Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office
Judging by my inbox, a record number of writers have decided that 2011 is their year to publish-or-die. Is that your New Year’s resolution? Sad Truth #1: Getting published is akin to making it as an actor in Hollywood, being a singer selected for American Idol or a musician who gets a big label record deal. In other words, it’s an uphill battle. Sad Truth #2: Established agents have very few open spots for new writers. While we are all looking for the perfect new talent, we have to balance our lists between stars, rising stars, steadily published writers, newly published writers and unpublished writers. Sad Truth #3: When considering new writers talent is a big part of it but there’s so much more.
That said, with the right stuff, you can make it. Writers break in every day. Many go on to have long, successful careers. A few skyrocket to success beyond their wildest dreams. One of the first things a writer needs to do on his way to being published is find a literary agent who believes in him and can open all the right doors.
This week I’m going to offer you the inside track on what moves a writer out of the pack and into contention. Before I begin, let me remind you that there are a number of workarounds to getting an agent. The traditional query process is not the only way. I wrote about those workarounds here, here, here, here, and here. Also, getting an agent is not the only way to reach your publishing goal. I shattered that myth here.
But if you are looking to find an agent let me use this week to let you in on a few secrets– the things that make me sit up and take notice.
The first thing I look for in a potential client is knowledge of the industry. I want a client who is a professional and has invested the time to become familiar with publishing. When I first started as a writer, the internet was barely up and running. I bought books. I read everything I could get my hands on. I studied the craft but I also devoured books on publishing and marketing. I joined writers’ organizations like CWFI and SCBWI. These days it is so much easier. The information, the organizations, and the connections are all available online. Editors, publishers and agents blog– giving you the inside scoop on everything from getting published to marketing your book. There is no reason to be clueless.
Because you are reading this blog I realize I am preaching to the choir. You are already one step ahead of most of the queries I receive.
Along with that knowledge of the industry I look for writers who are connected. If you are writing fiction, I look to see what organizations and critique groups you belong to. I like to see queries from writers whose names I recognize because they Twitter with other writers, they comment on writer blogs or they follow a number of my writer/agent/editor friends on Facebook. (And yes, we all notice names that appear regularly.) It’s a time investment in the writing community and it bodes well. A connected writer is a writer who has a network of people to help on the journey.
You might ask: How would an agent know I’m knowledgeable and know I’m connected? Those hint are available to us in your query. First off, there is no excuse these days for not knowing how to write a query. There’s probably more information on writer’s sites about query-writing than anything else. A query with an attached manuscript or too much information or too little information is a dead giveaway that someone hasn’t invested any time in learning about the process. But the clues to a knowledgeable writer are evident as well. If you are a children’s writer and you mention that your picture book is 32-page book and that you are a member of SCBWI, those are keywords that let us know that you know what you are doing and you are connected. The novelist who nails the genre perfectly, knows her potential audience and mentions something she read in the blog or on my website is a dead giveaway. The nonfiction writer who tells me why he is the go-to person for his particular subject shows he knows what the industry requires these days. We agents become very good at ferreting out clues from queries.
When we ask for a proposal and sample chapters it becomes simple to identify those writers who are knowledgable and invested.
Now it’s your turn: Why do you think it’s so important to know the industry and be invested in it? After all, you are seeking an agent. Can’t your agent handle all the industry/ business stuff so you can go off somewhere and write? What happened to the age-old hermit/ writer?