Right! So as I mention every other week, I’ve got a book coming out in LITERALLY FIVE WEEKS and I’m being totally cool about it, I swear. The Shadow in the Glass is being published by HarperCollins on the 18th of March, which is just wild, and I hear that ALL the cool kids are pre-ordering it.
Obligatory promo aside, I definitely wouldn’t have got the deal without my lovely agent, Chloe Seager. (She’s absolutely great.) But it occurs to me that some of you might be interested to know more about how an agent can help you get published and what kind of support they can give an author. So I’m going to tell you! Aren’t you lucky.
Pals, let’s talk about agents.
You’ve finished your manuscript!
Great! Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done really well to get this far so you should definitely buy yourself a cake or something before you proceed to the next step.
If you decide that you want to try and get your manuscript published (and you don’t have to, if you don’t want to) then you’ve got a few different options open to you. You can self-publish or you can try and sell your manuscript to a publisher. There are pros and cons to both options and you’ll need to think about what you want to get out of publishing before you decide what you’re going to do. Self-publishing usually means you have to pay for everything yourself, but you get a lot more creative control, whereas traditional publishing might get you more money but aspects of your work will be up for discussion with editorial, sales and publicity all having different concerns. (I’ve done another post on what that’s like here if you want more info.) It’s important to think about what you want before you jump right in.
If you decide to self-publish, you probably won’t need an agent – although you might still want to get someone to look over the terms of any contract you end up signing. If you decide you want to be traditionally published, you are definitely going to need an agent.
What does an agent do?
Anything and everything! Here’s a quick list:
- Provide advice about your manuscript
- Pitch your manuscript to publishers
- Negotiate the terms of your contract with the publisher
- Chase outstanding payments
- Assist with some of your publicity
- Recommend you for other projects
- And a bunch of other things which I cannot remember right now because I am tired
Seriously, agents do SO MUCH STUFF it’s uncanny. An agent will support an author all through their writing career and at all different stages of the process. They are priceless!
But why do I need one?
Oh man there are so many reasons why authors need agents. Agents meet with editors on a regular basis so they actually know a) who to send your manuscript to and b) who would be interested in reading it. Agents have a working knowledge of contractual terms, so they know what to ask for in terms of finances. Agents will be able to advise you about what to put in your manuscript as well, so if there’s a tricky bit in the middle you’ve got someone to talk it through with. And also, agents are there to support you. If you’re worried about something and feel a bit silly talking to your editor about it, you can talk to your agent instead.
Of course, it is possible to do all of this yourself. But it would require a lot of specialist knowledge of contractual terms, market trends, as well as all the stuff you as an author already need to know about writing. But the biggest stumbling block is that most trade publishers won’t accept submissions from authors who don’t have agents. If an author has an agent, an editor already knows that somebody has looked at the author’s manuscript and decided that it was good enough to be published and that’s a huge vote of confidence. If an author doesn’t have an agent, an editor is less likely to look at it, because most publishers get hundreds of submissions a day to their public-facing email addresses and I won’t lie to you, most of them are Not Good. But if an editor already knows an agent and they say ‘hey I’ve got this really good MS which I think you’d love’, they’re much more likely to take a look.
(Side note: there are always exceptions to this rule, I will not be listing them.)
So how do I get an agent?
First things first: you need to work out who you’re going to submit your manuscript to. Different agents want different things! Find out who wants the kind of thing that you write and go and talk to them.
There’s several different ways to do this. In the UK we have a book called The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, which has a bunch of different resources for writers and artists including a list of agents with their contact info and what they’re looking for. You can also look in the acknowledgements sections of your favourite books and see if the author has thanked their agent by name there – Google them and see if they’d like your book as well. Social media is also a good place to check – agents do a lot of online networking too and it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on book hashtags to see if there’s any agents talking about the kind of thing they’d like to acquire.
Once you’ve found some people you’d like to submit to – and it does need to be more than one person, trust me – check their submission guidelines. There’s no set standard of what you should send off and most agencies will have slightly different guidelines. You might need to prepare a synopsis and the first three chapters if it’s fiction, or you might need a detailed proposal document (but not a full manuscript) if it’s non-fiction. It depends! Check their websites and see.
One really key thing is knowing where your book is going to sit in the market. It doesn’t have to be just like the most popular book on the bestseller lists, but you need to show that you’re aware of what’s going on. You don’t have to have this down to a precise art, but if you know what people are reading right now and can demonstrate that, that’s a really positive sign.
And then you wait
No, seriously. And then you wait.
Agents have an enormous amount of reading to get through so it’ll take them a while to get back to you. Hang in there! You may find it helpful to keep track of everyone you’re submitting to in a big spreadsheet so you have notes of the submission materials you sent each agent and the date that you contacted them. A lot of agents don’t have time to send rejection letters so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on these dates.
So then what?
So you’ve found an agent who likes your work and they want to represent you. That’s great! Now what?
First step is you have to sign on with the agency. As with any contract that you end up signing it’s a good idea to get this checked by someone familiar with the law. In the UK the Society of Authors will provide advice on contracts to all members, and you can qualify for membership if you’ve received an offer of representation from an agent – you don’t always have to be fully published. I believe there are other organisations that do this for writers in other countries, so definitely check out some of them.
Once you’ve signed on with an agent, they can start submitting your manuscript to publishers, although they might ask you to take on board some editorial feedback before they do. This can be quite a long process, particularly if you’ve written something really huge – editors have enormous reading lists! From there, if an editor likes your work they’ll take it to their acquisitions meeting, and if they put in an offer, your agent will start negotiating the financial details with them. And once that’s all signed and you’re officially going to be published, your agent will continue to support you through the publishing process, whether that’s asking other authors to provide early quotes about your work or chasing things up on your behalf with your publisher.
So that’s agents! Hopefully some of you will have found all of that useful (looking at you, people who made ‘get published’ a New Year’s Resolution). Obviously everyone’s experience of publishing is going to be a little bit different, and this won’t all apply to everyone’s circumstances. But hopefully knowing what to expect is useful and will make all the waiting that bit easier.