Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Elusive Agent

So you've struggled through writing that first book. Not as easy as you thought it would be was it. But you should prepare yourself because now comes the really tough part. Getting published. There are several options, self publishing, indie publishing, getting an agent or applying direct to publishing houses (this last one is the hardest to do so its not recommended.) This post is going to focus on getting an agent.

The agent is the most elusive of creatures. In the UK agents seem to work on commission, they take a select number of clients a year. Some after building up a new list can go for years without having to take on a new client at all. The point that has been emphasized to me over and over is that if they don't think they can sell your work and by default get whatever their commission is (which is how they get paid) then your most likely to get a rejection letter.

First things first. I would suggest trundling down to your local Waterstones and purchasing a copy of the above. The Writers and Artists year book, is a listing of all major newspaper, magazine, agent and publishers in the UK and Northern Ireland. A new updated edition comes out every year. This is one of the most valuable tools in finding an agent. Inside you get a list of the agencies over the entirety of the county and information about what they are looking for. More often then not you get their address, email and telephone numbers. A list of their main agents, how to submit to them, and what they do and do not want to receive. We'll take a look at what to submit a little later.

Agents receive literally thousands submissions in a year and of course they won't read all of them. I recommend very vehemently that you read carefully what it is they are looking for. Most companies now have a website where they lay out the condition they want the submission in before they will even consider looking at it. Now (around Easter time) is one of their busy times of year for submissions so competition will be fierce, so you should prepare yourself for the fact that you might a) not hear from them for months regarding your submission and b) have your submission returned with a preprinted letter that clearly indicates that the agent didn't even read it. You can expect to get a lot of no's before someone might say yes. Renounced authors often comment on how long it took them to get someone to say yes to their idea and considering their success now, its often surprising how long the no list for them was.

Do not be put off. No one said it would be easy and if it were easy it wouldn't be worth doing right?

Okay onto submissions. Most agents specify (in the book or on their respective website) what they want. But here are some general rules of thumb.

Enquiring/Covering Letter - A lot of agents want a letter before they ask you to send in your submission. Most will specify what they prefer. Either way your letter needs to sell you and your work without being demanding or cocky or pleading. Be diplomatic. Tell them briefly the important things about your book, what its about, where its set, how long it is and what genre it is. Be to the point as most prefer an enquiring letter to be only one side of A4. If you have trouble setting out a professional letter, the paper-clip tutorial in word can help you through it.

11/2 to 2 line spacing - Agents like to have manuscripts that they can read clearly. If they can't read what you've written then it will go straight into the bin. Harsh but true.

Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation - Read what you are submitting very carefully. Lots of mistakes, typos and such will put an agent off immediately. If your manuscript is going to take a lot of work to polish into a finished book, they often won't take you.

Length - A lot of main stream publishers will not take novellas from people who aren't already clients. They also tend to state the length of the submission, it can vary from the first three chapters, to the first three and the last chapter, to the first 50 pp (printed pages).

SAE - If you want to get your work back you have to pay for the postage. If you're not bothered about having to constantly reprint it then by all means don't include the self addressed envelope. Tell them they are free to shred it if they don't want it.

Details - Make sure your name and details on on the documents. Some recommend having it printed in the header on every page, some seem to think just on the first page is enough. This is entirely up to the individual.

Presentation: Do not staple, bind or enclose your work in a folder. The prefer loose pages, if you must secure them a paper clip will suffice.

Tip: You have to make your work stand out from all the others. One idea is to included a self addressed postcard that they can send back to you to let you know that they've received your work. Make sure to mention it in your enquiry/covering letter, else they might just think your weird.

Best of luck and if you do succeed, remember me fondly.

Sonnet x

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