Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
So you've written and edited your book, and you've decided to pursue publication. If you're hoping to sell your book to a big publishing house, one that has a presence in Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores, you will most likely need an agent. There are definitely exceptions, but the majority of published writers get contracts because they have an agent.
By far one of the biggest complaints I hear from aspiring novelists is that they can't find an agent who's interested in representing them. Why is this so difficult, you might ask. Here are a couple factors:
- Agents only make money when you make money. My agent keeps 15% of what I earn. If I don't earn money, neither does my agent. So an agent has to be careful about which clients they take on because they need clients who will make money for them. This means they can only afford to take on a few unpublished, unproven writers.
- Agents don't have an endless supply of time which means they can only take on so many clients. There's no set amount of clients that an agent should have, it just depends on their personality. I've heard between 50 and 80 is a good amount, but of course it depends on how long they've been an agent. If you're talking to an agent who already has a very full client list, and who's very happy with all their clients, they might decide they don't have time to invest in you even if they like you and your idea.
- Many agents (I would venture to say most) don't just care about if they can sell a book. They want to work with people who they enjoy spending time with, they want to like what their clients write, and they want to be apart of books that matter. So ideally they're looking for a writer who they respect as a person and a writer.
- Query letters. This apparently works for some people, though I hardly had any success with it. Here's a link to examples of query letters that sold.
- Writers conferences. Here's where I had my success, so despite my feelings that I'm an awkward conversationalist, I must make an okay in-person impression. Most writers I know met their agent at a writers conference. Writers conferences provide lots of opportunities for you to connect with agents, through classes, shared meals, and appointments where you can pitch to them in person. Here are a few posts that might be helpful regarding this: Pitching to agents, What Teens Should Know About Pitching Their Book, Elevator Pitches Part One, Elevator Pitches Part Two, How to Get Requests From Agents and Editors (a guest post from teen writer, Leah Good)
- Contests where the agent is a judge. This one is pretty self-explanatory. I know a couple writers who have entered contests and wound up with agent (or book contract) out of the deal. Typically this happens with the big contests, like for ACFW or RWA or something.
- Referrals. This is when a published/agented writer recommends you to their agent or an agent they're friends with. Mostly this happens if you're already published.
Next we'll talk about how you identify agents with whom you could work well!