Therese here. I’m so happy to introduce you to our new semi-regular contributor, my own agent, Elisabeth Weed. Elisabeth–who is also agent to WU’s Jael McHenry and Allison Winn Scotch–is a wonderfully savvy and well-connected agent, who is constantly evolving Weed Literary. I know that the insights she’ll post here will be valuable to those seeking a traditional publishing path. Please give her a big welcome, and enjoy her first post!
I am thrilled to join Writer Unboxed, a blog I have greatly admired since I first started working with the lovely and talented Therese Walsh. I thought I’d tackle the agent’s perspective, over the next several posts, starting with how to best find one. In the coming month’s I’ll talk about everything from choosing the best agent to maintaining a healthy relationship with your agent to parting ways with your agent (yes, it happens and no, it doesn’t have to be unpleasant for either of you).
A lot has been written on finding an agent and I am not sure I can offer anything fresh or new, but I do think that some of the advice that worked well for my authors is worth repeating. In fact I just signed an author that I am over the moon excited about. But guess what? She queried me, didn’t hear from me and after she got an offer, followed up with me again. Guess where her mail was hiding? SPAM. But that’s for my next post on getting an offer and making a decision.
So, you’ve written a book and now you want to find an agent to represent it. Where do you go from here?
Do your homework: I find myself saying this a lot at conferences, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Because there’s so much online these days, authors really have all the information they need for finding the best fit for their work. Join Publishers Marketplace. It’s $20 a month, and I will probably get in trouble for saying this, but I’ve known authors who have shared a subscription and split costs. You can also unsubscribe whenever you like. PM lists recently made deals by genre and includes the title, publisher and agent. Get a sense of who is representing what you are writing. Then go to that agent’s website if they have one and make sure they are accepting submissions and how. I’d add that because so much is online these days, it’s really important that you double check at the source of an agent’s website if you can. (I am on some older sites that track agencies and all the info is outdated. People who only go to those sites and not my website often query me with YA or non fiction, which I am doing very little of and not currently looking for.)
Read: Read books you think are similar to yours so you can really educate yourself on the marketplace and be on track when you compare yourself to an author. I know some agents aren’t fans of comps, but I disagree wholeheartedly. I can’t tell you how many times an editor has asked me during a pitch who I would compare an author to. It’s part of the process, whether you like it or not.
Write a kick-ass cover letter: I’ve said it before, but think jacket copy. You want to bring your reader into the story in a provocative way in a few short paragraphs. This is your one and only way to sell the book they have yet to read, so make sure it does your book justice.
Personalize: Or, as I sometimes say, kill em with kindness. Let that agent know that you really liked some of the work they’ve represented. It means the world to them as they’ve (hopefully!) worked tirelessly on that author’s behalf, and everyone loves a compliment. I do this often when I am selling to publishers. There are a handful of editors out there who I think so highly of that I will, with the author’s permission, give a 24-hour exclusive or tell them honestly that they are my first choice.
Get involved: This is different from blogging. Now, everyone has a blog and frankly you don’t need one. If you enjoy blogging, go for it, but only do it because it brings you satisfaction. What I mean about getting involved is go to readings if that’s what you like. Buy recently published books. Get on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N. Read the blogs, like this one, that have industry information and can in other ways help your career. I personally love it when my authors are involved.
Submit widely: I know there are other agents out there who will only consider things exclusively (asking you not to send to other agents while they consider your work), but I vehemently disagree with this policy. What they are doing is holding up the process for you. If you give each agent a month window exclusive, it could be a year and twelve agents later before you get a bite. Frankly, if you send to twelve agents and one of them likes it, you can email all the others and tell them you have an offer and then they will bloody well move a bit faster on it.
Hope that’s helpful. My next post will be on what to do when you find yourself with an offer or perhaps several….wouldn’t that be nice!
Anybody out there reading this have other advice on the topic? I’d love to know what has worked for you. Also, please feel free to ask any other agent-related questions in the comments below and I’ll be glad to consider for future posts.