Before You Contact an Agent... - article

First of all, know the agents who are working in the area that you’re trying to publish in. This isn’t too hard to do—just go to the bookstore and look at some books that are similar to what you’re trying to write and check the acknowledgments to see who the agents were for those books. There are also a number of websites where you can find out what agents are handling different areas. Making sure you know who’s working in what areas will allow you to target agents who are likely to be a good match for your project.

You should also take the time to write a terrific query letter. The query letter is what you send to agents, and very often agents will then use that query letter as the basis for a pitch to publishers. So the content of that letter is critical to the whole process. You generally want to have one or two paragraphs summarizing your project in a way that’s similar to the kind of blurb you would find on the back of a book. A good attention-grabbing hook or opening sentence can be really helpful in getting an agent.

And then you should also include a paragraph about you as a writer and your experience. If you’re writing nonfiction, your platform is critical to getting an agent. What do you know about this subject? What’s your background? Do you have people following you? Do you have social media? What’s your expertise that lets you write about this subject?

If you’re writing fiction, the most critical thing is the writing and the manuscript itself. Especially for new writers, I always suggest paying especially careful attention to the opening chapter, because that’s what’s going to grab someone’s attention. I’ve often heard editors say, “I wish this had started at chapter two,” or “I wish the author had just cut off the first fifteen pages.” A lot of new writers make the mistake of including a lot of backstory in the opening rather than just getting into the action. So as you’re trying to get an agent, really look at your novel and make sure it starts as powerfully as possible. You may also want to take a highlighter out and go through and see how many adjectives you have. If the page ends up yellow, you should go back and cut most of the adjectives to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. The market is really competitive right now, and if you want to have a shot, you need to make sure the first thing the agent sees is your best work.

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