Author FAQ: On getting an agent

So yesterday I answered some questions about writing, my process, and what’s worked for me. Today, we’re going to talk about getting an agent, which is the source of no small amount of angst among many would-be authors.

As I said yesterday, my experiences will likely be very different from yours, and other authors may have different opinions here. This is my take on it.

Here we go: 

How did you get an agent? I totally want an agent. Do I even need an agent?

My agent is Sara Megibow, and she is pictured in the dictionary under the word “awesome.” Even after landing me two contracts, she continues to advocate for my work across multiple platforms. She is worth every penny of her industry-standard 15 percent, and is an outstanding human being besides.

When I felt it was time to start querying agents, I sent a total of six query e-mails. Sara replied back, and was the only one to do so. She asked for sample pages, read them…and then turned me down. But she left the door open just a crack, and when I saw that and asked if I might revise and resubmit, she agreed. Note: This almost never happens. Most agents are too busy to deal with the maybe-coulda-woulda inherent in such a gamble. Sara really liked the idea, though, and after my first revision, she saw that, as she put it later, I could be taught.

It took more than nine months of back-and-forth, and substantial revisions, before she accepted me as a client. And then we went to work on more revisions to get the book into submission shape. Again, this is not normal. Most agents are too busy to engage in this sort of thing. They want books that are pretty much ready for submission, or can be whipped into shape with just one revision. I got lucky.

Most folks can expect far more queries and far more rejections on the agent front. It happens. Sometimes, you’ll find that there’s a thread of criticism in common across your rejections, which will be a good sign that you have something there that needs revising. Other times, you may not see any one thing that stands out, which means that you simply might not have found the right agent yet.

Do you need an agent? If you want to go the traditional publishing route, I would say yes, and resoundingly so. There are exceedingly few publishers of note who will accept open submissions from unagented authors. If you want to see your book in Barnes & Noble some day (or, better, your local independent bookstore), then you should definitely get an agent.

And before you query an agent, revise the book again. I don’t care if you’ve revised it four times — give it another pass-through. Your book is never as ready as  you think it is. Seriously, if you’re not putting your third draft out there, or preferably your fourth or fifth, you probably haven’t done the legwork you need to polish it. My own opinion of course, but believe me, I wish I had revised a few more times; I was fortunate to find an understanding and patient agent.

Addendum: Reputable agents do not charge “reading fees” or any sort of money up front, either when they’re evaluating your work for possible representation or after they’ve signed you. They only get paid when you get paid. Furthermore, 15 percent really is the industry standard (along with 20 percent for subsidiary rights like film and such). If they’re asking for more, that to me is a red flag.

I’ll also add that I feel my agent is very much worth her 15 percent. She’s found stuff in contracts that could’ve been burdensome had said stuff slipped through. She’s a huge advocate of my work. She takes an active role in planning any alleged literary career that I might have. She more than earns her cut.

Next: Getting a publisher.


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Filed under Books, Publishing, Writing

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