Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part I

I attended a meeting of the Dallas Area Writers' Group last week. I talked briefly with one of their board members. She told me their writers' most frequently voiced need was help with finding an agent.

Not two days later, one of the writer loops I belonged to had a lively discussion about how to find an agent.

Therefore, for the next couple of days, this blog is going to focus on steps to take and things to do when looking for an agent. I've probably referred to most of these things in the past, but this will be the first time I've tried to organize them into an actual process. My thanks to everyone who shared their wisdom with me while I was searching for an agent.

Okay, to start, here are the steps:

1) Know Your Manuscript (Sounds simple, doesn't it?)
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

I've listed them in the rough order I think (at least now) that we'll cover them, but be aware that we'll be going back and forth between them because part of looking for an agent is constantly refining what you've already done--based on feedback that you trust ("that you trust" is very important in this equation--don't change "just because." Be sure you have a legitimate reason for the changes you make. Otherwise you're just flopping around in desperation. And desperation never looks good in a query letter or during a pitch).

As I said, it starts with knowing your manuscript. And I'm dead serious about this step.

Over the last six months, I've probably talked to a hundred writers who've describe problems in finding an agent. I have consistently asked the same question, "So, tell me, what genre are you writing in?"

Invariably, I get a lengthy, messy, incomprehensible answer. Variations on the following:

**"I don't really know. You see, I think I'm not really a genre writer."
**"Oh, gosh, this manuscript is so rich. It's a little mystery, a little romance, and might even need to be called literary fiction."
**"I think this may be a new genre."
**"It's a paranormal time travel sci-fi."

If you don't know what's wrong with those responses, after you finish this post, go read my blog for September 3rd. For now, I'm only going to copy two paragraphs from that blog:

"This is pretty important--and pretty basic. Agents and publishers are in business. This means they know their market and how to place a manuscript in that market. They need to know how YOUR novel will fit. When they pick up a query letter, it's with the expectation that you, the writer, can identify the genre of your own manuscript.

Think back on your last visit to your local bookstore. Remember how the books were shelved by category or genre? When you are trying to interest an agent or a publisher in your novel, you need to be able to tell them where it will be shelved in the bookstore. Most agents and publishers specialize in certain types of fiction. When they read a query, they want to know if what you're offering is what they're looking for."

When a writer flops around and is unable to clearly define his/her novel, agents get irritated. YOU know your manuscript better than anyone else. If you can't classify your novel, agents tend to assume that your manuscript is going to be all over the map, too. Their kneejerk response is to quickly reject the query.

So--first homework assignment: Figure out your genre. If you can't identify it, take a look at my blogs from 9/4 to 9/6.

If you still can't identify your genre after that, try summarizing your plot in fifty words. That exercise should focus your thinking to the point that you can identify the genre.

If you still can't decide on the manuscript's genre after reading the definitions and writing a fifty-word summary, email me at mayareynoldswriter@sbcglobal.net and tell me what's tripping you up. I'll try to help. Be sure to include the fifty-word summary.

Second homework assignment: if you aren't already receiving Publishers' Marketplace's free lunch, go to: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/subscribe.html and sign up.

Once a week (on either Sunday or Monday), you'll receive an email listing some of the industry news and some of the deals reported to Publishers' Marketplace in the past week.

Publishers' Marketplace also provides a paid daily letter in additional to the free weekly lunch. The paid subscription costs $20/month. I'll talk about this some more tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm quoting one deal from this week's Lunch as an example:

"Julie Buxbaum's debut novel THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE, about a 29-year-old attorney who lost her mother as a teenager and finds her well-constructed life falling apart when she can't commit to the man who loves her, to Susan Kamil at Dial Press, in a major deal, for publication in winter 2008, in a two-book deal, by Elaine Koster of the Elaine Koster Agency (US)."

Sign up today for the free lunch, and we'll talk about what to do with this information tomorrow.



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