Saturday, May 1, 2010

Teen Inklings, Vol. 10: THE LITERARY AGENT

After you’ve polished your manuscript to perfection, what do you do with it? You don’t want it to sit in your desk drawer and gather dust, but what are your options? You have a few. As far as I’m concerned there’s only one option you should pursue right away.

Getting an agent.

A literary agent is a person who takes on writers as clients and sends their manuscripts to the editors of various publishing houses. These people are usually well-connected with the publishing world, but some are not. You can’t be too careful when trying to find an agent, so don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Remember, this is a business deal. Your agent will be getting around 10% of every dollar you make. Be cautious.

How do you do that? A good agent will list their clients on their website. This is an acceptable practice, and it helps writers a lot. If you recognize some of the names on the list, good! If you don’t, look them up on Amazon.com to find what books they’ve published and with who. Look specifically for the authors within your genre, and see what publishers the agent collaborated with in order to sell that person’s book. Is the publisher respectable? Would you want your book published with them? Ask yourself these questions.
After researching and analyzing the resulting data, you’ve weeded out the bad agents from the good. Now you can write your query letters!

If a generic query letter existed, it’d consist of three paragraphs. One paragraph to summarize the book, one to identify your target audience, and one consisting of a biography and list of prior publications.

However, a generic query letter does not exist. The above formula is helpful, but you need to check the individual agents’ Submission Guidelines to find out exactly what they want in a query letter. This is available on their websites.

Lots of agents are opting to receive email submissions instead of physical letters. This can make it easier for them to function, but you shouldn’t expect things to go faster because of it. All in all, it doesn’t matter. Just be sure to follow the Guidelines minutely.

Some people suggest you send out fifty queries at a time. It can take up to six months or longer to get a response, and that’s wasted time if you’re just going to get a Form Letter rejection. I’d say to send out two batches of letters. With the first you’d pick out ten dream agents to query, and with the second you’d send out the other forty. Either way, don’t only send out one at a time.

Phases

After you’ve sent your query letters… you wait. Don’t waste this time pining away in agitation, write another book! This will help you deal with the anticipation.

Finally, after a millennia of waiting, the mailman starts to deliver the replies. Rejection after rejection. You feel like a complete failure. Most of these letters aren’t even personalized! You want to give up. Why did you even subject yourself to this torture, anyway?

Then, a reply with a note scrawled in the margin: “Looks promising, but I’m swamped right now.” You tear out your hair wondering exactly what “promising” meant, and then get another response. Someone wants to see more! You dance around your house, type up a cover letter, and send off your requested manuscript.

As you wait yet again, you get another request. You ship that one off. You wait some more. The first agent gets back to you. Rejection. Maybe they supply a reason, maybe they don’t. Your heart breaks.

Agent two contacts you… he/she loves your manuscript and wants to represent you! Floodgates of joy open. You’re not a failure! You talk with the agent, ask questions, get to know each other, then receive a contract. You sign it and everything is made official. You have an agent!

Together, you make a Proposal and the agent ships it off to the editors of various publishing houses. Some reject it. Some have already reached their book quota. Some show interest, but have to back out. And then… your agent finds a publishing house that loves it, passes it, and wants to acquire your manuscript!

Here your agent is especially helpful. He/she handles all the legal junk and gets you the best deal possible. You approve and sign the contract, then ship it off.

You’re in.

Come back soon for next month’s E-Zine: THE EDITOR