"So Hillary, How DID you get an agent?"

Why thank you person number 426 for asking this question. I’ll just put the answer here in case anyone else ever wants to know. And you know, happens to read my blog.

– I wrote a book with that chick. We wrote something we were comfortable with, something we thought was creative, and most of all, something we had fun writing. Lauren started a character bible so we had a record of the important features of our cast. We used this character bible to make sure that the dude from page 46 still had blue eyes on 312. We collaborated on plot and where things were going, and then we sat down and wrote 1500 – 3000 words every week or so.

– Once it was done we gave it our own edits. A 103,000 word manuscript was fairly easily pared down to 92,500. We looked for spelling errors and grammatical errors. We tightened up passages that needed tweaking. We came, we saw, we conquered that puppy.

We handed it off to beta readers. I personally find feedback huge. Of course, you need to pick people who’ll actually give you the good and the bad, not just blow smoke up your ass. My friends Crystal and Lauren and my husband Dave did it for me. My co-writer Lauren went to her bookseller friends and had them give it a glance. The good news was, everyone loved it!

NOTE: Lauren working for a publisher had almost nothing to do with our agent-getting. Oddly, we were afraid it was a setback because her employer cannot bid for her manuscript due to conflict of interest issues (employee handbook makes us sad). So. They couldn’t do much for us despite our book being good. A couple of editors were willing to at least give us some names of agents they liked working with but it wasn’t like a “HEY USE MY NAME AS A REFERENCE!” It was a “here, these people are nice. Good luck!” There was no pushing and launching from them. We were on our own. Just wanted to curtail the “YOU NEED TO KNOW SOMEONE IN PUBLISHING TO GET AGENTED” rants early.

– Lauren wrote a query letter. A good query letter. I think she probably did a lot of referencing from here and here. Agents that blog will usually flat out tell you how to hook them, what your query letter should look like. Research them. Read their advice. Then you know, write a letter that’s gonna rock socks.

– Write a synopsis! I was busy doing the editing bit on the manuscript so Lauren got hit with query letter and synopsis duty, the poor thing. A synopsis is like going to a buffet of delicious food and having to just write down what’s in the pan at its bare bones. For example, that chicken covered in rich creamy sauce with a dash of rosemary and stuffed with cornbread stuffing? Becomes chicken. That’s it. You explain the characters and the plot with as little flavor as possible, because you have to put on 2 – 3 pages what happens chapter by chapter in your book. It ain’t fun, and it ain’t easy.

– Format the manuscript to manuscript specifications. That means use the right font, the right spacing, the right chapter headers, the right page headers. Lauren got stuck with THIS too because . . . well. She had Microsoft Word and I use Open Office, and she’s better with Word than I am with Office.

– Query Agents! Pick your dream ones, and go for them first. Read what the agents are actually asking for before you submit, though. Each agent is different. Some just want the query letter (onus on making a great query letter restated here – if all they have to go on is that letter, make sure you knock it out of the park). Some want a query letter and a section of pages. (Note on the pages request. If they ask you for 20, they don’t want your best 20 taken somewhere in the middle of your manuscript. They want the first 20. If you can’t hook them with your opening, you’re screwed.) Oh, and some of the more insidious agents want query letter, synopsis, and pages. Make sure you change the greeting with each query so it’s not DEAR AGENT NAMELESS, REP ME NAO PLZ K THNX.

– Listen to what they have to say. Within reason. Some of them will outright reject you, some will want partials. Partials will sometimes become full manuscript requests. We had two agents come back to us who loved our premise, but flat out wanted shorter material. The 92k was too much. One asked if we’d tone it down to 60k, the other to split it in half into two middle grade books. Given more time getting rejected and repeats of this request, we would have considered it, but those requests came back within two to three months. It was way too soon for us to say LET’S CHOP IT. Our book would have lost a lot if we’d just scrambled to snag the first agent available by nuking 1/3 of our story. (Of course, offers of representation are like finding gold, so make sure you weigh the risks in sticking to your guns, too).

Most people don’t realize getting an agent takes a while (unless you randomly wrote like, the next big huge best seller and everyone in the world is scratching at the door to rep you). Honestly a lot of folks go for a year or more unagented. Everything WE read told us it’d take a hundred no’s or more so grow a thick skin. We lucked out in that we got our representation early on, 4 months or so in, with under 40 no’s. But that’s not typical.

– Keep in mind that publishing goes almost dormant in the summer. You could have heard a pin drop from June through August. That had nothing to do with us and just how the industry works. So if you’re a summer writer and say, polish a manuscript at the beginning of May for querying . . . yeah. Don’t expect much for a while. We sat around with nothing to do for the summer hoping everyone would tune back in again in the fall. Funny enough we got our offer for representation the first week of September.

*****

And that’s how it worked for us. There’s no real secret to it, it’s exactly how everyone else gets their agent, too. Write something you believe in, make sure you listen when people tell you something needs work, research how to write a query letter, research the agents you want to query and make sure they rep your genre so you’re not wasting their time and yours. Synopsis, format, sacrifice to a small god.

Then go to town.

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