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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question looks at how to find an agent. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
Have you ever wondered about how to find an agent? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.
I have a question from Diane Olson, a writer based in Eugene, Oregon. Here’s what she asked by email….
“I have a great idea for a story. How do I find an agent?”
Thanks for your question, Diane. The first thing I need to tell you is that great ideas are a dime a dozen. Or, as Stephen King puts it, “talent is cheaper than table salt.”
The quality of your idea is not what will make you a successful author. And it won’t get you an agent either. You need to make sure the quality of your writing is on par with the quality of your idea.
The first thing to understand is that — if you’re talking fiction — and I assume you are, you can’t sell an idea. You can only sell a book.
So, you’ll need to write that entire book before you even go looking for an agent. And you might want to hire an editor to do some work on it too.
On the other hand, if your book is non-fiction, you’ll only have to write a couple of sample chapters, and a table of contents before you go agent shopping.
Still, you should consider hiring an editor for those sample chapters as well. Anything that goes to an agent should be as perfect as you can make it.
But whatever your genre, don’t send agents an entire manuscript or even the sample chapters without a query letter, first.
A query letter is like a first date. You don’t know what this person is going to be like yet. And they don’t know you either — so don’t go proposing marriage. Take things slowly! I’m attaching a link to an excellent Jane Friedman post on how to write a query letter, below.
Let me sketch out a few other points you should be aware of:
- You don’t hire an agent; you come to an agreement with one.
- Agents get paid only when they sell your work and they receive a 15 percent commission on everything you’re paid. Steer clear of any agent who tries to charge you any fees beyond the standard 15%.
- Not every book needs an agent. For example, if your title is going to a small or mid-sized publisher, you may be able to negotiate the deal yourself.
- Agents often specialize in genre or at least represent a limited number of them. So, if you’re writing romance novels, you’re not going to be looking at the same agents who represent literary fiction, or non-fiction.
One trick you can use to find suitable agents is go to a library or bookstore and look for books in the same category as the one you want to write. Then, scan the acknowledgements section of those books. Most authors will thank their agent in there and, voila, you will have a name to pursue.
Just be aware that you’re not going to be represented by Margaret Atwood’s agent — even if you’re writing dystopian fiction — no matter how good your idea may be. You just don’t have the experience yet.
One of my clients met his agent at a writing workshop, so you could try that tactic as well.
Or there are some websites and services, some of which charge monthly fees, you can try. These include: WritersMarket.com, AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net. Links below.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from Groucho Marx.
“I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.”
When you have a good idea, Diane, I know it kind of lights a fire under you. But use that spark to spur your writing process. Writing a book will likely take you at least a year, maybe more. Do that before you go looking for an agent.
If you’d like to learn how to make writing a happier more fulfilling process for yourself please take a look at my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link below.