Agents eh? You just gotta love ’em.
They are the gate keepers to your publishing dreams. (or maybe not with the rising popularity of self-publishing, and yes, I am seriously considering that option).
BUT an amalgamation of Cerebus and Nurse Ratched they are not.
How do I know this? Well I met a few at The Writers Festival. They were tame(ish), open and very friendly. Nice people.
And I absorbed a few pearls of wisdom too…
1. Agents tend to read the cover letter first, then the manuscript (first three chapters or whatever their submission policy is, and make sure the spacing is 1.5, they like that) and then finally, the synopsis.
2. Research agents well and be discerning (if your writing crime or thriller, approach those agents specialising in those genres). Choose both the bigger agencies and newer agents building their lists – they might seem young and inexperienced but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good.
3. Choose your agent as much as they choose you. If an agent doesn’t come back to you, would you want to work with them anyway? Probably not. On average they should tale 6-8 weeks to get back to you, up to three months for the bigger agencies. After that time has lapsed it’s fine to send a polite nudge….
4. If an agent asks you in for a meeting, this is the time to tell them that you have sent your manuscript out to others. Don’t commit to exclusivity unless it is mutual.
5. The standard commission for an agent is 15%, 20% for international sales.
6. Agent’s want to know you aren’t a one trick pony, so start gathering ideas for subsequent novels.
7. If an agent wants to charge for a reading or feedback fee – run a mile!
8. Apparently, agents aren’t fans of prologues, so if you have written one, turn it into your first chapter.
Agent’s will read, I mean glance at your cover letter first, and if there is one spelling mistake or typo, chances are they won’t read on. Your letter should be immaculate, clear and succinct, and well punctuated. You need to show that you write well. Approach it like a job application. The letter should include…
1. Why you like this particular agent – which authors you like on their list. Show that you have done your research.
2. The title (very important obvs), the genre of your story and where you see it fitting in the market.
3. ‘Elevator pitch’ This is a short paragraph on your book (eg. love story set in the middle ages). It sells the story. Elevator pitches aren’t necessarily right for literary fiction, where you could sell your work modestly and comparatively to other authors, and on the story’s themes and the significance of the human condition within the narrative, for example the dynamic of the father and daughter relationship.
4. Relevant information about yourself (any awards, publications, writing courses).
5. You don’t need to say that you have sent your manuscript out to other agents
Your letter might look like the following….
I am currently seeking representation for my debut novel, TITLE and GENRE. I’ve been researching your agency and noticed you are extending your list. I’m looking for ward to reading your up and coming titles by *author* etc etc…. (or something similar)
Then your elevator pitch…. and where you see your self fitting in the market
Then relevant information about yourself.
Where the elevator pitch ‘sells’ your story, the synopsis ‘tells’ your story…
1. It should be a straight, chronological account of your story showing a clear beginning middle and end, and the development of your main character. Don’t include back story.
2. Include main character names and ages.
3. It should be no longer than one side of A4.
Some useful information…
The Society of Authors offer free contract checking.