This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘books’

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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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