What do they do, how to get one, what happens once you have one?
The three agents, Julia Churchil, Jo Unwin and Oliver Munson, were brilliant. They gave three talks on: What Does an Agent Do; Once You Have An Agent, what then; How to get an Agent, as well as taking questions from the audience and even opening the floor to a few book pitches - It was great.
In this blog I thought I'd bring you a few of the details from each of those talks and fill you in on a little secret. So what's the secret? Well... It turns that agents are real people, who are genuinely excited about books and finding new writers.
What does an agent do?
- They are the first port of call for an author and their new ideas
- They deal with almost all the paperwork
- They are deal negotiators, to make sure you are getting the best deal for your hard work
- An agent hopes to be a bedrock for a writer. They are the person you are likely to spend your whole professional career working with. It turns out that more writers in the market will/would like to leave their publisher than their agent!?
Once You Have an Agent, What Happens?
- They will help you form a strategy and vision for your writing career
- They love your manuscript, but will help you (at this stage) produce the best possible final version of it.
- They will ensure nothing goes to a publisher until it is the best possible shape
- They will get your work to the right editor for you
- They will handle deals, negotiations and 'auctions'
- Lit Agents help with expectation setting, getting deals and putting the pressure on other people you'll have to work with.
How To Get An Agent?
- Write a great book (easy right!?)
- Finish the book before you send it (despite the fact that your only asked for the first three chapters, very often, make sure you have a complete book, so you can get moving if they are interested)
- When you've finished put your book away for a while and then give it one final edit with fresh eyes
- Send one book at a time
- Always follow the submission criteria and don't deviate (its not professional)
- Make sure you have a great query letter that is: Brief; has a good tone; shows the architecture of your story (how it moves from beginning, middle to end)
- People can be turned down 30-40 times, it is fairly normal. However, if your getting template rejection letters in bulk you need to rework your story.
- Use the Writers and Artists Year book, google and other research methods to make sure you find the right literary agent who is interested in your style of writing and genre.
When we were invited to ask questions I asked one about my current book, which I was very unsure of. Fellow writers talk to me about word counts all the time. You hear things like 'it isn't a novel if it isn't 60,000 words'; 'the ideal spine width is 80,000, agents don't want less than that'; 'anything over 150,000 should be split into two books'. I am glad to say that, when I asked about my book that is currently at just 50,000 words and if it was ready to be sent, I split opinions. Two agents said that for the genre (contemporary literature) that would be fine and to send it and see what response I got - I could always work on it more later, don't force more story, a lot of debut novels try to do too much. The third agent said he generally liked to be looking at things between 80-100,000 words. However, he also said that was predominately for the sort of work he was looking at (crime, thriller, ect.)
The thing I took away from this was not to delay sending to literary agents because I'm unsure of details like this. Any little thing that might hold you back isn't worth it. Give it a try and see what feedback you get. It was clear that the panel saw books as art and every submission as a separate beats. While this meant there wasn't too many hard and fast rules to follow, it was nice to see that these were people on the other end and if they liked it, they liked it.
I hope you've found this useful and massive thanks to the Agents, York Literary Festival Team and the folks at Writers and Artists Year Book.
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Ben Warden - Editor of the #SFFiction project and author of 'Life Without', which made the top ten literary fiction e-books on amazon.
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Adrian P Fayter
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