Searching for an Agent
I post reviews of books I’ve read to Goodreads every week, but it’s been a while since I posted anything to this site about my own writing. It’s time to correct that.
The manuscript I’ve been working on for the last year is complete. That is, I’ve written the whole story and made it as good as I can. It’s probably not yet in its final form. The nice lady who edited my last few books has also volunteered to take a look at this one. She’s very good at spotting my typos or places where the prose doesn’t quite work. I appreciate her input immensely.
I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to find an agent before, but I’ve never pursued it with much vigor. I was content being an indie writer because writing isn’t my career. It’s a hobby, and I feared getting professional about the whole thing would turn it into a job. Those aren’t as much fun. My decision to seriously look for an agent for this book is proving that.
I’ve spent the best part of the last two weeks researching agents, putting together a list, drafting a short synopsis, and writing and rewriting query letters. It feels far too much like work, and I haven’t even sent out anything yet. I’d much rather be writing my next book. (Okay, to be honest, I’m doing that too, but it’s not getting the attention it should.)
So, what have I discovered about looking for an agent other than that it’s not fun?
- There aren’t as many agents looking for the kind of speculative fiction I write as I hoped. Only eight agencies made it to the top of my list to query first. These all seem reputable, well-staffed, and (importantly) open to submissions. There are about a dozen other agencies I might go to if I don’t hear back from these. After that, nothing. I’ve got, at best, twenty to twenty-five shots at snagging an agent’s interest.
- Different agents want to see different things. Most want a query letter. Some also want a synopsis. Some want to see the first five pages of the manuscript, Others want to see the first fifty. Even within the same agency, requirements can differ. You have to research carefully. There is no such thing as a standard query, although some places will tell you there is. Each query needs to be tailored.
- Word for word, this stuff is far more difficult than actually writing a novel. The query letter itself is a business letter, so it has to sound, well, businesslike. But within that letter, you have to describe a creative and interesting novel. That part, a couple short paragraphs, can’t sound like boring old business. The synopsis is even harder. In my case, I’m trying to summarize a 90,000 word book into, at most, about 800 words that provide an accurate and interesting account of the entire story–beginning, middle, and end. Obviously, this leaves out a lot of great stuff about the characters and setting, which I worked hard to make interesting. Then there’s the subplot, which is important to the novel, but the synopsis has no room for it.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing. Rowan (the nice lady mentioned above) is looking at the first five chapters now. That’s the most any agent seems to want to see as part of a query. She’s already provided feedback on the first two. Once she’s done and I’ve made all the necessary edits, I’ll start sending queries. Expected response times, for those who actually respond as a matter of policy, are measured in months. Many agents only respond if interested.
For now, I’m still polishing those query letters. With luck, I’ll be sending them out next month. If an agent agrees to represent me sometime later this year (or even early next year), I’ll announce it. Obviously, I’m hoping one will, but I’m not just going to wait around. I have another book to write. Once those letters are out, I’ll get back to that.