“There’s a lot more to publishing a book than writing it and slapping a cover on it.” ~ Vince Flynn
You’ve written your book. You’ve edited it. Your first readers have reviewed it, tweaked it, sent back suggestions and observations. How do you get your work in front of the paying public?
I decided to follow the traditional publishing route with THE ECHOES OF EMPIRE series. I was happy to manage—and be managed—through an ongoing process, but wanted the mechanics of publishing and distributing my work to be executed by somebody else: somebody who knew more about the industry than I do, and had the contacts to make their experience work for me.
Research was the first step, which convinced me that I was best served by getting an agent. There are stories of the fortunate few who rose in glory from the slush pile, to become successful writers. Those stories are the exception to the rule.
An agent is at once a mentor, a lobbyist, a warehouse of information on the market and who moves and shakes it, and a powerful ally. Here are a tips you may find useful in finding an agent:
- Research, research, research. And when you’ve done that, do some more. There are a lot of agents, but you want the agent that’s right for you, and your work. If your work is stylistically or thematically similar to other writers, find out who represents those writers. The agents of those writers have demonstrated not only that they know how to get your kind of work published, but that they’re passionate about material similar to your own;
- Educate yourself on what an agent will do for you, as well as what commercial implications will be involved. An agent doesn’t work for free, typically taking a percentage of what you earn from both your advance, and royalties. At no point should you pay an agent up front. If the agent asks for money, walk away;
- Find as many agents that fit your profile as you can. Yes. Agents, plural. Learn more (without stalking) about the agents on your shortlist, then prioritise them in order of who you want to work with most;
- Clearly understand the process your prospective agent has with regards to taking on new clients.. The more you know, the better your chance of coming across as informed, and somebody the agent may want to work with;
- Though there are some authors who’ve managed to get representation and publishing deals on unfinished work, don’t expect it. Have your work finished, and in the best possible shape it can be in, before sending it to an agent for their consideration;
- Prepare your instruction letter. Your introduction letter needs to be short, and relevant. Mine was four paragraphs long: i) A two sentence hook about the project; ii) A three sentence blurb for the story; iii) Three sentences about myself, my experience, and references; and iv) Three sentences on why I wanted to work with my agent. You don’t need any more than this. Keep it short and simple. Use standard fonts such as Times New Roman, or Arial (or whatever the agent stipulates) to show that you’re a professional. Steer clear of bright pink Post It notes, love hearts, or telling your agent how much other people loved your work. Short. Simple. Professional. Like submitting a CV for a job interview. Then let the agent decide if they like what they see;
- Send your submissions for representation to one agent at a time;
- Manage your expectations. Expect rejection. It’s not a bad lesson to learn up front, as chances are you’ll experience it at some point or another;
- Be patient. An agent will receive a significant number of submissions each week. Reading submissions is not their only task. An agent needs to manage their existing client base, may be editing client work, conducting meetings with publishers, finalising contracts, etc. Like you, they’ve more than one thing going on. The agent’s web site may give you an indication of how long you should wait before you can expect a response. In some cases it can take many weeks to hear back from an agent as to whether they are interested in seeing any, or more, of your work. If you’ve not heard from them after four to six weeks (or their advertised reading period), send a polite follow up;
- If an agent rejects you, don’t plague them about why. The person in question had their reasons why they chose not to represent you, and they’re not obliged to share them. Nor do they want to be questioned, challenged, or abused for their choice. Publishing is a small world, and the last thing you want is to be perceived as a trouble maker, or difficult to deal with. Accept the fact that this agent does not believe they are in a position to work with you, and move on by contacting the next agent on your list;
- When you’re offered an agency agreement, read it carefully. Have it checked out by a lawyer. If you have any questions, or something is unclear, ask before you sign anything; and
- Be excited! Getting professional representation is a huge early step in your journey.
Now the hard work begins, as your agent works with you towards getting your work in front of editors.