Explore the Raindance Literary Agent Toolkit:
10 Strategic Steps To Get A Literary Agent | Four Things An Agent Does | What Does a Publisher Do? | How Much Do Literary Agents Charge? | The Query Letter | 10 Tips for Writing Loglines | How Creatives Reject Rejection | Gallery of Rejection
We know you have been stuck in your ivory tower, working like mad on your writing. You even had some professional feedback which was encouraging. But now you need some help in getting the word out about your creative endeavors. Getting an agent is one of the steps you embark on. But simply saying you want and need an agent doesn’t mean you will get one. Like any dream, one needs to strategize. Let me take you through the steps to getting a literary agent.
1. Finish the damn manuscript
I know you like to futz and fiddle. I know you awake a night wondering if you should put a comma in, or not. The fact is that creative projects are never finished. They are abandoned. You can always improve a sentence. I sent my last book, Raindance Producers’ Lab to an editor, and still found a couple of changes after a professional had been through it. But it was too late – it had already gone to print. Thank god for 2nd editions!
My advice? Get over it and get it out there ASAP. If you keep tidying your manuscript and store it under your bed every night, chances are no one will even know you’ve written it until two weeks after your demise when the smell drifts into the hallway.
2. Readers reports
Once you have finished your manuscript, have it read by a professional reader. This will cost you money, but it will also give you your first response to your work. You can get a list of professional readers here. Raindance has it’s own professional reading service.
3.Research literary agents
It’s no good sending your steamy novel to an agent who only deals in children’s books.
Here’s what I tell my students to look for when they are ready for an agent. Spend about fifteen minutes a day researching agents.
3a. Agents can be found
Literary agents are pretty public with the types of work they are looking for. Follow them, or follow social media lists of agents like the great list on @Collab_Writers. See if you can identify five at a time that suit your writing style..
3b. Know your genre
If you have writtena sci-fi thriller it is pointless to send it to an agent who is only handling children’s books. Do your homework. Get a grasp on the genre of your story and then research and see which agents have similar types of work, or similar types of storytellers on their books.
c. Ascertain their tastes
If you google an agent you are interested in, why not go to www.goodreads.com and see if they have liked anything in the same sort of story that you have written. Most agents also have linkedin accounts where you can get a handle on their previous jobs and articles they have published or liked.
d. Whats their track record?
You don’t need to be a stalker – you jsut need to be smart. Set up google alerts for the agent and a few of their clients. When books are sold or published there is almost always a press release. You can get an idea of where they are on the success ladder.
You can also do a quick search on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see if their authors are boasting about sales.
e. Read the trades
This is essential. Why would you submit to the endurance test of writing a book unless you knew what the commercial viability of your manuscript would likely be?
Read: The Bookseller.com
For news of recent script sales: Donedeal.com
f. Go to trade shows (book fairs)
Book fairs are where buyers and sellers of books get together and cut deals. At a Book Fair you will meet publishers, distributors and agent. it’s also a great place to meet filmmakers seeking for new movie ideas. Whatever your travel and accommodation budget is, remember that a day or two at one of these book fairs could set your career on a completely new and rewarding track.
4. Write a treatment
Often the person you are pursuing will want to know about your project without reading the entire manuscript.This abbreviated version of your work is called a treatment.
There are two different types of treatments. The first is a ‘step outline’ which is a bullet list of the key plot points in the script. This you might want to use as a guide while you are writing your story. It isn’t of any value to show an agent or publisher.
People interested in paying you for your work are interested in the mood, atmosphere and your overall writing style. For a long-form piece, this might vary between ten and fifty pages. Snippets of dialogue can be thrown in.
A good treatment will start with an overall summary of the story, followed by description of several of the key moments and finish with the outcome (ending) of the story.
Try to avoid an endling like “Did she pull the trigger or not? You’ll have to wade through the entoire manuscript to find out!” Cute doesn’t work in a professional setting.
You might also want to come up with a logline – a short 5 – 8 words that supports the title of your book. James Burbidge has written a great article on creating loglines.
Script consultant, author and filmmaker Mark Rogers has written a detailed guide for crafting treatments.
5. Write an 8 Line letter
You query letter should be short and straight to the point.
I like to think of eight lines, broken into three short paragraphs.
The first paragraph should explain to the reader who you are and what you have done for a day job to pay the landlord. Don’t worry if you have a dull and boring day job. People accustomed to buying creative projects are tired of over-dressed fashionistas approaching them with yet another overblown and overhyped idea. The fact that you can write while holding down a normal job is more interesting to them than the latest film or media school grad.
The second paragraph should be a simple explanation of the story. Who the main character is, and what they want and who prevents them for attaining their goal.
I would close the letter off by stating that you would like to submit your manuscript (include the title) to your company for representation consideration.
I look forward to hearing from you. Then, sign your name and make certain you have clear contact details.
6. Your opening chapters/scenes
When you start putting the feellers out for agents, at some point you are going to have to submit samples of your work. now is the time you need to hone and polish your work down to the ‘T’
Professionals see a lot of work. Try to avoid the following cliches that are done to death by first time writers:
- Dream sequences
- Pointless chase scenes
- Alarm clocks
- Phonetic spelling of sounds
- Long exposition paragraph
Remember – your job is to entertain – you are a storyteller, right? And the surest way to entertain is to make sure you write the emotion.
7. Keep a power file
Nothing will ever happen to you and your career until you realise it’s a relationship industry.
Now that you have found literary agents, you need to track each and every one of the most interesting ones.
Create a filing system in a notebook or on your telephone or laptop. Every time you find something of interest about the agent or publisher you are pursuing, jot it down. You will find this pays huge dividends when you enter into an actual conversation. Keep track of everyone that you email or send a copy of your manuscript to as well. This is useful in proving the chain of title of your work.
8. Be professional
You will never go wrong by acting courteously and professionally. Soppy shows of anger and frustration will label you as a rank amateur creative with little experience. Your colleagues in the creative industries will shun you.
9. The one on one pitch meeting
So your agent wants to talk. This is a really good sign. Rarely will an agent sign you until they have actually met you in person. What you need to do now is prepare for the pitch meeting. Arm yourself with an in-depth research about the person you are meeting as outlined in #7 above.
And prepare yourself thoroughly.
Check out the Pitching Skills Workshop at Raindance for some great pitching tips.
You might want to consider preparing a Publishers Pitch Deck.
You will need to prepare material under the following subheadings: Relevancy | Book Description | Target Audience | Book Outline and Table of Contents | Competitive Titles Analysis | List of proposed reviewers | Physical Aspects | Authors Biography | Submission Schedule | Sample Chapters
10. You get offered representation
Bingo! You’ve done it. Now make sure you get a lawyer to check out the contract you’ve been offered. Like any marriage, make sure you understand who pays for what and take a good hard look at the divorce clauses!