That sounds like a pretty simple title, doesn’t it? Sort of like “how to tie your shoe” or “how to plant summer lettuce.” But, if you’re a writer, trying to place that first novel or non-fiction work it’s a how-to that could be simpler.
I can’t remember exactly how old my son was when I started writing those dreaded query letters. But I distinctly remember lying on the couch at Atlantic Beach, NC between the 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. feedings, re-reading my personalized query to Bob Diforio, and seeing the bomb on his website that he tends to only take new authors on the recommendation of existing author clients or those with previously published works. (i.e., not me.) I weighed the options. The rule-following part of me was going to sigh, delete what I had just worked so diligently on, and move on to the next agent on my list.
The crazy tired, hormonal, middle-of-the-night me pressed “send” anyway. I got back in bed and waited for my next wake-up call.
When I got up for the day, I had an email from Bob waiting in my inbox. I’m pretty sure it had been sent around 5 a.m. I figured it was either a form “I said I don’t take new authors, quit bugging me,” or “I like your writing, but…” Instead, it was a short note from asking for the full ms.
I danced around the living room in front of my hubby’s entire family.
This makes no logical sense, but, in my previous job at Northwestern Mutual, we had this formula: 10-3-1. Under no circumstances does it relate to finding an agent. But, looking over my spreadsheet, I had sent ten query letters and Bob made the third request for my manuscript. It seemed like a good omen that I was going to find my “one!”
I liked Bob immediately, not only because he also seemed to keep my same, odd, middle-of-the-night hours but also because he kept me posted through his reading process. And he signed me quickly. And he was the first person who didn’t know me that read my work and said he absolutely loved it with no “but” attached. After all that rejection, that “love” phone call is one you don’t forget! Thanks, Bob! You’re the best!
I’m no pro, but here are my two-cents on finding an agent:
1. Get a book! I used Jeff Herman’s Guide. It includes a huge list of agents and what they’re looking for, interviews with said agents and info on big and small presses.
2. Know Why You’re Querying That Agent! And tell them. Those interviews are a fabulous start. I spent a lot of time scouring agents’ blogs, their guest posts, finding out who their other clients are.
3. Double Check Their Website! If they’re closed to submissions or now repping something different than what you write, move on down the list!
4. Have a Plan! Make a spreadsheet of all the agents you think would be a good fit for your work, and, again, make sure to tell them why. Record all of your results so that you’ll remember them in case you query to them in the future with a different project.
4. Introduce yourself! Follow agents on twitter, their blogs, Instagram… Be interested in what they’re posting and interact, comment, etc. It’s always nice for your name to ring a bell (in a good way!). Plus, there’s no better way to know if an agent is a good fit for you than to get to know them a little bit before you query.
5. Meet in Person! If you have the opportunity to go to a conference where an agent you’d like to work with is going to be, take the chance! It by no means ensures that they will want to represent you, but face time is always good — and you’ll learn a lot and get to mingle with other writers!
6. Think Outside the Box! Entering contests is a great way to get your work in front of final-judge agents. And, again, the feedback is so helpful. Writer’s Digest has so many great courses in which an agent actually reviews your query letter. The feedback is invaluable and it gives agents a chance to view your submission in a different light.
7. Don’t Give Up! It’s just like selling a house… You only have to have one “yes!”
Before long, the right agent will be doing this with your manuscript…