So, you’ve finished your masterpiece and you’re ready to share it with the world. Where do you go from here? How do you get from a manuscript on your computer to a finished product on the shelf of a bookshop? As someone who is soon going to be facing this challenge, I’ve done countless hours of research into the process involved and I’ve discovered that the good news is, there are many options available to us such as working through an agent, applying independently, self-publishing or even e-publishing. The bad news is, each is more frustrating and time-consuming than the next. I hope that in the future I will be able to share what I’ve learned on as many of these topics as possible, but for now, I just want to focus on one of the most common paths for authors which is…
Working With an Agent
As you may already know, an agent’s job is to work as a middle-man, connecting authors and publishers. They are usually experts in publishing from an industry perspective an will be able to help an author edit, negotiate contracts, arrange publicity as well as a myriad of other vital tasks which most authors would have no experience with. Also, many publishing houses will only accept work submitted via an agent as this allows them to see only the very best manuscripts without having to read through endless reams of independent submissions in search of something they feel is suitable.
Of course, working with an agent is not the only way to get published and I hope to write more on your choices in a future article, but for now let’s assume you’ve decided to look for an agent. Your next step is to compile a short list of people who you would be interested in working with.
Narrowing Down the Short List
It is acceptable to send your work to more than one agent at a time, but if you find someone to represent you, it is good practice to write and inform those who haven’t responded yet, so they can pass-over your submission. The number of people you should consider applying to varies depending on your genre; for fantasy, my guide would be around 20, give or take. This is considerably higher than other genres as it is rather saturated at the moment and, as it is a rather broad topic, many agents can be picky about the type of work they are interested in.
To help you choose the most likely candidates, here is a list of points to consider;
- What genre and sub-genre do they represent?
- Who have they published before? Consider researching their existing clients to decide if you would be a good fit.
- Are they in a good location? Most UK publishing houses are in London, so if your agent lives on the Isle of Wight, in the US or deepest Peru, there could be some disadvantages.
- Are they experienced or new to the scene? There can be advantages to both. An experienced agent will likely have more connections and a better reputation with publishers. A newer agent may be more likely to take on a new client.
- Would you feel comfortable working with them? If you are successful, you will need to have a close and trusting relationship with your agent, so choose someone that you will find easy to work with.
Now you know what to look for, you need to know where to look. Thanks to the internet, you have plenty of resources to help you, and these vary from country to country. As I am in the UK, I have focused my search on sources covering British agents, but it is very easy to find the US equivalents with a quick googlesearch as there are far more resources available for those looking for an agent in America. Below are some starting points for those looking for a UK agent;
- The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook
- Writer’s Handbook
- Agent Hunter
- Writer’s Market
- Association of Authors’ Representatives
- Query Tracker
Hopefully this will give you a solid kicking-off point for your search. I look forward to talking more on your publishing options in the future, but for now I need to get back to polishing my own manuscript! It feels like an endless task but thinking about the prospect of publishing really inspires me to push on.