On the Second day of Christmas Vacation

December 23rd, 2008 • Kate

Two TurtledovesDaphne shared with me a question from Gabby, who emails:

I’m writing a book… I was wondering if you have any advice on literary agents or any you recommend.

Normally, a question like this sends me running for the hills — there’s just SO much I can say — but in the spirit of the holidays, I’ll answer it.
First of all, Gabby, the best first step you can take is to finish your book. Finish writing it out longhand, or typing it up, or scratching it on your walls. Just finish it. Something crazy like 75% of people think they have a book in them to write but only a teeny tiny fraction of those people actually manage to finish writing it. And of those, an even smaller percentage actually get published. So once you’re on your way, with a completed manuscript in your desk drawer or computer hard drive, join a writing group — whether it’s something local, maybe out of your library or nearby independant bookstore, or national like the SCBWI or RWA. Go to a few workshops, practice your craft, talk to other writers, read other unfinished works, learn to critique others and find a way to apply other readers’ critiques to your work.
Once you’ve done all that, and you’ve realized that you need to pull that manuscript out of the desk drawer or file folder and make some serious revisions, you’ll find a new use for your fellow critique buddies or members of your writing group. Revise, revise, revise!
Somewhere along the way — it’s not a definite point, but you’ll know it when it happens — you’ll reach that moment when every word is as perfect as you can make it, and then — and only then — should you begin the process of seeking an agent. Look at your favorite books and scan the acknowledgments for reference to the author’s agent. Do this with all the books you love, and then cross check the agents’ names you find with the listings on Absolute Write, Verla Kay, Predators & Editors, and Publishers Lunch. Ask around. Google them. read their websites and blogs – not just this week’s posts, but browse through the archives. Search for terms that describe your book. You don’t want to send a thriller query to someone who, days before you started reading their blog, professed a hatred for that genre. You won’t know unless you look, so look, Look, LOOK! Do all the research you can.
Then, prep each letter/email, depending on the agent’s preference, and personalize each one. I’m not in the habit of recommending other agents — if something’s not for me, it’s YOUR job to find the next agent you want to submit to. Yes, I keep company with other agents, but unless I have a very specific reason for saying no to something, and unless we have a personal connections, chances are my “no” is a dead end. Find another route.
That doesn’t mean to come back to me in a week with another novel. Just in case you were curious.
Gabby, there’s a lot of work involved in making it as a writer. This is just the very tippy-top of the iceberg. Readers, what other advice do you have for someone starting out in this business?

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2 Responses to “On the Second day of Christmas Vacation”

  1. Kathleen Peaock Says:

    Though I've not actually started querying yet, I think your advice was pretty much spot on.
    I would add that if Gabby can't find a local writing group (which was my problem) she can still find other writers online to connect with and she should still find a circle of beta readers – even if they aren't other writers.
    Check agent blogs (A few of the ones I read are listed on my own blog at http://kathleenpeacock.wordpress.com/) and take notes on submissions and query letters.
    Also, I would read up on the business of publishing and/or finding an agent. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner is just one example of a terrific book each aspiring writer should read.

  2. jrbutcher Says:

    Hi Gabby,
    You need to finish the manuscript. Nothing else matters if you don't do that one thing. There's not an agent in the world that will take an unknown client with an unfinished manuscript. Since only 3 people out of a thousand finish writing a book, that would be a bad bet on their part.
    Maybe reward yourself. For every two hours you write, you get one hour to cruize the blogs.
    You can do it! If I can, anyone can. I have 6 children *G*