How to get an agent

Posted on 6th March, by Sarah in Writing. 1 Comment.

I got an agent when I was just like you (and by that I mean Googling ‘how to get an agent’ when I should have been finishing my manuscript and / or working).

I got one of the best agents on the planet in fact. OK I’m biased but she just negotiated a deal for my 4th and 5th books on manuscripts I haven’t even written yet (well one was a half-way written mess and the other was a three sentence synopsis that went something like ‘think Drive crossed with Bourne Supremacy with a really hot boy and um, it’s set in New York’) so yeah, allow me to call her the best agent on the planet.

I actually got two agents in the space of a week – both wanting to represent me for Hunting Lila. It felt like all my Christmases had come at once. I actually got to choose my agent (how cool is that?).

I remember on my first visit to my agent’s office seeing the pile of manuscripts on the desk that they’d received that week (they get 100 submissions a week – do the math – that’s 5200 a year and they take on just a handful of those.)

The submission pile was a mountain of paper reaching almost to the ceiling. It took my breath away. And knowing that my own submission had made it all the way off that pile to an editor at Simon & Schuster and then to a happy two book contract almost made me weep. I mean, I’ve never won anything before in my life (except this crappy toy Ferrari in a raffle once. I was ten years old. I’m a girl. May as well have given me herpes.)

A lot of people ask me how they can get an agent. So here’s my advice on the topic (for what it’s worth). I also asked my own agent for her top tips (those are worth a lot more).

1. Buy The Writers’and Artists’ Handbook.

2. Read it.

3. Finish your manuscript (no agent is going to take on a debut author without a complete manuscript).

4. Make your first sentence really count. And then make every other sentence count just as much.

5. Tailor your submission letter to each agency. Read their website, find out who you’re submitting it to. Do they represent any authors that you admire? Do you think you would be a great fit for them? If so, why? Also – get their name right. Don’t mess up your mail merge.

6. It all counts!
Remember that everything you submit – the cover letter, synopsis and sample is there to make an impression. So, the cover letter and synopsis needs to be short and simple with the cover letter saying a little about the author and the synopsis short and attention grabbing (like a book blurb) and make sure that the sample material grabs the reader’s attention from the first page – you can’t have it getting going in the third chapter, as the likelihood is that the agent will have stopped reading before then if nothing happens in the first two chapters.

I asked my agent what makes her fire something straight in the bin? Her answer? ‘Although we’d never fire anything straight into the bin (!), it is off-putting when there are a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes in the cover letter and the wording doesn’t make sense!’

8. Keep it short and snappy
‘An incredibly long synopsis / covering letter is a negative – it shows that the writer is unable to self-edit. Not laying the sample material out in a manner that is easy to read – ie small, difficult to read font & not double spaced is not a good idea. And when we ask for the first three chapters, we mean the first three chapters – not the 8th, 21st and 38th [how are we supposed to see the progression if we are given three ‘random’ chapters?].’

9. Know your audience
Show that you have a clear understanding of your target readership. Your genre and your competitors. ‘If the author states that they have never read a YA novel, but their submission is a YA novel, that will set alarm bells off. So obvious research and knowledge in the area that the author is writing is crucial.’

Apparently, and this surprised me, a platform (goodreads profile etc) is not essential unless you’re a non-fiction writer. ‘With regards to fiction, writing and plot is more important [obviously if they have a background or something that ties-in to what they are writing then that is great – but it isn’t the be all and end all. Once the author has a publisher, then their platform comes into play much more and needs to built up considerably (if not there) in time for publication.’

I don’t think it can hurt though to talk about a platform if you do actually have one.

Hope that’s helpful to you!

Good Luck!

One Response to “How to get an agent”

  1. Fleur Ferris says:

    I hope it helps too. Thank-you for sharing. I am making the final changes to my manuscript and will be sending submissions to agents in a few weeks time.

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