Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How to Know if You're Ready for a Literary Agent

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I recently began an internship with Hartline Literary Agency, and one thing I've discovered is how hard it is for a query to stand out in a slush pile. Agents receive multiple submissions per week. The truth is, they can't spend all of their time digging through these submissions. So how are you, an aspiring author, supposed to stand out in the midst of these proposals? 

Here's my advice: Wait. Wait until your work is 100% ready to be represented by an agent. Many--if not most--proposals that agents receive are submitted by writers who were not ready to send their book out to the world. They sacrificed quality of their writing for the sake of representation. 

So after you type THE END on your manuscript, pause a moment. Resist the urge to go rushing off to find an agent who will be eager to send your work out to publishers. 

Then, ask yourself these questions:

     1. Have I studied the industry and craft?

I don't mean simply reading a blog post here and there. Do you understand how the publishing industry works? Have you invested hours into classes, courses, and books that help take your writing to the next level? {Here are resources that might help.} And have you applied these techniques to your manuscript?

     2. Have I written my book to the best of my ability? 

Often, the idea of publication will cause us to rush the writing process, and therefore neglect to make our work shine. No, writing a book isn't necessarily fast or easy. But if we want to actually see our book in print one day, it's vital that we don't skimp in this process.

     3. Has my manuscript been critiqued and edit?

We writers don't always catch our own mistakes in our manuscript. This is why we need others who are familiar with the craft to look over our work with a critical eye. (No, a family member doesn't count ... ;) )  

     4. Is my idea unique and an appealing premise?

Being on this side of the industry has made me realize how important it is to have a unique idea that stands out in the crowd. If your idea is a fresh, interesting premise, then your chances of publication will be boosted tremendously. How can you summarize your book in 1 - 3 sentences in a way that doesn't make it sound like other books within its genre?

     5. Does the first page of my novel capture the reader from the start?

If writers took the time to rewrite the first chapter -- or even the first page -- of their manuscript, an agent may seriously consider their work. But unfortunately, this is the biggest mistake I've noticed amongst these submissions: The first chapter/page is loaded with backstory and info dump. Either that, or the story begins with an uninteresting, dull scene. 

Glance over your first page, scene, and chapter. Have you opened with conflict? Action? Does the scene move the story forward, or could the book begin later in the story? How can you weave in the backstory without giving the readers an info dump at the beginning? And finally, is the goal of your main character clear in that first chapter, and why would a reader be interested in following their journey to reach this goal? 

     6. Have I established a web presence?

Often, an agent or an editor will do an online search of a prospective author to see if they have an online platform. This is a biggie in today's industry. Even if you don't have hundreds or thousands of followers, it's important to at least set up social media accounts -- and possibly a website/blog -- so you can come across as professional and serious about your writing career. 
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Remember: Agents aren't searching for writers to reject; they're searching for writers to represent. So if you want to make their job a bit easier, wait until you can give them your absolute best work. Then, when they read your compelling premise and are unable to put down the chapters you send, they won't even have to think twice about whether or not they should offer you representation. But this will only happen if you devote necessary time into studying, writing, editing, and establishing an online presence.

Tweet: How to Know if You're Ready for a Literary Agent via @tessaemilyhall #amwriting 

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If you have an agent, how long did it take you from the moment you wrote the book until you found representation? If you don't have an agent, what phase of the writing journey are you currently in?

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  1. You've probably shared this on your blog before but how long did it take you to find representation after you finished? Did you have one agent in mind or did you have multiple offers? And if you had a choice to make, how did you make it?
    I'm in the middle of my novel and I'm kinda stuck. I know how I want to proceed but I also feel like I should rewrite the whole thing? But that's where I am.

    1. Hey, Regine! Sorry for the late response.

      It didn't take long to find representation because I attended two writing conferences while I completed my book. (I didn't sign with an agent until my book was finished, though.) I had a couple of other agents who were interested, however I chose the one that represented all of the genres that I wanted to eventually write (children's book, nonfiction, MG, etc.). I also got in touch with clients of this agent and asked a few questions about what it was like to work with this agent.

      Have you considered getting involved in a writing critique group? You can search for one in your area, or you can find one online as well. I'm apart of the Scribes Writing Critique Group, which is online and apart of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). I also recommend attending a writer's conference as soon as you can. Even the small ones are highly beneficial! Receiving objective feedback from writers -- especially ones who have been in the industry for a while -- should give you a fresh perspective of your book.

      I hope that helps!


  2. This was so helpful, Tessa! I'm in the baby steps of writing my novel, but I'm really excited about this particular idea. I haven't finished a manuscript in quite a while because I tend to rush the process. I'm trying to take this one slower and better plan the story. Hopefully someday a publisher will take a look at my book and like it as much as I do. :)

    1. Hi, Emily!

      It's always best to take your time on a story and perfecting it as opposed to rushing it for the sake of publication. Of course, that is tempting -- especially since the writing journey can be the pace of a snail at times. Most of the time, actually. =) But it'll pay off on the day you receive a box of your books in the mail, and you will feel proud that you invested everything you could into that work of art.

      Thanks for commenting!



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