Earnest Hemingway once said the only thing that matters about a first draft is that you finish it. He never mentioned anything about landing a good agent. Of course, if you write like Ernest Hemingway, in all likelihood you don’t need an agent. I don’t so I do.
What can an agent do for you? Agents, and I’m referring to reputable agents—not the scam artists who make their living charging exorbitant reading fees—will negotiate the best sales price for your manuscript as well as try to get you the most lucrative advance. Most agents also possess invaluable industry contacts, they keep abreast of what is hot and what’s not in the marketplace, many are familiar with what kinds of projects certain editors are looking for, and probably most significant, your agent will be your most fervent writing advocate. Your agent doesn’t make money unless you make money. The reality is the major New York publishing houses will rarely read a manuscript unless submitted by an agency.
So how do you land an agent worth his/her 15% take? I’ll tell you how I did it and I’ve had several very good agents. Needless to say, my method is not the only way, but it has worked for me. Also, I’m referring to fiction works as I have little experience with non- fiction. I’ll assume you’ve completed or are at near completion of your manuscript. Or at the least, have an idea for a marketable story.
Time to write that all important query letter. This will be a one page introduction of yourself as well as your project that is designed to grab the agent’s interest. All my query letters are concise, rarely over several paragraphs, and include a one or two line blurb of my story. For instance, the tag line for my most recent manuscript HEMLOCK POND, is—A young woman brings her recently deceased son back from the dead. I always include something about myself, my past publications, and I try to individualize each letter. Meaning I call the agent by name, and even try to come up with some reason why I think this particular agent and my story would be a great match. Maybe this agent successfully sold a similar genre in the past. Very important—give the letter a strong opening. If you can’t write a query letter that grabs an agent’s attention, why would that agent think your manuscript is any different?
The synopsis of the story is equally as important as the query letter and is always included in any agency correspondence. My synopses are one page, double-spaced, and written to not only snare the agent’s interest, but also to give the reader some indication of my writing style. After perusing my synopsis, an agent should have a good idea of what my story—theme, plot, major characters—is about and also have a clear indication of how I plan to put my story down on paper. A concise, clear synopsis will give a favorable first impression which is what you are striving for. Make them want to read more. That is your ultimate goal—to request chapters!
So you have a dynamite query letter and an attention grabbing synopsis. Whether I email or use regular mail, I’m ready to begin my quest. I favor two websites as reliable sources for agency listings. One is WRITERS MARKET.COM which costs about $6.00 a month to have full access and the other is the Association of Authors Representatives website—aaronline.org/find which is even a better deal—free! Once on these sites you can narrow your search by agent interests—horror, romance, mainstream, literary—and whether they prefer email or regular mail queries. When I’m actively seeking an agent I query profusely. I send out five emails a week and five regular mail queries a week. I include my letter, the story synopsis, and never forget the SASE—or if I don’t need the material returned which is my customary practice, I purchase the small stamped USPO postcards. Of course if the agent requests one, two or three initial chapters I include these as well. The somber reality is the majority of agents I never hear back from, any responses I receive more times than not are rejections, but every so often I get a request for more material. That’s always a nice day. To me it’s a question of numbers—the more queries I send out, the greater chance I have of getting my story to that one individual who can sell it. It’s all about statistical probabilities—I believe enough in my material to know it’s good. I just have to find an agent who agrees with my opinion.
And they are out there. It’s up to you to connect with them. Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. Landing a good agent is a lot like writing—you put in the effort every day. The bottom line is—good agents won’t come looking for you. You have to look for them. Unless, by chance you do write like Ernest Hemingway.
Alan Nayes was born in Houston and grew up on the Texas gulf coast. After attending medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, he moved to Southern California where he divides his time and energies between medicine and writing. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed biomedical thrillers, GARGOYLES and THE UNNATURAL. His most recent release is BARBARY POINT, a love story.
An avid outdoorsman and fitness enthusiast, he is one of only a few individuals to ever swim across Wisconsin’s chilly Lake Winnebago. When not working on his next project, he enjoys relaxing and fishing at the family vacation home in Wisconsin.
BLURB: Barbary Point
When Kelly English flies back to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to close out her father’s estate, the last thing on her mind is falling in love. Again. Kelly is twenty-eight and engaged to an older man who is quite wealthy. She’s happy, and only desires to make the trip back brief, sell her deceased father’s place, and return to her stable life in Los Angeles. However, while taking care of business in Oshkosh, Kelly meets a fishing guide, launching her on an emotional journey she never could have predicted or foreseen. BARBARY POINT is Kelly’s story of what happened that one magical week in May on the shores of Lake Winnebago when the ducklings hatch and the walleye run.