I was lucky to find an agent quite quickly after the course ended, and I’m currently embarking on their suggested edits before the book is ready to be sent out to publishers. It was all a bit of a surreal whirlwind, but I did take a few things away from the experience. None of this is a science, and a lot of it will be common sense, but maybe there’s something useful here for anyone beginning the process of finding an agent.
Most agencies only want the first few chapters and a synopsis to begin with, but make sure the whole manuscript is good to go. Although the average response time is around four to six months, this is by no means a concrete rule, and it could end up being much, much quicker than that. You don’t want to be in the position where you have to spend a weekend panic editing in an anxiety fuelled frenzy because someone has got back to you and you haven’t finished editing the end of your book yet (trust me).
Do your research
This is kind of an obvious one, but I think part of the reason several agents requested my full manuscript was because I did my homework. Find out who represents your favourite writers. Find out who’s particularly interested in the genre you’re writing. That book that everyone mentions when you tell them about your own – who represents that author? I was also fortunate to be able to ask people in the industry, including an agent, to recommend some names to me. If this is an option, do it – there are lots of agencies out there, it can be hard to know which the good ones are. Make a strong list of around five to eight people, then go for it.
Another obvious one, and by this stage I’m sure you know to keep the email short, list your relevant achievements, include a sentence about why you’re contacting this particular agent etc. etc. But one thing I think did make a difference for me, was a short paragraph about the writing I like, with four or five concrete examples of books and authors. I avoided comparing my work with anything else, but I found that it was useful to build a picture of my influences and interests, and therefore the tone and style that the person was about to read. When I eventually met with agents, all of them were excited about at least one of the books or authors I had mentioned. Remember, agents are book-lovers too – if you’ve done your initial research, this step might help someone get excited about the potential and scope of your own manuscript.
Keep them posted
If you’ve initially sent out to eight agents and one requests the full manuscript, email the other seven. They’ll most likely make you a priority if they learn that someone else is interested. Likewise, if someone wants to meet, tell the others, and let them know when you’ll be in town.
Know your book inside out. For one thing, this avoids any awkwardness when you’re asked a particular plot point of character motivation and realise you haven’t thought it through. But you also need to be clear on what you want from an agent, and your own vision for the completed book. You need to find someone whose vision aligns with your own, who gets what you’re trying to do and will help you achieve it. Ask questions. Quiz them. Take your time to be sure, because this person will be your first proper editor. I don’t know who said it – probably someone famous and dead – but the author-agent relationship is like a marriage. It should last a long time, hopefully for the length of your career. It’s sacred. Don’t rush in. How do they see the book? Do they get it?
You’re talking to an agent about a book that you wrote. They’re interested! That’s a huge achievement. There’s no need to be nervous – it’s kind of the agent’s job to lead the meeting and put you at your ease. If you find that you’re the only one coming up with things to say, and the conversation keeps drifting away from your book, maybe they’re not the right fit. But also remember the best meeting might not necessarily mean the best agent. Sure, you get on well, but that’s only half of it. Will this person be attentive, supportive and champion your book? Can you get a sense of what they’d be like in a negotiation? Will they push you to be a better writer?
I suppose this is my first point again, but phrased differently. At the end of the day, an agent will approach you based on the strength of your writing. If your opening chapters work, everything else should eventually fall into place. So take your time to get your sentences, and all those other things, as good as they possibly can be.
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