I’m often asked about finding an agent and, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not agented. So I don’t really know how to find an agent, but it does seem that finding an agent is the surest way to get a publisher, especially if you are writing fiction. A good place to start is Publisher’s Marketplace, an industry web-site that has a monthly fee but you can sign on for just one month and go download everything you need, if you’d like. On the site, member agents specify what they are looking to represent. Once you find an agent or two that really fits what you are looking for (finding an agent or publisher is sort of like dating; not everyone is a fit for everyone), you will need to write a bang-up query letter that introduces the book and yourself. At this point, if you are writing non-fiction, you want to have a through, well-crafted book proposal and a couple sample chapters to share. If you are writing fiction, you want the book finished.
There are several books about this part of the publishing procress– look for books on proposals to get a feeling for what you need to include and also pay close attention to what the agent asks for on his/her web-site. Assume that all those things are true for you, too– my guess is that it must get old as an agent to specify you want something in the proposal and then have people assume that’s only true for everyone else and ignore your request. If an agent says he wants science fiction, don’t assume that your historical romance is just right for him or you will do what my dad always said one does when they assume. You know, make an ass out of you and me. My dad would be tickled that I included his poor pun in a blog entry about writing careers.
Anyway, back to the query letter. Consider it your first date with that agent. You want a second date and so you want the first date to go impeccably. Polish that letter until it’s brilliantly clear and brilliantly you and then send it with any supporting documents the agent asks you to submit. It’s absolutely okay if you send a query letter to more than one agent at a time. The follow-up question every writer then gets is, “What if all three of them want it?” Well, then, you are in the honey pot, my friend, and work it to your advantage. More likely, we are lucky when just one wants to see it and then we are grateful that we sent it to more than one place at once so that we didn’t have to wait a whole year to work our way through our list because we wanted to give each agent 4 months to consider our letter.
In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about other routes for publication if you don’t have an agent yet or if you are writing non-fiction.