This week we bring you a reflection on the tricky process of looking for an agent, written by one of our more recent members, Suzanne McConaghy.
“I asked a recently-published writer friend, Heather Child (Everything About You – Orbit) whether she thought it useful to have an agent and she came down emphatically on the positive side. She feels her agent had a good knowledge of which publishers to approach and has given her immense support – and kept her focussed on the second book.
How do you start?
With Heather’s words in mind, I searched out the Middle-Grade story I finished last year (but had done nothing about, coward that I am), polished it as best I could, and set about finding an agent. I made a list of suitable companies, rejecting American agencies, as I feel I’d want my agent close to hand. I soon found they may employ as many as a dozen people.
My first task was to read their biographies and what each was looking for, and to choose the one whose requirements seemed closest to what I’d written – because you address your query to a specific agent, or they probably won’t read it! I selected seven agencies and made a list of the requirements of each and the name of the agent.
What do you need?
Now came the difficult part: writing a synopsis and a query letter. These two are an art in themselves, but the important thing is that there are specific steps in creating them, which I’ll be happy to talk about on another occasion.
If you thought you could run up one of each and send your work out to all the agents on your list in a single evening, think again. Each agent may require different information, length, format, etc., so be prepared to adapt the pieces to that individual’s interests.
It took two days to get them to the standard I wanted, and I was much helped by the fact that I’d made a clear, one-page plan of the book before I started writing it. If you haven’t, you’ll probably need to do that retrospectively.
How much of your work do they want to see?
Well, that varies. I now turned to my manuscript and again found that no two agents asked for the same thing – first chapter; three opening chapters; first 10,000 words; first 5,000 words; first 50 pages; first 5 pages; first 10 pages. Literally, from my seven agencies, there were seven different sets of requirements. Note that they never want anything except the beginning of the manuscript.
Some specify fonts and spacing but a good general rule would be 1.5 or double spacing in something like Times New Roman or Calibri – nothing fancy or coloured – and plenty of space around. White space is good.
Warning: I had to stop myself re-editing the manuscript every time I copied it into an email. It seemed I could always find a better way to say something, to achieve just the right nuance.
Is there a particular method for sending it out?
Hmm! I was finally ready to do this, but I didn’t dare rely on my list, so I looked up each agent again and re-read the requirements. Many agents have an embedded email address you click on, which makes things easier.
BUT the approaches differ: everything in body of email; query letter in body of email, plus attachments; query letter in body of email, plus a single attachment containing both synopsis and sample work; only send query and sample – no synopsis; a prepared grid to fill in, and so on. And don’t ever think of just giving a link to your website because they won’t follow it.
This was now approximately fifteen hours of work over a three-day period, excluding the revision of the manuscript.
At least, keep the name of the agent, of the book and the date you sent it out – and don’t forget to note if it is rejected, so that you don’t commit the error of sending the same piece to the same person again.
And in the interests of balance – should you be lucky – don’t forget to inform the other agents if one wants to take you on, as they may feel able to offer you something better, once they realise someone else is interested. Cynical, I know.
What happens next?
Well, you wait. As everything is by email, you get an automatic response from most of the agents (but not all) so at least you know it’s arrived in their inbox. Response time seems to be 8-12 weeks although some say that, if they’re not interested, you’ll not hear anything at all. They try to cheer you up by telling you it may only be because it’s not a good fit, but I’m not convinced.
Anyway, this means I won’t be going into my email every few minutes to see if anything’s come in. Yes, I really mean that.”