Anybody who has been writing for a while has been hit with the agent questions. It’s whispered and chatted about at conferences, workshops, and in critique groups. The questions sound like this:
“Do you have an agent?”
“How did you get your agent?
“Can you tell me how to get an agent?”
“Can I contact your agent?”
A good agent is worth her weight in toner ink and paper! She can negotiate a contract, critique a manuscript, and answer fifty emails all before her cappuccino cools. That’s why everybody wants an amazing agent. But--and this is a very big BUT –- an agent is only as good as the writer she is representing. To get an excellent agent you need to be an excellent writer.
New writers often believe that getting an agent is going to solve all their writing problems. The agent will edit their manuscripts, sell their work, and get them on the The New York Times Best Seller list. It’s a lovely dream, but it is not reality. Experienced writers WITH agents will tell you that it is no guarantee that their manuscript will sell. If the editors are not looking for a book about three-toed sloths and vampire bats – it’s not going to sell. What an agent can do is help you to navigate the market trends and get your work in front of editors who are looking for manuscripts in your content area. They can also be your biggest cheerleader.
BUT you may not be ready to look for an agent if you are not a polished, experienced writer. You only have one chance to make a first impression. You want it to be a good one. This is a check list that can help you evaluate whether or not you are ready for an agent.
1. Do you belong to an active critique group?
This is probably the single best thing you can do to prepare for an agent. Find a group who will tell you what is WRONG with your manuscript. You want people who are honest and will help you learn how to improve. And every manuscript can use improvement.
2. Do you have more than one polished manuscript or proposal available?
That’s right – more than one! Agents often want to see three polished picture book manuscripts. If you are writing for middle grade or young adult you need a full proposal and some additional ideas already in the development stages. Most agents want to work with you on multiple projects and you need to show that you are at that stage with your work.
3. Have you attended conferences and had professional critiques of your work?
Before you send your work out to an agent – get it evaluated by other professional writers. They can tell you if your story is ready or if it needs more work. And listen to their advice! Too often new writers discount the advice of other writers. If an experienced writer gives you suggestions for revision – consider it a gift and go revise! Negative feedback is not meant to hurt you-- it is meant to make you a stronger writer and build a better manuscript.
4. Have you had work published previously?
Have you published magazine articles or had work in professional journals? Have you done work-for-hire and learned how to partner with an editor? This can be a big plus when you are a nonfiction writer looking for an agent. Don’t discount the value of publishing in a variety of venues including hosted blogs and professional journals. Working with editors to hone your writing will be a huge advantage as you look for that perfect agent and those book contracts.
These are just suggestions for what you should do before you look for an agent. There are other things like contests, e-zines, and mentorships that can also help you reach the writing level that is necessary to attract a good agent.
Remember there is no substitute for hard work and lots of revision. Your manuscripts should be as perfect as possible before submitting to an agent. And then – if she is a fantastic agent – be prepared to some more revisions!
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas and a strong belief in The First Amendment. The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.
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