Sunday, December 15, 2013

How I Got My Agent, Step 3: Submit

For the last few days (weeks, months, years…) you’ve been researching agents and drafting your query letter. Good news! This is the moment when those efforts come together.

Once you have a query letter that you feel ready to submit, here is what you do:

Make the list (of at least 50 agents)
I know this seems long but trust me. You want a comprehensive list. Now, if your work is strong, and you’ve done your research properly, you won’t need most of these names. However, the publishing industry is large, and rejection is the norm. So I say start with 50 and if those run out, make another list of 50 more.

How to compile the list
After I did my research and noted all the agents that represented my kind of fiction, I ranked them based on what was most important to me: (did they represent writers I admired? Did they make big sells? Did their clients seem to like them? Were they respected, sought-after, etc.?) Once I was better informed, I created a spreadsheet that looked like this:



Peggy Sue Sell'ems
Preferred  contact

What they want

Query & Ch. 1
Check back-OK

Four weeks


You will complete your list based on your criteria. This may take some time. That’s okay. You may have to make tough choices like: “What is more important to me? That my agent makes six-figure sales all the time or that (s)he is very supportive/loved by their clients?” And for the really tough calls, you can double up. Why not? If the New York Times Bestseller List can have three #9s then so can you.

Another reason why this spreadsheet is important is because every agent will have their own preferences. Honor that and it improves the chances that you will get your foot in the door. Also, the “When is it OK to check back column” can have an actual date, if you like—letting you know when you can politely contact the agent and ask if they managed to read your query yet. It IS okay to check-in, but only after the amount of time they’ve specified.

I liked to send my letters in batches of ten. If you send all 50 at once, you run the risk that #48 will contact you before #2 has had a chance to read your letter. By doing it in sets of 10, you have a better chance of getting the agent you really want, and you’ll both be happier for it. After all, there must be a reason why you ranked them higher, right? If you really want your 1-10th choice, then be willing to wait for an answer. In case no one told you, I will. Publishing is a really slow process. Agents may not get back to you for 1-2 months and for good reason. Agents have a lot of other commitments.*  And even once you have your agent, be prepared to wait some more. Editors are even busier.

send an imperfect query, synopsis, manuscript
-Don’t contact them ANY OTHER WAY except how they want to be contacted
-Don’t check back too early or harass them. You may twitter stalk them in the privacy of your own home, but don’t admit to it in polite company and DON’T talk to them directly.
-Don’t get mad/lose faith/cry/binge eat when your queried agents tweet about watching television or having drinks with friends. They are not intentionally ignoring your query or hating on you. They are just trying to live balanced lives. No matter what their tweets suggest, they are working really hard. I promise.
-Don’t send more than 10-15 queries at a time. (For reasons stated above)
-Don’t be unprepared for the next step.  When the agent(s) finally contact you, be ready. If they want more materials, have them ready. If they offer representation, have your questions ready. YOU SHOULD HAVE QUESTIONS—you are entering into a business contract with someone after all. Through all of it, be professional. Be courteous. Be patient.

And just to make sure you are, that is where we are going next. How I Got My Agent, Step 4: The Rat Race.

*I can write a post about this if you want. Just show a little interest.

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