I have an agent so all the hard work is done. All I need to do is write and the world is my oyster.
If only that were true. The problem with agents is what also makes them terrific-- they are not all alike. Additionally, each one has his or her own contacts. What you get in an agent is experience, contacts, and drive-- or what I call pugnaciousness. What you don't get is an automatic win.
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time a close friend of mine was seeking an agent for his first book. He went to a conference and pitched the book to several agents. One agent in particular was very excited about the book. This agent was so excited that he actively sought out my friend and was eager to represent it.. The agent was from a known New York-based agency and had plenty of contacts. Why not go with this agent? thought my friend. So a year ago, he went with this agent, the book was sent out, then nothing.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
My friend contacted the agent who was still excited about the book. No! The book is great. Don't change a thing. It's the best!
But a year had passed. In the meantime, my agent got me jobs. Other agents sold other books. And life went on for the most of the rest of the agented-masses, but my friend was stuck in the waiting zone and might always be because of mistakes that were made in choosing the agent.
Boy, that story sucked. Right?
So what happened?
Let's go back to the beginning and investigate. The agent in question was an agent who represented client authors who wrote mysteries and thrillers. My friend wrote a science fiction novel. Had the agent ever sold a sci fi novel before? Had the agent any sci fi editorial contacts? The answer was a flat no. My friend went with the editor because the editor was excited about his book and that's the only reason. And oh yeah... an agent... that.
But not all agents are created equally.
Allow me to share my agent journey.
I've had four agents, meaning I am now on my fourth.
My first agent said, Hey, I'm an agent and I said Cool, will you represent me and she said, Sure I will and we were excited. The problem was that she was an agent just like there are a whole bunch of editors out there. You can't just say you're an agent just like you can't just say you're an editor. First agent had no contacts and no experience, but she did have pugnaciousness. I stayed with her for a few years and got zero out of it.
My second agent worked for a well-known Sci Fi Agency with a well-known clientele. She was and is a cool cat who had all three things necessary for an agent. She had experience, drive and pugnaciousness. I might have stayed with her had it not been for one bad experience. During a BEA one year she had me meet the head of the agency. We all went into a lounge to talk about how to make Weston blow up HUGE and sat around a table. Then for the next 20 minutes, my agent and I sat uncomfortably while the head of the agency read a newspaper. At the end of the 20 minutes, he got up and left. It wasn't long after that I left the agency as well. I know when I'm not welcome.
My third agent also had the three necessary elements and we worked happily together for years. The only reason I left was because I wanted to go to a larger agency.
Now my fourth agent already has interest from several NY editors for my projects, we have several pitches out there, and she got me a Media Tie In novel for Person of Interest (Angry Robot/CBS) all within three months of signing with her. She has all three qualities in spades, especially the pugnaciousness.
What you get in an agent is experience, contacts, and drive-- or what I call pugnaciousness. What you don't get is an automatic career.
Not everyone needs an agent. I know loads of authors who don't have one. Some are already successful and can represent themselves. Others are satisfied with small and medium presses and self publishing. All that is cool. But if you want an agent, there are a few things you should do.
1. Research. If you don't already have one pining to represent you, conduct your own agent research. This should be done especially if you're going to a convention which has pitch sessions. Only pitch to those agents who you think can best represent you. Don't take the first one who likes you. That's like marrying your first date. Sure it works for some, but can you remember who your first date was and can you imagine being married to them? Try the following FREE places to research:
2. More Research. Research the agent\agency. Before submitting or signing with an agency, see if they are a good fit for you. The best way is to pay a few bucks and join Publishers Marketplace. There you can not only review a lot of good agency information fire-walled from the general public, but you can also see what the prospective agent has sold. There's a sales history you can research. I mean, come on. You research what car to buy so why not research what agent could make you the most famous?
3. Even More Research. Research what manuscripts are wanted. An absolutely phenomenal sight is Manuscript Wish List. If this site had been around when I first started writing, I think I might have achieved success much quicker.
4. Know how to pitch your work. Now, this is a blog unto itself. In fact, I've given classes on this. But do these four things when pitching.
- Pitch yourself first. Give your elevator pitch about who you are. What's an elevator pitch? Here's a good industry definition about construction and here are some examples.
- Compare it to works the agent can easily recognize. Make sure those works are highly successful. If there is no comparison this is good too because it means its high concept so say so. This helps them to immediately categorize and monetize what it is you're trying to get them to sell.
(Title of my book) is like Princess Bride meets Lord of the Flies.
(Title of my book) is like Dune meets The Stand.
- Give a logline- a one sentence line that grabs the agent and provides context.
Example 1: Three film students go missing after traveling into the woods of Maryland to make a documentary about the local legend of a witch, leaving only their footage behind. (The Blair Witch Project)
Example 2: Luke Skywalker, a spirited farm boy, joins rebel forces to save Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader, and the galaxy from the Empire’s planet-destroying Death Star. (Star Wars...duh)
Example 3: Ben Mason is convinced not to kill himself by a shadowy organization and to instead weaponize his PTSD to better enable him to save the planet from alien invasion. (My novel Grunt Life)
- Now pitch the novel. Begin with an elevator pitch that's concise, well-rehearsed, and informative. Plan to make this about 300 words and practice it until its perfect. Once this is done, you should have piqued the agent to ask questions. Be prepared for these by practicing your pitch on several people. Odds are, they'll ask the same questions as the agent.
Final Word. SFWA has a great information page about agents, including the dos and don'ts. Please go there and read it.
Second Final Word. Know this last thing-- agents should never charge you money for doing anything. They only make money when you make money.
Really, this is my final word. And oh yeah? About my friend? He's relooking things and deciding what to do. I know we all wish him glorious luck.