Friday, 6 June 2014

The Agent Quest Continues...

So you've finished your final draft? Congratulations!

Now it's time to sit on it, like a hen on an egg, and just wait. Patiently, patiently. or, if you 're like me, not so patiently. I always think the moment I've finished my drafting, polishing and polishing the first pages that The Work is perfect.

No such luck. Because when I have another look at it, it surely won't be.

To fill in the time, I research agents, draft a synopsis and construct a query letter. And after I've done that (takes about two weeks), I re-read the first pages of my draft again.

So this post is about finding an Agent.

Do You Need an Agent?

Not necessarily. A Necklace of Souls, my first novel, was published by harperCollins New Zealand and I never had an agent. However, I will be unlikely to take print versions of Necklace out of New Zealand. This means I will be unlikely to make as many sales as if my book had been published by a non-New Zealand publisher.

I know, harperCollins is international, so what's the problem? The problem is the RIGHTS. If NZ holds the international rights, England isn't interested, because it's an extra cost to put the book on the shelf.

So to access print off-shore, I will probably need an (off-shore) agent.

If your work is non-fiction, or an incredibly niche subject, or you can't be bothered with the extra cost of an agent (they don't come free), then you can approach a publisher directly. More and more publishers are accepting direct queries. Just be aware that you will have to take ownership of contract negotiation yourself. You may not always know enough to get the best terms. However, an agent will.

Which raises another question: Do you need to put your book in print?

No. You can publish yourself, via kindle direct, smashwords or ibooks. I've not done this yet, but I will one day, because I like the idea of total control. Ask my kids - I'm a control freak!

But just right now, I'm too busy. I have a day job and kids and a very time consuming hobby called writing, so I'm always short of hours. Self-publishing takes a lot of time. Just at the moment, I'd prefer to go through traditional routes, if I can. If you're an agent, please get in touch!!

How do you get an agent?

Hell, I don't know! I haven't got one yet. Here's how other people do it:

  • Talk to agents at conferences.  Have an elevator pitch ready - a thirty-second snappy little summary of your book. I am rubbish at this. My stories are usually complex, multi-layered pieces that don't condense down well.
  • Have a friend recommend an agent. Most of them won't. A good agent is like gold and seems to be a very closely guarded secret.
  • Send a submission letter. 

Are there agent directories?

On-line searches are usually not too helpful, because of all the ads created by dodgy agencies (see Caution, below). Here are three more reliable ways:
  1. Read Writer's and Artist's Yearbook  (Actually, try the website, it's got a lot of useful writerly tips on it). The Yearbook is a comprehensive guide to all the literary agents in the UK and some international agencies. I purchased the Yearbook last year, but I have to say: don't. Read it at your library - it's normally held in the reference section. The problem with the Yearbook is that it's in print and therefore dates quickly. Hint to the Yearbook: A digital version would be so much better...
  2. Look at Writer's Digest's Guide to Literary Agents - a comprehensive blog with new agencies popping up on it all the time (US based only)
  3. Approach agents of authors you like. Most of the time authors will sing a song of praise to their agents at the end of the book.

A final caution

There are a lot of scams in this industry. A lot. An awful lot. Before you send out anything, read Writer Beware.

In my next post I'll talk about query letters and synopsis construction. But just be aware it might take me a while to get to this - did I mention I'm time poor?

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