So, you've revised, re-written, polished and perfected that novel. You feel that you're ready to send it out into the world. And the first step is finding an agent. This person will help act as your guide, a type of Virgil to your Dante as you weave your way through the publishing maze that lies before you. In the next few posts, I will offer up some key bits of information that I have learned along the way.
Warning: Finding an agent can be a very long, painful process involving numerous rejections. Please prepare by thickening your skin and developing an amazing amount of patience.
1. Research, research, research
One of the keys to finding the right agent is doing your homework. This means many hours of researching lists of agents. While this seems like a very obvious step, you'd be surprised at the number of times agents complain about receiving queries for genres they don't represent. There are hundreds of agents out there, all representing a wide variety of genres. Before sending out that first query, do some digging on the agent that caught your eye. Does he or she even represent fantasy or romance novels?
One great resource for agent information is the Writer's Market Guide to Literary Agents. This book provide a lot of basic information on the agent, including contact info, genres he/she represents, and sometimes even a brief list of some of their clients. Also check out the dedication page of some of your favorite authors. They will frequently mentioned their awesome agents. Another source is the various writer's groups. I am a member of the Romance Writers Association (RWA) and I receive their magazine, which lists agents who are looking for new clients. This is where I ran across my wonderful agent, Jennifer Schober of Spenserhill Associates.
Once you've compiled a list of agents, be sure to also check out their websites and blogs when they are available. In many cases, these agents will specifically list what they are looking for, whether they are even accepting new clients, and tips on querying them. Information is power in this game. The more you know about that agent, the better you tailor your query.
2. The Query
Perfect that letter. You have exactly one page to be amazing. Actually, you have about one paragraph to catch an agent's attention and hold it. These people receive hundreds of queries on a regular basis. They have to quickly sift through the pile and find something that sparkles. I won't go into writing a query letter (that would be several posts in itself and I may try to revisit the topic at another time), but keep in mind that the letter should be one page, summarizing the book, how it fits the market, how it is different from what it out there, and who you are. Plan on spending a lot of time working on this. Have friends read it. If you're part writers group, have them look at it.
Also avoid things like strange fonts, colored paper, or other gimmicks. What is going to catch an agent's attention is your great writing, not the fancy pink paper that your letter arrived on.
Alright, I've rambled enough for one night. Looking ahead, I'll touch on the horrors of the face-to-face book pitch and provide a few other tips on querying agents.