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The Ins and Outs of Agents

Daniel Nanescu

How an Agent Can Help You

An agent is

  • A mediator between you and the marketplace 
  • A scout who knows what publishers are looking for 
  • An editor who can provide guidance that will make your work more salable 
  • A matchmaker who knows which editors and publishers to submit your book to
  • A negotiator who hammers out the best contract 
  • An advocate who helps answer questions and solve problems
  • A seller of subsidiary rights 
  • An administrator who keeps track of income and paperwork
  • A rainmaker who may be able to get assignments from editors 
  • A mentor about your writing and career
  • An oasis of encouragement

7 Reasons to Use an Agent

  • By absorbing rejections and being a focal point for your business dealings, your agent helps free you to write. 
  • As continuing sources of manuscripts, agents have more clout with editors than writers. 
  • Your share of sub-rights income will be greater, and you will receive it sooner if your agent, rather than your publisher, handles them. 
  • Your agent enables you to avoid haggling about rights and money with your editor.
  • Your agent may be able to help you with publicity and self-publishing.
  • Editors may change jobs at any time, and publishers may change direction or ownership at any time, so your agent may be the only stable element in your career.
  • The selling of your book deserves the same level of skill, care, knowledge, experience, passion, and perseverance that you dedicate to writing it. An agent can't write your book as well as you can; you can't sell it as well as an agent can.

Finding the Agent Who’s Looking for You: 9 Ways to Find the Agent You Need

1. Your writing community: Writers and other publishing pros can recommend agents.

2. The Web: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, other social media, Google, agents’ websites, databases such as publishersmarketplace.com, agentresearch.com, firstwriter.com, authorlink.com, and agentquery.com, which lists 2,000 agents.

3. The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR): The 450 agents in AAR are the best source of experienced, reputable agents. Members are required to follow the AAR’s code of ethics. The directories talked about in number six indicate when an agent is a member, aaronline.org.

4. Writers’ organizations: They’re listed online and in Literary Market Place.

5. Literary events: Writing classes, readings, lectures, seminars, book signings, conferences, and book festivals are opportunities to meet and learn about agents.

6. Directories: Jeff Herman’s Insider’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents; Guide to Literary Agents; Literary Marketplace (LMP). Directories vary in the kind and amount of information they provide, so check what different ones include about the same agency.

7. Magazines: Publishers Weekly, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers have articles by and about agents. If you don’t want to splurge on a subscription to Publishers Weekly, read it at the library. There’s a free condensation of it available at publishersweekly.com.

8. Books: Check the dedication and acknowledgment pages of books like yours.

9. Your platform: Let agents find you—be visible online and off, get published and give talks, publicize your work and yourself. When you’re visible enough, agents will find you.

8 Steps to Getting an Agent

1. Find a salable idea.

2. Write your proposal or manuscript. The only time to contact agents is when you have something ready to sell.

3. Research potential agents online and off.

4. Write an irresistible one-page query letter. Then email it to up to fifteen agents simultaneously, but don’t include the list of agents as recipients in an email. If you want to approach thirty agents, write to fifteen at a time. You may receive feedback that will enable you to strengthen your query letter or your work.

Get feedback on the letter, and have someone proofread it before you send it. Query by email, unless an agent prefers mail. If you’re mailing your query, include a stamped-self-addressed #10 business envelope (SASE) for a response to be sure to receive a response.

5. Follow the submission guidelines of the agents you contact. Don’t call or email to see if your work arrived or when you will get a response. Established agents receive thousands of submissions a year and don’t keep a log. Make a note on your calendar or your copy of your query letter of when the agents’ guidelines say you will hear from them and call or email them if you don't. If it’s important for you to know that snail mail arrived, send it certified or get a return receipt.

If you’re mailing your work, and you don't need the material back, include a #10 business envelope SASE for a response.

6. Meet interested agents to test the chemistry for your working marriage. Look at the challenge of finding and keeping an agent as creating and sustaining a marriage that has personal and professional aspects to it.

7. Read the agent’s agreement. Make sure you’ll feel comfortable signing it, and feel free to ask questions about it.

8. Choose the best agent for you. The criteria: passion, personality and experience.