Unless you want to self-publish your work, there will come a time in your writing career when you need to try and find an agent. Here are some tips to get you started!
1… Make sure your book is ready!
A lot of aspiring authors fall at the first fence, purely because they send out work that is not ready to be seen. Before even thinking about approaching an agent, make sure your proposal (for non-fiction) and manuscript (for fiction), is 100 per cent finished and ready to go. Check for spelling mistakes, edit the document, restructure as necessary, print it off and do the whole lot again, then you can think about sending it out. The same goes for your pitch letter and (if applicable) your synopsis. Agents receive hundreds of manuscripts and have a very limited time to decide if they want to take things further. Don’t let spelling mistakes be the reason they reject your book!
And while we’re on the subject – make sure you take the time to find out the agent’s name and the correct spelling. Starting your letter with a “Hey Dude!!” or “To Whom It May Concern” is a sure-fire way of getting rejected!
2… Find a real agent!
In your haste to get your writing career off-the-ground, you may be tempted to send a letter to any old person who claims to be an agent. Don’t! Please, please make sure that before you take any steps towards contacting an agent, that you do your homework and only deal with those who have a track record, work for a reputable agency and/or have successful authors on their books. I wrote a blog that deals with this issue earlier this year, and you can read it here.
You can find a good agent by studying The Writers and Artists Handbook (published annually), and by looking at the websites of authors you admire (and who write books in the same genre as your own).
Motto – If in doubt, run far, far away!
3… Research your agent
Before sending anything to an agent, make sure that they actually handle your kind of book. You don’t want to send a fantasy novel to someone who only deals with non-fiction, and if you do, that will only make you seem unprofessional! Also, check out their social media pages (more about that below!), as this will give you an idea of the kind of person they are, and if you will get along with them.
Make a list of all the agents you want to contact, and then look on their website for submission details. All agents are different – some will want the first 10,000 words; others will require the first 50 pages; some love a really long synopsis and pitch letter, while others absolutely detest to read more than a page. Make sure you always abide by their guidelines. If you think that the rules only apply to other people, you are wrong!
4… Don’t be a social media numpty!
So while you will check out the agent’s social media pages, the very last thing you should do is pitch them on there, unless they have specifically asked for it. I have known agents to block aspiring authors for merely expressing an interest in representation on Twitter! Many agents use social media to share their personal interests, or publicise their existing clients. They don’t need you banging on about your erotica masterpiece, underneath a photo of their Mallorca holiday! Don’t do it!
5… Don’t send all your letters at once.
When I first started out, it was considered disgraceful if you approached more than one agent at a time. Thank goodness this is no longer a thing! I remember sending out my chapters to one agent in January 1998, and not hearing back until six months later! After that I decided to stop this ridiculous practice and started sending them out in batches, though this was absolutely scorned upon, back in the 1990s.
Thankfully most agents don’t expect you to send to them exclusively anymore. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as they say. In other words, only send out about six to ten letters in each round of submissions. The reason for this is that if an agent is kind enough to give you advice in their reply, you may want to incorporate that into your manuscript before sending it out again.
6… Don’t hold your breath.
Remember when you applied for a job and the company didn’t bother to let you know that your application was unsuccessful? Well you should know that some agents are like that, too. In fact many say on their websites that if you don’t hear back within a certain amount of time (often twelve weeks), then you should take it as a rejection. I actually think this is a horrible way of doing business, as it involves a lot of waiting around for a reply that never comes. However, that’s the way they do it, so we just need to accept it.
Thankfully, many agents do actually get back to you within a decent amount of time. It may be disheartening if these replies are rejections, but at least you know what’s happening and can move on.
7… Don’t give up!
Rejection is huge part of being an author (and also part of being a human!), and you’ll certainly be rejected at some point in your career. Even the most celebrated authors have been rejected dozens (sometimes hundreds) of times. Stephen King and J K Rowling are prime examples of this. In fact I think I read that Rowling was rejected by every publisher in London, except Bloomsbury!
No matter how bad rejection gets, I personally think you should never let it distract you from your goal. If you do, you’ll just spend the rest of your life wondering ‘what if?’. So just throw a tantrum (and your manuscript if it makes you feel better), gather yourself up, brush yourself down, and GET ON WITH IT!
8… Don’t be an X-Factor contestant!
I suspect everyone has seen those X-Factor contestants who are given a No, and then proceed to argue with the judges! The whole thing is often cringeworthy and never gets the contestant anywhere, anyway. If and when you are rejected, it is so much better for everyone if you just accept the decision and move on. While it may be tempting to reply with a swift, “Hey Mrs Agent, you are wrong! I’m gonna be the biggest thing since Shakespeare, and you’ll proper regret rejecting me!”, it is never a good idea. Just gracefully accept the decision and then contact the next person on your list.
9… Enjoy the phone call but do the work!
When you finally receive a phone call from an interested agent, it is the greatest feeling on earth! Hearing that somebody loves your book is mind-blowing and really something to be cherished. However, don’t let this euphoria completely cloud your judgement. First of all, make sure you gel with this person, after all you’ll likely be with them for most (if not all) of your career. Then, if you haven’t done this already (and if not, why not?), make sure they are real, successful and active in the profession. Once again, see my earlier blog post for tips about this.
When everything is finalised and you’ve signed with the agent, it’s time to celebrate! However, don’t drink too much, as there’s still lots of work to do! Once you have an agent, he will likely want you to do revisions on the manuscript or proposal. Then once that’s done, your book will go out on submission! This process can be just as stressful as finding an agent, but that’s another blog for another time!
10… Watch these videos.
My agent, Piers Blofeld has a YouTube channel dedicated to giving advice to aspiring authors. If you want to know what agents are looking for (and not looking for!), then you should definitely take a look. Here’s one to get you started, and you can find his channel here.
I hope these tips have been useful! If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover in future blog posts, just leave me a comment here or contact me on Twitter/Instagram: @MMWriterGirl. Thanks and Good Luck!!
Until next time,