• Getting an agent

    03 February 2023

    Following yesterday's post, in which I talked about vanity publishing versus self-publishing versus traditional publishing, I had a few queries from people wanting to know how to go about getting an agent. I had actually meant to include that info in the original post, but it was going on a bit longer than I'd intended, and I forgot!!! :-)

    Anyway, my advice, if you're a writer who wishes to go down the traditional route and look for a publisher, is to first look for an agent. Many publishers won't even LOOK at a manuscript unless it's been submitted through an agent. And if someone at the publishing house HAS been assigned the job of looking through unsolicited manuscripts, it's probably a student on temporary work assignment there -- so, y'know, it's very unlikely to make it any further than that person, even if they like it.

    If you live in the UK or Ireland, there's a book that gets published annually called THE WRITERS AND ARTISTS YEARBOOK. It provides loads of practical advice, along with the names and contact details for all the various legitimate agents in the UK. It also tells you some of the authors they represent, and the types of books they are interested in. (It lists details for all the publishing houses too, but as I already said, you're better off just targeting agents.) This is the URL for their website: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/

    In the USA there is a similar book, again published annually, called WRITER'S MARKET. I've never looked through one of those, as I used the UK version, but I believe it provides much the same info. This is the link for that website: https://writersmarket.com/

    I haven't looked at the Yearbook for a while, but if memory serves me right, they will also list an agent's terms. Basically, as with publishers, you should never pay an agent -- if you make money, they make money. If an agent is looking for payment upfront, my advice is to strike them from your list and look for another agent. In the old days, agents typically earned 10% of whatever their writers made. These days that tends to be between 15% and 20%. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?!? But trust me, a good agent is worth every penny, and since they only make money if YOU make money, their job is to help you make as much money as you possibly can, so they'll look out for your interests in a way that publishing houses just can't replicate.

    When I was nipper, first submitting my work, I read through all the agent listings in the yearbook, drew up a shortlist of 5 based on authors that they represented, genres they were interested in, and the look of their name. (Yes, it can be THAT unscientific!) I sent a covering letter and a sample (usually a couple of chapters, no more than 30 or 40 pages) to them and sat back and waited, fully expecting to have to draw up another shortlist a few months later. To my delight, although four agents DID either say they weren't interested in representing me, or didn't even respond, one DID get in touch to ask to see more of the book. His name was Christopher Little, and he became my agent for the next 25 years, until his death.

    I wish you as much luck in your search for the perfect agent as I had with mine.



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