Writing Tips Thursday: Do You Need An Agent?

If you’re a writer you need an agent. Apparently.

I don’t have one.  I’m not sure I need one for a while. After today’s surprisingly enjoyable editing session on my current writing project, a post apocalyptic novel called The Range, I was feeling in a good mood and figured I’d spend some time researching literary agents. Planning ahead and stuff.

After reading enough articles on the subject I feel so much more confident in the path that lies ahead. I had started to despair (not sure that’s the right word) over the last few weeks because I wasn’t giving my novel enough attention. Today has changed all that. I lashed myself to my chair and rooted my way through the first two chapters. I had fun and slapped myself about the face a few times for not getting stuck into it sooner.

Mini Solo Mexican Wave for me!

And for my reward I spent some time reading about literary agents. This week my tips aren’t technically about the writing process but the stuff that comes after when you want to share your creative stuff with the world.

I didn’t write the content below. It has been copied from a very good website called The Writers’ Workshop. I thoroughly recommend this site to any aspiring writer. It’s based in the UK but the advice given is universal. Below are a few bits and pieces about literary agents, I have provided links to the relevant pages where you can find more information and the main source of this material can be found at: www.writersworkshop.co.uk/agents-advice.html

Do I need a literary agent?

Article from: www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/do-i-need-a-literary-agent

A common question for all new writers – and the answer, almost always, is yes. But let’s start by reviewing what agents are there to do. They have several main roles:

  • selecting saleable manuscripts from all those submitted. Bear in mind that well under 1% of manuscripts are strong enough to sell.
  • working with the author to get the manuscript in perfect condition to sell. That can mean extensive editorial work, quite likely lasting over a period of months.
  • identifying the right editors at the right publishing houses for your book. That means that the agent needs to have excellent contacts and to keep those contacts bang up to date. It also means understanding the current market for fiction and non-fiction and making sure that your book is in tune with that market.
  • conducting an auction. There’s no single way to sell a book. Your agent needs to choose the right way, then sell it professionally and with drive and conviction.
  • negotiating a contract. Publishing contracts are long and technical. Additionally, with the advent of ebooks, those contracts are changing fast and key terms are constantly moving. So you do need an expert on your side.
  • making foreign sales, and handling film and TV rights. Again, that’s a complex business involving expertise and strong contacts. Not a game for newbies.
  • guiding your career. Longer term, a really good agent should be nudging your career in the right directions and keeping you away from wrong turnings. Writing is a heck of an insecure business, so a good agent can make a massive amount of difference.

How do you find a literary agent?

Article from: www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/how-do-you-find-a-literary-agent

12 Very good tips on how to find an agent.

Take a look at the first 3:

Finding a literary agent is easy – there’s only one tricky part to the entire process. Here’s what you need to know.

# 1 Figure out if you need to get an agent
You probably do, but you may not. I won’t go in the ins and outs here, because you can just read this blog post instead. That post also tells you in detail what a literary agent does for their money. Oh yes, and if you want to know how literary agents charge for their services, then you can find out here.

# 2) Write a good book
No, don’t smirk. That’s the only bit in this whole post that really matters. Write a good book. If you do that, and you aren’t a total numpty about approaching agents, then you’ll be fine.

If, on the other hand, you are amazingly good at approaching agents but your book isn’t yet up to scratch, then you won’t get anywhere. Even if, by a fluke, you get taken on by a decent agent, there’s no way you’ll get a publisher. So write a good book. No – scratch that – not a good book. A stunning one. A dazzling one. One that echoes in the consciousness. One that makes a professional reader (ie: agent/editor) sit up late with tears in their eyes. That’s how good you have to be. More on this subject a little later.

# 3 Get hold of a good listings directory
In the UK/Ireland, that means you need to get hold of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. In the US/Canada, that means you need to get hold of Writer’s Market. In both cases, there are specialist versions available for those writing for children and young adults. If you’re from SA / Australia / NZ, then you are probably better off writing to London based agents than NY based ones, but it’s your call. You can go either way.

Literary Agent Query Letters

Article from: www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/the-perfect-literary-agent-query-letter

Query letters matter massively. A typical literary agent in New York or London will see approximately 2000 manuscripts a year, and may take on just 1-2 new authors. Of the 2000 manuscripts submitted, the majority – let’s say at least 1750 – will be rejected very quickly, because of errors in the query letter or synopsis. So here’s a checklist for how to write the perfect query letter.

# 1 No obvious errors
No howlers, no spelling mistakes, no saying it’s when you mean its, no calling your book a fiction novel when it’s just a novel. (All novels are fiction; saying ‘fiction novel’ makes you sound like an idiot.) But you’re smart enough not to make those basic errors, so I won’t say any more on that topic.

# 2 No bad sentences
A slightly different issue. Plenty of query letters don’t have errors as such, but they still give off plentiful indicators that the writer is a little clumsy in expressing themselves. Here’s what I mean:

This novel, which is the first one I have written, is called The Adventures of Crazy Jane and I would say it falls into the genre of fantasy, or maybe even chick-lit.

That’s a hideous sentence, absolutely awful. No literary agent will read any further than that – but the sentence doesn’t actually have any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in it. So it’s not just about avoiding howlers. It’s also about writing well.

# 3 Brevity
Keep your letter to a page. It doesn’t need to be longer than that. 2 pages absolute tops.

# 4 Introduce the book
I generally recommend a sentence or two at the start of the letter which summarises the key data: the title, the genre, the word count, the rough thrust of the story.

Then a longer paragraph about the book. You don’t need to summarise the plot – the synopsis will do that – but you do need to say what the book is about. That could be about setting, about theme, about period. Whatever matters most.

# 5 Don’t say much about yourself
No one cares about you – they care about the book. So a sentence or two is fine. Keep it short. If you’ve got a proper publishing track record, then say so – but it doesn’t matter if you don’t. If you’ve just published articles in the parish magazine, then shut up about it. No one cares. The one exception to this rule: if you are writing subject-led non-fiction and you are an acknowledged expert on the topic, then make that clear.

# 6 Don’t get cute
Most jokes don’t work. Lavish grovelling is pointless. ‘I will call you in two weeks to discuss’: you’ve gotta be kidding. This is a business letter. So keep it businesslike. In the US, you can be a bit more pushy, a bit more sales-y. In the UK, it’s better to play it straight.

# 7 Remember what the query letter is there to do
All the letter is actually there to do is encourage the agent to read the opening page of the manuscript. If that page looks good, the agent will read the first chapter. If he/she likes the first chapter, then they’ll read on.

And finally…One last chunk of advice, the Synopsis.

How to Write A Novel Synopsis

Article from: www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Synopsis.html

A perfect synopsis should:

  • Be short: preferably not more than 500 words
  • Be businesslike: clear, to the point, neutral
  • Be well-presented: no typos or spelling mistakes
  • Tell the story: your job is not to sell the book, write dust jacket blurb, or anything else. Just say what happens in the story. That’s all you need to do.

What do you think, dear blog reader?

I’d love to hear what makes you tick and why you keep on writing.

Write for you. Write with passion. Love it. Live it.

Do you ever have any advice or experiences you’d like to share about literary agents?

If you have any writing tips and advice and feel like sharing, pop me an email or rant in the box below!

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9 thoughts on “Writing Tips Thursday: Do You Need An Agent?

  1. I’m no where near ready for an agent at this point but this makes it seem less daunting then I expect. Great info! Oh, and I love the Writers Workshop website, they always have great information.

    • I’m in the same boat. I’m not ready yet but it’s good to keep up to date with the “how to’s” and stuff so that when you reach that stage the amount of stuff you need to know doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming.

  2. Pingback: Meeting “The Agent” « Almost Out of Ink…

  3. Pingback: AWP 2012 | Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs (Part 4) « Write on the World

  4. Pingback: Writers’ Workshop UK | Aspiring Novelists Predict A Tough Future | The Independent Publishing Magazine

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