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Getting Published Finding an Agent - Publishing - Writing

Getting Published: Finding an Agent   by Vanessa O'Loughlin

in Publishing / Writing    (submitted 2011-02-27)

Getting Published: Finding an Agent

So your book is finished (and polished, re-written, re-written again and has been read by some people who don't know you personally); now you want to get it published. An agent is not an essential part of the publishing process, but if you want help negotiating your publisher contract or selling the foreign rights to your work, an agent is essential - the amount they will save you (or in fact earn you), with a good contract will far exceed their 15% fee.

Publishing is a business, and to get into that business you need to be businesslike and do your homework. Think of submitting your manuscript to an agent as applying for a job. Approach it like any other job, professionally and methodically and keep detailed lists of who you have sent what to, with the dates you submitted. If you don't hear back, follow up your submission with a phone call.

Many US agents prefer a query email before you physically submit work, and they will tell you if they are interested. Details of what each agent expects will be found on their website. Follow these to the LETTER. The agent is someone you will have an ongoing business relationship with and failing to read their guidelines paints you in a poor light. If you can't follow basic instructions will they have faith that you will be able to fulfil your contract and deliver your next book on time and to specification?

Today it is acceptable to approach more than one agent at a time, but make sure you have made it clear that you have approached others in your initial contact.

So how do you find an agent?

Many authors have found their agents simply by going down to the bookshop, looking for books like the one they have written and reading the acknowledgements at the front. The vast majority of authors will mention the name of their agent in the acknowledgements, and if you make a note of their name, you can track down their agency via the Internet. Finding an agent this way means that you will be approaching someone who is interested in your genre and, importantly, who has successfully placed a book for someone else.

A list of Irish agents and publishers can be found in the Getting Published section of the Writers Toolbox on writing.ie. For a list of UK agents check out the Writers Handbook and The Writers and Artists Year Book. Similar directories exist for US agents, and the brilliant website Predators and Editors website will give you a detailed list of who to steer clear of.

It is essential that whoever you approach handles your genre. There is no point in sending a Mind Body Spirit non-fiction book to an agent who specializes in children's fiction. It will be rejected and it won't have anything to do with whether the book is well written or not.

When you have identified who to approach, write an author profile of yourself. Today marketing departments are instrumental in deciding which writers publishers will take on. Make yourself saleable - think of ten things that the agent isn't going to know about you when they first meet you, but that a marketing department could use to promote you. Use this list to write your author profile.

Look at ways to connect with people, through blogging, Twitter, Facebook, writing for your local newspaper or contributing to local radio - the more connections you have, the more marketable you are. Include these in your author profile. Make yourself attractive as a prospective client.

You can use your author profile to help you write a query email, a covering letter or supply it in full to an agent. It is:

Not your life history - the agent doesn't want to know where you were born unless it's significant, interesting or out of the ordinary.

Not a story - use the third person and be succinct

Use the most interesting points from your 10 point list

Be positive in all your phrasing

Include publishing credits/education/what you are doing now

Include any social networks you are a member of - you blog/Twitter ID

Show how you are serious about writing - mention events/workshops/courses you have been too

Remember, if an agent like the look of your work, the first thing they are going to do is Google you, so be very careful what you have said on the web/what impression the results create. Google yourself to be sure nothing inappropriate turns up.

What do you include in your query email/covering letter?

Make sure it is:

Personally addressed - check the name of the agent you are approaching, DO NOT address it to Dear Sir/Madam or to Dear Mr. Curtis Brown.

If you are emailing, ensure that the email address is one that works and include your telephone number just in case. Make sure your email address is professional. What you consider a funny or amusing address may stop the agent before they've even opened your message.

Be polite and respectful.

Be brief and to the point

Don't start with a question that the agent might answer no too - have you ever wondered?

Your covering letter should be more about the book than about you.

Do NOT say it is the next Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code, but you can say that you might hope to emulate/write in the style of a particular author. This will give the agent an idea of where you see your book falling in the market.

Do NOT say your mum loved it. DO say if you've worked with an ex-Penguin Editor on it.

Show you can write - ensure there are no typos, tangled sentences or waffle - or the agent may never get passed your covering letter.

Only pitch one book. Your book might be part of a trilogy, but that's not the most important thing about it - if you can't sell one book, you won't be able to sell the other two.

If you are submitting hard copy, make sure it is beautifully presented. NO coffee rings or paw prints. Use good quality paper and ensure that your contact details - email AND telephone number are on every page of your manuscript in the header or the footer. Make sure you have numbered the pages.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

Have a submission strategy, plan the next move before you've even posted your submission and always have the next project underway. Enter competitions; always have enough work on submission that the next letter through the door or email could be the YES you've been waiting for. Be positive, be forward thinking.

Good Luck!