Thursday, May 19, 2011

Basic stuff on Agents...

So last week I hope I explained some basics. You must have a finished book to sell fiction. You may or may not need an agent depending upon which market you chose to sell your book. So if you read last week’s blog and have decided you need an agent because you believe you’ve written the next Harry Potter… all new writers think they’ve written the next HP or DaVinci Code or whatever the equivalent genre is... then this is what you need to know.

You can use the internet to extrapolate a lot of information. You can Google, you can see articles written about that agent, you can read articles written by the agent herself. They might have a website, a blog. They might tweet. The point is there is NO excuse for a new writer to submit something stupid to an agent. Something they don’t represent, something not in the format they requested it, something not exactly to the agents liking. None. Not if you are a professional. The information is all there. And it’s free.

I recommend joining Publishers Marketplace. Especially for writers searching for agents. There is a “free” newsletter you can sign up for which will give you a weekly smattering of some of the deals made to NY publishers. But for the low low price of $20 per month you can see deals agents are making for their clients in all genres. This information is invaluable. You can see what type of work agents are representing. You can see what authors agents are representing. And you can see what’s selling to NY. This is BIG. This gives you an insight into what’s coming because the deals that are being made today might not hit the shelves for another year or two. (You knew that didn’t you?)

So after all the research… what comes next?
You need to meet them. My fellow bloggers might disagree – but this is just my humble opinion. MEET them. Now this meet and greet doesn’t have to happen until you decide to be represented by them. But I can tell you that meeting them first will help you in choosing who to send your work to.

In today’s world everything is done through email. You submit a query, you get a response (maybe). If the agent likes your idea – you send a manuscript. You get a response. If the agent thinks he can sell it – you get an offer. This really should be done by phone call.

And that’s when you stop. That’s when you must talk to this person. You must meet this person - if not physically then certainly for a long conversation over the phone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned by this. Because while you are in the high of being offered representation by an agent – you’re not thinking clearly. You will say YES to anything. They ask if you want to sign with them, you say yes, the next thing the paperwork is in the mail…. And then what? What do you know about this person.

On the web somewhere is a list of questions you should ask an agent before signing. And that’s a good start, but most of all I think you need to get a feel for the person. Can you work with them? Do you two jive? Are you comfortable with this person? So much of that will come into play – especially when the going gets tough. And remember for most the going is going to be tough.

Now for me that’s what conferences are for. Go to them. Even if you don’t have anything to pitch or sell. Meet the players. Go to their talks and workshops. See who these people are. Even that person to person connection can make all the difference.

I once submitted a query to an agent who at the time requested a full manuscript. I then went to a conference and got to see her talk and I was like… no way. I disagreed with just about everything she said and I knew that together as partners it simply wasn’t going to work. She didn’t make an offer – if she had I would have squeeweed and told myself it didn’t matter that I didn’t think we would work well together – but I’m weak. Don’t be me. Be strong.

I have an agent now. An agent I’m comfortable with for the first time in fifteen years. It’s huge. And it’s not something a lot of new writers realize because they are so eager just to have an agent. Trust me. The old adage is true. It’s better to have no agent, than an agent who is not right for you.


Maureen McGowan said...

Great advice Stephanie. As someone else who's been on the agent-go-round more than once I agree about the meeting thing. It isn't always possible (and I haven't yet met my new agent...) but you're getting into a long-term business relationship with this person. This person will affect your career, a lot. It makes sense to meet first if you can.

And I'm weak, too. Each time I've had offers from agents all my good sense and plans have flown out the window. When someone's telling you how much the love your book, it's hard to think straight, so the more prepared you can be for that moment, the better. :)

Eileen said...

Haha! I met my agent in person for the first time at the Pocket Party at Nationals after she'd sold my book to them. We had, however, talked on the phone quite a bit and I felt pretty comfortable with her. We've been together for eight years now.

I think what you're saying about doing your research, however, is so so smart. If you want to be a serious professional writer, it's a great way to start out on the right foot.

Molly O'Keefe said...

the going is going to be tough - hilarious. true and hilarious.

I agree with meeting your agent, or at least knowing where they sit on things. You're right about the amount of information out there - you can find out who is represented by whom (is that right?) pick some of your favorite authors, pick an author who you may not love but whose career is going interesting places - find out who their agent is and figure out how to get work to them. information is key and a lot of information comes from meeting that agent or at the very least cyberstalking them...

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