Friday, April 14, 2006

An easy way to find the needle in a haystack?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any aspiring writer in possession of a good manuscript must be in want of an agent. I’m just gearing up for that part of the writing that requires screwing up enormous courage - to send your nurtured off-spring out from the cosy, intimate world of your study and into the cold, commercial world of the agent. As with any small objects of desire, agents can afford to be choosy. You’re going to have to put all your big guns up front as there is no place for the modest wall flower, unless you happen to be the daughter of a celebrity or duchess. So are there any the rules today for sure-fire success? And how about shortcuts that will save all the agony of waiting for the telephone call and rejection? My recent researches have revealed that the whole business of securing an agent is one that has not changed all that much for centuries. Does that mean all that’s left open to us is a blind date with the Writer’s Handbook and a pin? Rather than going for a scatter-gun approach, the best tip appears to be to try to find a like mind – an agent who handles an author you like. It used to be a pretty lucky find if you discovered a thank you to an agent in an acknowledgement. But a quick web browse on an author’s name can often track down a press release, or press reference to who their agent is. Trouble is, if you like Ian Rankin and PD James, isn’t this aiming, well, a little high? It seems an open secret that not all agents are equally in need of new authors. Those well-established with a few big names that churn out bestsellers reliably every year are probably only going to launch those new hopefuls they feel will enhance their reputation. Fine if you’ve got Booker potential. You probably won’t be reading this. This is where finding, perhaps, a newly published author you enjoy reading is more likely to point you in the direction of someone who likes the same things as you and is actively looking for people to sign. One of the big steps forward into the modern age appears to be that many agents are generous enough to have web sites these days. Websites also have useful submission guidelines. http://www.writersservices.com/ appears to keep a pretty comprehensive list of agents, and links to their websites. Although any browse through who an agent already handles usually leaves you gasping and thinking ‘well they won’t want me’. Then there is that wonderful piece of advice about not going with the first agent that offers a deal and meeting several and considering offers. Well, hey ho, I’ll be sure to follow that suggestion. Most aspiring writers get a sniff of an agent being interested and it’s a blushing ‘yes please’ and straight to contracts (not to say bite their hand off) before they can withdraw their offer. Anyway, those are my nuggets. I am spending this week trying to put together my hit list following the above advice. They don’t know who they are, but there are lucky, lucky, individuals who will find my work on the slush pile that’s propping open the door this summer. Additional tips, comments on the above and any other helpful advice all gratefully received. I shall keep you posted on whether the agents are behaving themselves as they are supposed to over the coming months.

2 comments:

  1. The secret to my success - success in attracting an agent: it's too soon to know what happens next - was to meet the agent in person, have a conversation over a pub lunch, and establish a rapport. Then, when it came time to submit, I could simply say "remember we talked about my book, well, here it is."

    Of course the trick there was to get the pub lunch, and that was all through the local chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association.

    To join the RNA it is a bit crucial to be writing in the romantic arena, broadly defined, so if yours is a whodunnit you may need to find another route (the CWA doesn't admit yet-to-be-published writers the way the RNA does).

    Good luck, anyway.

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  2. I very much like the idea of the pub lunch approach. So much better than the cold calling approach. I have certainly heard the RNA is actively involved in promoting new novelists, although, sadly, I feel a romantic novel is probably beyond me. I feel the other significant factor in your case is also that your books sounds both fun and exciting and I'm sure whoever you sent it to would have snapped it up. I certainly can't wait to read it.

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