and give you more tips on how to influence an agent to represent you.

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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