Getting an Agent isn’t easy, but a lot of traditional publishers still use Agents to screen writers (yes I do mean that as two words) so they don’t have to wade through the worst of the submissions. It took me years to find an agent, but I finally got one. If you keep trying you can make it HAPPEN. Here’s some more ideas of how: (First ideas were here)
You have to be honest, not only with the agent you are submitting to but also with yourself. Make an honest assessment of your own skill level. You will need help with this, independent help. Asking your friends and family will probably result in willing encouragement – the most encouragement I ever got from family was a sister who reviewed a book with the quote “I really wanted not to like this book but…” To be fair after that it did get complimentary, so I can’t complain. The best avenues for feedback I’ve had have been my local writers circle (Swansea and District Writers’ Circle) and my editors Tony at Jefferson Franklin Editing and Sam at Bowler Fern Ltd (different editors for different types of books). Yes, I have to pay them but they will tell me with I’m producing rubbish (I’ve ditched a whole series of novels because Tony said the main character didn’t work). If you’ve got talent, you can make it, and remember I am telling you to be honest, honesty does not necessarily include that paranoid voice in the back of your head that constantly tells you you’re not good enough – surely I can’t be the only one with that?
You also have to be honest when you approach the agent. You will have to produce a covering letter that says a bit about you and your intentions, don’t tell them that you’re going to write four books a year unless you actually can. Most people are lucky to be able to one done a year, two for some. Also be honest about what you are doing now. If they are the only agent you are approaching, tell them why, and if not, say that you’re doing simultaneous submissions. Some won’t mind, others might, that’s a risk you’ll have to take.
Know your audience is one of those phrases that often comes up about writing. This time what I’m talking about is know the agent you’re approaching. Get personal – within reason. Make sure you know their name at least, “Dear Sir or Madam” does not cut it. Know what that agent is looking for, appeal to that. If you’ve met them, reference the meeting – possibly relate what they said to what you’re doing. For example, if the agent mentioned that they were looking for a working class hero, say something like, “Joe Bloggs is just the working class hero you mentioned looking for”; again be concise. Be clear about why you want to work with that agent. If you know who the audience is for your book, don’t forget to mention that, it will help the agent figure out if you are an author for them.
Remember that you are approaching a professional, so you need to be professional in your approach because if you are to have a relationship with an agent, it has to be a professional one. Don’t waste their time. Prepare your covering letter and synopsis with all the same care and attention that you prepared your manuscript. Make sure it makes sense, that it’s concise and intriguing and it doesn’t contain any spelling or grammar mistakes.
This is, for most, the most difficult part of getting an agent. It takes time to send each submission and each submission takes time to get a response to. I’ve had refusals take anything from two weeks to six months, and plenty that have never even bothered to respond. I do now have an agent, and that was a long process. It took about four or five months from submission to signing the agency contract. I have no idea how that measures up to other people’s time frames. I’ve spoken to a number of writers who have been through this experience and it’s a general consensus that you have to wait at least a month before chasing a response. Then if you really want to contact the agency again, do so, but if you do, for everybody’s sake, BE POLITE. Ask nicely if they received your submission and if they can tell you of any progress. Don’t go in on the attack, you could have the next big thing as far as the industry is concerned, but if you’re rude to the receptionist, you are not going to get that agent. Also remember that if you do get an agent, you still have to get a publishing deal, that could take a couple of years and when you get a publishing deal you’re looking at about 18 months before the book hits the shelves, so patience is the watch word in this job.
As the literary markets get harder and harder to make money from, the more agents are looking for publication-ready manuscripts and that means you need to edit your story. You will, of course, need to edit your novel yourself from the first draft forward, but I’d strongly recommend that you also get a professional edit (and not just because I’m an editor). Yes, this is expensive, but try to think of it more as an investment. It amazes me what errors/gaps/issues an editor can spot in my scripts, amazes me what I find in other people’s scripts. Spotting a problem is halfway to solving it, and most editors will give advice on how to make things better and that is invaluable.
Of course, the biggest expenditure is in the effort you have to put in. Writing a book takes time, sweat and tears, so does going the traditional publishing route. Don’t think that means I’m suggesting self-publishing – I’m not, but there again, there are stories of people who have self-published and got agents that way, but it is few and far between, on or two in thousands upon thousands, so don’t pin all your hopes on that possibility. There again, if you are self-publishing – spend money on a good editor it is important.
Words may be our stock in trade, but there is a big argument that getting an agent is a numbers game. Each agent is just one person, one person’s opinion. If the first doesn’t like your manuscript, try the next. If the thirtieth doesn’t like it, try the thirty-first. Think of each rejection as one step closer to acceptance. Though if you have to go much past forty agents I would suggest that the issue is the book not the agents, but on the other had Kathryn Stockett was turned down by 60 literary agents before she found someone willing to represent The Help. Also, remember that things change over time. It’s possible that this year no agent will touch a story about a prince in waiting, but maybe next year they’ll bite your hand off for it. You can’t follow the trends in publishing because by the time your book is ready, the trend will have changed. Set your own trend.
So there you have it, go out and make getting an agent HAPPEN for you.
 You can steal this idea if you want, but John Christopher wrote it 1970.