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 How to Find an Agent

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Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyWed Feb 11, 2009 4:11 pm

Okay, here we go. This is Post 1 in what will probably be two or more posts regarding finding a real agent with a track record of sales.

Before I start, one caveat. Some of this advice will probably come over as way too elementary for people I've met on this board. But I'm going to cover the introductory stuff anyhow, because there are always lurkers on writing boards who may not know the basic stuff. Okay?

For the sake of these posts, I'm presuming that "you" (the universal "you") have completed a book. I'm presuming that the book has been revised and edited until it's as good as you can make it. I'm presuming that you've asked a couple of writer friends to beta-read the book, and then used their feedback to improve the book even more. And I'm presuming that the book has been spell-checked and polished until it's really ready to go out.

First thing you do at this point is, determine whether you NEED an agent.

If your work is one of the following, you won't need to start an agent search, because legit agents don't handle: poetry, short stories, articles, or essays. Any agent that claims to specialize in poetry or short stories (or new writers) is a scammer. Agents make 15% of what the author makes. So for poetry or short works, it's simply not cost-effective to handle that kind of work, so agents don't.

(Before someone chimes in to tell me that they heard that Famous Author's agent handles his poetry or short stories, I know that this can be true...for Famous Author. But in a case like this, the agent is not doing it for the commission, the agent is doing it as a favor to Famous Author. That doesn't mean it's true for you, with your first sale yet to come.)

You also won't need an agent if your work is aimed at any of the following: e-book publication, POD publication, niche or specialty publication, regional publication, and most small presses. These companies will read unagented work, and you will do fine submitting it yourself.

In the case of some non-fiction, an agent may not be necessary. Publishers publish more non-fiction than fiction, and I know of some non-fiction authors who did fine submitting their work unagented, even to big NY commercial publishers. When in doubt, read publisher guidelines and research books that fall into the same kind of category as yours.

In the case of genre novels, there are still some big commercial publishers that will still read unagented manuscripts. Category romance is one such, and there are still a couple of science fiction and fantasy markets that will read unagented manuscripts. HOWEVER, their slush piles are huge, and it can take anywhere from six months to a year for your work to be read. So you'd be better off having an agent, because you'd get a quicker response.

In general these days, if you have written a novel, or what they call "creative non-fiction," (which includes works like memoirs -- think Angela's Ashes), you will need to sign with a reputable literary agent with a decent track record of sales.

So how do you start searching for that agent?

The first thing to remember is that you MUST research each agent you submit to BEFORE you submit to them. Writer Beware wishes we had a dollar for every writer who has written to us to say, "I submitted my book to Agent X, is this agency reputable?"

If your book is fiction, and fits neatly into a genre, try this. Take a notebook to a bookstore. Look up all the books on the shelves in that bookstore that are remotely like yours. (In my field, for example, that could get as narrow as finding all the fantasy novels that feature elves as protagonists, and that have medieval Celtic type worldbuilding. For mysteries, you also have sub-categories. "Cozies" are different from hard-boiled PI novels, which are different still from police procedural novels, which are different still from forensic scientist as detective novels.) Look inside the books you take off the shelves. Note the title, author, and publisher or imprint in your notebook. Then look at the Author Notes or Acknowledgments section. You're looking for a note where the author thanks his or her literary agent. Many authors do this. Note down the agent's name.

If you do this kind of searching in books in a couple of bookstores, chances are you'll wind up with a list of agents or agencies. Then it's time to start checking those agencies at www.writersmarket.com or in the book, or in the Jeff Herman Guide to Agents, or at www.agentquery.com. Don't forget that people also post first-hand experiences in querying agents on the Bewares and Background Checks board on Absolute Write. Absolute Write Water Cooler - Bewares and Background Check

Another place to check is the Agents topic on Writers.net. writers.net (A caveat: DO NOT BOTHER WITH THE AGENT LISTINGS ON WRITERS.NET. Anyone can post their name or company there as an agent; the listings are never vetted or reviewed or weeded out, and the listings are thus full of dead ends, scammers, and well-meaning but incompetent folks who always imagined that being a literary agent was a nice cushy job they might like to try. Writer Beware used to go through the listings and try to clean out the dross, but after a couple years of this we gave up. The scammers came back faster than we could weed them out.)

Another tip: the search engine at Absolute Write isn't the best. So if you need to search a specific agent or agency, you can type "agent name Absolute write" into google, and that will bring up the appropriate thread.

The most important thing to remember is that you are collecting info on these agents to try and get a feel for what the agent likes, what his or her literary tastes are. Doing this kind of research will also ensure that you don't waste your time querying agents that have gone out of business, died, etc.

During your research, you'll of course find out what the agent's preferred SUBMISSION GUIDELINES are. Some agents say "query only." That means you send them just the query letter and SASE, if you're doing hardcopy queries. Some agents will say "e-queries fine" or "no e-queries." Some will say "query with first chapter and synopsis" or whatever. The point is, you give the agent what they ask for.

Keep a log of the agents you plan to submit to. You can even rank them by preference if you want. Your No. 1 dream agent is your first submission, then comes No. 2, and so forth. Try to get a list of at least 20 agents for your first go-round of querying. Computer literate writers I know actually create databases for their agent searches.

Okay, this post has gotten pretty long, so I'm knocking off for today, and will post more tomorrow about the querying process itself, plus some info on writing query letters and synopses.

-Ann C. Crispin
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Carol Troestler
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 12, 2009 6:08 am

How to Find an Agent 950944

Thanks Ann.

Carol
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alj
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 12, 2009 6:39 am

Ann's excellent advice is presented clearly and effectively, making it useful, not only as advice, but as an example of quailty writing as well. I enjoyed reading it.

(another) Ann
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Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 12, 2009 8:39 pm

Okay, a short list of "bewares" and advisories today regarding agents:

1. Real agents don't advertise. They don't have to. If you see an agent site that claims they're actively seeking clients, run like hell in the opposite direction. They're bogus.

2. Real agents don't charge upfront fees before a sale is made. The days of bogus agents just charging "reading fees" are pretty much over. They're gotten more more cagey in the past few years. Now they call their fees "contract fees," "administrative fees," "editing fees," "critique fees," "evaluation fees," and so on and so forth. The operative "beware" in here is that the author has to write a check or send money via Paypal or pony up a credit card.

Bogus agents these days often CLAIM they don't charge fees. And for some reason a lot of new writers don't equate "paying for a critique" as paying an agent fee. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and the writer has to haul out his or her checkbook...it's a fee.

Writer Beware even heard of one scam where the author had to fly to California in order to get "publicity pictures" made so they could be sent along with each submitted manuscript. There was no fee whatsoever associated with the agency, of course. But the authors had to pay $450.00 to get their "author photos" done. Need I add that this agency never sold any books to advance and royalty paying publishers? Matter of fact, they couldn't seem to even submit any books.

Real agents work off commission. Standard commission these days for domestic sales is 15%.

3. Real agents don't appear at the top of the listings when you type "literary agent" into google. If you do that, you'll find listings for the most successful and active scammer in the world. (Now currently under investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office.)

When looking for agents to submit to, a quick google search is NOT a good strategy.

4. Real agents list books they've agented on their websites, and you recognize the names of the publishers that bought the books. They're not POD publishers or vanity presses. They're advance and royalty paying commercial publishers, and the books are carried on the shelves in bookstores.

Any agent that claims that their client list is "strictly confidential" should be regarded with wariness, and their credentials should be investigated with extra care.

5. Being a member of AAR is a positive sign for an agency, because an agent has to have a proven track record of sales to qualify for membership.

However, there are two literary agencies that are on Writer Beware's "questionable" list that are AAR members. We get lots of complaints about them, and it's pretty clear to us that they're making most of their money off their clients, rather than sales of the clients' books.

Learn to trust your "gut feeling" when examining an agents' website or credentials or track record. If your gut tells you there is something flakey going on, don't submit to the agent until you have checked them out in every possible fashion.

Regarding agent claims: If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

6. Real agents don't insist on all interactions being electronic. Real agents have phone numbers, and real snail addresses in addition to email addresses. When you sign with a real agent, that agent will TALK to you on the PHONE. You won't just receive a bunch of boilerplate looking emails that are so generic they could apply to anyone.

7. Real agents represent works that are ready to be submitted. They don't tell writers that before their work can be submitted, it must be edited -- and then offer to refer you to a specific editing service.

8. Real agents don't run contests.

9. Real agents don't ask their clients to send in 20 copies of their manuscript. They don't simply hand writers a list of publishers and then give them form letters to use to send them in.

10. Real agents don't tell writers they must pay for a website so their work can be "showcased" for publishers who will go look at it on the internet. They don't nickle and dime writers, trying to sell them all kinds of dubious services. (Illustrations, critiques, photos, marketing plans, etc.)

11. Real agents never submit books to vanity, POD, or other non-advance paying publishers. It wouldn't be cost-effective, for one thing.

I think that about covers it.

Another post tomorrow.

-Ann C. Crispin
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lin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 12, 2009 9:42 pm

Cool.

One thing I'd add to the AAR thing. Just as you mention some questionable agents that are AAR members, there are many good ones...including some of the very best...who are, for whatever reasons, not AAR members.

Not belonging shouldn't be a rule-out.
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Carol Troestler
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 13, 2009 2:57 am

Thanks again Ann.

Carol
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Abe F. March
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 13, 2009 10:42 am

I find it very helpful.
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Malcolm
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 13, 2009 11:23 am

Thanks for posting this information.

Malcolm
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Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptySun Feb 15, 2009 12:00 pm

Okay, now that you have a list of agents that you believe would be a good “fit” for your type of book, let’s talk about what you’ll actually send to them. You’ll need two things: a good “boilerplate” query letter, and at least one synopsis.

In this post, I’ll cover Writing the Synopsis.

Writers tie themselves into emotional and mental knots over writing synopses (also referred to in the business as “outlines).” They’re really quite simple, but they can be a bitch to write well. I advise my writing workshop students to do two versions of their synopsis, so they’ll be ready for whatever an agent might want to see along with the query letter, or, even better, what an agent might request to see as the result of reading your query.

The first synopsis you write should be one that covers the events in the book in a more or less chapter by chapter order, allowing perhaps one or two paragraphs per chapter to summarize the events. You can probably synopsize a 100,000 word book in about 8-10 single-spaced pages.

The second synopsis I suggest my workshoppers write is for agents that request a “1 page synopsis” or a “short synopsis.” This kind of synopsis is so short that you really can’t cover events in chapter by chapter manner. They’re even harder to do well than the first one. Basically it’s a case of cut, summarize, then cut some more. But they can be done, and it will serve you well to have both kinds sitting in a file in your computer, ready to be printed up and sent out.

The following tips are adapted from one of my blog posts on Writer Beware’s blog.

A synopsis for a novel (some people refer to it as an outline) is written in present tense. I usually type mine single-spaced, so it is readily distinguishable from the chapters my agent submits.

Synopses that are written for submission should be as short as they can and still tell the ENTIRE story. Don't be coy and say "And to find out what happens at the end...read the manuscript!" (People have indeed done this and it really annoys editors or agents.)

Give about the amount of detail in a synopsis for submission (as opposed to one that you, the writer, might write for your own use in writing your novel) as you'd use in describing a good movie to a friend. You don't want to tell every single detail, but you want the plot to flow along in a concise, yet understandable fashion. You shouldn't include minor details of characterization or subplots. You really want to confine yourself pretty much to the main plot and what feeds into it.

When I'm writing a synopsis, I imagine my audience as a group of wriggly cub scouts around a campfire. They have short attention spans, and your narrative has to be dynamic and intrinsically exciting to keep them "hooked" on the story that is unfolding.

I usually figure on writing approximately a paragraph per chapter, unless the chapters contain a lot of crucial action, like the climactic action at the end of a novel.

When I write a synopsis to use for my own purposes in writing a story, to make sure I have everything firmly in mind and won't write myself into a corner, I write a MUCH longer, more detailed one than the one I'd write to submit to an editor.

Here’s an example of a synopsis I did for my Star Wars book, The Paradise Snare. This one was written for Mr. Lucas to read, and he’s a very busy guy. So I was as concise as I could manage to be. (I had to do a detailed one for my Bantam editor and the Lucasfilm franchise review folks. I used that one as my chapter by chapter outline while I wrote the book.)

I separated out the Background from the Story because I was dealing with an established universe, and in order to get approval for the novel, the Powers That Be had to be very clear about when it took place in their universe, who was involved, etc.

Excerpt from Short Synopsis for The Paradise Snare:

Background: (to be covered in brief flashbacks):

Young Han Solo is desperate to escape the cruel traders that have been the only "caretakers" he has ever known. Transported through the galaxy aboard their huge, ramshackle space barge, the child Han was forced to beg in the streets of many planets. As he grew older, he learned other skills: picking pockets, burglary, and conning people.

Han never knew his real name until he was about ten, when he befriended an elderly Wookiee widow of one of the smugglers, Dewlannamapia (Dewlanna). The next time they were on Corellia, Han ran away and tried contacting his Solo relatives. He was rewarded with an encounter with Thracken Solo, who hid him, tormented and beat him up, then, when the older boy tired of hiding Han, turned him back over to the traders.

Han tried repeatedly to run away, but was caught and viciously punished each time. Finally, having learned the bare rudiments of piloting, he decides to stage one more break.

Time: About a decade after the Clone Wars. Emperor Palpatine is still attempting to consolidate his grip on the former Old Republic, but there are so many star systems, and the spirit of freedom has not yet died.

Story: It is "night" aboard the huge space barge that is the nomadic trader colony. Han sneaks down to the kitchen to bid goodbye to Dewlanna, promising to contact her when he reaches (he thinks) safely on Ylesia, a religious colony that offers pilgrims sanctuary from their pasts.

Han and Dewlanna are interrupted by the cruel, drunken trader leader and his henchmen. During the melee that follows, Dewlanna is blasted when she leaps in front of Han to shield him. Outraged, Han shoots the leader.

He flees, and, donning a spacesuit, slips aboard the robot cargo ship bound for Ylesia. It is a dangerous trip; Han's oxygen nearly runs out, and he manages to crash the ship when he tries to land it in Ylesia's treacherous windstorms.

Ylesia is run by a religious hierarchy in alliance with the Hutts, who use the colony as a front to supply them with glitterstim and docile slaves. The Ylesian "priests" are a race from Nal Hutta who have honed their ability to project "feel-good" emotions in order to keep their pilgrims-turned-slaves happy and productive.

(Note: This projection ability is a by-product of an ability these males use to attact mates -- it is NOT the Force.)

Han discovers that he's jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and realizes that, in order to escape he's got to steal a ship and be able to pilot it effectively. The Ylesian priesthood is in desperate need of pilots, so they are eager to hire the young Corellian and provide him with pilot training.

(end of excerpt)

Hope that was helpful. Next post, Writing the Query Letter.

-Ann C. Crispin
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Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptySun Feb 15, 2009 12:13 pm

Wups!

I wrote that post in Microsoft word in a separate file because I did some cutting and pasting. The formatting didn't come out right, I see.

The type is too small, and there's too much space between paragraphs. I tried messing with it, but I am not very good at computers, and I just got confused and frustrated trying to get the html to work right

Shelagh, if you would like to make the type bigger, and close up the spacing, I'd be very grateful.

Thanks!

(sign me, Dummies R Us when it comes to computers)

-Ann
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Shelagh
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptySun Feb 15, 2009 1:20 pm

Done!

_________________
How to Find an Agent 81KU-cLOw3L._SX110_ How to Find an Agent 41C9GeFDNWL._SX110_ How to Find an Agent 41%2BmGkZJdOL._SX110_ How to Find an Agent 51eDGllZXhL._SX115_ How to Find an Agent 41y7VHKoszL._SX115_ How to Find an Agent 51Zs4N4T4eL._SX115_
Amazon Author Central: Shelagh Watkins
I shall never be old. It doesn't suit me -- ©️Shelagh Watkins
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Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptySun Feb 15, 2009 1:21 pm

Thanks muchly, Shelagh.

Looks much better!

-Ann
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Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Writing the Query Letter   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 19, 2009 11:23 am

Okay, today I’ll cover my own tips for Writing the Query Letter.

I can’t overstress how important a good query letter is. It’s a chance to showcase your writing to the agent or editor. Do it poorly, and there’s a good chance they won’t have a bit of interest in seeing your story.

The most common mistakes people make in writing query letters are as follows:

1. Too long. A good query letter is a fairly brief document, no more than one page long. And a “short” one page is better than a long one page.

2. The writer tries to include a synopsis of the book instead of a “sound bite” (I’ll cover writing this below). You CAN’T write an effective synopsis of a novel-length work in fifty words or less, honest. What you CAN do is write a “verbal snapshot” of the book in dynamic, fascinating language. That’s the “sound bite.”

3. Telling too much about themselves and their lives. Agents and editors don’t care if you are mentally or physically handicapped, or your mother is sick, or your kid is sick, or you just escaped an abusive marriage, etc. Everything in the query letter, including in the credentials section, should relate to your book. Yakking about yourself is just not a good idea.

4. Telling the agent or editor about all their friends and family members who loved their book. Or about the published authors who read and loved the book. I made this mistake myself when I started out. It’s easy to do. But it’s not relevant. Agents and editors want to make up their own minds.

5. Trying to make their writing experiences look like credentials when they aren’t. Writing a few articles for local newspapers for no pay doesn’t count as a writing credential. Ditto for having recipes in your parish cookbook. Or having a letter printed in the Washington Post. What counts is writing you were PAID to do.

6. Telling the agent or editor the book they’re submitting is the first book in a 12 book series that they’ve spent the last ten years writing. This smacks of obsession, and agents will make the sign of the cross and back away. Concentrate on the book you’re trying to selling.

Okay, so now I’m going to cut and paste in an article from Writer Beware’s blog that I did on writing query letters. If the formatting screws up, I know that Shelagh will rescue me, right? (smile)

There are two kinds of query letters that work, basically. One kind, the kind I teach, is a good, workmanlike business letter, and it does the job. It's short, to the point, written in dynamic, specific language, with NO errors of any kind -- no typos, punctuation, spelling, grammatical, etc. All kiss of death, my friends! Query letters must be letter-perfect!

The other kind of query letter is weird, quirky, but so irresistible and creative that it will capture the attention of an agent even though it's far outside the "accepted" model. This kind of query letter springs from true talent and writing genius, and really can't be taught. I've seen some of them, and they leave me in awe -- and they immediately captured the interest of the agent(s) they were sent to. However, since they can't be classified or taught, I'm going to concentrate today on the first type of query letter.

My suggested "template" for a query letter runs like this:'

1. First paragraph: you introduce your project, give the title, the number of words, and make sure the agent understands that it's a completed, polished book. If you can quickly compare the book to something the agent would recognize, or give a one-line description that's bound to capture the agent's attention, it would go here.

(An example of a one-line description that actually sold a book to an editor while I was waiting in line to get into a restaurant at a World S.F. Convention was when Harriet Macdougal asked me what I was currently working on, and I replied, "Well, Andre and I are writing Witch World: The Next Generation." Harriet promptly told me to send it to her as soon as we finished, which I did. She bought it.)

2. Second paragraph: here's where I tell my students to get creative. Here's where you give the agent a "snapshot" of your book by providing a couple of "sound bites" about it.

Michael Cassutt first described sound bites to me, and I'll never forget the example he used. He would tell his screenwriting students this wonderful sound bite for an apocryphal television show: "Bongo and the Pontiff. She's a chimp. He's the Pope. Together, they solve murders."

I never forgot it -- and that's the POINT of a sound bite. It's not a synopsis. It's a "snapshot" of a book, meant to stick in the agent's or editor's head, to interest them in project so much they'll want to read it -- hell, they'll DEMAND to read it! I haven't written very many sound bites in my life (my agent handles this stuff now) but retroactively, I came up with one for my first book, Yesterday's Son: "Mr. Spock finds his son Zar living in a lonely ice age on doomed Sarpeidon, and is grimly determined to do his duty by the young man. Zar has always longed for a father, someone he could love and be close to. When the two must work together to stop a Romulan takeover of the Guardian of Forever, conflict is inevitable -- and far from logical."

That's a sound bite. It’s a brief encapsulation that captures the heart and soul and “flavor” of the novel. Not a synopsis, not a summary. It’s a verbal snapshot, designed to intrigue, to spark interest in reading. The language you use should be vivid, specific, and dynamic. When that agent puts down your query letter and goes off in search of more coffee, that sound bite should run through his or her mind.

3. The third paragraph should contain a summary of your credentials for writing the book. If you don't have any, then don't try to manufacture some -- that looks really lame. Credentials fall into three categories:

a. Best and foremost, writing credentials. Writing credentals mean you sold your writing somewhere. Cite the venue, and give the title of the article, short story, or book. If you didn't receive any payment for the writing, chances are you shouldn't mention it. Things like letters to the editor published in your local paper don't count. A receipe in a parish cookbook doesn't count. If you had a letter ON THE SAME SUBJECT AS THE BOOK YOU'RE TRYING TO SELL published in some really prestigious venue, say The Wall Street Journal, that MIGHT be something to mention.

b. The other two categories of "credentials" you can mention would be lifetime experience, and/or academic degrees -- IF THEY RELATE TO THE SUBJECT OF YOUR BOOK. There's no point in mentioning that you have a degree in quantum physics if you've written a humorous fluffy unicorn story. Or a romance novel set in the Miami drug culture. Lifetime experience, ditto. If you have written a detective novel, and you can truthfully state that you've been a homicide detective for 10 years, that's definitely worth a mention. If you have a PhD in quantum physics, and your novel explores the "true nature" of dark matter, or something like that, you should definitely mention it in the third paragraph. Mentioning your age, marital status, number of children, grandchildren, whether you have bunions, or gout, is NOT relevant, so don't include it.

4. This last paragraph is simply your comment that you're working on a new novel (well, you SHOULD be!, if you're not, START ONE!) and a thank you to the agent for considering your query. Tell them you hope to hear from them at their earliest convenience. Typical business style.

Then you write "Sincerely," and sign your name. Don't forget your business-letter-sized SASE (unless you are e-querying). I've noted that Miss Snark says it's not a bad idea to include just the first five pages of your ms. with the query, on the grounds that most agents are curious creatures, and will glance at them. However, don't do this if the agent has specified "query only."

Hope this little summary has been helpful.

Write on!

-Ann C. Crispin
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lin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 19, 2009 1:17 pm

Thanks, Ann. Very helpful.

One omission that glared at me, and I wonder what your comment on it would be: PLATFORM.

This is really more than credentials, and probably more important, especially with most non-fiction. It seems to me it's what agents and publishers are hungriest to hear about. I would almost (but not really) consider it worth first paragraph in bold type.

Selling platform being, of course, your position not os much as an authority as a person of interest to a group of people who might be assumed likely to buy the book.

I teach seminars attended by 10,000 people a year.
I have a radio advice show in a market that reaches millions.
I am youth director of a mega-church and give talks at revival and convention meetings attended by thousands.
I'm a well known, expensive consultant in this area and many would like a "cheap take home version" of my advice.
I have a blog that gets three million hits a year.
I'm a stripper that appeared on Oprah and Nancy Grace because I had sex with both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. At the same time.
Etc.

Of course, most of those could also be seen as an argument for self-publishing. But it's something of extreme interest, for obvious reasons.
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyThu Feb 19, 2009 8:03 pm

A quick addendum: my post mostly refers to submitting novels or "creative nonfiction" type work, such as memoirs, etc.

When submitting nonfiction, Lin is correct...a "platform" is very necessary. So are credentials that show you're qualified to write the book you've submitted.

Nonfiction books are usually submitted via a nonfiction book proposal, rather than a query. There are a number of books out there on writing book proposals for nonfiction. This is not my area. I've never written one. I'd suggest reading one or more of these books for good info on how to write and submit a book proposal.

-Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 20, 2009 8:25 am

Thanks, Ann. It's really nice to have an "inhouse" source for this kind of info.
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 20, 2009 11:47 am

The following URL leads to an excellent article written by Victoria Strauss, my partner in Writer Beware.

http://www.sff.net/people/VictoriaStrauss/agentsearch.html

This article encapsulates the steps to take in doing an agent search.

-Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 20, 2009 1:57 pm

Hmmmm.... that one has a lot less going for it.

For one thing, the advice against internet sites is odd (especially from somebody who runs an internet agent hunt site). Books are expensive, dated, less inclusive, and are often put out by people like Writer's Digest, who are far from writer-oriented.

As opposed to internet searches that turn up websites, etc. It's hard to see what a book can offer that is better than agentquery or the AAR site or publisher's market.

Personally I'd put #3 (looking for agents who handle books like your own) as PRIMARY, not an addenda. Logical to build your task around the most likely prospects, not add them as an afterthought, no?

Offhand, I kind of think it's advice at least no better than my own on the subject:

http://linrobinson.com/linrob.php?itemid=86

But welcome any compare/contrast.
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyWed Feb 25, 2009 2:53 pm

Next Installment: Sending out your queries.

The most important thing to remember is that knowledge is power. In the publishing field, ignorance is not bliss. The more you can discover about an agent you’re targeting, the better. That way you can “tweak” your query so it will appeal to the agent you’re targeting. Remember to read up on their guidelines. Then, send them what they ask to see.

If they say “query only,” that’s all you send. If they say “query plus synopsis,” that’s what you do. And so forth. If they don’t say “query only” then I’ve heard it said by some agents that you might as well include the first five pages of your ms. in the package, on the grounds that agents are as curious as kittens, and might well peek at your first five pages, and be impressed, even if query letter didn’t set them on fire.

If you send the first five pages, make sure they are terrific. No errors, no typos, an excellent “hook” within the first couple of pages, etc.

Should you e-query or send via snailmail? I tend to think that snailmail gets a bit more respect. A good-looking hardcopy letter just seems more professional. But more and more agents are accepting email queries, and stamps do add up. One thing I know, and that’s don’t send attached files unless asked to do so. They won’t be downloaded.

Try sending out queries in batches. Don’t send a query to every agent in an agency at the same time. That’s a no-no. If you send five or ten per week, to the tune of getting 20 out there, then you can take a couple weeks off to work on your next book.

Let’s say you sent out 20 queries to the top 20 agents on that list you’ve developed. And then, within the next two months, say, you’ve received back:

8 rejection letters (just form letters)

and 12 non-replies.

What does this tell you? Well, first of all, it tells you that some agents just don’t bother to send rejections when they’re not interested, for whatever reason.

But it also tells you that your query letter didn’t cut the mustard. For whatever reason. So it’s back to the old drawing board.

If you send out 20 queries and don’t get a single request to look at a partial, or for a full manuscript, your query letter isn’t doing it.

When you DO get rejection letters, be aware that unless the agent wrote on it in their own hand, that it's just a form letter...almost certainly. Don't spend your time cudgeling your brain over what every word in it means. That way lies madness. And don't write back and ask them why they rejected it and didn't tell you why. Bad form.

Just take it from me. "No" means NO. And that's ALL it means. Don't take it personally. Easy to say, difficult to do. But you can learn.

Okay, now I’m going to include another article I did from Writer Beware’s blog on the subject of WAITING.

Publishing, and trying to get published, can be a frustrating endeavor. I think the waiting is probably the hardest thing. Compared to glaciers, an alarming number of publishers are usually quite leisurely in how fast they move to acquire books, publish them, and (especially) issue checks.

This slow pace is extremely frustrating for writers who are querying, or waiting for a publisher to read a partial or a manuscript they've asked to see, or biting their nails, wondering whether the "editorial and marketing team" will decide whether their book will be acquired.

I used to think writers had short fingernails because they typed all the time. Hah! I finally figured it out...it's the WAITING.

So what's a first time aspiring author to do? How long should you wait?

Well, in the first place, if you're at the beginning stage of querying agents or editors, you DON'T WAIT. Multiple queries are not the same thing as multiple submissions, and nobody expects you to send in one query, then wait until the recipient replies before sending in another. If you can genuinely target 100 agents or editors that your manuscript would be appropriate for, then you're free to send off 100 queries. I usually suggest to my students that they do it in batches of 10-20 at a time, and that they keep a record of it, in a notebook or, if they're computer-savvy, in a database.

So...query your little hearts out, my friends, as long as you've TARGETED your book properly, and RESEARCHED the agent or publisher. Remember, the time to do your research is BEFORE that query or submission goes out!

Okay, let's assume that your query letter is terrific, a real whiz bang showstopper, and you get responses from agents or editors asking to see the work.

(So how long is it going to take? And how many will reply? Worst case scenario...a long time, and not many. From what I've heard recently, a 50% response (and I include both rejections and requests to read) rate is doing pretty well. Also, some agents, not to mention editors, are incredibly S-L-O-W. I've heard stories from SFWA members who reported finally receiving a rejection back on a query six months after they'd sold the book to a publisher!)

If you get a response back asking to see the full manuscript, as opposed to a "partial" -- usually the first three chapters and synopsis (also often called an "outline") DON'T STOP QUERYING. The only exception to this is if the agent or editor asks for an "exclusive" on the work. That means you agree to send the manuscript only to that person exclusively for a given period of time. NEVER send work out as an open-ended exclusive. This way lies madness. Most agents or editors will tell you how long they need, but 30 to 60 days is pretty typical. If the agent or editor doesn't specify the duration of the exclusive, you should. You would say something to the effect of "(Title) is being submitted on an exclusive basis, and will remain exclusive for 60 days, until (date)" and put that into your cover letter that accompanies the manuscript.

If, at the end of the sixty days (plus 10 days, say, as a "cushion") you haven't heard anything back from the agent/editor, it's proper to drop them a polite note via email or snail mail, asking them if they've had a chance to read the work. If you get no reply, then go back to querying, and chalk it up as a rejection. Agents/editors are usually quick to communicate with a writer when they want a work. Waiting months and months on tenterhooks, without a word, figuring "no news is good news" is probably a flawed strategy. Go back to querying. Then if the agent or editor comes back at a later date with a positive response, you'll be pleasantly surprised, not a raving lunatic.

What about if you've submitted your work to a publishing house, unagented? Unsolicited? In the first place, lots of publishers won't read unagented, unsolicited manuscripts these days. But there are still some that will. If you send off a manuscript "over the transom" like this, expect to wait. And wait. And wait. And wait some more. Many publishers admit it will take them six months to a year to read the submission. So submit the work, and then keep querying or submitting. Don't drive yourself crazy running to the mailbox each day. (Many agents and editors call when they like a ms. as opposed to writing back, actually.)

What should you do while you're doing all this waiting?

Write!

Write some short stories and get them published, so you can include those credentials in your query letters. Start a new novel. Write a nonfiction book you've always wanted to write.

Starting work on a new project will help you through those months of waiting.

Hope this has been helpful. Let me know if you have questions.

Best,

-Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyWed Feb 25, 2009 3:12 pm

very cool, Ann. Answers so many questions that pop up regularly in forums.

If you don't mind my adding a tweak, even agents who accept only email queries (and their number is growing) and want samples pasted in the mail so as not to open attachments, often specifiy 10 pages or 6 pages or whatever. Even though "page" is pretty irrelevant to something pasted into an email.

So, while it's a good idea to send what they want, I wouldn't suggest that somebody with a good 10 or 50 or whatever page count sample hack it off to length, perhaps lopping off the end of a chapter.

It's just to see how you read, anyway. I have been uable to find a single agent who will take the position when questioned that there is something wrong with sending in more than they asked for. They proably aren't going to read the whole thing anyway, and if they do get into, they can read as much as they like, and come to a "rounded ending", not just the middle of a scene.

Obviously, within reason. But I would see no purpose in cutting a good 10 page sample down to 6, especially for email pasting.
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 27, 2009 9:20 am

Okay, So you're Querying...when do you say "When" -- as in, Enough!?

Here's an edited version of a blog post from Writer Beware regarding Query Letters and Querying that I think might be apropos now.

>>>>

How 2 Rite Qwerry Lettrs

Over on Writers.net, many aspiring writers post their query letters for critique. They often get good suggestions for how to improve them. Sometimes a kindly soul who is an experienced writer will actually break a query letter down, paragraph by paragraph, and essentially rewrite it completely for the poster.

I've watched writers post different versions of query letters many times, honing them and improving them until they've been transformed from a poorly spelled, grammatically incorrect, overly long, pedantic and dull failure of a query letter to one that is pretty darned good.

So what's the problem with this practice?

After much thought, I've decided that helping a writer "tweak" his or her query letter so that it's got a good shot at getting the attention of a desirable agent is a good thing. BUT, doing a major critique that amounts to a rewrite, possibly through multiple passes at the query, is probably a mistake. I don't think that does the aspiring author any favors.

As the veteran of teaching many "Getting a Real Agent" workshops, and workshopping many query letters, this may sound hypocritical, and possibly it is. But when I teach workshops, I'm interacting with the writers who are sitting around that table with me. I'm listening to them speak, I'm gauging their writing level, and I'm able to give them direct, frank feedback on what they've done right or wrong -- and WHY. In other words, I'm TEACHING them. In many ways it would be easier to just do it for them. But that wouldn't help these writers to learn, and improve.

I suspect I could take almost any query letter and rewrite it so it would get the attention of a fairly high percentage of the agents who read it. But if the writer in question can't produce a well-written query letter, what are the odds that his or her manuscript is well-written? Not very high, I suspect.

When I see a query letter written by someone who obviously never researched how to write one, rife with typos and grammatical errors, full of inappropriate personal ramblings, warnings that the work has been "copywrited," (so don't even think about stealing it, Mr/Ms Agent!), one that's 2 or even 3 single spaced pages long, what's the point of fixing it for the writer? The overwhelming odds are that the book the query letter is touting is every bit as depressingly bad.

I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but so be it.

With all the information out there on the internet and in various writing guides, every writer who has the skills to write a publishable book should be able to produce a decent query letter. I can understand a writer workshopping it with their writing workshop or critique group. Letting a beta reader have a crack at it is probably a good idea, too, presuming the beta reader is a good writer. But to post the thing on a board full of strangers, some of whom are kind enough to just rewrite the thing in order to be helpful...well, that's not doing the writer any favors.

This commentary also applies to "services" that charge writers fees to produce query letters for authors. I don't believe the writers who use them are doing themselves, or their books, any good.

I'm speaking from experience here, unfortunately.

I once helped a writer extensively with his/her query letter. I critiqued multiple drafts of it, offering suggestions for rewording, reorganization, etc. I had misgivings about doing this, because I'd read the synopsis and first couple of chapters of the book the writer was submitting, and I knew that it was unlikely to sell. Not that the book was awful. The writer in question had fairly good writing abilities. But she/he lacked the ability to tell a story in a way that would keep the reader turning pages. It was, in a word, dull. (I had made some suggestions for improving the writing and the story, but this writer is not someone who is receptive to criticism.)

I heard through the grapevine recently that this writer had hit 200 rejections for that book. The writer had received more than 20 requests for full reads of the book, plus many more requests for chapters and synopsis, all of it based on that query letter. But in every case, the agent rejected the book.

Did I do the writer any favors by helping with it? Obviously not.

There's another point to be learned from this experience, though this writer wasn't the type to realize it. If your query letter is bringing you requests to read partials on your book, or even the full manuscript, but then all you get is a form rejection, YOUR BOOK NEEDS WORK.

If one agent rejects after a read, this means little. Agents sign very few writers. The nature of their job requires that they be selective. Two agents, same deal. Three, probably still means nothing.

But I'd say that if you've submitted to a lot of agents and gotten them to read your book, or read chapters and a synopis...say seven to ten, or more...and NONE of them offers anything but a form rejection, no commentary at all on why the book wasn't right, then you need to take a hard look at your book.

I know that will be an unpopular suggestion.

If multiple agents reject the book and DO give a reason -- the SAME reason -- then you probably need to take another look at that particular aspect of your book. For example, if two or three agents mention that the book is too long for today's market, I'd consider cutting. If two or three agents say that the plot was interesting, but the characters weren't engaging, or well-drawn, or something in that vein, go back and take a long hard look at your characters.

Now...there are writers who genuinely feel that changing their work, their "art," in order to sell it is like selling out. I've known quite a few writers who felt that way and some of them were quite good writers.

That's a personal decision, one you'll have to ponder.

My viewpoint is a bit different. I'm a storyteller, not an artist. If I get a couple of comments from beta readers that indicate that my pacing is dragging in a couple of chapters, I know my story has a problem. And I go and fix it. Of course, I am selective about whom I choose as a beta reader.

At any rate, I think that this post is probably my last on the "Finding an Agent" thread.

If there are questions, or you can think of another aspect of the topic that should be addressed, please let me know.

Best,

-Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyFri Feb 27, 2009 11:12 am

Quote :
doing a major critique that amounts to a rewrite, possibly through multiple passes at the query, is probably a mistake.

Wow, is that a good point. As an analogy, when I was in the mail order catalog racket, there was a major danger in over-selling a product. You want to light it up, but if you make it look too good, you can get instant remorse as soon as it's opened. So you end up paying to ship something out, then having to receive and re-inventory it. It's the worst thing that can happen on a sale.

I figured out later that writing a wonderbra query can lead to people wanting to see the manuscript, then passing on it. So I just spent twenty bucks or so to get a rejection.

That's kind of the worst case scenario here, I think: a query letter that gets bites that the book can't reel in.
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyMon Mar 02, 2009 12:27 pm

A number of people said they had questions, but they'd hold them till the series of articles was finished.

I think it's finished.

So now would be a good time for questions.

-Ann C. Crispin
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyMon Mar 02, 2009 1:08 pm

Ann,

Very interesting and I found some good info here.

Thanks again. No questions at the moment but am applying some of the information.

One is that out of eleven submissions, seven have sent personal rejections. Three requested manuscripts and almost all have given suggestions. Marketing was of concern which was understandable. I have also had two agents give me personal responses and suggestions.

My problem is that I need to be more determined. I am retired and have been ill, but am now being more proactive in this endeavor.

Carol
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PostSubject: Re: How to Find an Agent   How to Find an Agent EmptyWed Mar 04, 2009 9:35 am

Presuming that the publisher in question does not insist on agented only submissions(and many do), you would write a query letter very similar to the agent letter, though you would change some of the wording, of course, as appropriate.

I'm speaking here of a novel or memoir. As I said before, nonfiction "queries" require things like book proposals, etc.

As with the agent query, you would make sure to look up the submission guidelines for the publisher. You'd also look up the current names of the editor in the imprint you want to submit to. You'd spell the editor's name correctly and get her job title right.

-Ann C. Crispin
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