I have just returned from speaking at the Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference on Saint Simons Island, and I wanted to share some of the things I brought back with me.
The conference was held at the beautiful Lodge at Sea Island Resort , and some of the amenities included “butlers” (several), a rose petal bubble bath, and cookies with milk at bedtime. As if that weren’t enough to make me glad I had been invited to be a guest speaker, the people who were responsible for organizing the conference couldn’t have made me feel more welcomed. Without doubt, this was one of the better conferences I have attended.
I have discovered over the past sixteen or so years that I have been giving talks on writing, or being an agent, or on the publishing industry in general, the make-up of each audience is different, and because of that, the questions following my talks seem to take on different patterns. At the Scribblers’ Conference, the room was booked full, so I had the opportunity to answer several excellent questions that fell primarily into the category of how to find an agent. I will briefly summarize some of my comments here.
There is no question that if you have a manuscript ready to submit, you are much better off if you have a good agent to represent you. Most publishers now only consider manuscripts that are agented. Another big advantage is that an agent takes on the responsibility of keeping track of submissions thereby freeing up your time to write. With the right background and experience, a good agent will know which editors in which publishing houses to approach with your work. If you are fortunate enough to receive an offer of a contract, your agent will know what to negotiate in that contract and can advise you on the things you should accept. Once the contract is executed, a good agent will follow your manuscript through the publishing process and offer advice on such things as cover design and marketing. When the book is released, an agent will continue to work with you on marketing ideas, keep track of royalty payments, investigate subsidiary and foreign rights as well as film and television opportunities, and be the go-between for you and the publisher should any problems or disputes arise. I have overly simplified the work of an agent here, but this gives you a general idea of what an agent does.
If you decide that you want an agent to represent you, it is often just as difficult to find the right agent as it is to find a publisher. Do your homework and work up a list of agencies that work with the type of material you have written. Writers’ Market and Literary Marketplace are two excellent resources that list agencies, what they represent, and how they wish to be contacted. Once you have a list of potential agents, look at their web sites. What books have they placed? Do they charge fees? How long have they been in
business? Do they give the appearance of professionalism? Do they look like a company you want representing you? Once those questions are answered, you should have a good feel for which agencies you want to contact. Each agency has its own submissions policies, and you will need to follow those guidelines. Response time can vary from one week to three or four months, so be patient. If you are contacting several agents at once, mention it in your cover letter. (I will talk more about what makes a good cover letter in another blog.) If you receive an offer of representation, is that agent someone you feel comfortable with? Do you feel that person shares your passion for your writing and will work hard to find a publisher? If so, you are on your way toward getting published. Keep in mind, though, that having an agent doesn’t mean you will automatically receive a book contract and a huge advance. It is only a tool to help you get published.