Thankfully, the conference I went to last autumn cured me of my Agent-related OCD. The agent/editor panels were a revelation—instead of guessing what made agents tick, I was able to sit back and listen to them tell me. On the off chance there are other A-R OCD sufferers out there, here some pearls of wisdom, straight from the agent’s mouth:
What agents are seeing too much of:
- Vampires and werewolves
- Mid-life spiritual memoirs
- Heavy YA (i.e. young girls being severely abused)
- Talking animals in children’s books
What would agents love to see:
- Judy Blume-like contemporary middle grade
- Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars
- Historical thriller that lends to a series/branding
What can an agent bring to the table:
- Editorial experience
- Other opportunities to create revenue streams (i.e. speaker services)
- Someone who will champion your work to the world
What agents look for in a new author:
- Writing is becoming very voice-driven and it must be engaging and distinct (i.e. don’t try to write like J.K. Rowling)
- Emotion on the page that evokes a visceral response in the reader
- A great title can make the difference in an agent giving attention to your query
- Have an understanding of the publishing business so you know what your work has to go through before it’s printed
- Critique partners are essential in getting your manuscript ready for an agent, who will then take it up another notch before going to publishers
What all aspiring authors should know about agents:
- Agents take on new clients in cycles, depending on their current list, and much of getting an agent depends on timing
- Summer is not a slow time to query—it’s always busy (one agent signed a client on Christmas Eve! Another one found her client at a drag show!)
- A good query has a hook (logline), book (plot) and cook (bio)—don’t get too clever/cute/wordy
What agents think of social networking:
- Interacting on Twitter and Facebook demonstrates to editors/agents that you are serious about being a career author and building a network
- Unless you get 60,000+ hits per month, having a blog is not as important for fiction writers—the story is what really matters
- Remember that the internet is like a live microphone—be nice and supportive online because agents and editors and readers will Google you
- Think of Google as your virtual resume
What agents think of self-publishing:
- It’s ideal for traditionally-published authors who already have a readership base or who’ve regained rights to previously-published work
- Do it properly (e.g. hire a professional editor, graphic designer)
- Digital publishing is growing, but it’s still one piece of the author’s puzzle
- Agents/editors act as gatekeepers for quality control and can offer brand management (i.e. media outreach) that an author can do alone, but is infinitely harder
- “Debut” is not a dirty word in publishing and often no data is better than bad data when it comes to sales tracking
- It can be tricky trying to move from self-publishing to traditional—40,000 copies sold through self-publishing may be interpreted by a traditional publisher as either not enough copies sold or that it’s been sold to everyone who will buy it
- If your genre is hard to categorize or you have plenty of time to self-promote, self-publishing may be a good option for you
What should you ask an agent when you get “the call” (or, more likely, “the email”):
- How do you work (i.e. does contact occur via phone, email, etc.)?
- What’s the plan from here? What do you see as next steps in terms of short and long-term strategy?
- What do you connect with in the book?
- What revisions do you suggest?
- What’s your experience with my kind of book?
What’s the biggest thing Lori learned from the agents?
- Agents are, remarkably, regular people. And like other regular people, there are some you click with more than others. They have good and bad days, they have personal preferences when it comes to books (and, one would assume, other things), they love their authors and they love what they do. Most importantly, they all want to find new authors with fresh voices and exciting ideas.
As you may have gathered, it appears that the best time to query your dream agent is…right now. Seriously—if your Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars and query letter are as perfect as you can make them, it’s time to send them out into the world.
If your voice is strong, pace is unputdownable, timing is right and you don’t include glitter with a lemon-scented query letter, today could be the day you get an agent.