Friday, November 6, 2020

How to Send a Manuscript to an Agent--and What to Expect Once You Do

If you've been writing like crazy during the past months of isolation, you may be ready to send your manuscript off to an agent or two in the new year. One of my long-time students is in that scary and exciting place, and she asked for any tips on how to go about it.

(I've written in many past blog posts about how to know if you're really ready. You can search for them on my blog if you want to read them again. Enter "manuscript" or "agent" in the search box.)

The first step to preparing to submit is to gather a list of agents who represent similar books and with whom you feel simpatico. How do you find them? The easiest way is to look in the acknowledgements pages of your favorite books, ones similar to the book you're writing. Often the author thanks her or his agent. Make a list of these names then spend time browsing the agents' websites. It's also helpful to go to Manuscript Wish List to see what the agents are looking for right now. Finally, their Twitter feed is a great resource for getting to know them and finding out their interests in debut books.

Select 15-20 agents to start. The average submission to success ratio right now is at least that--in other words, you have to be prepared to send out your query and sample pages to at least 15-20 agents before you land the golden reply of "please send more." When my agent retired and I had to search for a new one, it took me closer to 40 tries before I landed on my current agent, whom I love. It's part of the process, so steel yourself to spend time with the research, the submitting, and the inevitable rejections.

For perspective, read some of the blog posts from authors who have submitted and finally succeeded. Here's one: How I Got My Agent. There are many out there, good stories to check out, to get real about the process.

Once you have your list, get specific. Make a spreadsheet or wall chart. List the agent's name, agency name and address or contact info, and a link to submission guidelines. Trust me, these will be different for every agent--and the agent expects you to read them and not waste their time. For instance, my agent wanted pages sent as an attachment, and a certain number of pages formatted a certain way. When I neglected to do this (probably crazed from the process by then), she sent back a nice email asking me to read the submission guidelines and resend. Not everyone performs this kindness. Mostly, you'll get no response if you don't send the way they want.

In short, there's no shortcut to this and no standard way. Some agents like attachments, some never touch them--in fact, one of the agencies I queried stated on their website that they trash any query that contains an attachment. Some use a submitting form where you fill in fields and upload your material. It is unique to each agency, just as the business model is unique to each business.

One more word about submitting. It took me a year of submitting to my current agent. My query was good, I got about 30-40 percent "yes, please send the whole manuscript," but it took FOREVER for agencies to get back to me. This is also normal. Even more so with Covid. Things just take longer.

Practice your patience and find a way to keep believing in yourself and your book as you begin this journey. It's not for the faint of heart. But it's worth it--there's nothing like holding your published book in your hands.

Finally, I'll leave with a plug for the good work the Nelson Agency is doing with their agency newsletter (the link takes you to the website and you need to subscribe to get their newsletter). I subscribe because they share great tips on how to submit. Their latest newsletter had the excellent news for new writers that more debut books were bought this year than expected.

We writers need all the encouragement we can get!

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