Writing

Looking for an Agent: An Introduction

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Let’s say that I am happy about where I am with my novel and I have started doing some research about the process of finding an agent. During my last week in London, I worked as an intern for HHB Literary Agency, a small yet very well-know agency specialised in non-fiction. Together with the standard tasks of going to make coffee and tea, I also had to select the manuscripts that seemed interesting. I was very honoured and shocked to have such an important job – after all, I am the one who is used to submit short stories and pieces to literary magazines, so I knew the effort writers put into a submission.

Now I am back into Rachele as a writer and my novel is in a good place, or at least, I feel very satisfied about what I have done so far – not in terms of quality, which should be judged by agents and publishers, but in terms of quantity. I feel like starting to deepen my knowledge in terms of what the writer needs to do is something that I may want to do now, so I have read some articles about it and I am starting to realise that there are some common rules for contacting the agent “the right way”.

Before my work experience at HHB Lit Agency, which is located in a lovely wood-floored office in Warren Street, my idea of an agent was of someone cruel that only wants to rip off the author and makes money out of their work. More specifically, I thought an agent was someone whose life revolved around making dough through selling books, no matter what. Then I had the chance to work there, my vision has drastically changed: an agent is someone very nice who wants to make dough through selling books. Which is something an author should learn to do as well – the importance of selling rather than just seeing their own name printed on the cover of a book is what makes the difference between an experienced, intelligent author and an amateur. If you make a deal with a publishing house that does not distribute and promote your book, you may really regret selling your work to them.

 

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Anyway, I read a few things and here are some tips for the beginner (like me) who wants to start having an idea about what contacting an agent may imply. Also, this post is about submitting a novel, so do not look here if you are interested in submitting a collection of short stories or poetry.

First of all: what is an agent? I know this question may be silly, but before my work experience my idea of an agent was slightly different from the truth. So, an agent is the person you may want to contact in case you wish to sell your work to a publishing house. The agent is usually someone who has many contacts between publishing houses and knows them very well. No matter what you have written: if it is good, hopefully the agent will be able to present it to the right publisher. They will know the gaps in the market and the right people to contact. If you write chick lit set in London, then the agent will know who are the best publishers to contact.

If the author is lucky enough and if the agent is good, then the publisher will buy the book. The author will get their payment, and the agent will get something between 10 – 20% on the earnings. It is very important to remember that the agent makes money only if the author does – most of them do not even have a reading fee, so they will read your submission for free and will work their butts off to find you a good deal with a publisher without even knowing if they will actually manage to do so. You can imagine, then, that the agent has a very risky job, and that is why getting picked among the many submissions that arrive every day is very, very hard. This series of posts will hopefully be a good guide for the very beginner. Writing a novel is hard, but submitting it to agencies is not easy – not at all. So I have decided to write about the main tasks that an author needs to undertake when submitting their work.

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  • The First Chapters. Most agent will ask for the first 50 pages or 3 chapters of your novel. They are crucial for the agent to know how you write and what is the tone of the whole story, where it is going and how. So it is very important that they are well-plotted, well-written, well-edited, well-everything.
  • The Synopsis. There are many different kinds of synopsis and agents can be very specific about it. Some, for example, do not want one of more than 300 hundred words, other will request for a 1-2 page synopsis and some other will ask for a list of chapters where everything is very detailed and neat. This is one of the reasons why looking for an agent is a complex process that may require some time: everyone will ask for a different thing, and you can’t simply send the same material to every agent. It would be the easiest way to make an agent throw your submission in the bin. Be prepared to write different kinds of synopsis and send the right one to  the right agent.
  • The Cover Letter. This is a fundamental part of the submission and the first one the agent will be in contact with. In fact, it goes usually like this: you write a nice email, and the cover letter is in the body of the email, where you attach the three chapters and the synopsis. You can imagine how important the cover letter is. If your cover letter is lame, uninteresting and confusing, then it may be very likely that the agent won’t even open the three chapters and the synopsis. Usually, if you write a cover letter, the agent will read the synopsis, and if the synopsis is compelling, then they will go for the three chapters.

In the next post, I will write about how to write a good synopsis and then a good cover letter – all based on the research I have done in these last few days. I hope this was interesting and helpful enough!

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