Edit My Novel

all about agents

By Cara Lockwood               

You’ve finished your manuscript, had it edited (hopefully by me), so now what? You’ve had it in your mind that one day you’d sign a huge deal with a major publishing company, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it.Literary agents have long been turnkeys in that process. They have ongoing relationships with editors at big publishing houses, and they can make those relationships work for you. I’ve been represented by an amazing agent for the last fourteen years, and I feel I have a good understanding of how agents work and where to find them.  There are editors and companies out there who want to sell “find an agent” service to you, but I think you can arm yourself with the knowledge you need to find your own.

Why should I consider getting an agent?

First of all, having an agent endorse your work means that someone out there with serious professional experience believes in you.  It’s a huge ego boost, but beyond that, the endorsement means something in the publishing world. Agents have trusted relationships with editors and those editors will take special care to really consider pitches from the experts they’ve come to trust. Agents also help you negotiate the best possible deal. Publishing contracts have never been more complicated. There aren’t just domestic and foreign royalties; there are digital royalties, mass market paper royalties and the possibility of who makes money if the work is optioned for a movie or TV show. The best agents make it their business to understand how to protect your interests in this ever-changing world. Plus, when you work with an agent, you’re more likely to get a multi-book deal, which is what any new writer wants!

What do agents charge?
Agents shouldn’t charge anything up front. Agents will take a percentage of your earnings, typically 15%, but that’s only after they land you a deal. If they never get you a contract, they never make a dime. Agents who ask for anything up front are typically not above-board.How do I find an agent?Some editors and companies out there promise to give you detailed lists of the best agents and tailor your submission package to these agents. Beware of these services, as agent directories are public. Agents want to be found, and they advertise their specialties prominently. Here are some of my favorite lists:

How to I choose agents from a list?
Choose an agent who represents your genre of work. If you’ve written a mystery, pick an agent with a specialty in this area. Pick agents who are from big agencies, as well as those from small ones. Do I focus on large agencies or small?  Agents are inundated with submissions, some getting thousands in a single day. The larger, more commercially successful an agency is, the more likely they’ll ignore your submission. Big successful firms are less likely to be digging to the bottom of the slush pile, or what we call the stack of submissions waiting on a desk or in an email inbox. This task usually falls to the overworked and unpaid intern.There’s no harm in hitting up the big guys for attention, but I’d also include mid-size and smaller agents in your list.

I really have my heart set on a particular agent. How do I grab his or her attention?

If you really love a particular agency and want their undivided attention, tell them you’ve submitted your work exclusively to them for a particular time period (say two weeks to a month) and if you don’t hear back from them in that time, you’ll be moving on to other agents. 

How many submissions should I send out?
There’s no set number. I sent out nearly a hundred query letters to agents back before I landed my first contract. You won’t hear from the vast majority of agents you query. Remember, they have hundreds of queries a day.How do I make sure my timing is right? You can’t. Agents are culling query letters and submissions looking for a particular kind of book. Typically, they hear from editors about certain trends and certain things they want to buy. Agents look for these in their submissions, and you may just hit the perfect storm when your steampunk sci-fi young adult romance lands at the opportune time. You just never know. You have to write what you love and then hope the timing works. Unless you can write a novel in forty-eight hours, chances are you won’t be able to predict a new trend based on some big new bestseller you just read. By the time a big bestseller hits Amazon’s homepage, editors may already be on to the next trend. Write what you know, but more importantly, write what you love.

How do I keep from getting discouraged when I don’t hear back?
In my experience, literary success is a little bit talent, a little bit luck and a hell of a lot of perseverance. The biggest thing separating publishing authors from unpublished ones is that the published ones didn’t give up. When you make submissions to agents, you will get rejections. Rejection is just part of this business. All you can do is stay the course. Keep trying and don’t give up.  

How do I improve my chances with an agent?
Have a near flawless manuscript. Agents are looking for completed manuscripts that are almost flawless and ready-to-publish. Long gone are the days agents would work to cultivate talent or take a young writer under their wing and help them grow. Agents have too many talented writers already knocking on their door. The best way to improve your odds of getting noticed is to make sure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before submitting it. Hire an editor, or enlist an army of beta readers, or take your manuscript to a reading group, or do all three! Competition is stiffer than it’s ever been.  Make sure your manuscript is as perfect as it can be before you ask an agent to represent you. If your first draft is awful, most agents won’t give you a second chance for a rewrite. Follow their submission guidelines. Be sure to find out their submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM. Each agency wants a different kind of submission. Some may want a query letter and synopsis, some may want sample chapters. Make sure you take the time to find out what each agent is looking for and follow their instructions. You’d be amazed at how many people spend years writing a novel and then don’t take the extra few minutes to tailor their submission, thus wrecking their chances before they’re even out of the gate. Agents have been known to simply delete or throw away submissions that don’t meet their guidelines. After all, they have hundreds or even thousands a day!Bring the marketing muscle with a big social media presence. If you have thousands of Twitter followers, include that little fact in your query letter. Agents want clients who can market themselves. Now, even major publishers expect their authors to promote themselves on the major social media sites. If you have tons of followers, they are potentially book buyers. Any beefed up presence you have online can only help you.