How Many Books Are You Writing?
Some of the writers reading this short essay will already know this disappointing truth: Getting a literary agent is a prerequisite on the road to getting a mainstream publisher, but getting the wrong literary agent is a dead end.
I’m no expert, but I did find both. Here are a few suggestions that may be new to you, learned from my bad experiences. I hope you can avoid wasting your time.
- Make sure the agents that you query have been successful in signing author contracts with legitimate mainstream publishers. Some agents are only successful in representing authors to publishers who don’t require representation. Such agents take their cut for doing negotiations that you could do for yourself. They cost you money for nothing. Worse things can happen.
- Make sure your potential agent reads your entire manuscript before you enter into serious discussions. For example, your query might include only the first chapter of your book. Still, an agent who will follow up by asking to read the whole enchilada is an agent who will know how to market it properly, know how to talk to you about your work with intelligence and creativity, help with cover design, “get” you as a writer…in other words, be your partner.
- Don’t let an agent stretch outside their comfort zone to represent you. Instead, find someone who is an expert in your genre, or they won’t understand your work and won’t be credible with publishers.
- Beware of a new literary agency. Anyone can hang out their shingle. There is no mandatory governing body to ensure either their ethics or their ability.
- Beware of a new agent within an existing agency. Agents don’t get paid until they sell a book, so a new agent in a successful agency may not be as competent as their colleagues. If a new agent takes an interest in your work, make sure that you’re the interviewer, not the interviewee. Don’t settle out of desperation. You are better off self-publishing than having an incompetent literary agent.
- Beware of agents who ask for major rewrites before they agree to read your entire manuscript or represent you. You can end up doing a lot of work, and they can still say, “No.”
One last thing: New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker once blogged that the best way to get a literary agent is to write three books – because first-time contracts with first-time authors typically cover three or more books. It’s easier for an agent to sell a new author with three finished books. There’s less risk for the publisher because they don’t have to worry that the books will never be written, and they know what there’s getting before they sign.
For the record, I took Ted’s advice. Like others before me, I wrote a trilogy. And I found a literary agent who found me a mainstream publisher.
Best of luck! May the odds be ever in your favor.