One of the things I am continually asked by various writers is about how to ‘break-in’ to being published, thinking there is some hidden secret to the whole process (there isn’t, other than hard work). So I thought I’d share some thoughts and advice with you.
My first piece of advice to all writers is this: finish your novel. Then, when you’ve actually done the writing, check it, check it again, then polish it some more. And then (only after you’ve revised that initial draft several times) should you look to find agents who represent work similar to that of your own, either in style or genre. Try following the agent’s reading preferences. What is it that they are into, is it SF, fantasy or other types of genre. Also, find out which agents are selling best and in what genres, if any, especially newly established agents.
A great place to find out information about Agents, and who is selling what in the marketplace, is to visit Publishers Marketplace.
If you are a new writer trying to find a way in, you may want to try a new agent because they will, in all probability, not have a full client list. Only when you’ve thoroughly researched the agent’s background and the company they work for, send them a package as per their specific instructions and do not elaborate or deviate from what they ask for. Ever!
That said, however, don’t be afraid to include a brief CV, especially if you already have a number of writing credits. Whether they include published short stories, poetry or articles either in print or for an online ezine, include details. It all counts and shows someone is taking an interest in your work. Include clippings and reviews too, if you have any.
The Cover Letter
Before you approach your prospective agent, you will need to write that all-important cover letter to go out with the first three chapters of your work—which should be upwards of no more than 50 pages of highly polished prose. And make sure it is word perfect.
Never send the whole manuscript unless the agent explicitly requests you do so, and in writing. Otherwise it will probably never be read and end up in the “slush-pile” gathering dust. Remember, your cover letter is the first thing the agent will read. So again, polish this introduction to you and your work thoroughly before sending it out. And please, remember to spell the Agent’s name correctly. You would be surprised how many letters I’ve received over the years with this simple mistake. The same goes if you are sending email queries. Check, check, and check again.
It is quite reasonable to send out multiple query letters to those on your Agent Shortlist. I don’t know of any agent who objects to this. But it is an entirely different matter when it comes time to send out a submission to prospective agents who have requested to read a partial. Sending out multiple manuscript submissions is still a big no-no.
What to do next
If you are lucky enough to get two or more agents requesting your work, write to them. Be truthful and upfront, you sent out x-number sample packs and have x-number of interested agents, what is their policy regarding multiple submissions? Would they be happy to accept a manuscript which is/will be out being read by another Agent or Publisher, or not?
You have nothing to lose in being direct, polite and honest. They will either prefer to wait or simply say, “Fine, send us a copy,” and asked to be kept in the loop regarding the other interested parties. And remember. The publishing world is small, very small, so try not to make enemies. Editors and agents have long memories. So don’t lie.
Finally, always hope for the best but be realistic, expect rejection. It goes with the territory. You can take heart, though, in the knowledge that even the best writers get rejected before finally finding an agent to represent them. Remember, above all, be persistent, work on your craft, take classes, join workshops and fine-tune your skills. And never stop writing, when one project goes out for review start on the next, and then the one after that, and so on.