I hope everyone is well as we near the holiday season and the end of 2019.
It’s been a fun year. I was a guest on a podcast, got my social media presence up and running, and built this website. All stuff I read and heard you need to do when you’re trying to startup as a professional novelist. I’m not a pro, not yet. Professional implies that someone pays you for your work. No one has offered me money for my writing, but I’m hoping that changes relatively soon.
I finished my novel a little while ago–not long before I really got the website and blog going. A lot of the homework I’ve done says you should start building your brand online at least a year before your book is out. My book, well…it’s not represented by a literary agent. Not yet. But here’s to hoping I can land one.
Why do you need a literary agent, anyway?
Literary agents are pretty much mandatory if you want your book to get published the traditional way. The big publishing companies almost unilaterally reject all manuscripts that aren’t sent by an agent. So if you want even a chance at getting published by Penguin, HarperCollins, or whoever, ya gotta agent up.
I thought it would be easy to land an agent; the book I wrote is really good. I believe that. And I thought that would be all it took to get an agent. But, unfortunately for me, I’m an idiot. Getting an agent is hard even if your book rocks.
First of all, every dork who ever wrote a novel is out there trying to get it into the world. So I’m competing against who-knows-how-many people who all want the same thing as me. But we can’t all have it. And–this was the biggest shock to me–just having a great book isn’t enough when you’re a debut novelist (a.k.a. a nobody).
Because I’m new to the game, I have to be a salesperson and talk my book up to strangers. This by itself is weird. I never liked job interviews either, for that same reason. The idea of going out and saying, Hey, look how great I am! is cringey to say the least. But, it’s a vital part of the publication process. And there’s a skill to doing it, I’ve found.
How many times have you queried an agent?
I’ve done two rounds of querying, 4-5 agents per round. The first time, only one response. The second time I revisited my query letter. I wrote new query letters and sent them out to a few more agents. That time I had more responses than not. They were all no, but I love being able to see progress. Now, as of today, I’ve sent out my third round of query letters.
What have you learned from all this?
You should do lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of homework. The first time I sent queries, I sent them to any agent that mentioned sci-fi in their bio. Pretty lazy. The second time, I searched a little bit harder to find agents that either represent work similar to mine, or are asking for something in the same ballpark as my book. But I could’ve done more work. I was a little timid (and, sure, a little lazy) about all of it. But this time around, I searched until I had about 10 agents lined up. From those, I narrowed it down to the few who seemed the best fit for my story. Then did more homework to make sure my query letters weren’t garbage. Then I sent my queries out.
You keep saying “homework”. What do you mean?
I mean, get ready to Google the hell out of the querying process. Search examples of query letters. I found Jerry Jenkins’ website and Jane Friedman’s website very helpful, with examples and explanations of how to write a good query letter. Writer’s Digest and NY Book Editors have some good stuff as well.
But you also have to research the agent. A few helpful sites: MS Wishlist, Writer’s Digest regularly posts new agent alerts online and in print, and Poets & Writers has an online database of agents. If all else fails, Google, Google, Google.
Don’t just send your stuff blindly to as many people as possible. Find agents, like I did this time, who really excite you. But…
check the date on the posting!!!
If you find a posting online for agents seeking material, CHECK THE DATE ON THE POSTING! I’ve seen more than one post where I thought, This agent is tailor made for me, but the post was 4 years old and the agent seems to only represent Erotic Fiction now. So, yeah–check the timestamp and save yourself the grief later on.
- Study and learn how to write a query letter
- Research and find a handful of agents who seem drawn to similar works
- Query away!
Good luck to the writers out there in a similar position. And if you’re an agent, quit goofing around and sign me already!
Thanks for reading!
Check out my website: christophertallon.com
Follow me on Instagram: @christopher_tallon
I’m on FaceBook too: @authorchristophertallon