So, The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published had informed me that I needed a Literary Agent. This Literary Agent would be the one contacting publishers and trying to get them to buy my book. As an introvert, I’ll confess that I find the idea of someone else selling my work incredibly comforting; I’m absolute crap at buying into my own hype.
At the time of my first explorations into the process, I was nowhere near ready to try to sell my novel. I was on the third of what ended up being eleven or twelve revisions, and still too thin-skinned and timid to consider showing my work to the world at large. Still, I did end up rereading the book several times, paying special attention to the section on query letters and manuscript shipping.
Every year, a book comes out, titled some variation of A Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers. I had one for the early 2000s. I’d dutifully gone through and highlighted the Literary Agents I wanted to contact, but never taken the step of actually doing so. Now, in 2015, when I’m ready to publish, my original book was out of date. A replacement was in order.
The book I got this time around was Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. The 2015 version, obviously. And just as before, I went through and highlighted Literary Agents I wanted to query.
“But,” I hear you say, “I have no idea what any of that means.”
Ah, right. Here’s me charging ahead and backtracking all at once. Remember in the last post I talked about the rules for traditional publishing? Well, finding a Literary Agent is sort of the first big step. But it’s not like adopting a kitten; you can’t just pick one and it’s yours now. It’s a lot more like creating a dating profile (disclaimer: I have never created a dating profile, so hopefully this is an accurate assessment of the dating process).
“Everyone who wants a traditional publishing deal (AKA, getting published by a publishing house, rather than publishing the books yourself) should have an agent” is the lesson I’ve taken away from all the “How To” books I’ve read. They’ll be the ones who work their asses off to get you a contract, taking a commission on the deal for their hard work. They only get paid after they sell your work, and will only take up to 15% for it (Jeff Herman says that anyone who asks for more or asks for money upfront is scamming you, and you should run away). Basically, the more successful the Agent is for you, the more successful they will be for themselves.
So the Agent only gets paid if they secure you a deal, which means they need to work hard to get you one that benefits them. The flipside of this, of course, is that Agents are looking for marketable writing. If they’re going to spend their time trying to get your book sold, they need to have a good idea that they can sell it. And since they don’t have time to read the work of the hundreds of authors that contact them every day, they have a process in place that allows them to be selective. Legitimate Literary Agents will list the following information on their websites:
- They clearly state what kinds of work they represent
- They state the best way to contact them (email versus snail mail)
- They will be explicit with what they expect from writers attempting to query them
Now, my work is Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, so I need to find an Agent that specializes in these categories. Using Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, I read through the Agents section to find any who are looking for my categories. (Spoiler alert: it was a depressingly short list). Once I had a list, I went to their websites (handily provided with the rest of the Agents’ info) to make sure nothing had changed since the guidebook was published. Some Agents mentioned that they weren’t seeking new clients, so they were crossed off the list. Others were no longer interested in certain categories, or some only wanted submissions from people they’d already met. In every case, they were explicit about the things they wanted.
Let’s see an example:
(Before you ask, no, I didn’t query her. I happened to discover her info while I was looking at someone else at her agency, but she happens to have a really well-done example of what I’m talking about. Plus, since she’s the Agent for E.L. James, this post just got more topical).
Look at this Agent’s info. She tells you what she’s done before (namely, that she has at least one best-seller author as her client), what she’s looking for (“acquiring new clients in erotic romance, including paranormal, historical…”), and the sorts of stories that grab her (“sizzling manuscripts with sound character development and unique storylines”). She has also listed her email (so writers can send her queries) and her Twitter (which is a great way to find out how much marketing she does on that platform). Were I a Romance writer, I’d consider querying her.
Here I go with that “querying” talk again. What does that even mean?
Let’s pick that up on the next post.