Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Special Guest: Jennifer Etherton of Jennifer Etherton Literary Services

The Secrets to Finding and Retaining the Right Agent

In today’s industry, an author can only go so far on his or her own. Eventually you will need to seek representation to reach the highest levels. In order to attract an agent there are several steps you will need to follow to be successful. It is also important to remember that it is not enough to follow the right steps; you will also need to learn the secrets to making yourself the best candidate in a stack of submissions.

The first thing that any author needs to realize is that you will need to have the right credits to attract a good agent. It is very rare that any author will be signed with a literary agency without first proving his or herself. The most ideal situation is being previously published through a house in the secondary markets and having solid sales to prove your marketability, short of having this it is still important to have a good published history. This history could include blog posts, anything published on the internet in the form of articles for ezines or other reputable publications, and anything in print is a definite plus. You want to build a solid portfolio to present to an agent. It also helps to have awards to show that you have been recognized by your peers as being worthy of this industry.

Once you have your portfolio in place, it is then important to decide where you want your writing to take you. Do you own research into the market and decide where you would like to fit. Write down your goals and be open to all criticism as to how to get there. While you will not always take all the advice you are given, seriously considering criticism, especially if it comes from an industry insider will help you grow in your craft.

Now that most of the prep work is done it is time to look for an agent. Here is where the real work begins. It is always best to start with a database that will prescreen the agencies in their list; the two best are The Writer’s Market and Literary Market Place. Pick several different agencies that are available and do additional research on each one individually. Be sure that you would be happy with every agency you query instead of waiting until an agent offers you a contract before you do your due diligence. Being lazy in the research stage does not paint you in the best light and could cost you in the end.

When you are ready to query an agent, it is important to follow their submission guidelines exactly. Never give the agent more or less than he or she requests. Agents are very busy individuals and not having the right material for a submission usually leads in an automatic rejection. Those who do not automatically reject any queries that do not meet the guidelines still look at the author in a negative light. To avoid this, be sure that you understand and follow all guidelines exactly while you are seeking representation.

After you have queried many agents there is not much left to do but wait. Some will specifically ask that perspective clients not call to check for updates and if the website makes this request it is important to follow, otherwise if you haven’t heard anything after 3 months check on your submissions status.

If you are contacted by, an agent it is important always put your best foot forward, but do not go overboard. Do not attempt to impress your agent with the people you know, because chances are that it will only make you look like a fool. Again, agents are very busy people and he or she is more concerned with you as an individual and as an artist then who you know. There are several things that the agent is looking for, but it really all comes down to your workability. He or she is trying to decide if you will work with editors well and are able to take constructive criticism

This conversation is not the best place to argue with the agent if he or she tells you that your work is not marketable as is. The very fact that he or she is contacting you is because with a little work you would have a sellable product. Never site major named authors as examples of why you think the agent is wrong, especially if the example is Hemingway or Faulkner. Chances are the response you will get is “you are not him and he doesn’t live in today’s market.”

This first contact before a contract is offered is one of the most crucial times. No agent wants to be stuck with an author with a huge ego, especially if the author is new to the industry. Always put your best foot forward and prove that you are willing to work as hard as necessary to make this relationship a success.

The biggest secret to discover when it comes to attracting the best agent is to just be yourself. It is almost impossible to impress an agent off the page so let your talent speak for itself and let your true personality shine. An agent is in the unique position to look at the entire package, if you prove workable and talented you will be snatched up quickly. On the other hand, if you are talented but difficult you are not only wasting your time but everyone else’s until the ego becomes under control.

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