I’ve said before that finding an agent is difficult. Not only do I need to find someone who represents the fantasy genre I write, we have to be a good fit for each other. This agent will make sure my manuscript is ready for market, send out the book to acquisitions editors, help me land a publishing deal with them, and handle my royalties once the deal is done.
There’s more to it than that, but the right agent will be my business partner. Finding the right partner is often the difference between a quick book deal and a steady career. The wrong agent can cause more trouble than most debut authors can recover from. The right agent, will be a champion of my story and the rest of the stories I write, for as long as we’re together.
If you’ve started on this part of your journey, or are about to, you have my sympathy. There are great stories of debut authors who sent out a query and were picked up by a terrific agent in no time at all. For every one of those stories, there are hundreds more of struggling authors who took months or years to find an agent. The entire publishing industry is based on subjective attributes.
How do you define a good book? A well written manuscript is no measure of the book’s potential. Maybe sales potential? It’s hard to judge that without publishing experience, and even then, what sells in one market may not do well in another. Genre is also not a perfect guide.
All of the criteria used to choose books to publish are based on the potential an agent and an editorial team see in any given manuscript. If a book like yours has done well recently, it may be an easy decision. The market may be saturated by books like yours. The editorial group may believe another work in that vein won’t sell at all. Subjective.
The best thing you can do as an author, is to write the best version of your story you can. That means sending your manuscript out to beta readers, a critique group, or partner (preferably all three). It will mean lots of self-editing, perhaps a professional developmental or line edit. Then more self-editing until you’ve polished your rough draft into a sparkling gem of a story.
Only then, gem in hand, should you consider looking for an agent. But that is only half the battle. You’ll need a query letter. A query letter is basically a resume to get an agent to read your book. They may have other submission requirements, like a synopsis, your first few pages, the fist chapter, or several chapters. The goal is to get agents to request the full manuscript.
If the agent of your dreams likes what they see, you will get ‘the call’. The agent and you will discuss an offer of representation. You’ll each have questions for each other, and want to feel comfortable doing business with each other. One of you may find the fit isn’t good, so it’s back to querying. In a perfect scenario, you mesh well, have similar goals, and a similar vision for your book. Mission accomplished, a contract is on the way!
Once you have an agent, the work is far from over. The agent may have specific changes for you to incorporate into your book. They know what editors are looking for after all. That’s another reason authors need agents. Once any revisions are done, the agent sends your manuscript out on submission. It’s much like querying between agents and editors. If you land on the right editors desk, they’ll offer a deal.
This is one of the most important aspects of your agent’s representation. Negotiating the contract. I’ll leave more details on this for another post, but there is good reason why many agents are also attorneys. Once the terms are settled, the publishing process truly begins. It may sound byzantine, but this is just the surface level of the process.
I’m still refining my query letter and sending it out to agents who may be a good fit from my perspective. I’ve done my research on these agents. I know they’ve represented books like mine before. They are also open to more books of the same kind. My query letter, personalized for that agent, demonstrates that I didn’t just pick their name from a list. As I said, querying is ongoing…