I started my agent search back in 2003. Query letters were snail-mailed back then, so response time was longer than it is now with so many agents accepting email queries. I made a lot of errors back then. Allow me to stress that: a lot of errors. You can find a description of those errors in all their humiliating glory on my blog: www.klgore.com
Six years, four books, and several close calls later, I received an offer of representation from two agents. I discovered one of them through an agent interview on www.guidetoliteraryagents.com and the other through www.Jacketflap.com.
After talking on the telephone to Michelle Andelman (who at that time worked at Lynn C. Franklin Associates, Ltd. but has since moved on to Regal Literary), I knew she understood my vision and what I needed to do to bring my novel to the next level. Normally she would have seen a revision before accepting representation, being that my novel needed some work plot-wise, but knowing I had another agent interested she decided to sign me.
Not all agents work with the author to improve the story, but Michelle does, and that’s one of the reasons why I love working with her. She understands the market and isn’t afraid to let me know if one of my novels doesn’t work for her. She’ll talk me through my book over the phone, but ultimately the changes I make are of my own decision.
If I had to explain what it was that successfully landed me an agent, I would say it boils down to two things: submitting to agents who would be a good fit for my books, and persistence. I never gave up, despite how many books I had to write or how many agents I needed to contact. I suppose I should add that I had strong writing skills and an understanding of how plot and conflict worked. After all, it’s difficult to sell a product that’s poorly constructed. But I want to add that rejection does not mean you are a terrible writer who should give up this very second and sell shoes instead. (I wrote and sold shoes, by the way.) It may simply mean the project in question is not a good fit for that particular agent.
Here is why I decided to look for an agent instead of submitting directly to editors. First of all, editors at major publishing houses don’t accept unagented queries. There are exceptions, of course. For example, if you attend a writer’s conference, oftentimes editors will allow you to submit your manuscript to them within, say, the next six months. That brings me to my next reason why I decided to go the agent route. I wanted someone else to negotiate terms with a publishing house. I also preferred to have that person help me find the editor that best fit my work. My agent knows the editors on a personal level. She knows what to expect from them and what types of novels they are looking for.
Here are reasons why someone might choose not to use an agent. First off, the writer must land an agent. Then the novel has to attract an editor. This can take a lot of time. Years, in fact. However, if you sell directly to an editor at, say, a small press, you cut out the middleman. It may be a quicker route to publishing your work. Plus, you don’t have to give up 15-20% of your royalties to someone else. The same reason applies to self-publishing, which is the quickest route to publication. The company publishing your work takes a cut, but that’s it. The rest of the money is yours.
But, on the other side of the literary coin, a professional editor will make the difference between so-so writing and fantastic writing. Likewise, an agent will help you find that professional editor that loves and believes in your work as much as you do.
If you feel finding an agent is your best course toward publication, I have a few suggestions:
1) Have your novel and your query critiqued by knowledgeable writers.
2) Find the agents best suited to your work. Do your research. I know you have probably heard this before, but it bears repeating.
3) Do not stop querying agents, even when an agent asks for you to submit your manuscript to him or her. (Even if this is your dream agent!)
4) While waiting on responses, work on a new book. If the first one doesn’t garner positive responses, query the next book you’ve written.
5) Continue to improve your writing. Take classes, join writing groups, read blogs written about the writing craft. Many authors have blogs that feature writing tips. Find and study them.
6) If you love writing, then do not give up. If you work hard improving the writing craft, write with the publishing market in mind, and practice perfecting that good ol’ query letter, it will happen.
Biography: K.L. Gore writes YA contemporary novels and is currently represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary. One of her short stories will be published in Cicada! in the spring of 2012. She has the thick skin of an elephant, thanks to her pile of rejection slips.