Of course many of the major publishers require that you approach them only through a representative, which can be a literary agent, manager, or attorney. So how do you find the right agent or manager?
Writers’ representatives are as eager to find you as you are to find them because without writers they have no business. They make finding them relatively easy—it’s getting their attention that’s difficult. Here are the best ways to start your search.
Nothing takes the place of a personal recommendation from a writer, especially if he’s willing to make the contact for you. Don’t be bashful about approaching writers of your acquaintance, and asking them for their advice. I don’t recommend asking them to read your novel—that’s a different issue entirely, and usually produces a glazed look and awkward demur from the victim. Use professional editors for that purpose, but your writer friend simply for his advice. The word “advice” normally triggers a beneficent response, primarily, I think, because it doesn’t involve responsibility. It’s something the writer can give you effortlessly, and still feel good about it. There’s a difference between a “referral” and a “recommendation.” The latter implies that he’s read your work, and will recommend it. The former, only that “you can say I referred you.” Of course if the relationship is a close one, and/or you’ve prevailed on the writer to serve as your mentor, a recommendation to his favorite agent or manager is the best of all possible worlds. But a referral is a strong second best.
With that in hand, approach the representative with a cover letter that says,
Dear Mr. Adashek:
Vincent Dressman referred me to you, and I’m enclosing, as requested in your directory listing, the first fifty pages of my novel, Drive Down to Dixie, along with a five-page synopsis.
I appreciate your consideration.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your writer acquaintance recommend your work, normally you’d wait to submit it until he’s gotten back to you with the information that he’s made that introductory call, and the representative is expecting your submission. Then your cover letter would read something like this:
Dear Mr. Adashek:
Vincent Dressman told me he’s spoken with you about my novel, Drive Down to Dixie, which he was good enough to read and recommend. I’m enclosing, as requested in your directory listing, the first fifty pages, along with a five-page synopsis.
I appreciate your consideration.
It’s not necessary to say, “Let me know if you’d like to read the rest of the book.” If the representative is impressed by what he’s read, he won’t hesitate to let you know he wants to read the whole manuscript.
A number of directories are published in revised editions each year for no other reason than to make it easy for novelists to find representation.
Of course the Internet, especially if you’re hooked up to cable, provides the fastest of all resources for finding the right representative.
In their ongoing effort to reach out for talented new novelists, authors’ representatives regularly attend writers’ conferences and give lectures and workshops at universities and continuing education programs. You can go and meet them in person, give them your card, and say, “I’ll be in touch.” They will appreciate the businesslike approach, but don’t be too shy either—if they weren’t open to listening to your story they wouldn’t be there in the first place. Many conferences offer attendees the opportunity for a one-on-one session with the visiting agents and managers. This is your chance to pitch your novel live, and there’s no better way to get someone’s attention, assuming you know how to pitch. Practice makes perfect!
Now that you’ve scoured the resources listed here, sit down with pad and pencil and begin a target list, drawing from all the resources listed above—and others you’ve devised on your own. Don’t forget that the representatives on your list may have their own websites, which makes approaching them relatively easy. And don’t forget that no one appreciates an approach that shows no knowledge of what that representative requires for submissions. When he has taken the trouble to make his information easily available, in directory listings and/or websites, a submission that breaks his rules from the get-go only indicates a novelist who isn’t interested enough in the marketplace to do his basic homework.
TEN RULES TO MAKE WORKING WITH AGENTS AND EDITORS A SUCCESS FOR YOU
Rule 1: Take the time to become familiar with the agents and editors that you want to represent or publish you.
Rule 2: Familiarize yourself with the submission policies of the agent or editor that you want to submit to and abide by these policies.
Rule 3: YOU are as important as the work that you are submitting. The quality of your work is not the only element evaluated by an agent or editor considering a business relationship with you – so, SELL YOURSELF as much as your work.
Rule 4: Carefully consider the appropriateness of a phone call before dialing your agent or editor.
Rule 5: Gimmicks don’t work.
Rule 6: Make your manuscript or screenplay easy-on-the-eyes.
Rule 7: Always make sure that the formatting for your manuscript or screenplay is correct.
Rule 8: Don’t overdo the packaging!
Rule 9: Don’t send queries or submissions via email or fax, unless specifically requested to do so.
Rule 10: It’s a good idea to thank your agent or editor in your acknowledgements of a book that they have worked on with you or sold for you.