So the next step for me is to get signed with a literary agent, which is much more in-depth and difficult than it sounds. How does that work, you say? Here’s what I’ve learned so far, rapid-fire style:
- If you aspire to have a published piece of writing out into the world, there are a few ways to go about it. You can self-publish, or you can try to get published through a publishing house (this is the route I am going).
- Generally, if you want to get published through a publishing house, it is best to have an awesome literary agent on your side. The literary agent goes to bat for you; they are the ones on the front lines talking to publishing houses with the goal to sell your story.
- An agent is an advocate. There is a reason published writers often thank their agents in the Acknowledgment section of their books. Agents often work closely with writers in understanding what are the writer’s career goals and helps guide them along that desired career path.
- Finding the right literary agent for you is sort of like dating. There are many literary agents out there, but it’s about finding an agent that is the right fit for you/your story and that you are a right fit for the agent, as well. For example, there are many agents that enjoy science fiction stories. There are many agents that focus on adult fiction, or nonfiction, or prefer to work with seasoned authors. In my case, I’m a wannabe debut author that writes contemporary realistic young adult fiction. Contemporary realistic means I write about things that would generally happen in real-life. My stories don’t involve vampires or werewolves or wizards. So my goal is to find an agent who represents young adult (YA) and enjoys contemporary realistic stories.
- Finding literary agents who dig your style of writing requires research. Like I said, there are many literary agents out there. Lots of fish in the pond, if you will. But just because there’s a lot of fish doesn’t mean they are biting your bait. It’s about finding the right match: an agent that not only represents your type of story, but wants to represent you and work alongside you to bring your story to the shelves.
- Here’s how I determined agents that may be a good fit for me and my manuscript based on the agent’s history/profile (interests, personality, preferences, etc.):
-A useful website called www.querytracker.net where writers can search for literary agent names, who their clients are, what genres they represent, etc.
-Searched online and Twitter using the hashtag #mswl (which stands for Manuscript Wish List) and identifying in the results who said “contemporary realistic Young Adult” is a genre they are interested in
-Twitter in general: Many literary agents are active on Twitter and often give tips about writing, publishing and what they are looking for, which is helpful. Plus Twitter can somewhat be a way to get a sense of an agent’s personality, (though I realize online personality or way of saying things is not always the same as face-to-face).
-The Book of Everything Publishing, aka WRITER’S MARKET. This resource book comes out every year and lists all literary agent names, agency names, contact information, submission guidelines, etc.
-Literary agent websites
-Blogs that feature interviews with literary agents, such as www.literaryrambles.com
Based on my research (we are talking hours and hours of research to identify who may be a good fit for me and my story), I created a list of literary agent names that I feel may be a good fit for me/me be a good fit for them.
So what happens after you identify potential literary agents to represent you and your work?
Like fishing, you gotta hook ‘em.
When a fiction writer finishes (yup, we’re talking actually completes the story) their manuscript, the next step is to query agents. The verb “query” is defined as “to ask a question about something.”
Basically, a query letter is a one-page letter (nowadays it is an email) with one purpose: to grab the literary agent’s attention to want to read sample pages of your manuscript.
This is not easy.
You have one page to describe a story that is close to your heart. Your manuscript pages have your blood, sweat and tears on them (metaphorically speaking, hopefully). But the query letter is a test, in a way:
Can you determine the important parts of your story?
Can you reflect the heart and plot of your story in a few paragraphs? Can your main character’s voice come through in a few sentences?
Can you effectively identify what genre your story is in, why the agent should care about the story and the main character, the stakes, why your story is unique? Are you being clear instead of leaving the agent confused at the end of your letter?
Literary agents not only expect you to submit your manuscript to multiple agents, they want you to submit to multiple agents. Like I said, it’s all about finding the right fit for both the agent and the writer.
The reason query letters are so important is because agents receive thousands of query letters. One of the agents on my list recently shared her 2015 statistics.
You guys, this agent and her colleagues read and responded to 29,000+ queries.
Of those 29,000, wanna know how many debut authors this particular agency signed?
So yeah. You need to put your best foot forward, in both your story and your query letter.
Another method gaining traction for submitting manuscripts is online “pitch” contests via blogs or Twitter. This is how I received a manuscript request from an agent yesterday (see video above).
The agent reviewing the pitches (requirements: title of manuscript, word count, genre, 100-word pitch, first 100 words of the manuscript) is one of the agents I had on my list of possible good agent matches, which is why I submitted.
But overall, one of the most common and popular way to submit to an agent is to write a query letter, which I am doing, as well.
Rejection is part of this process. It just is. Even J.K. Rowling, author of the amazing Harry Potter stories, was rejected. I’m not saying this to make light or excuses of inevitable rejection; I am saying this because it is a fact.
I do want to be honest in this journey, so I will continue to share the good and the bad. It’s all learning, it’s all growth, and though it’s an emotional rollercoaster, I suppose riding the rollercoaster is better than sitting on the park bench watching....