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How To Find A Literary Agent, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Based on the writers I’ve known, there are four basic ways to find an agent:

1. Query an agent through Literary Marketplace, or another reference book that lists agents who are accepting solicitations. Write up a very polished letter, no more than a page or so, in which you describe your book, say why it has commercial appeal, tell the agent why you are contacting her in particular to show you’ve done your research, and if that agency says you can do so in their submission guidelines, send in the first chapter of your book. Repeat a few dozen times until you find an agent who wants to take you on. This is how I got my first agent, who managed to sell my first book before we parted ways for mutual reasons, and though the partnership didn’t last, I’ll be forever grateful to her.

2. Go to a writing conference and pitch your book to an agent. This is how I got my second agent. I met her in person, we had a certain simpatico, I showed her the first paragraph of something I was working on, and she said she’d be willing to look at my work. I sent her my novel and she accepted me as her client. The nice thing about finding an agent this way is that most writing conferences aren’t going to invite bum agents to their gig. They want only reputable agents from competitive agencies, so you can be fairly certain that an agent at a conference like this is going to be a real professional. (This isn’t an excuse not to do research of your own, though!)

3. Go through a writer friend you know. If your friend has a good agent and doesn’t mind sharing, you can ask him/her to put in a good word for you. Then write an excellent query letter, and send in a fabulous piece of writing that doesn’t make your friend look bad to her agent. The only problem with this approach is that it can be really hard to get turned down by a friend’s agent, and unless you are super-cool about it, your friendship can be affected.

4. Sell your first novel yourself, then hire an agent to negotiate the contract for you and represent you thereafter. I know two different writers who found their agents this way, but I think this is getting harder to do these days and fewer publishing houses accept un-agented manuscripts.

Finding an agent can be time consuming and difficult, and the task is so daunting that some beginning writers want to skip this step. They do so at their own peril, because if they can’t find an agent who wants to represent their book, they’re going to have an even harder time finding an editor who wants to publish it. In other words, if your work isn’t good enough for an agent, it’s definitely not good enough for an editor. Yet. So if you’re going to put in all that work to make your book good enough, you might as well find someone who can be your business partner and defender. It’s tough out there; it’s good to have someone you can rely to always be on your side.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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How To Tell Good Literary Agents From Bad Literary Agents, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

In my previous post, I discussed why a novelist should have an agent. What follows is a step by step process for how to tell the good agents from the bad.

A good agent doesn’t ask for money up front. Every book and magazine on being a writer will tell you this. Everything agents earn from you comes out of sales of your work. Most agents make about 15% on domestic sales and 20% on international sales. I’ve heard some agents are asking for a bit more but this is the basic guideline. Many good agents will also deduct some expenses from your take home pay, for example any travel, postage and long distance costs that were incurred during the sale of your manuscript. My agent does this and I’m okay with it. If someone asks for a “reading fee” or charges you for their editing services up front, I’d be very wary.

A good agent has a list of recent sales to reputable publishers and is capable of landing a decent advance. Most agents will list their clients on their website and you can check there for recent sales but the best way to determine an agent’s negotiating prowess is to buy an inexpensive subscription to The Literary Marketplace, where almost every sale to a publisher is trumpeted with a little code key for how much money the author landed for his/her manuscript. If an agent has gotten a “Significant Deal” or a “Major Deal” for a client within the last few years, you know this agent is capable of successfully running a bidding war. This doesn’t guarantee a bidding war for your work but at least you’ll know it’s a possibility.

A good agent gets good reviews from their clients. Before signing an agency contract, you can ask for references for your agent. I believe most agents are very willing to have current clients speak with prospective clients. You might want to ask things like how long it takes for the agent returns the author’s phone calls and emails, how long the author had to wait for the agent to submit their first book, and how the author would describe the agent’s communication style. I would caution you not to be too stringent with the way you evaluate these answers. A good agent will have a lot of clients and can get very busy, and might not always return calls/emails as promptly as you might wish. Also, I had to wait about six months for my agent to submit the first book I sold with her but I’ve never had to wait that long since. In other words, sometimes a good agent is worth waiting for. Only you can decide how long you’re willing to spend waiting for your agent to get around to you.

But how do you get an agent in the first place? My next post will answer that question. Stay tuned!

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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Does A Novelist Need An Agent? by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Beginning writers often ask me if they really need an agent, and my answer is this: “Unless you’re really great at promoting yourself, and you’re willing to spend hours learning contract law, and you’re very good at negotiating for more money… you definitely need an agent.” There are very few writers who represent themselves successfully. I’ve heard too many horror stories about writers who were willing to sign any contract thrown at them, with very little knowledge of the business, and ended up regretting it years later. Believe it: A bad contract can have financial implications for you that can last a lifetime. Unless a person has a lot of experience analyzing lots of publishing contracts they can, and probably will, miss the little things that can add up BIG TIME.

I look at some of the stuff my agent does for me and I am amazed and incredibly humbled and grateful that I found her. She is a brilliant negotiator. She’s managed to get publishers to quadruple their initial offers mostly because, I say with humility, she believes in me as a writer. If she gets a whiff that my publisher is about to give my book short shrift as far as marketing goes, she’s on the phone with them straight away convincing them of why they need to rethink their strategy. Somehow, she almost always gets what she wants. She is my champion. Compared to her gladiatorial level arbitration, I’d be Oliver Twist holding out my bowl of porridge and saying in a meek little voice, “Please sir, can I have some more?” I know in my heart of hearts that I could never do what she does, on my own behalf or on the behalf of anyone else.  Few could.

Not only that but whenever I am out in the world hobnobbing with editors and they ask me who my agent is, I tell them and they often raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh! Well tell her to submit your work to me.” That’s because even if these editors don’t know who I am, they do know who my agent is. They know she has a reputation for excellent taste and they assume by association that they’re going to like my writing.

So yes, you need an agent – but you need a good one. My next article will be about how to find a good agent.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

   

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Zen and Xander UndoneVibesGlowSpark    The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))TorchedRise of the Heroes (Hero.Com)

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