In my first proper blog post, ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ I brushed over the process of getting an agent.
No, it wasn’t painless … but a year and a bit on, I think of it like I do my driving test. Something which felt impossible at the time, but which, once successfully achieved, you push to the back of your mind, eclipsed by new worries and challenges … like REALLY learning to parallel park, and getting your first novel published.
However, I am very aware that a lot of the people reading this blog are yet to be able to refer to themselves as ‘represented’, and many of you have asked me exactly how I went about finding my lovely agent Lucy.
In order to properly answer this question and give it some ‘expert’ clout … rather than it simply being my own personal anecdote, I asked my agent Lucy Dundas, of Peters Fraser and Dunlop to chip in with some comments on how to get your work noticed in the slush pile.
So let’s start with Lucy’s comments …
‘Number 1 – Research. The biggest thing as an agent is to be addressed directly. Letters sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it may Concern” drive us mad. If an author isn’t intelligent enough to find a name within a company, then we don’t hold out much hope. If someone has done their research, found out who to direct their letter to, it just proves how much you want it.’
Number 2 – Give us what we ask for. If an agency website says we only accept 3 chapters, synopsis and covering letter, please please please don’t send a letter asking us if we want to read your full mss….please don’t send us your full mss and PLEASE don’t send three random chapters from different parts of your book. Make it the first 3 sequential chapters with a synopsis saying where the book goes from there.
Buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – it has loads more information on agents, publishers, newspapers, foreign rights etc etc and is a great insight into our world.’
So those are Lucy’s main points. Mine really stem from there.
Adding to Lucy’s point about research, make sure the agencies you are approaching, and the particular agents at each agency, specialise in your kind of writing. Look at the other authors they represent, and the other books they have worked on. There’s no point sending an amazing adult book to a children’s agent, etc, because they wont bother with it, no matter how amazing it is.
Secondly, be professional. That obviously includes the ‘knowing who you’re writing to’ point that Lucy made. But in my opinion, if you want to come across as a good client, do so right from the beginning. Be organised with your work. Present it well – footers with your name, and the name of the book. Page numbers. Make it easy for them to print out and read. You want to encourage them to read it, not confuse them.
Thirdly, play the game! If the agent asks for three ‘random’ chapters, make sure they are your three favourites. Don’t just lazily send off the first three chapters, if you know you have action-packed central chapters which better display your ability. You want them to read more. So pick the good’uns, and polish them! Whilst an agent WILL do edits, and spelling errors aren’t the end of the world, it makes sense to present your manuscript to an agent in the best possible state you can. It won’t be the finished state, but you may as well do as much work on it as you can. The agent will only read it once, so make that one time worth it.
Finally, be persistent. Maybe some people DO get signed the first time they ever send out a manuscript, but I bet you the majority of signed authors approached a fair few different agencies before they found their match. I happily admit to sending out letters to American and Australian agencies as well as British ones, and to also submitting myself to a couple of publishers which accepted unsolicited manuscripts. And my persistence paid off. Publishing isn’t affected by odds. Your book doesn’t come with a tag saying ‘she contacted 500 agents before it got signed, and 200 publishers before we published it’ … so go for it. As long as you tailor each letter and application for each agency, and chose agencies who really are likely to want to represent you, then why not cast out your net as wide as you can? It’s your time, effort and (postage) money!
If you really believe in your work … then commit to it! You need to be committed to persuade someone else to replicate that commitment.