Okay...now we’re onto the next phase of finding a literary agent.
When you have your manuscript nice and clean, then the next stage is to build that list of agents. First, a quick recap of one important bit: I recommend using www.publishersmarketplace.com to search for recent deals in your genre/subgenre. Look for deals by the significant authors in your genre. The deal listings will name the agent who represented the book and the editor who purchased it. Here’s an example of a one of my own deal listings from Publishers Marketplace.
Bram Stoker Award-winner Jonathan Maberry's PATIENT ZERO, in which a Baltimore police detective is recruited by a secret government organization to help stop a group of terrorists from launching a weaponized plague against America that turns its citizens into zombies, to Jason Pinter at St. Martin's, in a three-book deal (including PATIENT ZERO), by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger.
When you see “to” before a name, that’s the editor; “by” indicates the agent.
You can then do searches on the editor to see the other books they’ve bought (and the agents who repped them), and you can search the agents by name. You can also search the categories (fiction debut, thriller, young adult, etc.) and that’ll pull up a couple of years’ worth of listings.
Make sure you double-check to see if the agent and/or editor is still at that firm before you pitch. These folks move like nomads. For example, the editor who bought my books at St. Martin’s Press, Jason Pinter, is no longer there. He scored his own book deal and has left editing to writer crime novels for Mira.
Also, when compiling your list of agents you have to remember that the better ones typically have very few spots left on their lists, and that means that they’ll be very picky when agreeing to look at works from new authors. You have to pitch the hell out of it.
In one of my earlier blogs I posted a sample of a book pitch letter to an agent. Go take a look at that. I landed an agent with that letter; students of mine have used variations on it to sell their works.
Okay, so now you have your list and your query letter. The next step is to get that letter out to everyone on your agent list. Never do the one-at-a-time method. Years pass, you get old, stars burn out to carbon cinders before you get through the whole list. This is your career, be pro-active.
The way I did it, I sent ten copies of that letter out to agents. I got six go-aheads to submit material (four partials and two complete manuscripts).
Normally agents take anywhere from 3 months to an entire age of the world to get back to you. They’re busy, yeah I get that. I suggest following up with a note or an email after a few weeks, just to see if they’re aware that it’s in their office. Some may snap back at you for pestering them. Too bad, this is business and follow-up is a part of any business. The trick is to be very brief, business formal, and business casual. Something like:
Just following up to see if you received the partial on BIG FAT NOVEL, which you requested last month.
When approaching an agent, here’s what you should have ready:
QUERY LETTER: Use good quality stationary and matching envelopes; do not hand write anything except your signature; include either a self-addressed and stamped envelope, or SASE, or request a reply via email. Or both.
COMPLETE MANUSCRIPT: Have it clean, edited, and in final draft. Never query with an unfinished manuscript –not unless you already have an agent and books in print. NOTE: Your manuscript should be in Times New Roman (or Courier), 12 point type, double-spaced, with the default margins of Microsoft Word. Paragraphs should be indented and there should be no spaces between paragraphs. Print only in black on paper that is 94 or 96 brightness (or better). Don’t bother with expensive watermarked paper; just make sure it’s as bright and opaque as possible. I also BOLD the entire manuscript as it creates better contrast between paper and ink, which makes it easier on the eyes of the editor or agent. This courtesy costs a little extra, but courtesy is always appreciated. Also, when mailing the manuscript, mark the envelope with REQUESTED MATERIALS; otherwise it’ll vanish into a slush pile somewhere.
MARKETPLACE ANALYSIS: This is a list of books that would in your same genre/subgenre. List about a dozen and include the title, author, publisher (including imprint), date of original publication, page count and format (paperback, trade paperback, or hardcover). I usually offer this in my query and include it, asked or unasked, with the manuscript. You want the agent (or editor) to know where you think your book belongs; you want to make it clear that it’s part of an established genre; and you want to send a message that the genre is active. This marketplace analysis is your argument that your book can and will sell because there is a ready market out there made up of readers of these other authors.
SYNOPSIS: Have a short 3-5 page synopsis of the entire story, written in present tense (weird, yeah, but that’s how they do it). Be lively and have fun with the writing. Run this by a few friends to see how it reads, and try reading it aloud to look for clunky sentences.
Now you’re ready to roll.
There’s more to say on finding an agent (particularly in regards to networking), so we’ll come back to this topic later this week.