Getting an agent these days is a tough achievement and if you do manage to score one, it doesn’t mean instant success. I had an agent a few years ago, and while we had a great relationship, she struggled to sell my book. In the end, we parted ways and I sold the title to my current publisher.
In the world of agents, plucking a winner from the slush pile seems like a mean feat. They are extremely picky with who and what they choose. From what I’ve experienced over the years, I find there are three walls to break down before securing an agent:
- The Query – This step manages to befall even the best of writers. Your query letter must be like a resume – professional, quick and relatable. What I mean by that is, you have to edit each query to every agent you query to. Like a job application, you wouldn’t send a CV with experience of retail to a doctor’s surgery. Every agent has different specifications you must adhere to and if you don’t, you’ve screwed your first impression. Always read the agent’s requests and follow them. Most of the time, they don’t accept unsolicited mail, so always copy and paste your sample into the body of an email. 99% of agents will ask this.
If you’re successful in your query, the agent will ask for sample chapters.
- The sample chapters – Sample chapters will usually involve the first 1-3 chapters or the first 50 pages – whichever comes first. Always ensure your work is tip top shape before sending it over. Remember, the agent is keen to see more of your work so make sure it’s edited and formatted as per their site (if they request this). If they don’t, I usually submit in Times New Roman, font size 12 and line space of 1.5 or 2.
It will take time for them to get back to you, so BE PATIENT! The agent will usually specify how long it will take to come back with an answer on their website. 6-8 weeks is pretty standard for samples. Some agents might even take more. If you get itchy feet and its hitting the 9-10 week mark, send the agent a polite email chasing up your work. If they don’t reply within a normal time frame, don’t keep sending emails. Just assume your work wasn’t successful.
- The Full MS – By this point, you have secured the agent’s interest. Well done! It’s an exciting and hellish time. The agent can take up to 3 months to read your work and get back to you. This wall is the hardest to break. The smallest thing can alter their decision – the main character ticked them off or the book’s ending didn’t satisfy them. It’s important to invest in good beta readers to ensure your work is covered by different types of readers. Each person is unique in what they like and spot in your work.
It’s okay to send a reminder to the agent if they haven’t gotten back to you within their time frame. It’s during this time, you should do some background on the agency in case they offer representation. This should be done from the query side, but it doesn’t hurt to look now. Contact their authors and politely ask what they are like etc. If you are happy with what you’ve found out, sit back and wait for their response.
While the rate of authors being picked up isn’t rare, the numbers are small. Some agencies only sign 5-10% of their slush pile. If an agent likes your work and sees potential, they will offer representation. Congratulations! The next step is world domination!