At the time this article was original posted to the EME blog, I was preparing to sit on a panel of agents at an annual AWP Conference and Bookfair in Washington DC. This pilgrimage of writers, litmags, small presses and MFA programs typically consists of 4 packed days of workshops, discussions and opportunities to meet those who could help turn your writing into a chance at publication or an opportunity to refine your craft. This is one of those events that, if you’re serious about becoming a writer, you should find a way to attend.
But for those of you who will not be able make it, I’ll share with you what I plan on covering in our panel, Love at First Query: Agents and Authors Share Strategies for Falling in Literary Love.
So, what are you looking for?
I say right on my website that I seek “to establish involved, long term working relationships with talented and dedicated authors of many genres.” Essentially, I’m in it for the long run. Although when I offer a contract it is only for that one project, I would like to then see your follow-up book as well. Though it is usually a contractual obligation to do so with your publisher, it is common courtesy to do so with your agent, and I’d like the opportunity to have a hand in helping a relatively new author establish and maintain a strong writing career.
But that’s not all of it, right?
Correct. I am specific in requesting “talented and dedicated” authors. You must have those two qualities, and here are a few tips on achieving and presenting them:
It’s easy to say “Do your homework, hone your craft, revise, revise, revise,” but for the sake of this post, I will assume that you are already brilliant writers with equally brilliant manuscripts.
So, what else is there?
I turn down easily 95% of the books pitched to me without even reading a single page. And yes, I am sure that some of them are just as brilliant as yours. Plenty of talented authors slip through the cracks because they simply do not articulate their skill and the brilliance of their manuscript in a well-crafted query letter. Having a knockout query is essential to getting your book published. There are plenty of resources, such as Writer’s Market and various industry magazines, that provide examples of proper query letters, but to further help you, I will be offering an in-depth series of blogs from an agent’s perspective on how to craft a query that will maximize your chances of getting a request. Look for that in the near future.
To me, just as important as knowing you can write is knowing I can work with you. I have had to let go clients with promising manuscripts simply because they are not a good personality match. And by this, I don’t mean we have to like the same kind of music. I am referring to the writer’s ability to communicate, provide me with the information that I require, and make the changes that I ask for. A few key points to keep in mind:
- I realize that we all have our own lives and associated demands, but when I contact you, you should try your best to contact me in a timely fashion. Out of necessity, agents and their clients communicate a LOT throughout the editing, preparation, pitching, and even after the manuscript is sold. I need to know that I can rely on your presence each step of the way.
- Please do not make me communicate solely with an intermediary. This is both for the reason of the previous point and also to ensure that we are both getting accurate information. Bringing in a third party, besides being completely unnecessary, also shows a lack of trust on your part. For this to work, we need to have complete trust in each other.
- If I ask you for something, it is for a good reason. For example: when I request a fiction manuscript, I will generally ask for 4 things: the manuscript, a synopsis, your author bio and your marketing plan. I have had potential clients blow up at me for asking for a marketing plan, and at that point, I know how they would treat our working relationship and I then turn them down without reading a page. I have also received responses that just include 3 of the 4 elements with the statement, “Here is everything you requested.” That shows me that either they aren’t paying complete attention or they are trying to pull one over on me, both of which are big red flags. If you try to manipulate or ignore a simple request, I know that making the necessary edits on your manuscript will be an absolute chore. One example comes to mind. As a first time author, we got her a deal at a house that, frankly, she should not have been able to get. When she then tried to pull a fast one on the publisher during the editing process, they dropped her, voided her contract, and ended up not publishing her book or paying her (and therefore us) a cent. Although requesting additional material sometimes acts as a gauge of character, my primary goal is to find out how well you know your manuscript, what your resources are and how educated you are on something that will ultimately fall largely on your shoulders. But we can talk about marketing at a later date.
- If you don’t know, ask questions. Many writers hesitate to do so out of a crippling fear of coming across as an idiot. Don’t worry. This business can be a bit confusing at times, and it is changing all of the time. I will appreciate your honesty and your desire for knowledge. It shows that you are active, responsible and not one to sweep potential problems under the rug in hopes that we won’t trip on the lump and break our necks.
- And finally, be yourself. Sure, you want to be respectful and appropriate, but you don’t want to get locked into a situation where you feel like you have to act like someone you aren’t. It bears repeating: You and your agent will be communicating a lot. Your perfect agent match should be someone you can talk to, someone who makes you feel comfortable and taken care of. That’s really why we’re here, to take care of you.
That’s it for now. I hope to see you in DC!
This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.