Friday, September 22, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part IV

This is the final post in a series of four about how to find an agent. It's based on the information I've gleaned over the last few years--both in my own search and in talking to other writers. I've been represented by Jacky Sach since the beginning of this year, and she recently sold one of my manuscripts.

Here are the steps I listed in this process:

1) Know Your Manuscript
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

We left off on Step 6: Develop Your Query Letter. I'm going to start today with some Do's and Don't's.


** Do personalize the letter. By this, I mean don't address it "Dear Agent." If you've done your work on developing your agent list, you already know whether the names Tracy, Leslie or Kit refer to men or women. Address the letter Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Ms. Jones.

** Do mention why you chose that agent. "I am writing you because you represent Author ABC, and my manuscript is also an historical romance." This demonstrates that you are not just mailing queries to a hundred random agents.

** Do check the agents' websites and see if they have guidelines for submission. Follow those guidelines.


** Do not bind or staple pages together. Use a large paperclip.

** Do not use glitter, colored ink or cutesy colored paper. This is a business letter; be professional.

** Do not send candy, cookies or cupcakes. Remember good writing is all you need.

** Do not use packing popcorn when sending a full. Agents hate the stuff.

** Do not send your letter certified or signature required. Agents get really annoyed if you force them to go to the post office to pick up your letter. I've known some writers who include a card for return when the agent opens the package so they'll know the letter was received. I personally believe this makes you look too anxious, and I never did it. In all the queries I sent, there were only two or three for which I never received any response. In one case, it was nearly a year before I heard back, but I usually heard back within four months on most of them.

** Do not call to find how if your query has been received or read yet. Some agents suggest waiting at least three months. I personally never followed up on a query. I took the approach that when the answer arrived, it arrived. I continued sending out more batches of letters after the majority of the last batch had responded.

The following was my own approach to queries. I divided my list into the "A" list, the "B" list, and the "C" list, depending on how highly I ranked them. The "A" list was reserved for top-of-the-line agents who made lots of deals in my genre. The "B" list were the agents who had good reputations and had at least a few deals in my genre. The "C" list claimed to represent my genre, but did not have any deals that I could find in that genre. I did not send out thirty or forty queries at a time. I sent about a half dozen, picking people from each of the three lists. I waited for most of them to respond before deciding whether to make changes with the next batch.

The first few query letters were met with form rejections and an occasional scribbled note on the form. I revised my query and sent out the next batch. Over time, I experimented with different letters. Some got better responses than others.

Another thing that I did was to always include a few pages of my manuscript. I was eager and ambitious and trying to cut the timeline as much as possible. If the agent's guidelines said to only send the query, I would include only a couple of pages, but I always sent pages. This was the only time I violated agents' guidelines. This was also the reason I chose not to do email queries. If I were to query now, I might be more inclined to do email queries.

I began getting written letters which included suggestions for changes in the manuscript. Some suggestions made immediate sense, and I changed my manuscript. On other suggestions, I waited to see if other agents gave the same feedback. Then I changed the manuscript. Over time, my submissions got stronger and I got better responses.

I began getting requests for full manuscripts. Agents also began giving me more detailed feedback. One or two even telephoned and requested exclusives.

I once heard a definition of "crazy" that went something like: Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. If you are getting only form rejections--and I'm not talking only five or six form rejections--I'm talking twenty or thirty, you need to consider that something needs to change. Talk to people you trust, share your manuscript and query letter with others, and ask for feedback.

If your genre's word count is typically 90,000 to 100,000 words, don't assume that your 125,000-word manuscript is so wonderful that the word count doesn't matter. You NEED to be willing to make the necessary changes, including cuts. Some agents openly admit that they ask for changes to see how flexible the client will be to work with. Keep that in mind.

I'm on multiple writers' loops where people make vicious comments about agents being money-grubbing, soulless vampires. I just shake my head. Agents are in business. They have to carry you without any return until they can sell your manuscript. They want flexible, professional clients who will do what is necessary to be a success. Obsessive clients who refuse to listen, or to make changes, or who believe they "know" everything are unlikely to get offers.

Once you are getting requests for full manuscripts, you are getting close. Listen carefully to the feedback. Also, start thinking about the questions you will ask if the agent offers you representation. Start making a list of the things you need to know. You want to be ready when that contract offer is extended.

Good luck.


Jennette said...

Thanks for your informative articles! It's good to see that I'm going about this in the right way. I have an A-list, B-list and C-list, and use the same criteria you did. Hopefully I'll get the same result sooner or later!

Maya said...

Good for you, Jennette.

I'd wish you luck, but it sounds like you're making your own.