Ah, literary agents. The high holy grail for many writers, myself included. Side note: “land an agent” always makes me think of fishing…which is rather apt, as metaphors go. Write that tasty bait! Write it! Ahem. Back to the point: if traditional publishing is your goal, then finding good representation can make the difference between getting that three-book deal with movie rights and…not. But convincing talented agents to even sniff at your work? Well, that’s the hard bit, isn’t it. Read on, brave readers, and we shall survive these dangerous waters together!
Write the thing.
With few (read: no) exceptions, if you’re trying to sell fiction, it needs to be written first. Agents aren’t exactly fighting to represent a novel you might write. No, really. Like, you totally will. Starting tomorrow. But isn’t the idea great?? Yeah, agents don’t sign novel IDEAS, much like publishing houses don’t print them.
Now if you’re writing nonfiction? Lucky you! Write a proposal and query away. But for novels? Write the thing.
Revise the thing.
My fellow LadyNerds and I have been working on different revisions of different projects who what feels like our entire lives. No, seriously. Read this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this if you don’t believe me.
But honestly, revising is so important. Revision is where the magic happens. Sure, there’s a certain thrill to getting those words out in the first place. Absolutely. You get to experience the story for the first time, meet your characters, be surprised by them, laugh at them, cry for them. It’s a beautiful thing.
Except that it’s not. I mean, I know there are people who don’t revise. Successful people. But for most of us, revision is a necessity. Revision reveals those crazy connections our subconscious was making while we thought we knew what the story was about. Revision reveals how really bad you are about skipping words. Or renaming characters mid-draft. Or, uh, yeah. Maybe that’s just me.
Agents are expecting to see a finished work. A polished work. A refined-until-it-glows-with-its-own-smooth-shiny-beauty work.
Write a query letter.
Scream, cry, drink (tea), sleep. Write it again. And again. Send it to a friend. Hope they don’t laugh at you. Write it again. And again. Read EVERYTHING on QueryShark. Write it again. Ask a nun to pray for you. WRITE. IT. AGAIN.
You think I’m exaggerating? That this is hyperbole? Oh, honey. Trust me. This letter is your key. It’s the thing that can squeeze through the cracks into the publishing world. And it’s a weird thing to write. You’ll never write anything else even remotely like this. So you aren’t good at it at first. Nobody is.
And that’s okay, because you know how to revise. You revise like a pro. So act like it. Make that letter BLEED, and maybe…just maybe…it’ll open those cracks wide enough for a synopsis to slip through, too.
Oh my dear goodness, stars and garters, bless my soul. I’m not looking forward to this part. This is my sincere confession that I haven’t started mine yet. I mean, it’s totally unnatural. You want me to write a 1, 3, 5, or million page summary of every plot point in my delightfully complicated, twisty, and surprising novel? To just…reveal it all? Cut and dried? I just…*sob*…don’t wanna.
Oh, and different agents have different synopsis length requirements. Be ye warned! However, the general consensus is that two pages is your safe place. As long as it’s complete. And dry. And reveals EVERYTHING in all its naked glory.
The agent list.
Okay, so I read somewhere that you should expect to query up to (or even beyond) 100 agents before getting signed. ONE HUNDRED. Okay, we can do this. Deep breaths.
My list is currently at 52. I am madly in love with exactly 3 of them. *shrug*
My advice would be, don’t put this part off. It takes time to research and get to know as much as you can about the agents working in your area. It’s not enough to simply know their names and what genres they represent. You need to check out their client lists, try to glean personality tidbits from their bios, read things they’ve published.
Because hopefully, you’ll be working with your agent happily and successfully for decades to come. It’s an important relationship. Choose them wisely before asking them to choose you. You know?
More on this later. Because…well…I can’t handle it right now, okay? I have a synopsis to write!
Okay, dear readers. Help a sister out. Any advice, comfort, wisdom, brilliance you care to share? Comment! Comment! Do it!