I don’t normally do “how-to” posts because my way is not your way etc, but I’m putting this little agent-getting-of post up about my experiences (which even by now may be a little dated :P) because I’ve been noticing a few posts here and there that have set off alarm bells.
So okay, my credentials. Um, I’ve had two agents. I’ve done the query mill with a host of books and learned something from my experience. And here’s what I know.
Have a Finished Book.
This might seem like a no-brainer but uh…you’d be surprised. Because wait times on queries can be months, people sometimes think they will have finished the book by the time the agent responds. Heard of Murphy’s Law? Yeah. Don’t do this, it just makes you look like a tit, it’s unprofessional, and WHY WHY WHY if you have an opening good enough to interest an agent, would you squander that golden opportunity by having the rest of the book be a rush-written pile of shite?
Also, finished book means not just first-drafted. it means rewritten, revised, polished and ready to go.
Do Your Homework.
Some people like to skip the agent hunt and submit straight to editors. You *can* do this, but I’d recommend against it. First off, you are limited in who you can send to – many publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, and the ones that do are certainly not putting you on a priority list.
Some other things to consider – you can submit a query to more than one agent at a time (and I strongly recommend you do – wait times being what they are) but editors in general only want you to be on sub to one place at a time. Also, agents will have more contacts within the industry, can get you a better deal than you can yourself, and are well-versed on Contract-Speak.
When you do go agent hunting, make sure you are querying the correct agent for your genre, in the format they prefer. I tend to keep a bunch of varied queries and sample pages and synopses lengths to cater for the different agents. This is the main website I used for agent-information when I was querying; Agent Query.
Queries Are Professional Letters.
Follow formatting guides like a boss. You do not want to get cutesy here. Keep your query professional in tone, fulfill the requirements, and make sure that you have some help with getting this one right. You have 250 words to catch someone’s interest, out of a pile of 300 other similar 250-word pitches. (I’m going to include an example of a very early query letter of mine that garnered good results. Not saying it’s a perfect query, but that it gives you an idea of what does/did work)*
A Good Agent Has Nothing To Hide.
This goes hand in hand with do your research. An agent (especially when you have multiple offers) understands when you ask to speak to other clients, when you ask questions about how they work, their communication style, their approach to editing manuscripts (some agents are very hands-on, other do not want to be involved in the process). Any agent that is unwilling to answer basic questions about how they work, and discourages you from speaking to other clients is raising red flags.
Research agents at places like Preditors and Editors and AbsoluteWrite’s Bewares and Background Checks. The entire forum at Absolute Write is a wealth of publishing information and I recommend reading through at least some of the stickied threads.
Sometimes We Divorce.
Now, I’m not saying the agent/client relationship is a marriage because that would be weird and awkward…..but, it is a relationship, and sometimes Things Just Don’t Work Out. And it’s nobody’s fault. Shit Happens. If you part ways with your agent, be upfront about it when you hit the query-rounds again, and be aware new agents are going to ask why. No matter what, don’t slag off your old agent to the ones you are querying. It’s a) plain bad form, and b) stupid. You have no idea who is friends with whom in this world.
If you have any questions that I haven’t covered here, you can ask in comments or drop me an email and I’ll add it to the post.
* Sample query for a very old book that while it did get me agents, never sold (and has been significantly rewritten). It’s here simply as an example of what worked in terms of layout and style and voice. I’ve removed names etc:
Dear [agent person]
I am seeking representation for BLACK WINGS, my completed 62,000 word
urban fantasy novel aimed at the older YA reader.
It’s Irene Kerry’s gap year and while almost all her classmates have
swanned off to Europe, she’s stuck working a sucky bar job. The only
thing that keeps her serving suburban socialites is her desire to put
herself through art school. She’s also in love with her best friend
Rain, despite knowing that he only likes boys.
Clubbing and work are slowly destroying her passion for art as Irene’s
life spirals into a crazy merry-go-round of drinking and drugging with
Then Rain meets Caleb at their dealer’s house, and Irene watches as
she loses her best friend to an ageing goth who looks like he should
be buried at a crossroad with a stake through his heart. Knowing that
Rain is not the most emotionally stable emo-waif out there, Irene
worries that Caleb is only going to end up hurting him. What she
doesn’t know is that her friend’s new lover is a dead man; Caleb is a
trickster looking for someone to take his place in the afterlife, and
Rain is his perfect mark.
I’ve included the first five pages below as a sample, as per your guidelines.
My short story This Reflection Of Me appears in the anthology
Thank you for your time.