By email@example.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)
The “How Do I Get An Agent?” question is coming at me from all directions this week and I figured I’d better put the answer all in one place so I can just refer people here.
So you’ve finished your first novel and now you face the dreaded question: What do I do now?
Well, first, MASSIVE CELEBRATING. Most people who try to write a novel never finish at all. You are officially awesome.
And before we talk about HOW, I’ll address the question of WHY you need an agent at all.
If you’re planning to go right into indie publishing, great! You don’t need an agent. Skip this step and go straight on to a whole other set of scary issues. 🙂
But if you’re looking for a traditional publishing deal with a traditional publisher, yes, you need an agent. I know, people do it without. Fine – if you’re one of those people, I’m not talking to you.
(If you’re planning to sell directly to a Harlequin category line, you don’t really need an agent at first, either. But you do need the professional savvy of Romance Writers of America. I strongly recommend that you join up.)
But for those of us who DON’T have that kind of business savvy to negotiate our own deals with a multimillion dollar corporation, this is what an agent does.
A good literary agent lives in New York (that’s CITY). An agent’s job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book – know each editor’s taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.
Really. That’s what your agent does.
When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously, and you need to have that book submitted to the editor MOST LIKELY TO BUY IT at each house, in the hopes of –
1 – creating an auction and/or pre-empt situation
2. – getting the best possible editor for you and your particular book and the best possible deal out there.
You cannot do these things yourself. An agent can. This is the difference between writing for a living and writing in those spaces between the demands of the day job.
An agent also is or functions as a contracts lawyer (or a good agency will have a department of contracts lawyers) who will, after the sale of a book, negotiate a contract that is far better for the author than the boilerplate (basic contract) – such as retaining rights in other media and other countries, reversion of e rights, and other critical bargaining points.
Writers without representation or with less than ideal representation might realize just how unfavorable the contract is only when it’s much too late.
And here’s some video of a panel discussion that I did with Dusty Rhoades and Stacey Cochran that goes further into what an agent will do for you and why it’s so important to have one. The question I was asked in the beginning of this tape was “Can I sell a book without an agent?”
And continued here:
So that’s the why. On to the HOW. Legendary Putnam editor Neil Nyren has this to say about finding an agent:
“The question I always hear the most at conferences is about how to find the right agent, and I always say, “Homework.” Now that homework is easier to do than ever. Besides such sites as Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery, and the like, every agent in creation has his or her own website where you can find out about their preferences, authors, deals, ways of doing business. Really, people, there’s no excuse for cluelessness anymore.”
Amen to that. If you’re not spending – I would say at least a month – doing your research, you’re not taking this seriously enough.
I know a lot of authors recommend starting with the lists in Writers’ Market, but the very thought makes me cringe. How are you supposed to know who’s a good agent from reading randomly through that enormous book? Instead, I highly recommend making your own targeted list of agents who represent books in your genre, who have made recent sales, and who other authors you admire are enthusiastic about. We are SO LUCKY to have Google to allow us to do this kind of research instantly, right from our own desks.
I also know that getting an agent is so hard these days that a lot of aspiring authors jump at the first offer of representation. That is a TERRIBLE thing to do. You only have one shot to get your book read and bought by the major publishers and you need the best representation you can find. An agent with “clout” can get you thousands more in advance money, just because of their relationships and who they are. It can easily be the difference between you writing as a hobby – and writing for a living. It’s worth taking the time to do extensive research, and approach the agents you most want to work with first, before you settle for the first thing that comes along.
MAKE A LIST
You knew that was coming, didn’t you?
While you are doing this research, I recommend that you build a list of at least 20 agents who you feel would be good representation for both you and your book. Take good notes, because when you query these agents you may want to say things like: “I feel you’ll respond to this book because of (these similarities) to your client’s excellent book (title).
Here are just a few great resources to consult when you start your agent investigation:
– Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)
– Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)
Via: Alexandra Sokoloff