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7 Simple Steps to Getting an Agent

by
Vivian Beck


Every writer wants to know how to get an agent; and everyone wants to tell the writer how to get one.  There’s the A-list of bad tips out there:

  1. "Use scented pink paper with gold script writing to catch an agent/editor’s attention)."  This “wonderful” tidbit was given to writers at a writer's conference.  We might have been newbies, but we were smart enough to see through that one!
  2. Take advantage fortuitous opportunities to meet agents.  This is the one that spawned the bathroom sessions with the manuscript under the door thing.
  3. And my all time favorite—be persistent.  At one point being persistent became synonymous with “stalk the agent” (or editor).  But, being the classy people we writers are, stalking was limited to telephone, snail mail, e-mail and large conferences where we could hide behind massive pillars as we tailed our dream agent.

After looking at the broad interpretations the above tips inspired (we are creative creatures, after all), I wanted to devise a list of simple steps that could still garner positive results even if taken a little in the extreme—the operative words being “simple” and “little”.  This is a list of my best thoughts on getting an agent, not the golden rules of publishing, just seven simple steps….

  1. Be Professional.  Being courteous when interacting with an agent; understanding that this is a business and conducting oneself accordingly; and knowing how to present your product (manuscript) in an acceptable business manner will always be a plus in the author’s favor.
  2. Get Knowledge.  Having an overview (at least) of your chosen profession is never a waste.  The author doesn’t have to know everything, but knowing the basics will often insure you against the pitfalls of the industry.  Know the your market and what it means to the publisher for whom you wish to write; know the job descriptions of editors, agents, booksellers, etc.; learn basic fiction writing skills, then specialize in your sub-category; and most of all, learn the protocols of the business—what is and isn’t acceptable.
  3. Create A Business Plan.  Starting your business without a business plan is downright scary.  Know what you want to accomplish with your career; how you plan to get there; understand the costs (physical, emotional, financial, etc.); and know the obstacles that stand between you and your business success.  With a business plan, the writer is forced to think through their career goals and make them realistic and achievable.
  4. Build A Support Network.  Every champion needs a team in his/her corner.  As an author, your team may consist of critique partners; an accountant; a good promotion machine already in place by the time your get your agent or editor; a mentor; a user friendly library of how-to books; a local writing group or writing friends; and the list goes on.  Your support network should be a host of resources the author can turn to when in need or just wants to share the good news!
  5. Build Inventory.  If an author has no product (manuscripts) to sell, how will they get contracts?  One book is a starting place (your start up money so to speak), but inventory builds careers.  Having inventory gives an author options—an inventory is a tool by which the writer will build his/her wealth.
  6. Submit A Sellable Manuscript.  This is a given, right?  Wrong.  Look at your manuscript and see it through the eyes of an editor.  If said editor had only 5 slots to fill and 1000 manuscripts from which to draw, would your manuscript be one of the hallowed five?  Be honest; this is too important to rationalize—do whatever it takes (legally, morally and ethically, of course) to bring your manuscript up to snuff.
  7. Have Balance.  Balance is the key to everything in your life.  The Bible advises us to use moderation in all things.  Writers can truly benefit from that wisdom.  Don’t sacrifice your family (or anything else that’s important to you) at the altar of publication.  It’s not worth it.  Period.

These steps may not be what you expected, but, I hope you’ll breathe easier the next time you put your precious literary baby in the mail to an agent, knowing that it’s the everyday, commonsense wisdom you were born with that will best help you attract an agent. 

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