Saturday, August 4, 2012

Let the great agent hunt begin!

This is the first of a number of posts I'm going to write about the process of (I hope) finding an agent and (who do I have to kill to make this happen?) getting my book, Zomburbia, published.

I mentioned a few days ago that I was preparing a manuscript to send to an agent. Why? How? Wha? I thought it might be of interest to some folks to talk about the process o finding an agent.

First, why would one want an agent? Simply put, agents are the first line of gatekeepers you encounter as you try to get your book published. Publishers will often not consider un-agented books -- the fact that you have a manuscript strong enough to attract the attention of an agent tells the publisher two things, I believe: 1) That you have a strong, well-written manuscript (a lot of agents will actually work with a writer to further polish a book prior to sending it to a publisher) and 2) that you play well with others. If you're a jerk, no matter how good your book, an agent will not want to work with you. Especially as a beginning writer. So an agent vets you in the eyes of a publisher.

(Why one would want to go the traditional publishing route at all since the advent of self-published ebooks? That's a different topic, maybe one for another blog post. Suffice to say that with this book, Zomburbia, I want to go the traditional route and I believe I have a strong shot at achieving that.)

So, on to How. Step 1, FINISH YOUR BOOK. For serious, if you are a first-time novelist, do not start the search for an agent until you've finished your manuscript. And by finished I don't just mean you write a manuscript of at least 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo and then, December 1st, you start sending out query letters. I mean, you write, have some folks read it, then rewrite, have some more folks read it, then rewrite some more, then polish. Make it as good as you can -- have it at a place where you believe it can be published. Once you've done all of that, then you can begin the process of looking for an agent.

There are generally two ways to look for agents: 1) Know someone in the publishing business and have then recommend (and hopefully introduce you to) an agent. 2) Do a ton of research from a variety of sources and decide on a list to which you want to send your query. What are you looking for when you research an agent? You want to make sure they represent the kind of writing you do. If you write paranormal romance and the agent states on their bio that they don't handle fantasy; that's a bad fit. You want to make sure they've made a sale in your area in the near past. Make sure they don't charge a fee to read your manuscript. Most of these things can be discovered on the agent's web sites.

But how do you find an agent to even begin doing your research? There are a number of guides you can check out. The one that springs to mind is Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents (which can be found very cheap as an ebook on Amazon). These guides list working agents, who and what what types of writing they represent, recent sales, etc. With one of these in hand you can find a list of potential agents whom you can query.

I'll get to the query in a later post, but for now I want to talk about how I found the agent whom I am currently courting. I mentioned that there are generally two ways to find potential agents, introductions or research, right? Yeah, I didn't go either of those routes. As you'll probably be aware if you visit this blog, I just finished up my creative writing MFA at Stonecoast. One of the things Stonecoast does for its graduation students is to bring in an agent for them to speak with. We may also send them a query and sample of our work so that they can address our viability in the market. Any time you have a chance to get your work in front of a professional, take it. I saw this as an exercise since a quick check of her web site showed the agent in question didn't handle YA, which Zomburbia most definitely is. But I wanted a chance to have my query letter and sample chapter critiqued by a professional. And I'm glad I did.

The first thing she said to me (well, the second, because the first was, "Which one are you?") was, "Come to Momma!" Turns out she really liked the query letter and sample chapter I sent and she wanted me to send her the entire manuscript. I wish I could have done it immediately and, under different circumstances I would have been able to, but I needed to finish a final polish before it was ready to be seen. And the only reason it wasn't all set to go is that wasn't expecting this agent to want to see the thing. That makes sense right?

Okay, that's my personal personal story, and probably a good place to stop this. I think that next time I'll write a bit about the query letter. And I'll end by mentioning that if you ever have any questions or there's some topic you'd like me to address, please either leave a comment or feel free to me email me at the address found in the about section.

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