Second in a series.
Getting An Agent
If you intend to land a book contract with a well-known publisher, you must have an agent represent you. The agent is essential in the publishing business, sifting the wheat from the chaff and determining which editors will be most interested in your book project. Landing an agent is tough, but once you’ve leapt that hurdle, he or she is your business partner and best friend.
If you’re writing a non-fiction book, you’ll need a formal book proposal [see Part One of this series] and two sample chapters that display your writing competency and mastery of the subject. If you’re looking for a contract for a work of fiction, you must have a completed manuscript.
You’ll use a query letter and the book proposal to interest the agent. If he or she agrees to represent you, he or she will offer a contract that gives them, on average, fifteen percent of everything you earn on the book. The agent then seeks a publisher for your work and negotiates the contract with the publisher to get you the best advance and royalty rates, helps with subsidiary rights like translations and other media, and is your advocate when there are misunderstandings – like when you said you’d submit the completed manuscript by June, but now it’s November.
You must carefully select which agents to query with your book project. An agent will describe the kinds of projects they are interested in representing. Here are several helpful resources for finding the right agent(s). All published annually:
Writer’s Digest: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents
The Literary Marketplace, or LMP [often found in the library reference section: http://www.literarymarketplace.com/lmp/us/index_us.asp
You must also understand that every agent wishes to be approached in a distinct manner which you must respect. No shotgun marketing allowed here. Study individual requirements carefully: one agent wants to be queried only by email, while another wants a letter; another says either is OK. Some want a single-page query letter only [more on that in another post]; another wants a query and three pages, or five, or fifty. Another wants a query and your complete proposal. But one thing is unchanging: No agent wants an email attachment. Another constant: don’t even think about pitching your book over the phone.
Authors are always eager to hear back from the agent, but you must be patient to a fault. Some will reply, either favorably or unfavorably. Some will tell you if you don’t hear back in a month, or six weeks, or three months, it means they’re not interested. Some simply won’t reply at all if they aren’t interested.
And don’t expect an agent to explain why they’re turning you down. They simply don’t do it, mostly because it gets them into the editorial advice business, and they don’t have time to coach you. Agents are inundated with queries – one New York agent says she gets over 200 queries a week, of which she might peruse a dozen.
Indeed, many proposals are likely junk, which prompts this last bit of advice: You need to come on like a total professional right out of the gate. That means a well-written query and proposal, no typos, spelling checked, printed handsomely and professionally if you’re going paper. Agents often may be looking for a reason to reject you; don’t give them one.
The Business Book Ghostwriters doesn’t assist authors in obtaining agent representation, but we often help our clients understand the process, just as we also try to clarify your self-publishing options.