How to get a literary agent…and confronting the green-slime monster under my bed

Save Changes?  Yup, don’t mind if do.

And so it was with a deep sigh of relief that I did my last spell check and finally concluded that my manuscript was ready to Go Out in the World–leaving me to sit back, relax, and catch up on season two of True Blood.

cupcake parties: another good way to spend my newly freed time

I mean, surely after reading and reworking the beastly thing so many times I had memorized every last comma, the hardest part was over…right?

Was I ever wrong.

Where to Start

The first thing every writer needs to get is a literary agent, someone who will pitch your work to prospective publishers and in turn receive a modest percentage of the big piles of money your amazing book will undoubtedly earn (think swimming trunks and Scrooge McDuck).

If you are based in the US, check out the Association of Authors’ Representatives for agents’ contact information.  In Canada, check out the Writer’s Union of Canada.  Or, if you like having paper margins to doodle in, you might want to get hold of a writers manual—like the Canadian Writer’s Market, which is what I did.

The Canadian Writer’s Market is a handy reference which lists every resource a prospective writer could need– from magazines to publishing houses, and of course, literary agents.

This is where it got depressing.

The Hard Part: Part One

Visiting agency websites, peppered with phrase like ‘does not accept unsolicited manuscripts’ or ‘unpublished writers need not apply’ I got the distinct feeling that most of these agents would rather receive a box full of rattlesnakes than a manuscript from someone the likes of me.

And it got worse.  According to the Canadian Writer’s Market there are only thirty literary Agents in the entire country (of course, American’s have way more to choose from, but then they have way more of everything, like guns and cities that start with the letter ‘N’).

After crossing out the agents who were clearly not interested in hearing from a insignificant Margaret Atwood-wannabee like me, as well as those whose publishing focus was clearly not in line with my work (for example, some agents only deal with technical writing or academic texts) I was left with a total of five potentials.  Which if you translate that into geographical terms, that’s about one agency every 1 996 934 square kilometres.

Not great odds.  But hey, it was a start.

it's true what they say: we have a lot of empty space. and most of it's very cold.

In order to pitch my manuscript to said publishers I then began the process of putting together a book proposal, including the all-important book synopsis, market survey, author bio and chapter outline (for more details on the contents of a book proposal check out this site).  A week later, I marched over to the post office, thick manila envelopes in hand, and took my first step towards sharing my Amazing Work with the Rest of the World.

Now, you are probably expecting that since I named this post how to get a literary agent, this is the part where I actually got one.  That a week later I recieved a glowing letter with a contract enclosed and that was that.  Not quite.

Also Hard: Part two

When the response letters finally came in—they were all rejections.  However, along with those rejections came some real constructive feedback.

For example, one particularly thorough agent wrote this to me:

Stylistically, first person is always difficult. One of the classic exercises in rewriting a first person narrative is to go through and omit as many of the “I’s” as possible.  I think this may be one of your next steps in the manuscript.  The reader needs to see with their own eyes without the author intruding. Show them what you saw and let them make the call about what to think about it.

Simply put, I needed to work on creating more sensate detail to allow the reader to feel as though they were actually experiencing—not reading about–the events in my story.

And so, although I was a little disappointed to learn that I was not as close to being done as I thought I was, sharing my work with agents did give me some very useful direction and insight.

My Point

You may not get that publishing contract on your first round of queries, but so what.  Send your stuff out agents anyway and you may just get some I may useful pointers in the process.

And hey, don’t take those rejections personally: they are just part of the game.

2 thoughts on “How to get a literary agent…and confronting the green-slime monster under my bed

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