Getting a Literary Agent
Q. What they are?
A. Agents are business persons. They are usually knowledgeable about writing and make and maintain contacts within various publishing houses. Their business is to provide publishers with saleable books written by their clients. They act as a buffer between author and publisher,, sometimes advising their writer clients where to edit, and they negotiate contracts. For this service the usual charge their clients 15% of the money they earn from initial advance through to royalties, and from the on sale of other rights such as audio and large print, for the earning life of the work.
Q. What sort of work do they handle?
A. Agents usually handle longer works such as novels and scripts. After all, they need to earn money to live and book authors supply them with the means to do so on an ongoing basis. Only rarely will agents handle poetry, articles or short stories. For those who are interested in pursuing the short story market overseas, the following site will be helpful. It’s the Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau >http://www.jbwb.co.uk<
Q. Which writer suits which agent?
A. Most agents specialise. Some prefer to handle crime, some fantasy, some women’s fiction. Some lean towards the literary etc. In these days of the internet, looking up agents, what they do and who they represent is easy. Be guided by that. Sending a historical category romance to an agency that handles how-to books is a waste of everybody’s time and money.
Q. When is your work ready to send to an agent?
A. How do you know when a chicken is ready for the oven? When it’s cleaned, plucked, dressed, trussed, and has its herbs and seasoning in place. So it should be with the work you are going to send. Agents are professionals. Offering them work to read is to place it before the most critical of assessors. They can spot unedited work from a mile away, and are not going to risk their own reputations and livelihood by sending out manuscripts that are not commercial.
Q. What are agents looking for?
A. I can safely say that they are looking for the same as a publisher. A great read, a saleable product and an author who is likely to be more than a one-night-stand. Also, look to your region. If you’ve written a book set in Australia approach an Australian agent first. My agent is English, because my books are set mostly in the UK and are aimed at an English readership. I do manage to get Australia in some of them. If you’re tackling the North American markets try for an American agent.
Q. How do you get on an agent’s books?
A. You approach an agent in the same way as you approach a publisher. First, consult their guidelines on line and follow them And for those who are not on line I suggest you make the transition, because more and more agents and publishers are beginning to conduct their business online, including the sending of manuscripts and editing.
The usual manner of approaching an agent is to send them what is known as a partial. That is a query letter, plus a synopsis of the book you hope to sell, and the first three chapters.
Agents prefer to read letters that are businesslike. They are going to assess your writing, and your approach to them from the very first word. It might not go beyond that.
The query letter sells the author. The synopsis sells the story. The chapters sell the writing skills.
Q. If you are writing novels can you sell them without an agent?’
A. There’s nothing to say you can’t try. Bear in mind that more and more publishers are refusing to look at work that doesn’t come via an agent. Those who don’t will probably place this information in their guidelines. There are exceptions. Harlequin Mills and Boon is one of them. Robert Hale UK is another. They do look at unagented work. You send your partial to them in the same way as you approach an agent.
Q. When do you approach an agent?
A. Remember that fowl? It’s when you are absolutely and positively sure that your work has cooked long enough to be consumed by the public. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I signed on with my agent after I’d sold two manuscripts to a publisher. I was able to approach him with contracts in hand.
Janet Woods © 2009