A savvy agent can spot timely and quality writing. Editors count on them to bring them great work.
They say it’s harder to get an agent than an editor. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I’ve found that is not true. I’ve signed with several agents, some of them for one-book contracts, others for overall career management—book-length nonfiction, novels, and screenplays.
I teamed up with them in three different ways.
Beyond scheduled pitch sessions, there are many ways you can link your name to your face so your story idea will get more than cursory attention. For many years I’ve attended, volunteered at, and taught at conferences where schmoozing in the bars, at meals and during hotel room parties facilitate personal connections. Occasionally a deal is made at a conference. One agent offered to represent me after I told her about my nonfiction book over dinner. She had a personal connection to the topic, something I wouldn’t have known without chatting with her about where she came from. During a workshop, a Hollywood producer heard my pitch for a novel in progress and later asked me to turn it into a screenplay so he could market it for me. One of my editing clients signed with an agent during a conference weekend solely on the strength of her high concept pitch.
If you can afford the fee, entering a good quality contest is well worth your investment. I entered ones that offered feedback and had acquiring-agent judges. The feedback was invaluable when coupled with my critique group and beta reader input. Winning or placing added to my bio and put me on the stage. This exposure to industry insiders made all the difference on my path. An attending agent, who I didn’t even know was in the audience during an awards ceremony, contacted me with an offer of representation because of my moments of glory. She auctioned one of my novels. Though, in the end, it didn’t sell, I had someone in my court working on my behalf for a couple of years. All because I invested in entering that contest. Likewise, on the strength of screenplay contest feedback and honors, I’ve gotten work-for-hire screenwriting assignments, a director/producer interested in using one of my scripts for a webisode, as well as an offer of representation from a Hollywood agent and a paying screenwriting blog column, with all of this leading to work as a script doctor.
Learn to write a quality query letter that sells you and your work. An agent can’t resist a marketable idea when proposed in a competent letter. You are introducing yourself, your connection to that agent, what you are writing, and why it will put the agent’s child through college. Rarely will you find an agent who puts money second to the quality of work. Much to the chagrin of brilliant literary writers who fail to gain traction, it’s a business, not a mission. This ad for your product needs to grab that agent and hold on so tightly that he will stare at the ceiling at night contemplating which imprints will want that book, imagining your blog tours, and counting your million plus Twitter followers hopping over fences to get to your signings.
The query letter can be a follow-up to meeting an interested agent at a conference. It can be a cold query to a recommended agent, one you are being referred to, or one who is listed in books such as the current Guide to Literary Agents or Writer’s Market. There are numerous online sources for finding and evaluating the fit of these agents. I have three favorites.
Query Tracker is the Match.com of the literary world.
Absolute Write is like a gossip site where you can find recommendations and cautions.
The Predators and Editors site is like the Consumer Protection Agency, Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports all rolled into one.
I hope this three-pronged approach helps you find an agent, too.
About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at www.karenalbrightlin.com.