By Rick Frishman
Every literary agent and agency operates somewhat differently; they may have a different emphasis, style or approach, but all follow a basically similar pattern. Some agencies may specialize in building and managing their clients’ careers, while others concentrate on making individual books into giant, blockbuster hits. However, when it comes to selling books, agencies take similar paths.
Contacting An Agent: Most writers initially contact agents via e-mail. Agents like e-mail inquiries because they’re easy to answer. Responding by e-mail saves them time, which is critical because most of the queries they receive are about books that the agents don’t handle or are not interested in handling. A declining number of holdouts prefer to receive query letters sent via postal mail, but they’re in the minority. So check each agent’s Web site to see if it states how the agent prefers to be queried. Potential clients can also initially contact agents at conferences and other events. For information on writers’ conferences, see Writer’s Digest (www.writersdigest.com) and ShawGuides (http://writing.shawguides.com).
Many agents won’t accept unsolicited telephone queries, and if you call, their screeners generally won’t put you through. So, again, before you contact agents, check their Web sites to see how they wish to be approached. If, however, you do get through, most agents will ask you to submit something in writing: a query letter, a book proposal or your entire manuscript, if it’s written. Agents want written submissions so they can get a sense of the writers’ ability to express themselves clearly. Written submissions also let agents see how well writers are organized and their skill in presenting themselves and their ideas. Agents get a lot of their new clients through referrals from their existing clients and their publishing contacts.
Think Like an Agent: So you’re looking for an agent. Where are you going to find one? First of all, ask yourself this simple question: Where do agents go? To be more specific: What conferences do they attend? Where do they speak? What organizations do they belong to? Although we certainly aren’t suggesting that you follow them around, we do want you to start thinking like agents think. If you do, it will improve your chances of being at the right place at the right time. Research the literary and publishing scene in your local area. See if, when, and where any writers’ associations, publishers’ groups, and literary clubs meet. Are any nearby bookstores, libraries or cafes conducting interesting programs or hosting book signings? Are local colleges or universities offering lecture series featuring writers, agents, and/or publishers? Since many writers teach, investigate whether any well-known authors are teaching courses that you could attend in your area, even if it’s just to sit in. Go where book people congregate and make contacts.