Conference Follow-up: What the Agents Had to Say
It seems that writing conferences are a topic that a lot of readers are taking interest in. After my initial post about making the most out of a writing conference, I wrote a follow-up about my experience.
That follow-up prompted a few questions from Jenn Escalona, whose own blog I read regularly. I was going to answer her questions in a single post, but when I got writing and rehashing my notes, I realized that each question might warrant its own post. So in an attempt to answer her questions and provide more details about the writing conference experience, I’ll be posting a few more follow-up articles. I hope you find them helpful, and if you have any additional questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them here or send me an email.
What kinds of questions were people asking agents?
In the Agent Panel I attended, people were asking a variety of questions and the answers were really helpful in understanding how the minds (and businesses) of agents work. I’ve scoured my notes and my memory and listed some of the most interesting and applicable questions and answers here.
- What types of books did each agent represent?
They pretty much represented the gamut of genres between the four of them.
- What genres are the best/easiest to get into or hottest right now?
This question was asked in a variety of ways, shapes and forms, and each time the agents made it really clear that trying to predict the book market is a bad idea. “Write what you’re passionate about and write it well and the rest will take care of itself” was the general message. They did mention that the Contemporary Romance genre is a tough one to break into right now, though.
- What do agents look for when choosing a book to represent?
For those writing non-fiction, the agents suggested that you should build a really strong platform and do your research before submitting to an agent. For both those writing fiction and those writing narrative non-fiction, the agents said that a strong story that they could fall in love with was most important. They also reminded writers that the process was extremely subjective and, in the end, a rejection may not have anything to do with your writing.
- How do agents feel about representing self-published authors?
It can be a definite plus to have self published a book if you can demonstrate that it has sold well locally or regionally. The agents agreed that self-publishing can help an author build a platform and demonstrate a willingness to market themselves and their work. This shows the agent that the book (and the author) is worth representing.
- Why hire an agent at all?
Because an editor works for the publishing house and has their best interests at heart, while an agent works for you. Think of an agent as a partner and advocate who has an established relationship with the editors you’re hoping to impress. If you’re still not keen on hiring an agent, they highly recommended that you at least get an attorney to review any contracts and help negotiate important clauses.
- How do I find the right agent?
Find books in your genre that are similar to yours and find out who represents them. Then pitch your book to those agents. If they’ve represented something similar to what you’re writing, they’re more likely to find what you write interesting, too.
- How can I make my submission stand out?
First, write something worth representing. Make sure you’ve finished editing and have a solid work before you start submitting. Second, do your research and submit to agents who represent what you’re selling. Follow any guidelines that each individual agency has in place. (They can usually be found on the agency’s website or can be requested.) Third, check out The Jeff Herman Guide, agentquery.com and querytracker.net as resources for finding the right agent and make your query personal. For example, lead your query with: “I’m writing you because I know you represent Tales from South Dakota by Joe Smith, which I loved and has a similar theme as my own novel, The Native Horse.”
The most important and encouraging thing I learned during this panel is that, while agents receive an exorbitant number of submissions, a large percentage of them don’t meet the basic requirements and guidelines of the agency and are immediately removed from the submission pool. That means that if you follow instructions and send in your best work, you’re already miles above much of the so-called competition.