On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Finding a Literary Agent

Your literary agent is an expert in the publishing field, and knows who wants what. Therefore he will be able to show your manuscript to the people most likely to buy it. Furthermore, once a deal is on the table, the literary agent negotiates optimal terms for you that you would probably never receive on your own. As your manuscript develops into a book your agent helps to shepherd the process with your interests in mind, and keeps everyone happy. Finally, as you continue to write books your agent continues to work with you to develop your career.

I'm going to assume that your manuscript really is ready to move to the next level. You've decided you want to find a literary agent to help you market your manuscript to traditional publishing houses. Now what?

The first thing you must decide is that you're going to put as much work into finding an agent as you did for writing your manuscript. This involves two steps: preparing your submission material, and sending out to agents.

We've already talked about preparing your material. This includes writing a one page query letter as well as writing samples. For fiction, you'll already have finished your manuscript and edited it twenty times so that it's smooth and beautiful, and the length falls into the correct genre word count. You need to prepare a one page synopsis, a 2-5 page synopsis, and have researched marketing: similar books, ideas for selling your book, platform development, and so forth. For nonfiction, publishing houses usually want only a book proposal and a sample chapter or two, since they want to shape the book into a good fit for their house and the market. There are good books with instruction for book proposals; read them carefully, implement their instruction seriously, and nail your presentation. Remember that you need to write this material with an eye for WHY OTHERS WILL BE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING YOUR BOOK, not just describing what your book is about.

Second step is applying to agents. Rule Number One is APPLY TO ENOUGH AGENTS. Agents take a long time to respond. You don't want to send out one hopeful letter and chew your nails for six weeks until a negatory response comes in. How depressing is that? Instead, make a long list of agents to whom to query. Noah Lukeman in his How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent recommends compiling a list of at least fifty agents, prioritizing them, and then querying them in batches of ten. This way you don't have as much emotional energy riding on each letter, and get through the process efficiently and quickly.

Rule Number Two is DON'T GO TO ANY AGENT THAT CHARGES YOU A READING FEE. Legitimate agents don't. Check out the Association of Author Representatives canon that describes the ethical conduct expected of literary agents. The AAR is the standard and preeminent group for literary agents. An agent who makes his money with reading fees is not going to be making his money with selling books. This includes scams like ABC agent telling you he might consider your manuscript if you get it edited by XYZ book doctor. When you go to XYZ book doctor he charges hefty fees and maybe makes some good suggestions, but when you take it back to ABC agent he says it's still not good enough. Or something. This scheme involves a kickback to both parties, and can go for several cycles before the writer's hope gives out.

Now, if the agent just wants you to clean up your manuscript and suggests you might want to hire a book doctor, without naming names or making promises, this is a different story. Listen because he just gave you a free piece of valuable advice that your manuscript is close but not yet up to where it needs to be.

OK, finally, how do you find literary agents? This blog entry is already long so I'll pick this up again on Friday.

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