I find it incredibly intriguing at the presumption of some authors when it comes to searching for an agent and/or publisher for their manuscript. In high school, college, and university, creative writing courses focus on the craft of writing. Once released from those institutions a writer will hole-up in their privacy, writing what they believe to be the perfect novel. Others may move their training into individual writing courses. One thing that is rarely taught is the process of querying agents and/or publishers.
So many writers and would-be published authors have no clue how to spark the interest of an agent/publisher, let alone how to find one. It is the business end of the world of the writer that is almost never taught. So I have deigned to embark, albeit briefly, in offering my meager knowledge of the process.
The number one most important thing you must have, before you begin your search, is to finish your manuscript.
Let me say that again, especially for all you fiction writers out there (this does not necessarily hold true for non-fiction, but it still helps):
FINISH YOUR MANUSCRIPT.
This means you have completed the draft, edited it, fixed it/rewrote it, maybe having another edit it for you, fix it again, and then leave it alone. The more you try to ‘fix’ it, the greater the chance to F-it up. Do not try and have different versions that can be sent to different agents/publishers because you’re trying to second guess what they may want. Have one version. If you are incredibly lucky to be taken on by a publisher your novel WILL be ripped apart through an intensive editing process you never expected. This is not necessarily the case with agents, but I go too far. Let’s say you’ve completed your manuscript, what happen next?
For many of us, finding an agent is the next stage. It is usually the agent that acts as a gateway into the publishing world, but how to possibly secure an agent? I will tell you this; just because you want an agent doesn’t mean you’ll get one.
There are directories on the internet that lists numerous agents. Find them and then learn which of the agents are reputable, accepting unsolicited queries, the genres they represent, and their specifications on how they like their query packages. This process takes time and research. Any agent that expects money from their clients beyond some photocopying is someone you do not want to query. Remember, take your time and research each agent you wish to query. Make a list of agents with their contact information.
You’ve got your list. Now what?
The hardest part.
Now you must compose a query letter and different synopses of different lengths to accommodate the desires of the agent. This query is a ONE page letter of introduction of your book and yourself. It MUST be punchy enough to catch the agent’s eye so as to continue reading. It should also be formatted and written as a BUSINESS LETTER. If you don’t know how to write in ‘business speak’ then it is high time you learn. It shows your professionalism. There are many examples of finely crafted query letters out there, find them on the internet and study their structure. If you’ve got a beta-reader, use him/her. Make sure that query letter is as perfect as you can make it. As for your synopses, good luck. It MUST be amazing and it is one of the HARDEST things to write. Again, use your support network to help you edit it and edit it and edit it, etc., until they are perfect.
Okay. The manuscript is completed. The query letter is written. Different synopses are finalized. The list of agents is done. Now you’re ready.
Not so long ago all query submissions were sent by snail mail. It was costly and time consuming and bad for the environment. Today, more and more agents recognize the impact of all these submission packages have on the environment, therefore most now accept queries via email, though some still expect hard copy submissions. In EVERY CASE personalize each query letter to the agent you are sending to. Never ever send it “To Whom It May Concern.” If you don’t know, then don’t send. Whoever receives it with that will ensure your query hits the recycling bin, virtual or real.
For the sake of this blog, let’s assume the queries are sent electronically.
I’ve already stated that EACH query is to be individually personalized. It also means that for each agent you send an email DO NOT C.C. other agents of send out a blind c.c. (b.c.c.) so that you only have to send one query email. If you do so your query will BE DELETED. If the content of your email isn’t a professionally written, business style query letter, most likely it will be DELETED. This means no “Hi, I saw you’re accepting queries, please look at mine.”
Many agents (and publishers) will inform potential author/clients how they want the email to look and even to what’s in the subject heading and whether or not they want the submissions as part of the email or as an attachment. If they want attachments, then they’ll let you know what document formats they accept. How will you glean this information? Very simply, through your research in who to query. If you don’t have this information, then you need to double check your research.
Okay. You have everything picture perfect. Now it’s time to show your baby and press the SEND button.
Let’s be perfectly clear. Agents are extremely busy people who receive hundreds of queries a month. DO NOT take it personally when you receive a form letter rejection. It has nothing to do with you. It’s just that they are that busy.
Let’s stop here for a moment with the realization that you WILL receive rejections. This is par for the course. If you can’t accept it, then you shouldn’t be looking or representation to a traditional publisher, or even looking for a publisher. One thing you should NEVER do is email the agent back with an anger filled letter. Doing so burns bridges fast than a forest fire. Agents talk to each other and if you throw a Diva-fit at each agent you receive a rejection from, therefore don’t be surprised if you get black-balled. Do not become one of the “Authors Behaving Badly” Club.
Now to continue on a positive note.
After a slew of rejections, you receive a response requesting part or the whole manuscript. Congrats! Do something to celebrate. An agent is interested! Send him or her what he or she wants and the wait.
Just because you send an agent the requested manuscript doesn’t guarantee a yes. This is the HARD part. You have to wait for the agent to read the manuscript and decide if it, and you, are something he or she can a) work with and b) more importantly, sell to publishers. Give the agent/publisher time. Generally, it’s three months, and in most cases the agent/publisher will assume that you have stopped querying until they make the decision to take you on or not.
If you receive a rejection at this point, it’s okay to be sad. Do something to pick you up and get back on the horse. In most cases, if you’re rejected at this point there won’t be a form letter; you’ll receive a personalized letter explaining why. In rare occurrences, they’ll ask you to resubmit when you’ve fixed those issues.
I try to be a positive person, so let’s say after all this time and effort an agent is interested in signing you. YEAY! Go out! Celebrate, but just because you signed with an agent doesn’t mean that the agent will be able to find a publisher for your novel.
Did I say I try to be positive?
I’m also realistic.
So if this is the route you wish to try, go for it! I tried too. One thing you need to know in this business is that you must have strong determination. If going this route isn’t your thing, then look at self-publishing—that’s another blog post! Regardless of the path you take, to succeed you must work hard and understand this is a business no different than McDonald’s selling Big Macs. The only difference is that we’re selling a piece of ourselves called our Novel(s).
One thing I’m asked over and over in interviews is what advice I give to new and would-be authors. I give the same answer.
Never give up! Never surrender!
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