This Business of Writing

The Single Most Important Secret to Landing an Agent

In General Information, Working with Agents on January 8, 2010 at 9:44 am

Yesterday in my blog I promised another article about how to find an agent for your novel. As I slaved over the research for today’s post, I searched for those perfect suggestions to include when a thought struck me. The information aspiring authors need is overabundant on the Internet. Multitudinous tomes are rife with just such instructions. With this understanding, I asked what knowledge could I possibly impart that might be new or unique? I slipped away for a cup of coffee but a single thought kept coming back to me, one I heard at a writers’ conference not too long ago.

While attending the James River Writers’ Conference, (@jamesRVRwriters on Twitter), a panel of accomplished agents sat perched behind a wide, draped table in the center of the stage to the front of an auditorium. The subject of the talk was what agents look for when writers send in query letters. I had parked myself in the second or third row, which is where you get the most information at any seminar by the way, and with ballpoint in hand waited to pen the copious notes the speakers would soon convey to launch my writer’s career toward the heavens.

I sat, writing implement poised and waited for that blaze of information to spark my livelihood and make my name a household word within the literary world. The speakers spoke, as speakers do, and I sat pen still poised, and waited for that flash of inspiration so critical to my plans. After about thirty minutes, I still sat, pen now drooping, and started wondering why I’d bothered with this seminar at all. I wasn’t hearing anything I didn’t already know.

Then at last! A note I could smear across the blank page before me! All three speakers attested to the accuracy of this information and with great fervor, I scribbled two numbers and a symbol appeared on the legal pad in my lap.

And that was all.

When the fifty minute seminar concluded, the audience clapped, the speakers smiled and people filtered out of the auditorium and into the halls. I sat, waiting for the crowd to thin, and considered the single note I had written on that otherwise blank sheet of paper. That’s it. That was all I got out of the seminar. Two numbers and a symbol.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The speakers did their job well, the audience was more than appreciative of the panelists’ time and as the writers herded out, the hubbub sounded enthusiastic and engaging. Nice seminar. Even to me, the time had been well spent. I was quite pleased with my one note that read, “90%.”

That number represented the number of authors who, when querying an agent, fail to follow even the most basic instructions required of their query.

Ninety percent of those who query don’t write a professional letter. Ninety percent don’t include a phone number for the agent to request a partial. Ninety percent don’t start with the story. Ninety percent don’t send in the first fifty pages when requested. Ninety percent talk down to the agent, etc, etc, etc. The secret of this story is found in a sage bit of advice my father offered so often in his life.

“If all else fails, follow directions.”

In the case with authors, you’ll have a better chance of publication than nine out of ten authors by listening to my father. Smart guy and good odds, I’d say.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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  1. Aside from telling you that the advice you father gave you was so valuable, I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed how you wrote this article. I enjoyed it a lot.

    The statistic you presented was astounding. How can so many miss the opportunity of a lifetime by not paying attention to the directions? Are we just not listening?

  2. Querying an agent is a business proposition, but so many people don’t realise this. Also, they think they only have to post a manuscript off and it will automatically appear in Waterstones. Think of how many people naively say ‘I think I’ll get my novel published one day’ instead of ‘I’ll hawk it around the publishing industry and see if it beats all the other contenders and impresses the marketing people’! Good post, I’ve tweeted it!

    • Thank you, Roz, for your comment and kind words. And for retweeting the article. Very nice of you.

      At that conference I was stunned at that statistic. However, I knew it was beneficial to all serious writers out there.

      Thanks again. It’s been nice to have connected with you.

      C. Patrick Schulze

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