Thursday, August 1, 2013

5 Tips to Score an Agent

Many publishers these days (especially all your favorites out in New York) will only consider your manuscript if it comes through an agent. Why? Well, they trust that the agent has already spent time rejecting those manuscripts that are written poorly, are unlikely to sell, or just aren't in the genre that the publisher works with.

It's a good idea to get an agent because he or she will champion your book. Agents want the publishers to fight over your manuscript. They want movie makers to bid on it. They want you to make as much money as possible. Because the more money you make, the more money they make. Agents are your best friend. You can turn to them and vent when your editor makes you crazy. You can go to them and ask questions about contracts. You can send them your manuscript and ask for critiques. They have your best interest at heart.

How do you get an agent? Most agents have submission guidelines on their websites, and most submissions are done digitally through email. You email the agent a query letter and wait for a response. Once an agent accepts your manuscript and wants to work with you, you will sign a contract with him or her. The contract basically says that the agent will try to sell your book to publishers (while you work on another book) for, say, a year. At the end of the year, if the book hasn't been picked up, your contract terminates.

But, before you sign a contract, you have to get the agent to want you. Here are 5 quick tips to help you get noticed by an agent.

1. Send out a dozen agent queries every week. Yes. A dozen. Just keep sending them. If you don't hear back from any, it's okay. The next week, send a dozen more. Now, don't send a dozen queries to one agent. Send one query to a dozen different agents. By the end of a month, you'll have sent out queries to nearly fifty different agents. The big question: But what if more than one agent wants my book? Then you get to pick your agent! Not very many authors get that opportunity, so be excited!

2. Do your research. Make sure to read the submission guidelines on the website. This is where you will find out how to submit your query letter. You will also find out what kind of books the agent represents. Not every agent represents the genre that you're writing in. And some submission guidelines will explicitly state, "NO vampires. NO dystopian. NO erotica." If your manuscript falls under any of these categories, the agent won't even read your entire query letter. He or she will just click "Reject" and be on to the next author. Also, there may be a certain format that you need to submit in. Perhaps there is a keyword you need to put in the subject line of your email. Remember, you want the agent to like you. If you annoy him or her by not paying attention to the guidelines, they may just reject you on the spot. After all, there are plenty of authors sending in submissions every single day.

3. Include a sample of the manuscript. The first chapter or two of your manuscript should be copied and pasted at the bottom of the email. DO NOT ATTACH A FILE. Just copy and paste. If you include an attachment, some agents will just delete the email for fear of viruses. Pasting a little chunk of your manuscript is an excellent idea because the agent gets a better idea of your writing style and quality before he or she even contacts you. When an agent emails you and asks for more of your manuscript, you know that he or she already likes your style.

4. Make sure someone edits your query letter. Typos in a query letter are a huge red flag to an agent. It's important to them that you know your grammatical rules. You don't have to be perfect, but you do need to look professional. Castle Editorial is happy to edit query letters for budding authors. We know just what agents and publishers are looking for in these queries, and we can help you polish the letter so that you put your best foot forward.

5. Don't stop writing. This is important. While your query letters are sailing through cyberspace, sitting in inboxes, and waiting to be read, do not sit around and twiddle your thumbs. Keep working! Even more importantly, work on something new. So you're trying to get an agent for the first book in your trilogy. Great! Don't spend time on book 2. Move on to another project. Sound crazy? It's not. Even if an agent loves your book, contacts you, and you sign a contract, work on a different project. Consider this: The agent loves your book. He wants everyone else to love it too. But for some reason, the publishers aren't getting excited about it. After a few months, he's going to turn to you and ask for something else. What do you have? Half of book 2 isn't going to sell before book 1. But maybe a different idea will get off the ground first. Make sure that you always have something else, something different, something fresh that you can hand to your agent. Perhaps he doesn't sign a contract with you yet, but he likes your writing style. He may ask to read something else of yours. Always be working on that something so that you can hand it over.

Hopefully these tips will help you score the agent of your dreams, but remember: a poorly edited book, even if it's a great story, will have a tough time getting an agent or a publisher to notice it. So make sure to give Castle Editorial a chance. Together, we can polish your manuscript and make it shine brighter than any competition in that agent's inbox.