Many writers out there wonder how, in the hell, can they get their book into the worthy and capable hands of a literary agent. Well, it’s a process.
For one thing, I’ll be blunt: If you have a connection of any kind, use it. If you can nail down a referral, that will help big time. But assuming that’s not an option, and you have to go in ‘cold,’ here’s how you do it.
First off, start by writing the book all the way through. You’d be amazed how many agents tell me that writers submit partially completed manuscripts to them (or queries that pitch partially completed books). Unless it’s nonfiction—and that’s a different deal—finish the book first.
And not only ‘finish’ it but have that puppy shining solid. I mean really, really polish that book. This means that you workshop it, get feedback, make changes, etc. It means that you show it to a lot of people both writers and professionals. It means that you hire a professional freelance book editor (like me) to edit the book with skill and patience, from an objective viewpoint.
It means you go over those first five pages again and again and again. Attend writers’ conferences, read agents’ and writers’ websites and blogs about what a good 2015 book (in your genre) does and is and has. Research, research, research!!! And when you’re done with all that, research some more.
Ok, now you’ve got a tight, polished book. You’ve done your research and you know your genre’s preferred word count (the target for fiction in general, minus sci-fi, is about 70-90,000 words), the stakes are high, you’ve got solidly created characters and a strong world built. You’ve hired that editor and have made the suggested changes you agree with. You have read websites and blogs and conferred or consulted with at least one professional with or without a fee about the book industry and specifically your book.
Now is the ‘fun’ part. I am being partially sarcastic, partially serious. Time to look for an agent. This requires more research. Pick maybe ten agents to start out with, maybe even only five. Your call. Do NOT do the amateur move where you pick out 50 agents at huge firms and send a generic query. They will laugh and reject without even taking a sip of coffee to think about it. They live to reject this stuff. They also live to find the next J.K.K. Rowling. Trust me. Make is easy for them; make them HAVE TO look at your idea.
Pick your 5 or 10. Now research. Go to their websites. Don’t know where to start? Google, my friends, Google. We live in 2015; there are no excuses anymore. Fifteen years ago, sure, it was a little more limited. But not anymore. Ok, go to Google, type in Young Adult Romance literary agents, or whatever genre you have written. Then go through the list. Star these places on your computer. Make a list on a word.doc file of each agent.
Now, when you look at their sites, make sure they represent YOUR genre (of the book you wrote) and that they seem to like your type of book. Let’s say you wrote a very dark, edgy YA book (Young Adult). Find the agent who represents ‘dark, edgy YA.’ Usually it will say this in the bio in one form or another. Also, go a step further. And I know this is irritating; it takes time. Go to their client list and Google some of their titles sold. Note where they sold the titles to. This will help you decide if you want to saddle up with said agent. What are your writer’s goals? Small house, medium, large? You can find all of that out online.
Now, when you find a couple of client titles, look hard for any key words of the plot/summary of the book in the online description or the review of the book. If you find any similarities to your book, blammo! You’ve now got a query first sentence hook! Use that to compare to your book in the first sentence of your query. It will show the agent that you gave a crap and that you did your homework and that you are genuinely invested in that SPECIFIC agent. This will win you points; you will be that much closer to actually having your work looked at by an agent. There is still no guarantee, the work must speak for itself, but you at least have a higher chance.
Aside from that, make sure you write a killer query letter. Research how to do that online. For query writing and agent spotting, check out Chuck Sambuchino’s websites. He’s great. Make sure your query follows guidelines and is three succinct paragraphs: a short ‘graph about the genre, word-count, audience, and setting/hook sentence; a middle ‘graph about the book (mini synopsis); and a third and final ‘graph about the author (you), any credentials or publications you might have, why you’re the best person to write the book, etc. We’re talking 250-300 words tops. The closer to 250 you can get, the better. Just hook the agent’s attention, that’s really your sole goal. And also have a one- and two-page synopsis. That’s for another post.