We’ll assume you have a sharp cover letter, a synopsis and chapter samples at the ready (but if not, we’ll be discussing these in future). But the big question people ask a lot is “How do you find an agent?”
The best method I’ve found is to trot down to your local bookstore (don’t buy online – you gotta do this “live”) and find the “Publishing” section – usually it’s in the back, just past “sexual help”. Ignore all the writing guide books – if you are ready to publish, you are beyond that. You need the thicker books – “So-n-so’s guide to the publishing market 2012” or such-what. Usually there is picture of a pen and a cup of coffee or something literaturary on them.
Flip through them. Ignore all the rubbish on how to write a book – filler – and find the section on AGENTS. The thicker the better. Look down through these listings. You want all the details on each agency, more the better. Whichever has the most listings, with the most details, that should be your choice. Now buy it and take it home.
So let’s assume you have three packets ready (I will explain the reason behind three simultaneous agent submissions in a later blog). Set them aside and open your new book. Go to the agents. Go to the “A” section. Keep going (everyone starts in the “A”s). As the old man said in a famous movie, “Find hungry Samurai.” Perhaps you want to start in the “Z”s? Or maybe mid-list? Hint – the agency who placed Fire and Bronze was “Weiser & Weiser” . See?
Examine the listings. Look for agencies that represent your class of book. Usually they will have brief interviews with the agents, a paragraph or two. You might use these to determine just who in the agency you will approach. Also you should note any requirements towards submission – try to stick as close to these as possible. I once had an agency that asked for twenty pages. I sent them twenty-two because that’s where the logical chapter break was. They sent me an angry reply that if I couldn’t follow simple instructions, they couldn’t represent me. I figured if they were that thin-skinned, I wouldn’t want them as an agent either. But take note – agents are pushy, sniffy individuals and prone to bullying fits (against those lower on the food chain (i.e. writers)). So confirm you are close to their requirements and place their name atop a cover letter, find two more victims, and your packets are ready to go.
Now here’s the organizational part – your reference book will only last you so long. With all the dynamic changes in the publishing fields, agencies are merging and changing. In a year or so (if you are still on your quest – it can take time), this book will be out of date. So use it as your records system. Stick a paperclip on that agent’s page and with a big pen, circle the name of the agency you posted to. Above this, write the date (so you can tell when a submission has gone beyond its shelf life (three months or so – count that as a rejection)). If you get a rejection letter back (oh, those slender SASE’s that appear in the mailbox…), open your book, note the denial (a big “X”, a checkmark, or a frowny face, whatever) and remove the paperclip. You might note any reasons stated for the rejection for later revisions to your packet. But noting the rejection is good information – two years from now, you’ll need to check your earlier books to make sure you haven’t posted to them already. Don’t waste their time and your postage on them if you have. Move along.
Once two of the paperclips have been removed, it’s time to get the next set of packets ready.
Using this method, you’ll have an ongoing record of submissions, organized around your current packets, with a fixed cue for launching the next spread out. That and a bucket of luck and you’ll be in covers in no time!